Eberhard van der Laan
Eberhard van der Laan (55) grew up in Rijnsburg and has lived in Amsterdam since 1975. He is married and has five children.
Following a full career including co-founding a major Amsterdam law firm and, until recently, as Labour Party Minister of Housing, Communities and Integration, Van der Laan is now mayor of Amsterdam. A role he describes as "The most honourable job in the world."
"Amsterdam has the most beautiful city centre in the world and the best way to get a complete overview of the city is from the water". Van der Laan and his family take a canal cruise almost every year. When asked for further tips he would offer newcomers to Amsterdam, he suggested a visit to the Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum), Van Gogh Museum and – when open – the Stedelijk Museum.
“There are literally thousands of things that make Amsterdam what it is,” says Van der Laan. “To really experience Amsterdam walk along the streets, visit the cafés, go to parks such as the famous Vondelpark and markets like the Ten Kate or Albert Cuypmarkt.”
"Half of the city's residents weren’t born in Amsterdam and it has been this way for 600 years." says Van der Laan. Amsterdam is home to 178 different nationalities, making it one of the most diverse cities in the world."
For newcomers to Amsterdam, Van der Laan suggests a visit to the Expatcenter to help make the transition smooth. From there, get in touch with community groups so you can share experiences with and learn from others.
Learning the language is important for those staying in Amsterdam for the long term. "This is an important part of integration and helps you connect with people. The city offers several integration courses to help people learn Dutch and understand the culture. But fortunately almost everyone speaks English."
A compassionate city
His experience as minister of Housing, Communities and Integration is something Van der Laan will carry with him in his role as Mayor of Amsterdam. During his visits to the city districts, Van der Laan learned a lot, including “that, despite the great prosperity of recent years and solidarity in all that is Amsterdam, some people have been left behind."
“All stakeholders in the city must improve cooperationbeyond the beaten paths", says Van der Laan. He would like a "more compassionate city". Van der Laan plans to make several visits to districts as part of working towards this goal.
On 8 July he made his first mission to the District of Zuidoost, accompanied by Police Commissioner Bernard Welten. "I would like to be there for everyone, including each party."
Don’t turn a blind eye
During his inauguration ceremony, Van der Laan stated he would like to keep the balance between security and freedom. The statistics for Amsterdam have improved in recent years and the city is considered safer. Yet people often do not feel safe enough in the tram, for example, and there still is discrimination and violence against gay people and Jews. Even ambulance workers and firemen are targeted at times. "Violence is unacceptable and we have to fight it with the tools we have got." continues Van der Laan, "But Amsterdammers themselves should also intervene when they see others fall victim to harassment.”
Responsibilities of a capital city
Van der Laan feels that Amsterdam could be more welcoming. "Amsterdammers too often assume that tourists will come to Amsterdam regardless. But this is not a given. The hospitality and taxi industry should focus more effort in becoming more hospitable." He continues, "It is not only tourists who will benefit from this improvement, residents use these services as well."
Amsterdam has been labelled an arrogant city at times and Van der Laan sees improving this image an important task.
“A capital has certain responsibilities and we should work with everyone. Amsterdam should be the principal international engine from and for the Netherlands."