Amsterdam Mythbusters

Amsterdam Mythbusters

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Myths, stories and urban legends about Amsterdam are numerous. You can learn some fun facts about this amazing city by exploring the truth (or falsehood) behind some of the most common urban myths. Check out some of the best Amsterdam mythbusters below.

1. Hans Brinker saved his hometown by plugging a hole in the dike with his finger.

Ask anyone about little Hans Brinker, and they'll tell you that he is the boy who saved the heart of Holland from a massive flood by sticking his finger in a dike. According to this Amsterdam urban legend, Hans spent an entire night waiting for someone to come and help him, surviving not only the cold, but also the pain of having his finger jammed into a dike.

Myth status: False

Hans Brinker was only real in the imagination of American writer Mary Elizabeth Mapes Dodge (1831-1905), who was born in New York. In her book "Hans Brinker; or The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland," she tells the story of a nameless boy heading home in the afternoon and noticing that the dike in his home town has sprung a leak. Instead of risking a massive flood, he sticks his finger in the hole and saves everyone. The concept of a boy saving his town from a flood actually dates back several years before Dodge published her book, but she is credited with making this urban myth famous in Amsterdam.

The Dutch tourism board received so many questions about this little boy that it commissioned a sculpture in the town of Spaarndam. Other depictions of the boy can be found in the village of Madurodam, in the Hague and in the harbor town of Harlingen.

2. Prostitution is legal in the Red Light District of Amsterdam.

Urban legend has it that Amsterdam has an entire area dedicated to providing sexual services. Of course, finding someone to actually admit that they have visited this area is difficult, so you may want to check it out for yourself.

Myth status: True

It is true - prostitution is 100% legal in the Netherlands. This doesn't mean anyone can start their own business, since there are zoning and tax laws that need to be followed. Police also perform regular immigration checks on workers.

Despite these restrictions, the Red Light District is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Amsterdam, drawing over a million visitors per year. Within the city blocks that form the "Rosse Buurt," you'll find hundreds of windows that display a red light, which is how customers can determine where services are for sale.

3. Smoking pot is legal in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is often called the marijuana capital of the world. In the city, there are allegedly hundreds of coffee shops that sell marijuana, a cannabis museum and other stores that sell smoking and growing paraphernalia.

Myth status: True

This Amsterdam urban myth is indeed true; you are allowed to get stoned in Amsterdam without anyone hassling you. The laws are not as flexible as they were ten years ago, but you can still walk into a coffee shop and order a couple of grams of your favorite smoking product.

Under the new laws, shop owners are not allowed to sell alcohol along with cannabis, and they are only allowed very limited amounts of product on location, However, the purchase and consumption of marijuana is legal. The exact language of the law says marijuana use is "tolerated," and no police officer will ever ticket you if you are carrying marijuana for personal consumption.

4. In 1988, a serial killer was active in Amsterdam canals.

According to this quite scary urban legend, an Amsterdam serial killer grabbed a prostitute from the streets, murdered her and then hung her from one of the canal bridges. A tourist boat came across her bloodied body the next morning.

Myth status: False

This story was only real in the mind of Dick Maas, who wrote the Dutch thriller "Amsterdamned." The movie featured Dutch actor Monique van de Ven (who used to be married to director Jan de Bont) and stunts by James Bond stunt director Dickey Beer.

In "Amsterdamned," unsuspecting people were snatched, dragged into the canals and murdered by a psychotic killer. Although the movie was released in Dutch, an English version made it to video, with limited success outside The Netherlands. If you can find a copy, you'll enjoy a thrilling example of Dutch movie genius.

5. There are more bicycles in Amsterdam than residents.

The Dutch love their bikes. So much, in fact, that the country boasts more than 18,000 miles of dedicated bike paths. In Amsterdam, you can cycle from the central train station to the suburbs 20 miles away, all without leaving a bike path.

Myth status: True

This urban myth is really surprising – Amsterdam mythbusters confirm that there really are more bikes than residents in the city. The Netherlands is home to 16 million inhabitants and over 18 million bikes. The reason behind the abundance of bicycles is simple: many residents own more than one bike. Sadly, with this large number of bikes comes a lot of bike thefts. Over 800,000 bikes are stolen every year, so if you rent a bike during your visit, be sure to double lock it or pay to have it stored. In Amsterdam, you'll find bike rental shops, bike storage buildings and even a bike storage boat.

6. Parts of Amsterdam are below sea level.

The Netherlands is often called "the low lands," and a common Dutch joke claims that God created the world in seven days and the Dutch created The Netherlands on the eighth.

Myth status: True

You don't need mythbusters to confirm this Amsterdam fact – just take a look at the geography of the country. Massive portions of The Netherlands are below sea level, and if you land at Schiphol International Airport, you are below sea level. The name Schiphol translates to "ships hell" and refers to the days when the area was a dangerous lake. The entire airport complex and all its runways are actually four meters below sea level. The tallest point in the Netherlands is just 1,100 feet and is located at the Belgian/German border.

Twenty minutes from Amsterdam is the Dutch province of Flevoland, a 547-square mile province completely formed of reclaimed land. The province is surrounded by dikes, and pumping stations prevent the land from flooding. The capital of Flevoland is Lelystad, named after Cornelis Lely, the Dutch engineer who masterminded the reclamation project.

The Dutch aren't kidding when they brag about their water management skills - if it weren't for the long dikes, dams and pumps, most of the country would have vanished into the North Sea years ago. The water management skills are also the reason behind the extremely fertile land and success in mass flower production.

7. Just outside Amsterdam is the third largest building in the world.

If you have ever bought flowers, there is a 75% chance that you've purchased a product that has passed through the Aalsmeer Flower Auction building. This complex is where flower shops all over the world buy their products, and in most cases flowers that arrive in the United States were trucked into this facility a mere 24 hours ago.

Myth status: True

Until five years ago, the Aalsmeer Flower Auction was the largest building in the world. The facility is so massive that the staff uses bicycles just to get from corner to corner. The other numbers from Aalsmeer are just as staggering: every year 2.5 billion flowers enter and leave the 533 loading docks and have a total value of just under five billion dollars!

If you visit Amsterdam and don't mind heading to the suburbs, a trip to the flower auction is a fantastic way to spend your morning. Since flowers need to be shipped quickly, most of the action starts at 7AM, so be prepared for an early wake up call.

8. John Lennon and Yoko One once spent an entire week in bed at an Amsterdam hotel.

According to urban legend, John Lennon and Yoko Ono tried to promote peace by staying in bed for a week in an Amsterdam Hotel.

Myth status: True

On March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono celebrated their marriage by checking into the Amsterdam Hilton and staying in bed for a week. They slept in the Presidential Suite (room 902) and invited the press to their room every day. At the time, the press had hoped to photograph the pair's intimate moments but were disappointed when they found out that the goal of the project was to promote world peace. The Amsterdam "bed-in" made the Amsterdam Hilton famous, and, if you have the cash, you can still check into room 902.

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