De Buurtoptimist

Sarah van Sonsbeeck

On the night of Octoctober 10, 2022, Diana Gemert died in a fire in her apartment in Amsterdam East. The fire was believed to have been caused by burning candles; her home appeared to have been cut off from gas and light. Paramaribo-born Gemert was well-known and beloved; in the NRC’s In Memoriam, Leonie van Nierop called her the queen of the neighborhood. Quoting from the same article, “She once told her neighbors that she worked for The New York Times, investigating fraud. Undercover she had come to the Netherlands to set up a newspaper here as a cover. She also always said she had a son, who was sometimes an astronaut, other times a director of Google. “Reality and fantasy were quite often mixed up,” writer and neighbor Karina Schaapman spoke at the Nieuwe Oosterbegraafplaats, “but that didn’t matter. For her heartfelt greeting was always true.”

Neighbors banded together to ensure that she would not have a lonely funeral, and initiated a fundraising campaign. As a result of the action, the idea arose to place a physical memorial in the neighborhood: a bench for Diana. Together with the neighborhood residents, artist Sarah van Sonsbeeck devised a memorial, a newspaper that Diana herself would have liked to publish: De Buurtoptimist (“The Neighborhood Optimist”). It is a bronze plaque in the shape of a folded newspaper dedicated to Diana Gemert, which has recently been placed on a bench on the waterfront of the Weesperzijde.