In Amsterdam, Even The Tourists Say There Are Too Many Tourists Fewer than 1 million people live in Amsterdam, but almost 20 million visit each year. A "night mayor" and initiatives to address "overtourism" encourage revelers to treat the city with respect.

In Amsterdam, Even The Tourists Say There Are Too Many Tourists

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Amsterdam is famous for its nightlife, which appeals to adult visitors. But Amsterdam has now become the latest European city, after Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice, to crack down on mass tourism. Amsterdam has fewer than a million residents, but 20 million people visit the city every year. And things get particularly bad at night, when young drunk men go wild in a city where both prostitution and pot are legal. Joanna Kakissis tells us how Amsterdam is trying to tame the nightlife without killing it. And just a quick warning - this story has some adult themes.

KING: Imagine trying to sleep to this outside your front door every night.


BERT NAP: When they start yelling, when they start puking in your potted plants, that's horrible.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Welcome to Bert Nap's life. He writes language textbooks for a living. And he and his wife live in a cute house next to a church in Amsterdam's Red Light District. If you're about to say, well, what did you expect, Mr. Nap, don't bother. He's already been told off by drunk guys in Elvis costumes. All British tourists, he says - one he caught peeing in his mailbox.

NAP: I went up to one of them. And I asked, well, why don't you do that in your own hometown? And he said, you are selling drugs. You are selling prostitution. I buy it. So he literally said, you [expletive] off because we buy your streets. We are paying for it. And just move. Go live elsewhere.

KAKISSIS: Bert Nap has been here for 40 years. In fact, people have lived in the Red Light District for hundreds of years. The neighborhood's always been a draw for visitors. But now it seems it caters only to tourists. Think cannabis cafes instead of grocery stores, trinket shops with condom key rings instead of places where you can actually get keys made or the smell of a popular stoner treat replacing the fresh bread and bakeries.

NAP: We have streets just selling waffles and Nutella. And people coming here think that's our national food.

KAKISSIS: Tourists pack the tiny alleys near his home, passing prostitutes standing behind glass windows. An American couple Bettina and Brett Carroll walk by holding hands. They're here on their honeymoon and are actually staying in an Airbnb in the Red Light District.

BETTINA CARROLL: And we noticed that last night we couldn't sleep because people were yelling. They were screaming until 4 o'clock in the morning, which was - I couldn't imagine living here and hearing that constantly.

KAKISSIS: Since even the tourists noticed the problem, something had to be done. So the Amsterdam city council is doubling the tax on hotel rooms, sharply curtailing Airbnb and banning new souvenir shops.

KAKISSIS: There's also this video targeted to the most problematic group - young guys.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: To increase awareness about what is or isn't allowed in the city.

KAKISSIS: The video appears on booking websites and at airports and explains there are hefty fines for yelling outside someone's house or using canals as toilets. Udo Kock is the city's deputy mayor.

DEPUTY MAYOR UDO KOCK: Look. At the end of the day, it's very simple. If the only reason - the only reasons for you is to come to Amsterdam to get drunk or get stoned, then don't come.

KAKISSIS: But if your reason is nightlife, don't worry. The city still believes in it and leans on this guy for help.

NIGHT MAYOR SHAMIRO VAN DER GELD: My name is Shamiro van der Geld. I'm 32 years old, and I am the night mayor of Amsterdam.

KAKISSIS: Not nightmare as in bad dream - he is the mayor of the night. And that means understanding all the things people want to do.

VAN DER GELD: Is nighttime something for people who want to dance? Or is nighttime something for people who want to read? Is nighttime something for people who want to paint? Or, like, who are the people who also want to live at night?

KAKISSIS: The mayor of the night is wearing a deep-purple hat and a nose ring. We walk through central Amsterdam as the sun sets. He seems to know everyone on the street.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: He's really popular. He is. He is.

VAN DER GELD: Well, I talk with different types of people. I talk with clubs and club owners, programmers, stakeholders who are interested in nightlife or have their company in nightlife.

KAKISSIS: He's had to deal with tourists who overdose and jump out of buildings or who get stoned and then ride bicycles into traffic.

VAN DER GELD: Things that happen with people who do not understand or know how we live.

KAKISSIS: He's especially trying to reach out to kids, locals and tourists with initiatives like a late night space for teenagers.

VAN DER GELD: This group of kids, they wander on the streets. And from being bored, they start smoking hash or weed. And they find a cheap bottle of alcohol. So we need to create some place where they can hang out, where they can meet - somewhere that they don't get bored.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Everybody's waiting for him to dance.

KAKISSIS: This night policy has a record of success in Amsterdam thanks to Mirik Milan, a bearded former concert promoter who made the mayor of the night an official position here and held the post until earlier this year.

FORMER NIGHT MAYOR MIRIK MILAN: I really functioned as a liaison. I really was bridging the gap between government and the nightlife operators - but also people that just enjoy nightlife.

KAKISSIS: Over coffee near a canal, he explains that he helped license all night clubs away from the city center.


KAKISSIS: They feature electronic music of course, which is a huge draw for young visitors.

MILAN: One-third of the people that come there, they are foreign tourists. So they are not hanging in the city center. They're hanging out in the outskirts of the city. The night is an opportunity where we can spread out people.

KAKISSIS: Milan travels the world helping cities create their own mayors of the night. London now has a night czar. And the idea has spread to the U.S.

MILAN: I just recently made the list.

KAKISSIS: So Pittsburgh and Iowa City?

VAN DER GELD: Yeah, good old Iowa City - and then New York, Fort Lauderdale, Austin.

KAKISSIS: In Amsterdam, Bert Nap, that neighbor terrorized by screaming tourists every night, hopes the mayors of the day and the night can calm the rowdy crowds outside his door.

NAP: People think they have to go to this pinpointed small Red Light District in Amsterdam. Well, it's ridiculous. There are so many things to see in Amsterdam - great things instead of this stuff. Tourists are only encountering tourists. You don't see the genuine Dutch.

KAKISSIS: You know, the genuine Dutch hiding out in their homes from drunk guys in Elvis costumes - the ones who want to make peace with the night. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Amsterdam.


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