Sarah the Expat
on June 25, 2005
When I first arrived, the actual church bit of Westerkerk was closed due to lack of volunteers, but I was more concerned with going up into the Westerkerk Tower. Tours run every half-hour, but it can be difficult to organise, because only six to seven people are allowed on each tour, and you can't book more than a half-hour in advance. Worse for me, I got there at lunchtime, when the two tour guides take their break, so I had to wait a half-hour to book the tour, then wait another half-hour to go on it.
The tour to the tower involves about 15 minutes of climbing incredibly small and narrow staircases (with some more like ladders), stopping on certain levels to see the bell-ringing equipment and the bells themselves. This is really not recommended if you have mobility problems; the climb was tough for me, being asthmatic and out of shape! The guide will also give a little bit of the history of the church and tower. Once you're at the top, you will be treated to the best view of Amsterdam you can imagine. You can see right down into the canals and across the rooftops, and it's just gorgeous on a sunny day. Unfortunately, you'll only get about 10 minutes up there, and then it's time to navigate backwards down all the stairs. In total, it's only a half-hour and cost 5€, but the view is worth it!
Lucky for me, when the tour was over, I found that they had opened up the church for just an hour for an organ recital, so I was able to slip in and listen. Afterward, I had a nice long chat with one of the volunteers about the history of the church, and he explained to me why it looked so different than other churches I'd been in.
Westerkerk was one of the first protestant churches to be built in Amsterdam. When all the Catholics were told to get lost, most of the Catholic churches were stripped of all their ornamentation and transformed into protestant churches. However, Westerkerk was built specifically to be protestant, and the difference is striking: bare white walls, no stained glass, and practically the only ornamentation is the giant organ. The volunteer pointed out that the large glass windows were clear rather than stained to bring in "the light of god." The floor seemed to be entirely graves, most only with a number, but some with carvings. The volunteer told me this was mainly down to who could afford to pay for it!
I really enjoyed my visit to Westerkerk, and the organ music in that setting was amazing. The volunteer told me there are several concerts/recitals held in Westerkerk and gave me a schedule in case I came back. I would highly recommend finding out if there are any events going on at Westerkerk during your visit, as you won't be disappointed.
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