Amsterdam’s taxing narrow houses

I promised a reader I’d post this. Writing inspirations for the day, part deux: pictures of some of Amsterdam’s buildings notable for their slender frontages.

I took this from the Damrack using Fujicolor Superia 200 asa film. Not the narrowest buildings in Amsterdam, but they’re up there…
Serious narrow, especially that one on the left. ‘I’ll put the table here, lengthwise, I think.’ Note the gantry at the top of the right hand house – this is how they get the furniture into the upper floors, via the windows. My wife took this picture.

How did it happen? Back in the sixteenth century, Dutch authorities levied taxes from citizens based – among other things – on the width of their houses. The results were predictable. Several houses are trumpeted as ‘the narrowest house in Amsterdam’, but they’re all pretty much of a muchness. The narrowest, I believe, is around 80 cm. (Don’t breathe out.)

What was more, during the age of the tulpenmanie (the ‘tulip bubble’) in the early seventeenth century, some of these houses could be swapped for a single tulip bulb. One that wasn’t necessarily even in the possession of the vendor – it was somewhere else, represented by paper scrip which, itself, became a tradeable item. This in the 1620s.

That automobile is not as natty as it once was.

Is this inspirational for writers? I think so. Because in this we can see an expression of our ability to abstract; and also – in those houses – our ability to creatively find ways around limits. That works for writing too. If one thing doesn’t work, try another.

I had to share one other photo. Those cars parked against the edge of the gracht sometimes drop in. I photographed one being pulled out. Apparently it’s too easy for someone wanting a parking spot to nudge the way clear. That lateral creative streak again…I think.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012

2 thoughts on “Amsterdam’s taxing narrow houses

  1. Sorry I didn’t see this until today! I still can’t believe how narrow these buildings are, and that cars fall into the water. It’s so different, and definitely inspirational as far as writing goes. 😀


    1. Amsterdam is a seriously ‘out there’ place by comparison with the rest of the Netherlands, where the people are conservative and mostly boring. (“It’s Thursday. That means broojies for lunch” – I am not joking!).

      On the more inspiring plus side, and somewhat to my chagrin, my sister & family live within easy reach of the annual SF/Fantasy Fair, which is held in a *real* 19th century castle near De Haar. My mum almost – but not quite – managed to meet Robin Hobb there in 2008 – Hobb is really big in the Netherlands, has been translated etc. The fair is not so much an inspirational event as a way of drowning in ideas! 🙂


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