National Geographic : 1974 May
Like surplus parts for new Pentagons, the giant apartment buildings of Bijlmermeer squat on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Termed graceless by many, the angular complex will be served by a new subway system. The self-contained total community for moderate-income families follows the urban planning tradition of its parent city, which is subsidizing construction. Following a basic scheme drawn in the early 1600's, Amsterdam spread like the growth rings of a tree (lower map, facing page). been clamping a lid on the sea ever since the first Amster dammers built a dam on the Amstel back in the 1200's to keep their polders dry. Seven centuries later they manage not only to keep the sea out of their polders, as they call their hundreds of thousands of acres of reclaimed land, but to keep the lid on the oil shortage and also on an explosive social situation that goes with being capital of one of the world's more densely populated countries: 950 people a square mile. With that density, the United States would have more than three billion inhabitants! Yet, as my plane descended, I had seen a forest, thousands of little gardens, and green pastures full of cows. And the popu lation pressure showed no signs of vitiating Dutch hospitality -certainly not in the case of Klaas's mother. "Have some speculaas," she said. "It's a special cookie we make in honor of Sinterklaas." I happily bit into a large, crisp, golden-brown spice cookie. In bas-relief on the cookie's surface, Saint Nicholas performed his most famous miracle, rescuing three little boys from a bar rel of brine where they were being pickled by an evil innkeeper. This marvel, legend has it, took place in the fourth century, when Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. He thus became the Great Protector of Little Children. Since he also calmed tempests and assured ideal conditions for fishing and trade, he became the patron saint of Amsterdam. "Sinterklaas komt!" shouted Klaas. I was expecting a roly-poly department-store Santa Claus. But the official Sinterklaas of Amsterdam, architect Gerard de Klerk, is a truly majestic figure, six feet four inches tall. Astride a white horse and wearing a scarlet tabard and bish op's tall miter, he came riding down the Damrak accompanied by a cortege of medievally costumed university students and 60 versions of Black Peter, his traditional attendant, all toss ing candies to the cheering kids.