Down and Out in Amsterdam 1973

As I was visiting friends in Amsterdam lately, I remembered my old days in Amsterdam in the autumn of 1973.

I was a shy, long haired, village boy and just finished my first year in the University of Jerusalem. I flew for a vacation to London and had an open return ticket from Amsterdam.

The war started while I was still in London. I continued according to plan and took the ferry to Amsterdam, but I definitely didn’t want to go back while the war was still raging, so I had to wait it out on low budget and hope for a fast ceasefire.

Amsterdam was a pretty good place for a young guy to kill time in that period. I embarked in a cheap youth hostel near the center. There were flocks of young people from all over Europe wandering around, still infected with the fever of the youth rebellion of the Sixties. You could sit with everybody to hear music for free in the open air. I was already pretty serious by that time about my political activism, but I wouldn’t say no to a joint if it passed by me.

Israelis looking for war

Wandering around just to keep myself away from war, I met some Israeli guys that were just looking for a way to go home to take part in the war. They were no regular flights but there were rumors about some flights that might fly to Lod from Amsterdam or some other European airports.

I remember especially one of them. He left Israel and already had good life in California. He came to Amsterdam as he heard that there may be some flight he could catch. It was not his first station in Europe. He told me how unlucky he was as he was only 18 in 1967 and just missed the war. He enlisted to the army later and continued to the USA, but he wouldn’t let himself miss another war. I still wonder whether he finally succeeded to get himself killed.

Criminal or just polite?

At the time you could hardly pass by in the streets near our hostel without having somebody whisper in your ear: “Hash, hash, hash… want hash?”

I could see where they took the willing customers. There was a middle-aged man seated always at the back of the longue in the hostel. They would seat with him while another guy would bring the stuff and soon they will go away.

Once I was hanging around in the street myself while one potential customer turned to me: Do you know where I can get hash?

Like the other guys (but without whispering in anybody’s ears), I brought him to the reliable source. I thought I’m entitled to get my fees for the service but decided to leave it like that, just being polite to everybody.

It was not a simple decision, as I was really running out of money.

Money problems

I was really naïve at the time. I had my last hundred dollars, and I tried to buy something in the street. The seller took the hundred dollar bill and requested me to wait while he is going to bring some change. He never returned. The other sellers around were looking at me like saying: you brought it upon yourself.

The war already finished and I had my flight back home, but for the last night I didn’t have money to pay the hostel, not to eat, not even to pay for the bus ticket to the airport.

In the evening I was wandering around in the streets of Amsterdam, just killing time, when some people called me. “Hey, they said, we know you from the hostel”. As I explained them my situation, they said they plan to sleep out on a boat and invited me to spend the night with them. I don’t really remember but I assume I even received some unexpected meal that night.

ComplicationsAmsterdam boats

Sitting with my new benefactors under the deck, I was not sure it was such a good luck. They were planning a robbery for that night. They went to sleep out so that there will be no evidence that they left the hostel in the middle of the night. There were maybe five men and one woman. It was her role to wake them up at around four o’clock in the morning.

I don’t think I slept much that night. But I was too egoistic to help my new friends and wake them up when the woman failed to do it. When they noticed it was already maybe six in the morning and the city around was starting to come to life – no good time for a robbery.

Happy End

I went to the station to take the bus to the airport.

As I arrived there I turned to the first man that happened to pass in the street.

“I have a ticket to go abroad, but I don’t have money to get the bus to the airport”, I told him.

He looked at me wearily.

“I know you’re lying. But I will give you the money anyway”.

I thanked him.

If you know him, please, thank him again.