Seeing What I’ve Read

I first read Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” when I was 8 or 9, and I was a fan from page 1. I’ve probably read it twice or three times since then, and I became fascinated with the (awful and anger-inducing) events of the Holocaust.

So naturally, I was one of the first in line at the Anne Frank House at about 9:15 a.m. Friday in Amsterdam.

The visit began with a look at the lives of those in hiding in the secret annex in the building on Prinsengracht. Then, we got to climb the stairs behind the now-infamous fake bookcase and walk around the apartment. The rooms were unfurnished, per Otto Frank’s request, but you could still see a lot from what remained.

Pencil marks designated the heights of the Franks’ children. Magazine cutouts of Ginger Rogers and her European star counterparts remained on the walls, just as Anne left them. And the artifacts displayed around the room — the Monopoly-like game Peter received for his birthday, pieces of the kitchen set — only enhanced the life you could sense was once present there.

The tour then went to the newer portion with a display about the fates of the families in hiding. Many died in Auschwitz, and only Otto Frank survived. And, of course, the final display was about why Otto decided to publish the diary, and her handwritten copies were on display.

I’m so, so glad I went — it was an emotion-filled visit, but I think a necessary one. And part of what was so cool about it was that it brought a lot of what I had only read about to life — as did much of the rest of the weekend.

I walked through the infamous Red Light District (in daylight), a place that’s been written about and studied because prostitution is legal and, from what I could tell, very much alive.

I saw work of Rembrandt I’d once studied in the Rijksmuseum.

I saw Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” a copy of which has hung in a family home for as long as I can remember, at the Van Gogh Museum.

I saw a photography and video project, bringing to life conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo I’d read about in the news, at FOAM, the city’s photography museum.

And I saw a work by, I swear, every single artist I studied in my honors art-for-journalists class — Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein and Bruce Nauman, to name a few — at the Stedelijk Museum.

That I got to see all of this was incredible. That I had background information about these things made these experiences even better.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of mainland Europe brings.

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