In between Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium and a former correctional facility lays the Havenstraat terrain, one of the last rough patches within the city’s ring-way. Barely subjected to Amsterdam’s fast-paced gentrification, the Havenstraat terrain is an odd collection of barracks, shacks and old tram depots which house businesses, workshops and a tram museum. As the city council has plans to build an apartment complex on the costly ground, chances are this genuine piece of Amsterdam will disappear soon. Dutch photographer Michael Floor decided to capture this eclectic mix of structures, businesses and people before the city has replaced them with something more profitable.
"One guy told me that in the old days, he’d shove the camera in my face, but that there are just too many photographers around the terrain nowadays"
Michael, who lives in the neighborhood, mostly used the Havenstraat terrain as an alternative to a walk in the park. “The terrain used to be even more secluded, before a bicycle path went through it” Michael explains. The bicycle path, which doesn't seem to fit any city planning standards, cuts right through the terrain, in between barracks, through a parking lot and over loads of unused rails.
To say that the Havenstraat is an odd sight is an understatement. Hundreds of people bike through it on a daily basis, yet few people seem to know what’s going on behind the barrack doors.
The Havenstraat owns it’s characteristic architecture to a time where the barracks functioned as coal depot for the trains. As this specific station disappeared when the tracks didn't got modernized to use electricity, the depots became the ideal place for workshops and businesses who profit from the low rent.
The Havenstraat doesn't come across as the most hospitable terrain and a lot of the business owners, if they’re present at all, keep to themselves while Michael takes me on a stroll through the terrain. “This must be the only lady who wouldn't mind if this terrain would be lost, she’s 70 and ready for retirement” Michael says, pointing to a second hand ‘stuff’ store at the beginning of the terrain, which I never noticed before. Another thing I never really noticed; the odd, out of place looking, three story high tower structure next to the store. Michael explains to me that it’s an old station watchtower, left to retire at the Havenstraat.
The terrain is full of odd sights and stuff that 'American Pickers' would go crazy over. During our walk, Michael spots several new frames he tries out with his phone as he uses an analogue Mamiya RZ 67 Pro 2 camera for the final pictures. "I might have to come back with my actual camera later on".
People tend to keep to themselves around here, which makes portraying the terrain and its people a demanding task. Michael: “It’s not a place where you just walk around and snap pictures of everyone. The people here like their privacy and you need to talk to them to get their interest. Some people were fine with me photographing them right away, others had to see me more often before they realized I was doing more than just taking a few quick snaps. One guy told me that in the old days, he’d shove the camera in my face, but that there were just too many photographers around nowadays. He seems to come around though, now he’s seen me more often! I bet I can get a picture of him in the end.”
We continue to walk into a big depot housing a bazaar with an inventory as eclectic as the terrain itself. Michael has an agreement with the owner so that he can come in and photograph the place every once in a while. When the owner walks by, no big pleasantries are exchanged, just a small nod of acknowledgement as he continues his business.
It’s quite easy to romanticize a terrain like this, but some of the businesses here are doing more than well. “This store is doing really good and actually has another branch not too far from here (Beethovenstraat / Appololaan)” Michael tells me while taking mental frames of the light coming in through the roof.
Usually there are quite a few military vehicles scattered around the terrain, which are owned and maintained by classic military vehicle renovator ‘Keep them rollin’. A big yellow bus which is characteristic to the Havenstraat terrain, is used as a riding garage.
Continuing our stroll, Michael explains what more interesting businesses house behind the often closed doors; including a renowned harpsichord builder, a special effects studio for movies, a student moving company, a bicycle repairman and multiple garages.
A bit further on we run into the depots that house the Tram museum, including classic trams. The classic trams are still in use and run on a line between the terrain and Amstelveen, mostly for excursionists.
The trams and depots are also used by a theater group, giving small shows that make use of the trams as moving decors.
Following the tram line is a bit of a hidden surprise: City gardens. Hailing from the days of real crisis, where people were giving a peace of land to grow food on, the gardens now offer a place of relaxation for the owners.
Around them, gentrification has slowly started with brand new apartment buildings at one side of the tracks, and a meticulously planned city park at the other side.
It’s obvious that the city has already been gnawing away at the rough edges of this charmingly authentic terrain. With all the plans for apartment buildings it’s not unthinkable this place will eventually vanish. For now however, business continues as usual.
Michael will continue his series of this terrain and its people, with plans to exhibit them at one point.
When I ask Michael if he thinks it’s a pity this terrain might disappear he answers: “A pity, maybe, yes. But seeing the location, it might be inescapable as well”