We knew he had been ill for some time, yet his farewell letter on 18 September still came as a shock. “It was my great privilege to be mayor of the most beautiful and best city in the world,” he wrote. “Please take good care of our city and each other. Farewell.”
The next evening, thousands of Amsterdammers came together in front of the mayor’s official residence on the Herengracht to give him a standing ovation. It was just one of the many ways in which the people of Amsterdam expressed the warmth of their feelings towards their mayor.
At Amsterdam Marketing, the Eberhard we knew was devoted to his work as mayor. He was a passionate ambassador for our ‘180 Amsterdammers’ project, highlighting and celebrating the city’s wide variety of colours and cultures. Direct contact with his fellow Amsterdammers, in all their diversity, was his top priority.
More than anyone else, he was aware of how important it is to strengthen the city’s economic position, not as a matter of prestige, but because of its importance to local people. Economic strength means prosperity and employment for Amsterdammers, and Mr Van der Laan was highly successful in promoting it. Under his leadership Amsterdam underwent a true renaissance, and he took care to ensure that every Amsterdammer was able to share in this success.
Government, cultural parties, universities and industry have to work closely together to achieve this, that was his vision. With this combination, he toured the world tirelessly as the inspiring chairperson of the Metropolitan Amsterdam Club. Berlin, Copenhagen, London – wherever there were opportunities, he would pay a visit himself. Not because he loved travelling, but because he knew how important it was that someone in his position should promote the city in person.
As its capital, Amsterdam is a city for everyone in the Netherlands, and Mr Van der Laan believed they should all feel at home here. But first and foremost, he saw Amsterdam as a city for Amsterdammers. When it came to the ‘balance debate’ initiated by Amsterdam Marketing – how do we maintain the balance between living, working and visiting? – as far as he was concerned, the argument tipped in favour of the city’s residents: Amsterdammers come first. Some things are just more important than money.
The mayor was not one for unnecessary rules and regulations. For example, the opening hours for nightclubs were extended – “As long as they don’t bother other Amsterdammers”. But he knew where to draw the line when necessary, though always with a sense of humour, which was perhaps his strongest weapon. “Go on then, boo me,” he told hardcore Ajax supporters triumphantly, when he had decided to move the club’s championship celebrations from Museumplein to the ArenA Park. “I had an Ajax season ticket when you were still watching Sesame Street in your pyjamas.”
Eberhard van der Laan, born in Leiden, a lawyer with a social democratic heart, who claimed never to have had the ambition to be a mayor of Amsterdam, possessed precisely the right qualities to be one. This was something the people of Amsterdam perhaps realised even before he did. He died on 5 October 2017, aged 62, in his home on the Herengracht in Amsterdam. We, who have known him personally, will never forget him.