Clogs were made for walking

A trip to Amsterdam

Besides teaching people that they “do” their homework (and not “make” it), there’s little that the TIP TOP team loves more than seeing new places and learning new things. Case in point, one of our trainers just got back from an excursion to one of Europe’s top destinations: Amsterdam, Holland.

So we thought that for this month’s Learning Nugget we’d give you some interesting and fun facts about that thriving and historic city. You’ll learn about its famous canals, a piece of little-discussedcultural history, and the marks Amsterdam and its surrounding areas have left on the largest English-speaking city in the world.


The Canals

The canals of Amsterdam are known throughout the world. Amsterdam’s Canal Ring (a series of connected canals over 14 kilometers in total length) even achieved the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

Today these canals are used largely for pleasure cruising, and perhaps their most frequent users are boats filled with tourists taking in the city from the water. However, while they may seem all for fun today, they played a serious role in Amsterdam’s growth into one of Europe’s most famous cities.

The canals are manmade, and while some were originally dug as defense measures, most were dug for the purpose of commerce. Having the canals throughout the city allowed for goods to be easily delivered to warehouses. Such accessibility helped make Amsterdam one of the most important and richest port cities in Europe by the 17th century, the era called the Dutch Golden Age. This time period of great prosperity for the city is the one in which artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer worked.

One interesting sight visitors can see by the side of a canal called Oude Schans is the clock tower known as Malle Jaap (Silly Jack). It was formerly a part of a defensive wall, but it was eventually converted to its current form. Silly Jack got its nickname because its engineer made some mistakes when building it, and its bell would sound at random times instead of on the hour.


The Surinamese in Amsterdam

If asked to say where Surinam is on a map, many Westerners would have little clue. You might also be scratching your head about why we’re bringing up Surinam in a piece about Amsterdam. Explaining that takes a little retelling of history, but we promise it’ll make sense eventually.

Surinam is located on the northeastern coast of South America, and it became a Dutch colony in the 16th century. It was a place where cash crops like indigo, cotton, sugar, and coffee were grown.

As you might have guessed, it wasn’t the European merchants who worked the fields to tend those crops. They used slaves and – after the abolition of slavery – underpaid laborers to complete the backbreaking jobs associated with growing and processing such crops for transatlantic shipment.

That history has left its mark on Surinam, and its current population represents a fascinating conglomeration of African, Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian cultures, along with others. Though it became fully independent in 1975, Surinam is the only country outside of Europe that uses Dutch as its official language.

Because of their country’s connections to the Netherlands, many Surinamese have immigrated there, with large numbers making the move from the 70s through the 90s. Many of these immigrants moved to cities like – you guessed it – Amsterdam.

The easiest way to experience the Surinamese influence in the city is to visit one of the many Surinamese restaurants there. With its interesting mix of influences, Surinamese cuisine is something any adventurous eater should try. Though the history it reminds us of may not be savory, the flavors created by the intermingling of cultures in Surinam certainly are.


I  love New Amsterdam?

Before New York City was New York City, it was called New Amsterdam. It was established as a trading post by the Dutch West India Company in the 17th century. Though the settlement came under the control of the English within the same century, the names of many places in the city in use today derive from Dutch roots.


Here are a few examples: 

  • Harlem: An NYC neighborhood often associated with African American history and culture was formerly a Dutch village named after Haarlem, a town just outside of Amsterdam.
  • Brooklyn: The famous borough is named after the Dutch town Breukelen.
  • Coney Island: A place of games, hot dogs, and the world’s first roller coaster, all on a place the Dutch called Conyne Eylandt, which means “rabbit island.”
  • The Bronx: Another borough, this one named after Jonas Bronck, a wealthy man who lived in New Amsterdam in the 17th century.


case in point – typisches Beispiel
excursion to – Exkursion, Ausflug
thriving – florierende, blühende
little-discussed – wenig beachtete
marks have left on – hat seine Spuren hinterlassen
is known throughout – ist überall bekannt
in total length – mit einer Gesamtlänge
achieved – erreichen
World Heritage Site – Weltkulturerbe
pleasure cruising – Vergnügungsfahrt
taking in the city – die Stadt einnehmen
play a serious role – eine wichtige Rolle spielen
manmade – vom Menschen erschaffen
dug (dig, dug, dug) – graben
defense measures – Abwehrmaßnahmen
deliver goods to – Waren anliefern
warehouse – Lager
accessibility – Erreichbarkeit, Zugänglichkeit
port city – Hafenstadt
era – Ära
Dutch Golden Age – Goldenes Zeitalter der Niederlande
prosperity – Wohlstand, Erfolg, Reichtum
interesting sight – interessante Sehenswürdigkeit
defensive wall – Mauer, Schutzwall (also read our Learning Nugget about walls here)
eventually – letztendlich, schließlich
converted – umwandeln
bell sounds at random times – Glocke erklingt zu willkürlichen Zeiten
to have little clue – wenig Ahnung haben
scratching your head – am Kopf kratzen
explaining that – das zu erklären
Dutch colony – Niederländische Kolonie
cash crops – Ernte, die für den Verkauf angebaut wird
merchants – Händler, Kaufmann
to tend crops – Felder bestellen
slaves – Sklaven
abolition of slavery – Abschaffung der Sklaverei
underpaid laborers – unterbezahlte Arbeitskräfte
backbreaking – erschöpfende
processing crops – Feldfrüchte verarbeiten
conglomeration – Anhäufung, Ansammlung
independent – unabhängig
70s through the 90th – während der 70er bis 90er Jahre
you guessed it – Sie haben es erraten
adventurous – abenteuerlich
may not be savory – nicht gerade glorreich
savory – pikant, herzhaft
intermingling – vermischen
to establish – einführen
settlement – Siedlung
derive from – abstammen
root – Wurzel
roller coaster – Achterbahn
borough – Bezirk

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

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