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Where Have All the People Gone?

It’s quiet in Amsterdam…

The people are yawning…

The song ‘t Is stil In Amsterdam, or It’s Quiet in Amsterdam, is playing on a loop in my head, the lyrics shifting; it’s no longer a song about the mild melancholy of the small hours. The pandemic silence is a klaxon underlining ‘the law of the headstart handicap’ (Dutch expression: de wet van de remmende voorsprong). What does the future hold for us?

High, look up high…

…because a merciless, steel-blue sky stretches out above. The bright light and vivid blue, previously engaged in a game of hide and seek measured in years not minutes, add a desolate and far from photogenic atmosphere to the empty streets and canals. A face mask drifts forlornly towards the North Sea, having escaped the attentions of the flotsam fishermen and Westerdok’s Bubble Barrier so far. The details of contemporary ugliness stand out starkly. Only when dusk falls and the street lamps turn on do the deserted streets of the inner city regain their poetry and Weltschmertz.

Where are the people, where have they gone?

I keep hearing the same pigeon cooing, calling me back to my Prinsengracht youth and our sun-flooded dining room, where I could turn ecstatic at the sight of dust dancing in the sunbeam striking the butter dish. These are the silver linings of our life – and where have they gone now, when everything feels uncanny and we seniors must languish at home while the media touts us as pitiful residents of the danger zone, and while everyone around the world is caught up in all sorts of dire straits, maddening uncertainties and inconveniences?

With impeccable timing, friends drop a well-conceived spontaneous something into my letterbox: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. While the Lord of the Rings never captivated me, this fledgling wizard proves a revelation (though hundreds of millions have gone before me) in our mutual quest for a whistle-clean, shareholder-free world in which money is merely a means of exchange. A world in which the worms and maggots of contemporary mental fatigue are traded for the joy, creativity, spiritedness and flexibility of the children of today, the elderly of tomorrow.

Enough talk. Time for action.

Young and old, all Harry Potter citizens of the world, unite: on to a new world.


by Marijke Winnubst

What’s going on behind the silent facades of the Jordaan district during lockdown? Verhalenfestival Jordaan – the Jordaan Story Festival – asked residents to submit their stories. What’s going on in their heads and in their lives?

Eight of the stories were read and recorded by local actors and used to create the audio walk Niets te zien (Nothing to See).


met dank aan: Gemeente Amsterdam West Soundtrackcity Het huis van Amsterdam