The I amsterdam letters
“I amsterdam” is Amsterdam’s hugely successful marketing slogan.
Yes, a capital ‘I’ and a lower caps ‘a’.
And no, there is no ‘I amsterdam’ or ‘I love Amsterdam’ sign.
We’ll explain the meaning of the sign. But first:
The Brief Return That Didn’t Happen
Though the beloved set of letters were removed from Museumplein only just three months ago, the City council recently announced they would be back — albeit for two days only: Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19 and 20, 2019.
They were going to be used as an advertising gimmick of sorts, meant to draw attention to the States-Provincial council elections on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.
In fact for this occasion the letters would be accompanied by a giant red ‘voting pencil’ as well as a voting booth.
Salient detail: the temporary return of the letters was suggested by Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema, whose political party GroenLinks banned the sign in the first place.
Hypocrisy in politics. Nothing new under the sun.
Oh, and according to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, this little venture would cost the
city taxpayer €15.000-20.000 ($19,000-22,704).
Well, this Tuesday (March 19) the City crawled back, saying the letters will now not be displayed. The reason? According to a spokesperson for the City: yesterday’s deadly shooting incident — believed to be an act of terrorism — in the city of Utrecht.
Politics and hypocrisy.
Iconic sign banned from Museumplein
Update: Monday, December 3, 2018
That’s it. The ‘I amsterdam’ letters were removed at 8 am this morning.
The set of letters will now be refurbished. Later it will again be on display, popping up in various locations around town — albeit not in the city center.
Meanwhile, you can still take selfies with the smaller versions of the sign, such as the one located at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
I amsterdam letters will be removed in December
Update: Saturday, November 24, 2018 — If you still want to see the ‘I amsterdam’ letters you have to be quick. The 2-meter tall sign will be removed from Museumplein on Monday December 3, or on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.
Hosts will, during the rest of the month, direct disappointed tourists to other locations in the city where smaller versions of the popular sign may be viewed.
Some other Dutch cities, as well as a miniature theme park, had expressed interest in buying the set of letters.
However, The original sign — the largest version — will be placed in storage for now.
Fortunately it looks like this set of letters will eventually also pop up in various locations around the city — as was originally planned.
Gesture politics: Amsterdam marketing slogan removed
Update: Thursday, November 8, 2018 — It’s official: the iconic ‘I amsterdam’ sign, which features in hundreds of thousands of tourist photos and selfies — is history.
The set of huge letters will be removed from Museumplein after a majority of city council members voted in favor of a GroenLinks (GreenLeft) motion.
GreenLeft politicians targeted the marketing slogan as part of their response to overtourism. (Oddly, they also claimed that the slogan was a “symbol of increasing individualism.” Weirdness and politics go hand-in-hand, after all).
No word yet on what will happen with the smaller sets of letters that often pop up in various spots around town.
Many Amsterdammers concerned about the negative effects of mass tourism applaud the decision to remove the letters. Many others disagree for a variety of reasons.
Among others things fans of the sign decry GreenLeft’s “patronizing” claim that the set of letters “stands for individualism.”
A good many citizens see the decision as a prime example of gesture politics.
Too Successful — Letters May Be Gone Soon
Update: Wednesday, October 10, 2018 — It looks like the letters will soon be gone — and, some Amsterdammers think, none too soon.
Like many other cities throughout Europe, Amsterdam has in recent years been suffering from over-tourism. This city of 850.000 people is currently visited by 8 million tourists a year. That is simply too much of a good thing.
A majority of Amsterdam City Council members now wants to get rid not just of the letters, but also of the marketing campaign they stood for.
Mind you, for now this is just a ‘motion’ — suggested by Groenlinks, the current majority party in Amsterdam. Or, depending on your perspective, ‘symbolism politics’. That is what Frits Huffnagel, who in 2004 as alderman for Economic Affairs commissioned the letters.
According to GroenLinks the slogan has become a symbol for mass tourism and individualism in a city which stands for solidarity and diversity.
“Iamsterdam stands for individualism while we want a city which stands for solidarity and diversity,” said Femke Roosma, leader of the GroenLinks group on the city council. “In addition, the slogan reduces the city to the backdrop of a marketing story.”
The motion was accepted by the full city council, and it may well turn out that the letters will be removed within weeks.
A final vote will be held in November 2018.
Launched in September, 2004, the sign — at the back of the Rijksmuseum — has become one of the city’s most photographed icons. You rarely see the letters without people in front, behind, or on top of the slogan — taking photos and selfies which help market the city through social media.
Amsterdam Marketing happily estimates the letters are photographed some 6.000 times a day. ‘Happily,’ because the original intention — marketing Amsterdam abroad in the wake of the financial crisis — has worked far beyond expectation.
In fact, now that (according to a growing number of locals) Amsterdam is “overrun” with tourists, many Amsterdammers believe the sign has worked too well, and has overstayed its welcome.1
The marketing folks, meanwhile, have changed their focus from attracting tourists to promoting the city as an ideal place to do business, organize international conferences and congresses, and locate or relocate company headquarters or satellite offices.
What is the meaning of the I Amsterdam sign?
The sentiment behind the slogan was, ostensibly, to make Amsterdammers feel good about themselves:
Amsterdam’s strongest asset is its people.
The people who live here, who work here, who study or visit here.
The people of Amsterdam are Amsterdam.
We are Amsterdam.
– Amsterdam Partners2
The larger message (intended or not): Amsterdammers are happy. Tourists are happy. Expats are happy.
Indeed, Quality of Life surveys — used by international companies to decided where to locate their offices — generally rank Amsterdam highly.
Where is the I Amsterdam sign?
The main set of letters is located at the back of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’ premier art museum — just a stone throw from the Van Gogh Museum (which houses the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in the world).
Take trams 2, 3, 5 or 12 to get there (stops listed on the map).
A second set of the I Amsterdam letters is found at the plaza of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Meanwhile a third, smaller version travels around the city. It pops up at events — such as fashion shows, fairs, festivals and congresses — but also at museums, along the river IJ, or just about anywhere else.3
Finally, a scaled-down version lives in the courtyard of the Amsterdam Museum (a must-see, by the way).
And of course you’ll find the I amsterdam phrase printed on every imaginable souvenir.
I Amsterdam Letters Trivia
- The main sign is 2 meters (6.5 feet) high and 24 meters (26 yards) long
- On average each letter weighs about 250 kilo (551 pound)
- Nevertheless, one night in February 2010, two of the letters ‘went missing.’
- Warning stickers on the side of the sign state that the letters are not meant to be climbed on. Countless people do so anyway. The letter ‘D’ is the most popular letter with climbers, since it is tall (and easier to climb on the the stand-alone letter ‘i’)
- The sign features in an average 6000 selfies a day.
- The I amsterdam motto was designed in 2004, by advertising agency KesselsKramer
- Two years earlier designer Vanessa van Dam created and printed an ‘IAmsterdammer’ postcard with an accent on the first three letters. Though it was determined her design was not plagiarized, the City bought the right to her logo for € 20.000
- Cities and countries around the world have shamelessly copied Amsterdam’s slogan in one form or another
- The I amsterdam City Card is a really good deal
- Amsterdam’s 800.000+ residents in 2016 saw an estimated 12 million visitors — from the Netherlands and from abroad — visit their city ↩
- When the ‘I amsterdam’ phrase was introduced, Amsterdam Partners was the “platform for city marketing in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area.” It has since been renamed twice: first to ‘Amsterdam Marketing’, and in February 2019 to ‘amsterdam&partners‘. ↩
- See: Where are the travelling letters now? ↩
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