When I think of people from the Netherlands in general, probably the last words that come to mind are narrow minded. In the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, persecuted religious groups elsewhere in Europe found refuge there and authors were free to publish their articles and books that might have otherwise landed them in jail back in their home country. Over the centuries that tolerant attitude seems to have expanded to all segments of their society, giving their capital city Amsterdam claim to the title of the world’s most diverse by hosting immigrants from 160 nations. With that background, while looking for interesting things to do on our recent trip there, it struck me that the word “narrow” kept popping up.
Historically, taxes have often been based on your wealth, sometimes prominently displayed from the front of your house. It was windows and chimneys in England so housefronts had as few as possible. In parts of the US, height mattered so a camelback house where the second floor only extended part way to the front was considered one-story resulting in a lower tax. In Amsterdam it was width; the wider your house the higher your tax which explains the popularity of tall, narrow houses with a hook on the top floor that’s still used today to bring furniture up and down through windows.
To see a marked contrast between two residences, we first went to see the Trip brothers’ house, built in 1666 with a width of 22 meters (72 feet) and then looked across the canal at their coachman’s house. Legend has it that the brothers had this house, at a width of 2.4 meters (8 feet) built for their employee when he exclaimed that he would be happy if he just had a house as big as his masters’ front door. Be careful what you ask for.
Here in the photos are a few other narrow places we visited. A street called Trompettersteeg is only a meter (3 feet) across. It’s located in the city’s red light district, an area that we typically wouldn’t visit, but it was worth it for this view. This little boat can fit easily through the small openings below the bridges of the canals. Dwarfed by its surrounding neighbor, the owner of this 15th century house in the center of the picture refused to sell out so the developers built their luxury hotel around it. The Skinny Bridge, so named for its actual small size and apparently for the 2 sisters with the Dutch last name meaning “thin” who had it built so they could visit each other across the river. As you can see, on this trip to the Netherlands our only narrow encounter was with the architecture.