Thousands line up to pay last respects to ‘city father’, late Amsterdam mayor

Photo: Joris van Gennip via HH

A simple, pale wood coffin stands in the middle of the room, the air full of the scent of hundreds of flowers.

Around the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, thousands of Amsterdammers wait to pay their respects to their late mayor, Eberhard van der Laan.

People from all backgrounds, ages and occupations travelled to the centre of Amsterdam on Friday to file past the coffin of Van der Laan, who died a week ago from lung cancer.

The flag of the 19th century building was flying at half mast, and a board above the door read – in the words of the major – “Take good care of the city and of each other.”

In the queue, people shared warm words and memories. ‘He was a father figure for the city,’ said Jelka van Putten, 45, who works for the city helping refugees. ‘He was warm, direct, always working hard to make people’s lives and the city better.’

Her colleague Jel Mer Nicolai, 41, added: ‘He was a unifying figure, but also a liberal voice. Amsterdam has always taken in refugees, and he stood for the ideals of the city.’

Veterans

Others had direct experience of Van der Laan’s work. Efie van Alen, a former marine of 89, was grateful that Van der Laan had helped win him a payment to which he was entitled for serving in Indonesia. ‘I met him at a veteran’s day, and he asked about my time in the military,’ he recalled.

Lars Groot, 22, came to represent Hogeschool Inholland Diemen, saying: ‘He was committed to giving people equal chances, and meant a lot for our multicultural school.’

Meanwhile, 57-year-old Huib Tilanus, whose house suffered from subsidence during the building of the north-south metro line, was grateful that the mayor stepped in to help. ‘He understood situations quickly, and stepped in to help with people as a priority,’ he said.

Kind heart

Some, like 21-year-old art student Janne Igbuwe, knew him mostly from the television, but were still moved to come. ‘He had such a kind heart,’ she said.

Throughout the day, from 10am to 8pm, representatives of different groups from military veterans and homeless people to drag queens were scheduled to stand as guards of honour next to the coffin.

Photo: Koen van Weel/ANP/handout

The queue stretched around the whole ground floor of the Concertgebouw, with each room filled with images of Van der Laan, alongside the Dutch king, meeting people, and with the Ajax football scarf around his neck.

In 14 books of condolences, people wrote personal and heartfelt messages about this mayor of Amsterdam, and their thoughts for the wife and young family the 62-year-old left behind.

The queue slowed as people walked past the coffin in ones and twos, laying their flowers, and making gestures of respect. As they left the building, past a room containing just a box of tissues, many had tears in their eyes.