A wide but unenticing avenue lined with tacky restaurants, bars and bureaux de change, Damrak slices south from Stationsplein into the heart of the city, first passing an inner harbour crammed with the bobbing canal boats of Amsterdam’s considerable tourist industry. Just beyond the harbour is the imposing bulk of the Beurs, the old Stock Exchange – known as the “Beurs van Berlage” – a seminal work designed at the turn of the last century by the leading light of the Dutch Modern movement, Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856–1934). It’s used for concerts and occasional exhibitions these days, so you can’t often get in to see the graceful exposed ironwork and shallow-arched arcades of the main hall, but you can pop into its café, round the corner on Beurssplein, to admire the tiled scenes of the past, present and future by Jan Toorop.
Stretching along the Damrak, the long-established De Bijenkorf – literally “beehive” – department store posed all sorts of problems for the Germans when they first occupied the city in World War II. It was a Jewish concern, so the Nazis didn’t really want their troops shopping here, but the store was just too popular to implement a total ban. The bizarre solution was to prohibit German soldiers from shopping on the ground floor, where the store’s Jewish employees were concentrated, as they always had been, in the luxury goods section. These days it’s a good all-round department store, with the usual floors of designer-wear and well-known brands.