As I write this blog, one storey below me the finishing touches are being put to the new spaces for group visits, and below that the last shelves and spotlights are being installed in the new museum shop. At the same time the museum café is unfortunately closed for a while; the espresso machine is being mothballed for three months while the renewed café is being constructed. It’s one of the few compromises we’ve had to make on our adage ‘Of course the museum will remain open!’. It was and is unthinkable for us that the Anne Frank House would be closed during the renewal work, and so the building site barriers outside display the message ‘Welcome!’ in fourteen languages.
If everything goes according to plan the renewal work in the museum will take a year, and virtually follow the rhythm of four seasons. A new entrance area and many new public facilities will be constructed in four phases of three months. The spring was for the new offices, which were created in former student flats. In the summer three new spaces for group visits and a new museum shop were constructed. Now our ‘architectural autumn’ is beginning, in which work will be carried out on the first half of the new entrance on the Westermarkt and we will at long last acquire a cloakroom. In the winter, a relatively quiet period in our museum, the other half of the entrance area, a new depot, new sanitary facilities and the new diary room will follow. From the spring of 2018 the building site huts can be lifted out of the courtyard garden and we ‘only’ have to carry out the last phase of improving the route through the museum (see the previous blog by my colleague Tom).
It may sound quite off-hand, ‘of course the museum will remain open’, but of course it’s no simple matter to welcome visitors with the same level of public service in a museum where renewal work is being carried out, especially if that museum deals with such a sensitive theme as the Anne Frank House. It was already an enormous challenge this summer for my colleagues and the contractor to maintain the quiet atmosphere for the visitors while walls had to be knocked down and floors drilled through. Every complaint is naturally one too many, but the fact that we successfully kept the museum open throughout the summer and only received a handful of complaints from visitors or local residents deserves a compliment to my colleagues and the builders. Our welcoming, public-friendly attitude is still enormously valued by our visitors: bravo!
The coming three months
We won’t be making it easier for ourselves in the coming three months. ‘Phase 3’ begins in the middle of the autumn half-term holiday, and the first job is… chipping out a stone floor! I won’t beat about the bush; it’s simply going to be noisy in the hall. Fortunately since a few months ago we have had a free audio tour for all our visitors, which gives them additional historical and contextual information. Hopefully that will also help a little to counteract the inevitable noise from the construction work.
From next week visitors will no longer go to the exit from the old internal staircase, because that is going to be removed to create (a little) more space in the museum. A temporary passageway has been constructed between Prinsengracht 265 and Prinsengracht 267, so that visitors can return to the lower storeys via a large window frame and sturdy temporary stairs. The passageway fits in so well that we’ve already got used it.
And then, from the beginning of November, we’ll be setting the logistic bar a bit higher: the construction workers will be digging in the Amsterdam soil in the place where the new entrance will be: four types of cables have to be laid to be able to build a sunken ‘lazy stairway’ by the new entrance. I’m a great fan of cold winters and natural ice, but this year I’m keeping my fingers tightly crossed for a really mild winter…