The Untourist movement want to build a bridge between tourists and Amsterdammers. To promote contributing tourism in stead of consuming tourism. And a fun way to meet 😉
I’m wearing a vintage bridal gown with a long train, and my groom, Julian du Perron (30), is in a top hat. He’s all smiles, but I’m a little nervous, which is unsurprising because we’ve only just met.
Eventually, I relax into it. After all, the wedding is as fake as the flowers that frame the arch above us, and our marriage is for just one day.
I’m trying out Marry an Amsterdammer for the day, one of several activities suggested in the Untourist Guide to Amsterdam, a book and website launched this week, in collaboration with the city marketing organisation amsterdam&
“The idea is that tourists not only feed from the city, but can also build a connection with people who live here,” says Jona Rens, founder of Wed and Walk, the shop-cum-chapel in Amsterdam’s De Pijp district where Julian and I make pledges to the city as well as to each other, and where Jona has been conducting kitsch mock weddings since 2015.
Last year, about 21 million people visited Amsterdam. Attempts to handle such numbers has have resulted in campaigns like Enjoy and Respect, launched in June 2018, dishing out steep fines for nuisances such as littering and urinating in public
The Untourist Guide takes a refreshingly positive approach. Social innovator Elena Simons, one of the authors of the book, describes this influx of people from all over the world as “a really exciting opportunity”. She says: “Let’s do something with all that energy, all that diversity – something good for mankind and enjoyable at the same time.”
On Wednesday (5 June), a mass wedding between tourists and Amsterdammers will take place at Posthoorn church (close to Central Station) and, from June to January, visitors can bid, starting at €100, for a different listed bride or groom each month, who will introduce them to a new aspect of Amsterdam life during their one-day honeymoon. Shamiro, the city’s current night mayor, will take visitors to off-beat late-night spots, for example, while Natascha, an urban farmer, will introduce you to her favourite green spaces around town. Friends and family can come too, as long as the amount of money bid covers the activities and there’s something left for the chosen charity of your bride or groom.
My marrying Julian for the day probably isn’t going to make Amsterdam a better place but, symbolically, this union between a resident and a tourist does have a strange poignancy. The red aisle that I walk down, the music, and the exchanging of thrift-store rings creates a powerful mood – although it’s a hug, not a kiss, that seals the ceremony.
As we sign the register, the sun appears, and we take our first steps outside as a “married” couple. Drivers honk us, a French tourist stops to take photographs, and Julian, who is charming and relaxed throughout, gets his guitar out and serenades me with Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud.
Since I am a writer and he is a musician, he proposes a collaboration: we will write a love song to the city. We jump on bikes (goodbye loaned dress, hello jeans) and head off to his home turf in Amsterdam East (Oost), over the Amstel river and out of traditional tourist territory.
The Oosterpark, with its lake and shady terraces, is the perfect place to pause and make music and it’s much quieter than the better-known Vondelpark. “Moving people to less obvious places is a positive by-product,” says Elena, who sees the wedding’s primary aim as improving relations between tourists and locals, as well as taking them to less popular areas. “It’s such a pity we live in separate worlds,” she says. “We use the same city centre, but we hardly ever really connect.”
When the limits of my songwriting skills become obvious, Julian throws his guitar on to his back and we explore a little further. “You think you know the city quite well,” he tells me, “but every day you discover a new part.” The stalls are packing up at the multicultural Dappermarkt, where Julian buys his fruit and vegetables, but Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a brewery with a large terrace beneath Amsterdam’s oldest windmill, is buzzing, and we order beers for around €3 and toast our wedding day.
“Tourism can be so much more than grabbing a selfie at the canals,” says Nico Mulder of amsterdam&partners. “I’m not saying nobody will go to the Van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank House any more, but it’s really positive to see tourists and Amsterdam citizens more as one, instead of opponents of each other.”