Des de Moor
Press Cuttings: Chanson

UCL Virtual Dutch: Amsterdam Represented 2005
Testing Times

Song: Diamonds on the Dam

[Note: this piece originally appeared on University College London's educational Virtual Dutch website in 2005. On the site, the notes and the answers to questions are clickable links that appear in a popup window, but for simplicity we have presented all the text on the same page here.]

In this section you will look at two verses and the chorus of "Diamonds on the Dam", a song about Amsterdam by Des De Moor who is an English singer-songwriter. His father is Dutch and was brought up in Amsterdam.

To listen to the first verse and chorus click here.

Listen to the extract a few times and read the lyrics. To better understand the lyrics, click the underlined words or phrases and an explanation on the cultural references, which are contained in this song will appear in a new screen.

Once Amsterdam was all our dreams:
A paradise with open door
To stoners, loners, perves and queens
Where coppers told you where to score.
But these days things just aren't the same:
The tourist shops sell fake dope plants,
The squatters who fought on Damplein
Now run arts festivals on grants.

But Amsterdam you were a sham,
You were not ever what you seemed.
We couldn't see for orange
While we fare dodged on the tram
For you were always Heineken
And diamonds on the Dam

Now Amsterdam your refugees
Keep heads down while they fry your frites.
There's deportations, beatings, sleaze
And yes, there's beggars on your streets.
But hey, we're all gezellig here
And liberal on drugs and sex.
We made the waters disappear,
We're up in smugness to our necks.


The squatters who fought on Damplein
The Squatters were the main protest movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s in Amsterdam. They protested against the development plans of the city council and speculators by squatting unoccupied houses ready for demolition or bought by speculators. Damplein or Dam Square is the centre of the city and was the stage of many a confrontation between police and protesters.

Orange is considered to be the national colour of the Netherlands. The Dutch royal family is called: the house of Orange. People sport orange on the 30th of April, Koninginnedag, Queens Day, and during major international football championships to show their support for the Dutch national team. It creates a superficial sense of national identity and has celebratory rather than nationalistic overtones. During European and World Cup Football, orange is the name of the game, and people decorate cafés, shops and sometimes even their house in orange. The only other time that people sport orange is on the 30 th of April, Koninginnedag, Queens Day, a bank holiday. (From Routledge, an accelerated courses in Dutch, 2005, by Gerdi Quist, Christine Sas and Dennis< Strik).

The original Heineken brewery stood in Amsterdam. Heineken Beer was brewed there from 1867 to 1988.

diamonds on the Dam
The diamond industry has flourished in Amsterdam for 400 years. The Amsterdam Diamond Centre is situated on Dam Square.

Frites, chips or fries, are better known as patat in the Netherlands. They are bought from snack bars and mostly eaten smothered with mayonnaise.

This is a Dutch word the Dutch are very proud of and like to think of as peculiarly Dutch. It is an adjective that describes an atmosphere of cosiness. It generally describes an environment, whether in the physical or the social sense. In this song it describes an attitude.

We made the waters disappear
The Dutch are known for the dykes they built in order to drain lakes and areas of the sea to reclaim land.


As you probably have noticed the fragments of this song provide us with a more complicated picture of Amsterdam as it represents the city from various perspectives. Let’s unpick it.

1. Line 1: What kind of image of Amsterdam is created in these first lines from the perspective of "all our dreams"?

Answer: Amsterdam is 'positioned' as a liberal, tolerant and progressive place, where people who are often seen as not being part of mainstream society: drug addicts, lonely people, perverts, are welcome. It is interesting to note though that gay people are also included in this list. (You might want to reflect on how gay people are represented here.) Moreover, it is insinuated that the representatives of law and order, the police, are showing an extraordinary liberal, some might say criminal, attitude by showing tourists where to find prostitutes or drugs.

2. Which era do you think the singer is referring to?

Answer: The singer probably refers to both the hippy period and anti-establishment culture of the '60s and '70s, and also the squatter’s movement of the '80s.

3. Line 5: The singer describes his perspective on the city now. What has changed since those rebellious days?

Answer: Amsterdam may still be a tolerant city but the rebellious days are over. The city seems to have lost its edge and has become placid. Money has become much more important than living for ideals. These days tourist shops can sell fake dope plants, meaning that soft drugs have become a commercial tool to attract tourists and their money. The squatters who rebelled against society and authority have become part of the establishment itself by running arts festivals with the money from the establishment, i.e. the council.

4. In the chorus the singer's tone and his attitude towards the city changes completely in the first 4 lines. What is his perception of the city now and what evidence does he find for this image?

Answer: The singer firmly denies that the ‘city of all our dreams’ ever existed in the first place. It is not only "these days" that "things just aren't the same"(line 5), Amsterdam has always been pretending to be something else than it really was. The so-called rebels were only committing very small acts of rebellion such as fare dodging. And in the mean time they were supporters of the monarchy, or at least were proud of their national identity, hence ‘we couldn’t see for orange’. Furthermore, it was always big money making businesses that made Amsterdam tick, as it was ‘always Heineken and Diamonds on the Dam’. The new image that emerges is of Amsterdam as a patriotic and capitalist city. 5. The singer speaks with two different voices in the second verse: there’s a voice addressing a “you” and another one talking as “we”. Who are the ‘you’ and ‘we’?

Answer: As a matter of fact both the ‘you’ and the ‘we’ represent the same group of people: the inhabitants of Amsterdam who are addressed as a whole group. Nevertheless, we get the impression that this group is white and bigoted. The singer uses ‘you’ when he represents an accusing voice and he uses ‘we’ to enhance the message of the Amsterdammers being smug and self-satisfied.

6. What does the singer accuse Amsterdam and its people of?

Answer: They are happy to be served by refugees ‘they fry your frites’, but they turn a blind eye to the bad treatment the refugees suffer: ‘deportations, beatings, sleaze’. Despite the reputation of Amsterdam and its inhabitants as being tolerant, in reality the situation is very different, according to the singer. Amsterdam seems to be all but a paradise for refugees, illegal immigrants and also the poor: ‘yes, there’s beggars on your streets'.

7. What are the reply and the attitude of the “we”?

Answer: At the same time, the people of Amsterdam are smug and self-satisfied. All they see is that Amsterdam is “gezellig” and they are proud of their reputation of being liberal and tolerant. In fact, the Amsterdammers are so smug; they (speaking with the voice of the author) almost assume biblical status by boasting they made the water disappear.

In summary this song presents us with a somewhat different picture of Amsterdam than the tourist guide. Whereas the tourist guide represented Amsterdam as ‘gezellig' and tolerant, the song mocks these stereotypes. Instead it creates an image of Amsterdam as a place intolerant to refugees, a city where capitalism flourishes, and where the establishment and authorities in power are well respected.

Text: Gerdi Quist and Anne-Mie Wouters (University College London).

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UCL Department of Dutch Amsterdam Represented website

You can view the article in the way it was originally presented here.

See also
'Diamonds on the Dam' full lyrics
'Diamonds on the Dam' MP3