Amsterdam's oldest church and one of the city's oldest buildings, Oude Kerk is unavoidable if you take a stroll around the Red Light District, which most visitors inevitably do. Surrounded by windows lit up in red on one side - this is where you'll traditional find "the Latin quarter" section of the RLD, and backing onto a number of bars and coffee shops (yes, the Amsterdam kind) the Oude Kerk isn't exactly surrounded by the typical neighbours a church in other cities stands next to, however, it seems to suit its location well and indeed continues to serve parishioners with weekly services, although its not clear if these are the same people who frequent the coffee shops and windows nearby, though sometimes I like to think so.
I've been to Oude Kerk before a few times, including a visit to see the impressive World Press Photo exhibition back in 2012. (The same annual visiting collection of photos is now hosted by Nieuwe Kerk, which contrary to its name, isn't that much "newer" than Oude Kerk, relatively speaking). What I didn't know until I went on my recent tour of the Red Light District was that in summer months (April - September) you can get a guided tour up the church's tower. With Amsterdam being a fairly flat city without a distinguishable skyline, there aren't many opportunities to climb up above the rooftops and view the city from above, especially in the Red Light District, the city's oldest neighbourhood. So, despite being six months pregnant, when my tour guide asked if I'd like to go up, I nodded quickly and handed over my €7 to the man selling tickets.
The quick 30 minute tour gives you some history of the building and the surrounding area - the talks on various levels welcomingly breaking up the steep climb up eye-boggling steep and narrow stairs - and you get a feel for how the tower was more than just a religious symbol. As with most church towers, for many centuries it was used as "watch tower" to protect the city from any threats, like fire or an enemy approaching. It was also used to keep time and to sound out certain hours. Even as late as the 19th century, the bells in Oude Kerk were used as the city's clock until Nieuwe Kerk took over.
Sadly there wasn't half as much time as I would have liked at the top of Oude Kerk to stand and admire the view, let alone take all the photos I wanted to. Slick and very, very fit, the young tour guides working that day were quick and efficient to get us up and down in time so the following group wasn't delayed. Nonetheless I still felt something like awe about my experience climbing the tour and seeing the city from a completely new viewpoint.
And yet it wasn't a new viewpoint. This was one of Amsterdam's oldest as a church has stood on the same spot since 1300, although the tower itself has been adapted and extended several times over the centuries. No doubt thousands, millions of birds have been enjoying the view from up there for several hundreds of years. I was just glad that this Bird got an opportunity finally...
For more information about visiting Oude Kerk's Tower, check out this website, and click visiting the tower.
(P.S. There are some photo opportunities to be had at a height in Amsterdam, check out my top ten places to take photos in the city for some tips.)
Frances M. Thompson
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