People expect Amsterdam to smell primarily of cannabis. Cannabis has a strong smell, equal to asparagus, cleaning products, bacon and the dentists’ surgery in perceived intensity. But it only featured in a couple of neighbourhoods and missed inclusion here.
Instead spring 2013 in Amsterdam revealed an abundance of the warm, sugary, powdery sweetness of waffles. Oriental spices emanated from Asian and Surinamese restaurants and supermarkets, pickled herring from the herring stands and markets – a link to one of the city’s key historical industries. Old books were detected in basement doorways and laundry aromas drifted up into the streets from Amsterdam’s many house hotels.
The smell of sun, flowers and new leaves indicated the welcome arrival of a late spring and chocolate power drifted in in small clouds.
Over 650 smells were detected by 44 people undertaking 10 smellwalks over a period of 4 days in April 2013. Based on written descriptions from the smellwalkers, 50 broad categories were identified. Both frequently-mentioned and curious smells feature on the map.
Dots mark the origins of the smells, concentric circles indicate their range and the warped contours allude to potential smell drift in the north- and south-westerley winds encountered on the days of the smellwalks. It is estimated that humans have the capacity to discriminate up to 1 trillion smells and our experience is highly individual; to walk and sniff is to know.