Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Breadlines of Amsterdam

Breadlines used to indicate destitution and poverty. Bad times. Hardship. Soviet Russia or Depression-Era America... But today in Amsterdam, believe it or not, a breadline actually indicates affluence and prosperous consumerism.

On Saturday mornings, at the corner of the Ruyschstraat and the Wibautstraat -- not far from where I live -- a breadline outside of Hartog's Volkorenbakkerij (Hartog's Wholegrain Bakery) is a happy sight representing an attractive recreational activity bringing in the weekend with style. There's no grim-faced despondence or weary grumbling in the line that can wrap itself around the corner, with dozens of expectant Amsterdammers. In fact, locals smile and nod at each other as they wait their turn to step into the bustling golden alcove of fresh breads and baked goods, where customers gladly pay €2,65 for a single loaf of bread. And they do it day after day, week after week. It's something desirable, high-quality, and maybe even a bit fashionable.

Does anyone else see the irony in this?

Of course, I am a perpetuator of the system. I've become quite fond of the raisin bread from Hartog's Volkorenbakkerij. I like to go there on Saturday mornings -- with one, or both, of my kids. We stand in line with the happy masses and soak up the aroma of freshly milled grain and freshly baked bread (they mill all their own grains and bake all their own breads). The kids offer rushed "Dank u wel"s to the bakery workers for free cookie samples -- and when the bag of raisin bread is delivered to my waiting hands, it's almost always still warm to the touch. It's no wonder the establishment was named the best bakery in the Netherlands for 2005 (and apparently, it's among the top four nominated for this year again, with results to be announced at the end of this month).

It turns out that the crowds often know best. I hate to admit my susceptibility to groupthink -- but I don't know if I ever would have found Hartog's Volkorenbakkerij if it were not for the breadlines that piqued my curiosity. And there's a Turkish bakery on the Van Woustraat -- which serves the best döner kebab in the city -- that I discovered through the same set of circumstances. What can I say?

Sometimes, the breadlines are simply the best indication of a crowd-pleaser.


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