Everyone looks knowing when I mention that we spent three days on Amsterdam last northern summer. Particularly because I was there with the Owl. Obviously, this was THC tourism, and we were joining the thousands of other embarrassing Australians leering at girls in windows and writing ourselves off in subterranean coffee bars where you have to pay to use a toilet illuminated with a creepy blue light that makes sunburn patches glow with zombie-phosphorescence.
No one ever mentions the science museum when they talk about Amsterdam, which I think is a sad oversight. I feel fond of the museum, in part because it has a name with some interesting antecedents (Nemo)
and a socialist history.The painter and collector Herman Heijenbrock (1871-1948) set up the initial display in 1922 at the Stedelijk Museum to illustrate industrial and technical processes.The museum’s mission was ‘to promote the value of undervalued work and to bring this value to the attention of children and adults, facilitating a better understanding of the large working class’.
There wasn’t much money for non-essential programmes for a long time after WW2, but in 1954 a completely renovated museum with a new name opened on Rozengracht: the Dutch Institute for Industry and Technology. NINT’s mission was ‘to raise the profile of industry and labour, thereby helping those interested in studying or working in the industrial field to make an informed decision’. After a couple more moves, Nemo wound up where we found him this summer, among the docks – a ten-minute walk from Centraal with too few umbrellas, in the first rain we had seen since we started kayaking in Poland.
Nemo has more fascinating interactive displays than you can poke a hyperactive four year-old at, and despite the crush of snotty sprogs on a wet school-holiday weekend, the four big kids eventually got a turn on most of them. We wound a worm-drive to raise ourselves to a platform, admired an otter foetus (the closest we got to an otter all summer), blew gigantic bubbles through something that looked like a lassoo for bison, and examined the positions of the Kama Sutra, as demonstrated by jointed wooden dolls. M & W played God with DNA building blocks and manoeuvred giant red vinyl tongues, the Owl fondled early examples of various kinds of bike engine and I admired the blown-up photos of a flea’s penis. I can highly recommend all the above activities.
Then we downed a couple of gallons of Amstel and went looking for a coffee shop.