Interview with Sietse Bakker, programme director

"If you have Amsterdam in your heart, it is forever."

With a thousand days left until Amsterdam's 750th anniversary, we speak to Sietse Bakker (38), programme director of Amsterdam 750.

With a thousand days left until Amsterdam’s 750th anniversary, we speak to Sietse Bakker (38), programme director of Amsterdam 750 for the municipality of Amsterdam, which “creates, connects and coordinates” the anniversary year.

Amsterdam will celebrate the city’s 750th anniversary in 2024 and 2025.

Amsterdam’s ‘official’ history begins on 27 October 1275, when Amsterdam received the Tolprivilege, the oldest document mentioning the city and its inhabitants. With a thousand days left until Amsterdam’s 750th anniversary, we speak to Sietse Bakker (38), programme director of Amsterdam 750.

Bakker grew up in Amsterdam’s neighbourhood of Osdorp and made a career in the Eurovision Song Contest, first internationally and later as Executive Producer of the 2021 edition in Rotterdam. And now he is eager to make his own city proud.

You are the director of Amsterdam’s 750th-anniversary celebrations. Who do you collaborate with?

“I was welcomed by a fantastic team of people, some of whom have been working on ‘750’ for months or even a few years, from the programme office and other organisational departments. Together with the programme manager, I report to the municipal secretary and the mayor. And I get to work with numerous parties in the city.”

You worked for the Eurovision Song Contest for a long time. How does that relate to Amsterdam 750?

“Above all, there are lots of differences. But what they have in common is that you try to create something where everyone feels welcome, to connect people and let them build something beautiful together that contributes to a common identity.”

What will be the highlights of the celebration?

“Amsterdam 750 is all about thinking and dreaming about the city of tomorrow and how we can make it together. We will look back and explore new stories from the city’s history. But above all, we are looking ahead.”

“We will celebrate the 50th anniversary of SAIL, Kwaku and the Marathon, three events that were born in the anniversary year of Amsterdam 700. And a lot is in the works! From museums, theatres and artists’ collectives to neighbourhood associations, schools and businesses. Amsterdam 750 is already being worked on endlessly.”

Who is the target group?

“It’s the most challenging target group: everyone. The anniversary year is for all Amsterdam residents and everyone who cares about the city. For example, people from the region come here to work every day. We are also proud of Amsterdam as the capital, so the anniversary year will also have a national angle.

As far as we are concerned, there will be something to do every day that year. And when I look at what is already in preparation in all sorts of places, I have absolutely no worries about that.”

I still remember the city’s 700th anniversary in 1975. I was in primary school then, and it deepened my love for the city. Does that play a role now?

“I think few Amsterdammers need to be taught love for the city. We may be known as critical, but we are proud of it! If you have Amsterdam in your heart, it is forever.”

Will the celebration have a political message?

“Amsterdam 750 is for everyone. And everywhere I go, I say: we take our role as a municipality, but it’s not our anniversary. It’s the city’s party. And at the heart of that is not a political message, but a message of pride and connection, which everyone can interpret in their own way. A great example is the Amsterdam 750 Foundation, which contributes financially to neighbourhoods and district initiatives around the jubilee year.”

Does it add something lasting to the city?

“We definitely want to leave something behind. That could be something tangible or something non-tangible. That will become clear between now and the start of the jubilee year.”

Where are you from?

“I am a born and bred Amsterdammer. I grew up in Osdorp, in the Dijkgraafplein neighbourhood. I fell asleep as a child to the sound of the bell of tram line 1, later tram 17. I went to Calandlyceum in Nieuw-West, studied at the UvA at Oudemanhuispoort and INHOLLAND in Diemen. I lived in Estonia for two years and rediscovered my love for Amsterdam on my return. Now I live with my family in Landsmeer, near Amsterdam North.”

How do you find the city’s atmosphere?

“To sum up Amsterdam in one atmosphere? Impossible! You often only have to move a few streets to experience a different ambience. But of course, I also see that Amsterdammers are worried about things like inflation, climate change, affordable housing and the war in Ukraine. And you come across those concerns everywhere.”

What is your favourite place in the city?

“Can I pick two? The first is atop the A’DAM Tower. The city is at your feet there, and you can see far beyond the city limits in good weather.

The other place is Amsterdamse Bos. I loved coming there as a child and have been told that my great-grandfather still planted trees there. Although it was laid out by humans, the older generation often still calls it the ‘Forest Plan’ – it now feels like a real forest, where nature regularly takes over. It makes me realise that our choices now determine how we pass on Amsterdam.”