Hints of Hitchcock: the Staircases in Amsterdam

For our recent trip to Amsterdam, we used Airbnb to find a place that would accommodate the three of us.

We got lucky, and found a great place in Spaarndammerbuurt, a quiet little neighborhood to the west of downtown Amsterdam.

Bfore we arrived, the landlord told us about the stairs, saying “As most of the monumental Amsterdam houses, the stairway in my apartment is a bit narrow.”

I had come across a similar “warning” in a couple of other Airbnb listings, but it seemed like a minor detail.

Well the staircase was something to behold (and to use); here is a video of me descending the steps. It has the feel of a Hitchcock movie:

Fortunately, we only had to go up one floor to our rental unit, but the stairs did go higher, to other units. You may have noticed that there is a handrail, but it is more of a metal pipe, similar to a water line in a house. And the railing was right next to the wall, so it was hard to get a full grip on the railing.

One website offered this explanation for the narrow staircases in Amsterdam houses:

“… such staircases were not so unusual in the Netherlands and were characteristic of the 17th-century canal houses. … back in the day, canal houses were taxed on their width, meaning that the wider your house, the more taxes you paid. How to circumvent such an issue? Easy, simply build yourself a very tall, very skinny house which requires a crazy set of stairs!

Such staircases seem to have also influenced Escher’s famous drawing of staircases (at top of post). Escher’s former secondary school in Arnhem, Holland, was built in 1905 and designed by G. Versteeg, an architect inspired by the Amsterdam School architecture style.

I can’t imagine trying to get anything big up such a flight of stairs, but apparently it is more common to use the windows and ropes when necessary to hoist up large objects.

It was nice staying in such a place, it made us feel like we were experiencing the real Amsterdam, and not just the tourist version of it. And by the end of our four days, the stairs were much easier to manage, but I still prefer a traditional staircase that is wide, deep, and has no twists.

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