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Sven Ratzke: My Amsterdam

Glitzy, ritzy and utterly fabulous (in his own words), jazz singer Sven Ratzke is Amsterdam’s cabaret king. He reveals the city’s coolest haunts

City Guide
Anna Whitehouse,

Where were you born?
I was born at the Dutch-German border and as a child I lived in an old convent that was rebuilt as a hippie community. It was the best place for a crazy child.

Where do you live now?
I live in Amsterdam’s Watergraafsmeer out in Oost. It’s cosy and quiet with a real village atmosphere. It’s the sort of place that’s off the beaten track and cool for exploring and escaping all the wooden tulips and naff souvenirs on Damrak in the city centre.

If money were no object, where would you live?
I have apartments in Amsterdam and Berlin, what more could I want? Oh yes, an apartment in New York.

Which cities are your favourite shopping destinations? Berlin and New York. You always find something there you never imagined would exist.

Which are your favourite Amsterdam stores?
Laura Dols, Fame and the American Book Center, in that order. Laura Dols always inspires my crazy costumes for my shows and I’m addicted to films so Fame has me as a dedicated customer. Then there’s the amazing collection of art books at the American Book Center, or ABC as everyone calls it here. Think plush, shiny coffee table tomes from the likes of David LaChapelle with that ‘Ooh, you’re a cool cat’ kinda content.

And your favourite restaurants?
Firma Pekelhaaring, ‘pickled herring’ in English, is laid back but cool, filled with laid-back, edgy, cool people and the food is great, but not too fussy – none of that foam and sculpted croutons you get in Michelin places. For a quick organic snack ‘t Wethoudertje is good for the job and Café Polder is the place to go for an after-work drink with some bitterballen [Dutch croquettes].

Do you have a favourite local café?
It’s pretty simple but you can’t do better than Coffee Company takeaway and sitting in Frankendael Park. That’s the best café.

Where do you take out-of-town friends?
I avoid the coffee shops because they are just so ugly. The city’s canal belt was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010, so there’s no finer way to impress someone than with a stroll along Prinsengracht, no?

Where do you like to celebrate?
I always celebrate after my show in the Bimhuiscafé or at the recently opened De La Mar Theater. Both are super glam and filled with fabulous folk.

Do you have a favourite Amsterdam walk?
No, I cycle like a maniac everywhere. That’s the fun of Amsterdam, just get straight on a bike and everywhere is your favourite place.

Can you reveal any hidden spots?
Next to my rehearsal spot MuzyQ there is an old building. I looked inside one day and it’s a shabby cabaret room from the 50s. It’s completely amazing. You can rent it for a wedding or or just peer into it and imagine the parties that happened there once. It calls itself the CMA Zaal.

In your opinion, which is the best attraction in Amsterdam? The canals. The UNESCO tag says enough!

Which do you think is the best museum in Amsterdam? Artis Zoo. There is a baby elephant called Mumba there at the moment.

Which person from Amsterdam do you most admire? Singer-actor Ramses Shaffy. He was such an original artist – people like him are just not around any more.

What one insider tip would you offer to visitors?
Overdress and you will meet interesting people.

Where do you like to travel for inspiration?
Around Amsterdam on my bike.

What can’t you live without?
Chocolates from Puccini Bomboni – the pepper-infused ones with sugar sprinkles.

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Sven Ratzke



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