An endurance test that I constantly failed: Occupied City reviewed

Occupied City is Steve McQueen’s meditative essay on Amsterdam during Nazi occupation, with a running time of four hours and 22 minutes. There is no archive footage. There are no witness testimonies. It’s not The Sorrow and the Pity. It is not half-a-Shoah. Instead, this visits 130 addresses and details what happened there between 1940 and 1945 while showing the building or space as it is today. It should have its own power – what ghosts reside here? What was life like for the Jews who were deported from this square and perished at Auschwitz? – but I watched it from home via a link, as I had Covid, and

A last-minute escape from the Holocaust

At the beginning of his profoundly moving memoir of his grandparents, parents, the Holocaust and the Gulag, Daniel Finkelstein writes: This the story of how my family took a journey which ended happily in Hendon, eating crusty bread rolls with butter in the café near the M1, but on the way took a detour through hell. Who would have guessed what those people, tucking into rolls at the newly-opened Brent Cross shopping centre in the mid-1970s, had been through? There was Finkelstein’s elegant Polish-Jewish grandmother, Lusia Finkelstein, known locally as ‘the Lady of Hendon Central’ in her hat; his German-born Jewish mother, née Mirjam Wiener, a maths teacher, who particularly

How to see two sides of Vermeer in the Netherlands

Why is it that the world of critics, gallery-goers and art-lovers is so overwhelmingly enthralled by Johannes Vermeer? His subjects – quiet interior scenes with women writing letters or playing music – are hardly the stuff of radical innovation or surprise. He wasn’t even that original: his works often have a similar focus to those by his contemporaries from the Dutch Golden Age, from Pieter de Hooch to Jan Verkolje. Nor is his biography the perfect fodder for endless books and feverish interest. So little is known about the man, and his way of painting, that the moniker he was given by the French art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger in the

No, Amsterdam hasn’t overtaken the City

London is Europe’s major financial centre and one of the world’s two leading financial hubs. This is unlikely to change following Brexit. Its main competition is with New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and other centres like Shanghai that will emerge in the coming years. However, the headline of today’s main story in the Financial Times proclaimed, ‘Amsterdam ousts London as Europe’s top share trading hub’. The article correctly reported that more shares were traded last month on ‘Euronext, Amsterdam and the Dutch arms of CBOE Europe and Turquoise in January’ than ‘in London’. While the data in this story is naturally correct, it needs to be put within context in order to

Leiden: The eccentric city that’s worth leaving Amsterdam for

I’m on a narrowboat in Leiden, nursing a filthy hangover, watching this antique city floating past, when I’m awoken from my daydream by a strange whirring noise above me. The glass roof of the canal boat is rapidly descending, and the jolly Dutchman at the tiller is telling me to mind my head. I end up flat on my back, with the roof a few feet above. ‘We have some low bridges here in Leiden,’ says the tillerman, by way of explanation, as if this weird contraption was the most natural thing in the world. For me, this canal boat with its collapsing roof encapsulates the quirky appeal of Leiden,