For the last year or so, the authorities in Amsterdam have been waging war on the city's squatting community. So much for the 'Dam's reputation for being a loved-up haven of excess ruled by scruffy-haired liberals preoccupied with concentric canals and totaalvoetbal. These days, the sight of a screaming crustie being dragged into the back of a riot van by his hair has become almost as commonplace as that of mushroom-guzzling foreigners getting crushed by trams. Last week, the latest round of squat evictions took place in the Dutch capital.
The most prominent of the squats targeted was Schijnheilig, located on the Passeerders canal. It was a pity, because the place wasn't a bad party venue, and when I say "party" I'm not talking about the sort of eight-hour minimal techno marathon that is only possible to tolerate when you're clenching a big bag of bad drugs in your crow-hand.
The law's the law, though, so the squatters had to go. The eviction ended up turning the canals into a battlefield, and 143 people were arrested, including us. Here's how the day's events unfolded.
We went over on Monday evening, the night before the planned eviction, to see what was up. We were treated with warmth and hospitality, but when we told the hosts that we were journalists they retracted the offer of a bed for the night and told us to turn up the next morning at 5.30AM sharp. So we did.
When we arrived, five women in wedding gowns were sat pouting at each other and a friendly Irish man was playing a fiddle while an anarchist in a black hoodie pounded senselessly on a drum kit. It was very touching, but then again it was 5.30AM. A tampon commercial can move a man to tears at 5.30AM.
There were the usual grim squatters with ski masks and a vitriolic hatred for anything to do with civil society, but also loads of cheerful supporters who wore makeup and brightly coloured clothing. Hippies, to be concise.
This masked avenger was enjoying stories about masked avengers. Around this time one of the squatters standing around asked what the hell was taking the riot police so long to arrive. “We filled one of the rooms with soapsuds, but it’s beginning to evaporate.” This really bummed him out.
Some band were playing on a rooftop across the canal. It sounded shit, but there was some romance to the idea I guess. My friend told me it was "like a noise band playing on the deck of the Titanic". I told him to stop being so melodramatic.
The squatters were getting bored of waiting around at this point, and decided to hurry things along by setting fire to a bin at the top of the street. Firemen quickly extinguished it, but the squatters got their wish, and the riot vans began to arrive.
All Coppers Are Bastards: the acronym that doesn't give a shit about language differences or international borders. If I were a Brit, the sight of this flag would fill me with an enormous amount of patriotic pride.
Eventually two fronts emerged. Small people in black hoodies…
Versus big people with batons, tear gas, riot shields, helmets, protective clothing and effeminate yellow waistcoats.
My friend Alejandro got up on the barricades to take pictures, but most of the other journalists were filming from the other side of the street. A smart move. As soon as the riot police began to move in, we had to hurdle numerous squatter-erected roadblocks to avoid being pummelled in No Man's Land. We were caught in the middle of police batons and a squatter missile barrage. The crusties seemed to have raided their kitchens for things to lob at the cops, which would explain why Alejandro spent the rest of the day with glass in his hand and his arm covered in blood and peanut butter.
This was the first line of defence. A pink airbed.
The airbed's uselessness as a protective shield didn't stop people from taking it with them while they were fleeing. Because Alejandro's fist was mangled, he had to hand over his camera to Ewout. Ewout quickly ran into an alley, where he found another casualty:
A nice lady gave him plasters and whispered some sweet words of solace into his ear. He adopted this posture to show the police that their brutality would not keep him from squatting.
Because it was still early, every so often neighbours would stumble sleepily into the streets. I'm not sure this man's Che Guevara shirt means that he's a revolutionary, he certainly didn't join in.
Riot vans proceeded to plow through the crowds.
This was when the kettling began. We were stuck for ages between two groups of riot police with over a hundred squatters. They wouldn't let anyone leave, not even this old lady.
Then two strangers who'd been watching the protests jumped into the canal to join the squatters in the kettle. I'd call them idiots, but I guess that'd make me a hypocrite.
One of the squatter girls decided to take a swim as well. Riot police closed off the side of the water after that.
And then someone on a loud hailer broke the news to us: “This is the police. All squatters and squatter sympathisers are hereby arrested.” We tried to argue with them about us being press and just doing our jobs, but they really didn't care.
These plain-clothed policemen rejoiced at the news, because it meant that they could finally get to work…
…Finally get to work violently arresting people who had been taunting them for hours.
Most people sat down, so they had to be carried one-by-one into one of the three buses that would take us all to jail. Sure, it sounds brave, but it's hard to put across just how demoralising it is to sit around and watch everyone offer up some futile resistance before ultimately being thrown in the back of a van by daddy.
Our managing editor Wiegertje had gotten out of bed to pick up an issue of VICE to show the riot police, because our name was on the masthead and we hoped it would be proof enough that we really were press. But it didn't work. I have no idea why we thought working for VICE would get us out.
While Alejandro had gotten away to attend to his wounded hand, Jan and Ewout spent three and eight hours locked up respectively (always bring ID when you go to a demonstration kids!). They were put in separate jails, along with the squatters and squatter supporters. It stunk (predominantly of sweat and the kind of farts that people who haven’t eaten in a long time emit). But they got out with only a citation.
WORDS & PHOTOS: EWOUT LOWIE, ALEJANDRO TAUBER AND JAN VAN TIENEN