Distracted by the ornate gable stones and characterful stores and cafes, most visitors to the Zeedijk, one of Amsterdam’s most popular streets, fail to notice the small metal plaques affixed to buildings. The red squiggle under the estate-agency name depicts the L-shaped contour of the street. This is the symbol of the real estate agency NV Zeedijk, a community scheme without which this cheerful high street might never have existed.
Draped like a protective arm around the northeastern shoulder of Amsterdam’s oldest settlement, the medieval Zeedijk (sea-dike) once held back the sea. As the city expanded and the wealthy merchants moved further out, the street took a different battering, lurching from sailors’ sex den in the 18th and 19th century to Amsterdam’s most notorious street in the 1970s and 80s, when drug dealers, thieves, and heroin addicts made it their territory.