When I was in Amsterdam last week, I couldn’t help but wander a bit amidst the ins and outs of that beautifully shaped city of paths and canals. One day, that aimlessness led me to the area around the University of Amsterdam, where I haplessly walked right into the Oudemanhuispoort Book Market.
The covered walkway within which the market sits was first built in the mid-18th century as a general shopping area, and became a haven for booksellers around 1870. Now, it still retains all of that old-world charm, with secondhand books — as well as LPs, sheet music and photographs, among other fun things — housed in tiny stalls cut into one side of the passage’s brick wall.
Tables line both sides of the walkway, and the owners of each stall sit quietly outside to keep watch over their wares (although one was sleeping while I walked by). Frans Roggen, the bearded guy who’s pictured here, happened to be leafing through a book full of original advertisements from the turn of the 20th century. After finishing a long career dealing in rare stamps, he’s maintained a stall at Oudemanhuispoort for the past 10 years. He has no complaints about his job . . . except, maybe, for one. The market stays open year-round, but it remains, as always, open air.
“It can get pretty cold during the winter,” Frans said, laughing.
Even though I didn’t have any cash on me at the time, I had plenty of fun looking through his selection. Frans told me that he’s especially into books on philosophy and Greek and Roman antiquity, but carries a wide variety that suits the diverse crowds that come through everyday. What’s also interesting, and impressive, is the fact that he sells texts in Dutch, English, French and German — not because he needs to appeal to tourists of different languages, but because he actually speaks all of them.
Frans, like all of his companions in the open air at Oudemanhuispoort, just loves the simple life. To some people, sitting in a chair and selling really old books to random passersby would be hell on earth. For Frans, it’s just good work.
“I can do my shopping,” he said. “I’m not getting rich, but I make a living. It’s good.”
As I stood there talking to him, it seemed clear that the spirit of those original small-time booksellers back in the 1800s had never left the place in which they’d put down roots. But, as Frans told me before I took my leave, he fears that a love of books that has been part of Amsterdam for centuries may be fading. He can tell by looking at the university students as they pass through the market on their way to class each day.
“This younger generation just isn’t interested anymore,” Frans said with a sigh. “They’d rather look at their mobile phones.”
Well, at least the Oudemanhuispoort Book Market isn’t going anywhere.