Visiting Anne Frank House
-Why you should, and how to get in without the wait.
The morning after our train ride fiasco, we had tickets to the Anne Frank House and Museum. The Diary of Anne Frank is required reading in most US school districts, and it is also widely read throughout the world. The experiences she shares are both moving and poignant. The house where she and her family hid from the Nazis is now one of the most widely visited sites in Amsterdam. It is very, very busy.
When I was planning my trip I read several different blogs and travel articles about Amsterdam, some by travelers, and some by locals. There were several writers who recommended avoiding the Anne Frank House, because it is such a tourist attraction. They said it was far better to avoid the lines and the wait at the house, and visit the Jewish Resistance Museum instead, where there are few crowds and little waiting.
Okay, so I get it. I live in Champaign, Illinois, and as a "townie" I avoid the campus area like the plague, particularly during the school year. I hate the crowds, I hate the traffic, and sometimes the attitude as well. But, when I have visitors from out-of-town, I take them to campus. People who are not accustomed to the area love going there. They enjoy seeing the architecture, the art, the museums, the specialty shops, and the crowds, that I hate. I would be cheating my visitors if I didn't share this unique area with them.
Asking a visitor from another country, or another continent to avoid the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is like asking them to avoid the Eifel Tower or Notre Dame in Paris, or the Vatican City in Rome. It may be a once in a lifetime thing, but if you are in Amsterdam, visiting Anne Frank House is a must. It is something you must see at least once.
Yes, there will be crowds, and lines, but that is to be expected at any once in a lifetime location. The Jewish Resistance Museum is probably a moving and educational museum with stories that will tear at our hearts, but Anne Frank is already in our hearts. If we are there, we must visit her home to have some closure in our relationship with her.
If you are very educated about the Frank family history, there is not a lot in the museum portion that you will not already be familiar with. I have read the diary three times, at three different stages of my life. I have watched the documentaries presented by both the BBC and National Geographic, and read other analysis. With that, I had already seen the pictures and video clips, and I was familiar with all of the written historical sketches. For someone who did not have that depth of knowledge already, the information and presentation may be quite expanding and emotional.
However, once in the main building where Otto Frank's businesses, Opekta and Pectacon, were run, a different feeling ensues. It becomes apparent how the offices and warehouses were set up in particular ways to keep out peering eyes and avoid rousing suspicions. An understanding of the risks that were taken by the employees in this building to hide those who were wanted for nothing other than being of the wrong ancestry, begins to dawn on you. And then you come to the book-case in the hall.
If you really know Anne's story, if you have truly felt the loneliness and fear in your heart, there could be nothing else like stepping behind that book case onto the steep creeking stairway that leads to the annex. Then you are there, standing in the midst of the annex, the hiding place where Anne Frank, Margot, her sister, Otto and Edith, her parents, spent two and a half years of their lives in hiding. You are in this apartment where not only the four Franks lived, but shared this small space with Hermann and Auguste van Pels, and their son Peter, and another adult, Franz Pfeffer.
You have to slow down, center yourself, and really think about it. There were eight people living in this space. Eight people stayed utterly silent through each day, so business could be conducted immediately below them, without suspicion. Eight people remained shut up in this space for almost thirty months, without ever going outside, ever opening the curtains in daylight, in fear for their lives. Eight people hoping and praying in this annex, for a future beyond the war and the terror, only to be turned over to the Nazis and taken to concentration camps only months before the war ended. It all seems so pointless, and if you let it really sink in at the annex, it can bring you to tears.
I was trying to take pictures in the annex, to be able to share this experience with others who I know also feel a connection to Anne Frank. When I stepped into the bedroom she shared with Margot, I simply forgot. I was standing in her room, with her postcards and magazine clippings of movie stars still on the wall. She was a teenager, with hopes of a bright future, dreams of fame and luxury, like every other teeanager. Standing in her room, you understand this. You understand the despair of her story, and what war and its horrors does to people, including innocent young girls.
Anne's story is not unique. There were thousands of hiding places, and millions of lives ended for pointless reasons. Thousands upon thousands of innocent young girls lost their lives. But it was this innocence that gave Anne hope through such times, and that gave her courage to share her thoughts in a diary. It is only because of that those of us who have never had to experience war and such fear, can begin to understand.
In all honesty, in retrospect I would have skipped ahead of the museum portion of the tour, because I did already know what was shared there. I think that might have gotten me into that zone between the bulk of the group ahead and mine, where I was in a little more private space, but I cannot say that for sure. Everyone falls into silence once they move into the annex, so they are not disruptive, but they are there. I would have really liked to have stood in that place alone for a time, but I am sure many others would have liked that as well. It just isn't possible.
Anne's story touched my life long ago, and being where she hid and shared her life, left a deep impact on me. I would not trade that experience. If you feel a similar connection to Anne, you must visit her home if the opportunity ever arises.
Here are some practical tips to help you.
- Buy your tickets online directly from the museum. Buying them from a travel or tour site will likely cost you more than a direct purchase.
- Your tickets will be emailed to you in a PDF file. There will be an individual barcode for each ticket purchased.
- Only advance ticket holders are admitted between 09:00 and 3:30.
- Tickets go on sale specifically 30 days in advance, and sell out quickly. Pick your date, and purchase tickets 30 days out.
- Tickets are for a specific time, so choose your time wisely. Late arrivers will not get in.
- On the other hand, plan to arrive only about 10 to 15 minutes early. You will not be admitted until the exact time on your ticket, so no sense waiting around in the crowd.
- The annex is not wheelchair accesible, as there are steep stairways to climb.
Also worth visiting in the area-
Westerkirk, or the West Church, built from 1619-1631, is right next door. It has a history, and is open for tours. Anne refers to its ringing bells in her diary.
Across the street is the Homomonument, a tribute to persecuted homosexuals, in particular those exterminated during World War II