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. Visiting Anne Frank House was one of my two absolutely must do things while in Amsterdam.
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. Many young women feel they have a special connection with Anne, because she shares her innermost feelings through a terrifying time, so openly.
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 planning my trip I read several different articles about Amsterdam, some by travelers, and some by locals. There were several writers who recommended avoiding the Anne Frank House. They stated that it was far too touristy. Some offered alternative locations to visit, such as the Jewish Resistance Museum, which has far fewer visitors and little waiting. The lines encountered when visiting the Anne Frank House were far too long, and the experience itself was not worth it.
Okay, so I get it. I live in Champaign, Illinois, and as a "townie" I avoid the campus area like the plague 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, the first place I take them is 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. I would be cheating my visitors if I didn't share this unique area with them.
Expecting a visitor from another country, or another continent, to avoid the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is similar to asking them to avoid Notre Dame in Paris, or the Vatican City in Rome. For many people, the opportunity only presents itself once. I believe that important once in a lifetime experiences should never be sacrificed, no matter how many tourists there are, or how long the lines. From my perspective, if you are in Amsterdam, visiting Anne Frank House is a must.
Yes, there will be crowds, and lines, but that is to be expected at any once in a lifetime location. I have been informed by many sources that the Jewish Resistance Museum is quite moving and educational. I most certainly will visit it on my next stop in Amsterdam, and I am certain it will be heart breaking. But Anne Frank's story broke many of our hearts long ago. For many women, walking through the annex in some strange way brings a sense of closure in their relationship with Anne.
Visitors who are educated about history of the Frank family may be familiar with a good portion of what is presented in the museum side of the tour. Besides the diary itself, there are documentaries presented by both the BBC and National Geographic, as well as an untold number of posts, articles, and books about the Frank family. In some cases these materials have been used to form parts of the displays, but they are also available through other sources. Visitors who have studied some of these sources, will see some things they have seen before.
Eventually, the tour moves into the main building, what we now refer to as the house.
The building's actual purpose was as a business. Anne's father, Otto Frank, was a business owner with two ventures at that time, called Opekta and Pectacon. When the family went into hiding, the businesses continued to operate in their regular manner, while the Frank family remained in the attic above.
As visitors move into the business offices and storage areas of the building, it is important to slow down and examine the surroundings. 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.
Even if there is a crowd, it is possible to decrease the pace.
It is called a group tour, but each visitor has their own handheld device they use to listen to the information in each area, and they move on at their own pace. That affords the opportunity to absorb the feeling and experience.
Eventually visitors arrive at the book-case in the hall.
All readers of the diary know the purpose and significance of the bookcase.
For those who really connected with Anne's story, who have truly felt the loneliness and fear in their hearts, there is nothing else like stepping behind that book case onto the steep creaking 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.
Portions of the annex are currently unfurnished, which adds to the sense of eeriness felt. When the display is fully furnished, as pictured below, it would feel somehow, almost normal. I cannot say how that would alter the impact of the experience.
I made a point to center myself, and really think about it. I tried to remember some of the descriptions from the diary, to fully grasp both the realness and the reality of the place I was standing, the secret annex where the events of Anne Frank's diary actually took place.
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 being there reminds you that it was real.
Eventually the tour moves into the tiny bedroom that was Anne's. She shared this small space with a fully grown man she had never met before, something that no longer seems so abnormal when in fear for your life.
Her postcards and magazine clippings of movie stars are still on the wall. She was just a teenager. She had hopes of a bright future, dreams of fame and luxury, like every other teenager.
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.
Sadly, Anne's story is not unique. There were thousands of hiding places, and millions of lives ended for pointless reasons. Millions 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.
Anne's story touched my life long ago. Being in the annex 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, so be sure to print all pages.
- 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 exactly 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 5 to 10 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 accessible, as there are steep stairways to climb.
If you visit Amsterdam, take the time to visit Anne Frank House. It is an experience you will long remember.
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If you are interested in the history of the war, and how the Netherlands memorializes those lost, see our story Remembrance and Liberation- Netherlands.
If you are looking for some other things to do in the city, try 10 Tips about Amsterdam.
If you want to be share our dramatic trip to Amsterdam, try The Long Train to Amsterdam.
And, if you would like to laugh at some of our mishaps, check out Further Amsterdam Adventures.