The Amstel station birds

Amsterdam, just an ordinary Sunday in the 1980’s. Tram 12 stops in front of its final destination, the Amstel station. My parents and I get off and take the somewhat unpleasant but functional lower entrance, up the stairs and into the main hall.

It is that kind of place that amplifies every sound produced by people or machines and blends them into this familiar station background noise. While my father buys three tickets to Arnhem from the ticket office, I look up to the giant wall paintings that refer to a period when train travel meant a major step forward in our mobility.Amstel station

Walking through the tunnel and up the stairs for the westernmost platform, the murmur and footsteps of people gets slowly exchanged by a whole new soundscape. The glass box that surrounds the tracks offers bathroom acoustics to pigeons and starlings who like to hear themselves sing. And they are not afraid to use it. Their calls are dominant, together with the bleep that sounds every 15 or so seconds at the metro platforms in the middle. Unless trains and metros are passing through the station.

On our platform the train to Maastricht is ready to leave. The engine roars under its heavy job to pull its carriages, which themselves only produce the sound of wheels rolling on tracks when they pass by.

Still 15 minutes to go until our train arrives. The information display, a roll of film inside a box, already shows the stops and the final destination of our train. Getting bored, I start looking around and see a starling eating from a box of fries left behind by a traveller.

Then my eyes turn back to the track, and in the distance I can see a train approaching. But it is not slowing down to stop. A few seconds later a goods train is running past our platform leaving all my hairs upright and my ears blown inside out. It takes a while before I can hear the birds again. And what’s more, the information display starts rolling again, rolling and rolling until it stops at the following train. Is our train still going to arrive?

Fortunately, someone in a control room seems to take over the display, so, after a while, the right information is shown again. A few minutes later, the train arrives and we get in. Soon after we leave the station, I start staring out of the window, calmed by the regular rhythm of the train wheels passing the joints in the track. The Amstel station birds are already far behind me.


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