Bike Fishing at the Canals of Amsterdam – Sashmahaah

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“Amsterdam has more than 150 canals and 1,250 bridges, but it never seems crowded, nor bent and bitter from fleecing the tourist.”

– Julie Burchill

I’m pretty sure that the term “bike fishing” is not something you hear or DO every day, but it is just what it sounds like. You fish bikes out of the river. And where might that be? Well, in Amsterdam of course. With more than 100 km of canals and almost a million bicycles, many of the latter are just bound to end up at the bottom of a canal.

Bike Fishing at the Canals of Amsterdam - Sashmahaah
Bikes and canals wherever you look. Amazing!

Thanks to the successful 17th century planning, Amsterdam today has more than 100 km of canals, around 90 islands and 1500 bridges. Yes, that’s a lot. The story of canals, or grachten in Dutch, started with Singel, which served as a moat around Amsterdam from 1480 to 1585. Amsterdam, of course, expanded, and by the 17th century, 4 canals were planned and eventually built. Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht were constructed for residential development, while the fourth one, Singelgracht (not to be confused with above-mentioned Singel) was built for defense and water management. Names of the canals speak a lot about the history of the country. Herengracht means “Lords Canal” and is named after the ruling class in the 16th and 17th centuries. Keizergracht means “Emperor’s Canal”, and is named after the emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire. This canal is also the widest. The longest canal, Prinsengracht, means “Prince’s Canal” and is named after Prince of Orange. The beautiful and ageless architecture can be seen on the banks of the canals.

Bike Fishing at the Canals of Amsterdam - Sashmahaah
Nice catch!

Today canals are used for tourism, recreation, houseboats and for small amount of private transport. The bridges over canals, however, often have more bikes than people on them. That is one of the ways bikes end up at the bottom of canals. Around 12.000 to 15.000 bikes are fished out of the canals every year. The Dutch call it fietsen vissen. Although Amsterdam is often hailed as the bike capital of the world, it’s not The Netherlands’ bike-friendliest city. While The Netherlands has world-class cycling system, it also has high rate of bike-related accidents, especially in Amsterdam. Many smaller Dutch cities are bike-friendlier than Amsterdam. Bikes at the bottom of canals are, of course, considered pollutant. Honestly, if you asked me what downgrades the quality of water, I would hardly name “bikes” as one of the pollutants. At least the quality of water in Amsterdam canals improved since the 19th century when it was “stagnant, unsanitary, full of garbage, dead fish and feces”, according to Wikipedia. Things started to change for the better in 1879 with the opening of the pump station Gemaal Zeeburg and definitely improved in 1935 when buildings around the canals connected to sewer. Feces are still downgrading the quality of water because many of the houseboats off-load their toilet waster into canal. From 2018 all houseboats have to be connected to sewer (it is expected that all of them will connect by 2021). Potential biohazards don’t stop the occasional swimmers. Amsterdam City Swim is being held yearly since 2012.

Bike Fishing at the Canals of Amsterdam - Sashmahaah
From the boat

I see all of these canals as the special ingredient that makes Amsterdam feel like a city from a fairy tale. When I stand on one of those bridges, where many of the bikes are attached to the fence, and I observe the nice houseboats in the canal, I can’t shake off the feeling that maybe those picturesque buildings are made of gingerbread. And when you add the late summer sunset to the picture, then it really feels like a fairy tale. A fairy tale with prostitutes and weed. OK, now this is starting to feel like I’m writing a script for a South Park episode.

I walked by those canals. I sat on the banks of those canals. I took a boat ride through those canals. I had to lower my head every time the boat passed under one of those many canals. I took many photos of those canals. I ate Dutch waffles while overlooking those canals. But I newer fished out a bike from one of those canals. Have you ever fished a bike out of a canal?