Monday 21 August 2023

Another Day In Paradise


Regular readers (hello you!) will remember that I tried to collect the stations on the Oost of Amsterdam, but was cruelly denied when damage to the overhead lines stopped me.  In some ways, this was a good thing.  I'd planned on boarding at Science Park and then alighting at Diemen.  That left me with a problem.  I'd collected all the stations; there weren't any more.  The only option really was to board a train from the station I'd just left, which I always hate doing.  How boring.  The alternative was to walk through Diemen to Diemen Zuid, a combination NR/Metro station about a mile and a half away.  But that would mean I collected an M53 Metro station separate from all the rest, which would be plain annoying.  It was quite the dilemma.

As it turned out, I never made it to Diemen in the first place, so my first visit to Diemen Zuid was as part of its metro line.  This is a sign that everything turns out for the best, and definitely isn't me trying to find an up side to not collecting those two stations.  Definitely.

I descended from the viaduct to the street, leaving instead of arriving, and I was able to collect the station as part of my metro collecting.  As God intended.

Across the way a sign on an overpass said Welcome to Our Domain & Our Campus.  While I'm here, a slight sidebar.  It's delightful for me, as an English speaker, to wander around a foreign nation and have absolutely no problem communicating with the locals.  At the same time, I was surprised by how much English there was around.  Adverts, signposts, graffiti - sometimes I'd pass an advertising column and there wouldn't be a single poster in Dutch.  This wasn't stuff for tourists, either, it was cereal ads, it was municipal notices, it was commercials for shops.  Have a bit of pride in your language, Netherlanders.  When the English have driven it out they won't let you have it back.  Ask the Welsh.

I'd assumed it was a university campus, but it was actually more of a cluster of halls of residence, a student city, with space for "young professionals" in a couple of blocks to the side.  It certainly had that feel of a university.  A little bubble of youth and excitement and jollity away from the proper city.  I popped into the Albert Heijn because I'd not had anything to eat at all; it was filled with convenience foods and bottles of pop.  I came away with two Coke Zeros and a prepacked sandwich I ate on a bench outside, watching the young people cycle by.

An underpass beneath the busy S112 brought me out in a bland business park, each office building an island surrounded by parking, but with the inevitable bike lanes threaded throughout.  That too gave way to a dense block of apartments.  There was litter in the streets, flytipped rubbish that spilled over the pavements, and the postbox had been tagged by some inconsiderate scrote.  

I was unsurprised to hear music blaring out of a top floor apartment, so loud the whole neighbourhood was forced to listen along.  What did surprise me was it wasn't raging techno or obscene gangster rap, but instead the melodic strains of Phil Collins' Groovy Kind of Love.  I've always had a sneaky fondness for Phil, probably stemming from my brother going through a stage of being a huge fan when he was a teenager; he had both Buster and The Singles Collection on VHS, and he'd watch them both on a loop.  I like to regularly remind him of his distinctly MOR taste in music growing up; he enjoyed Phil Collins, Level 42 and Michael Bolton, until he bought NWA's Straight Outta Compton and pretended that was what he'd been into all along.  I particularly enjoy mentioning this in front of his new friends or girlfriends.  This is one of the reasons we don't talk much.  (My taste in music, by the way, has always been eclectic i.e. trash, but at least I own this).  

I was the only person around so I happily sang along, wondering what was going on in that apartment to cause the top volume Collinsing.  A jilted lover?  A maudlin drunk?  A massive fan of Cockney train robbers?  We'll never know.  I was at the station and out of earshot before I could hear the next track, so I hope it was something in keeping, and they didn't transition into DJ Otzi or The Birdie Song.

Venserpolder station nearly didn't make it to opening.  The construction of the metro through Amsterdam was surprisingly controversial, and was opposed by a lot of left wingers (I'll return to this later - oooh!  A cliffhanger!).  As you'd expect from a bunch of hippies, their protests were strong but not extreme.  However, a right wing criminal called Joop Baank decided to take advantage of the situation and discredit them by blowing up one of the stations and hoping they'd get the blame.  (The Seventies were a wild time).  He was caught by the police trying to plant the bomb at the under construction Venserpolder; they'd tapped the phone of the leader of a Far Right party and Joop called him up to chat about his plan.  

My favourite detail about the story is that when he saw the police coming, Joop tried to chuck the bomb in a ditch, except it was February and the water was frozen so it just skidded along the ice and sat there, waiting to be discovered.  Joop got four months in prison, two of which were suspended, and I know the Dutch are very liberal and everything, but doesn't that seem like quite a short sentence for attempting to blow up a railway station?  Even if it wasn't finished?

Van de Madeweg opened as Duivendrecht in 1977, but a mainline station was opened further to the south and it stole the name in 1991.  It's the point where the M50, M53 and M54 all merge as they move towards the city centre, and so it has four platforms.  Sadly, I missed the architectural highlight of the station, a concrete footbridge installed during renovations which arches up and over the tracks, because I only learned it existed after I got back to Britain.  Once again, if you want me to go back and visit these places, please deposit several hundred pounds in my Ko-fi.  In fact if you're putting a few hundred quid in there I'll go anywhere you want.  I'm easily bought.

As a significant transfer station, Van de Madeweg has a bit more room to play with, which is why they have a display area with historical photos between the viaducts.  The helpful info board also informed me that this station is home to the metro's IT Test Centre, "where new software is tested so that we can be sure that all teething problems have been resolved before we put it into practice."  I idly wondered if Merseyrail had an IT Test Centre, then decided it was more likely to be one harassed employee and his battered PC at Rail House, a Post-it note stuck on the monitor saying "DO NOT SWITCH OFF - IMPORTANT!!!".  

The red and white artwork outside is new, installed when all the stations were refurbished a couple of years ago.  I love it.  I love everything they've done to the stations, and I will gush about it at length in another blog post (two cliffhangers!).  For now, I'll simply say that it's how to refurbish a metro properly, paying homage to the original architect's intentions while also updating and refining it for a new century.

There is a "G" behind my head there, I promise.  

The area around the station was industrial, factories and warehouses, and this was far more my territory.  I was back in the land of grime and commerce.  I walked past distribution centres and anonymous blocks that had vague promises outside, words that mean something and nothing but give the general impression that they're a business who can do whatever you want them to do, unless they can't.

I passed under another motorway viaduct, this one decorated with bright coloured circles on sticks, like a collection of lollipops.  On the other side was a complex rail triangle.  The M50 turned to the west here, while the M51 joined the Oostlijn en route to Centraal.  The result is a swing of high viaducts, trains crossing over one another, threading underneath, while at the base is a silver lump of scifi metal.

Given its position, I'd thought this was railway-related building.  A signalling hub, perhaps, or a particularly fancy electrical transformer.  The actual answer was rather more basic.  It's a sewage pumping station.  An extremely fancy one, one that looks like it was crafted out of mercury and which glows with LED lighting after dark, but it was, none the less, a poo-processor.  

As I walked on, the district changed, with new apartment blocks appearing all around me.  An access route under the railway was being punched through to allow the extension of an east-west boulevard, while the pavements had a small layer of concrete dust from all the jackhammering.  The whole city seems to be experiencing a building boom, one that is at least partly down to our old friend Brexit.  Companies and financial institutions based in the City wanted to move to the EU, but while Frankfurt made economic sense, it's a pretty boring place to live.  Paris, meanwhile, London's only European rival as a world city, is too expensive.  Amsterdam though - a great, lively city, accesible, where everyone spoke English, and which had plenty of space for new developments?  Sold.  The European Medicines Agency, for example, moved here from Canary Wharf in 2019.  Thanks for another Brexit benefit, you wonderful fifty two percent-ers!  

Sparklerweg station was built with the rest of the line, but took five years to open; the district around it was deemed insufficiently developed to justify it, plus a metro extension to Amstelveen which would've caused an interchange here wasn't yet constructed.  I entered the station past the giant red metal doors which are something of an icon of the network; huge pieces of swinging hard steel that look like they could hold back a riot.  

Inside, like all the Metro stations, the ticket hall was unstaffed.  This isn't a problem because every station has a ticket machine, plus you can get through the six-foot high ticket gates with a variety of methods, ranging from an app on your phone, to a specific transport card, to your credit or debit card.  The computer is smart enough to work out how much you need to pay and charge you accordingly while the tall gates keep the station secure.  This is what's known as "modern  ticketing" and "a good thing" and "what the British need to implement before they go closing the ticket offices because otherwise you make a hideous mess and isolate and strand a lot of vulnerable people and I don't know why I bother because it's never going to happen because it requires forethought and preparation and investment and instead the Treasury will gain a couple of quid by removing staffed stations and then lose vast amounts of revenue because people either won't pay or won't travel at all".  

Sparklerweg also has a Pac Man artwork on the wall in the escalator hall, and therefore is amazing.  (Yes, that photo is a bit blurry.  I'm not sure what it is, but sometimes, on a metro, I seem to lose my ability to take sharp pictures.  Is it excitement making me shake, I wonder, or anxiety that people will look at me taking a photo of a railway station and think I'm a weirdo?  It's definitely the second one, isn't it?)

This is, incidentally, one of my favourite ever sign selfies.  More stations should have a beautifully tiled block over the entrance with the name very simply spelled out.  It'd make my job a lot easier.

If you've been to Amsterdam, you've probably heard of Amstel station, and not just because it shares its name with the city's river.  Amstel was constructed in the 1930s as one of the most important stations out of Centraal, and though the likes of Zuid have largely stolen its transportation thunder, it still retains a majesty and elegance.  It reminded me of Berlin's Zoologischer Garten station, another second-rung but still important viaduct station.  

There are two exits from Amstel station.  One is through the 1930s station building, opened by Queen Wilhemina herself, and opening out onto a tram and bus interchange.  It's a triumphant and legendary piece of railway architecture.

I did not go out that way.

I'll be honest with you: I'd reached a point where I wanted to see something beautiful.  Where I wanted to feel like I was actually in Amsterdam, rather than A.N.Eurocity.  Taking the back exit took me past a building site and the rear of some apartment blocks, but then I reached the river, and I stopped to breathe.  

You can't really argue with that, can you?

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