On the Oudebrugsteeg 7, corner with the Damrak, lies the Accijnshuis (Excise House) from 1638. It once stood on the open water of the Damrak, which was the oldest port of Amsterdam. This is where ships came to pay municipal taxes on grain, beer, wine, tobacco, peat, coal and spices. On the Oudebrugsteeg there are two stonework gates (which are not used anymore) with lions and Amsterdam shields on top. The Accijnshuis originally had two layers, an additional layer was added on top in the 19th century. The building is a national monument.
In 1845 and 1883 the southern part of the Damrak was filled in (between Bijenkorf and Oudebrugsteeg). Since then the Accijnshuis has been situated on the remaining wet part of the Damrak, right next to the Beurs van Berlage (Berlage’s Exchange) and the Bureau voor Handelsinlichtingen (Trade Information Office), now The Grasshopper. Five accijnsmeesters (excise masters) collected the taxes from ships here. They were the only city college which was not situated in the City Hall (now Royal Palace) on Dam square.
Original Damrak Bridges
The Oude Brug (Old Bridge), a wooden bridge from the beginning of the 14th century, was the oldest bridge across the Damrak, at the current Oudebrugsteeg (Old Bridge Alley), from Damrak to Warmoesstraat. This bridge also served to defend the Damrak, then the medieval port of Amsterdam. It was demolished in 1883 when the Damrak was filled in between the Papenbrugsteeg and the Oude Brug.
The second wooden bridge, the Nieuwe Brug (New Bridge), was built after 1342, near the IJ mouth. Below it was a lock to grant ships access to the Damrak. In those days there was a direct connection from Damrak to IJ through what is now called the Open Havenfront (Open Harbour Front). The island on which the Central Station sits was created much later — between 1870 and 1880 — and closed the city center off from a direct view of the water of the IJ. These days the renewed and widened bridge is part of the busy Prins Hendrikkade, hard to recognise as a bridge.
The third bridge was the Papenbrug (Papist Bridge), first mentioned in 1475, closer to Dam square at the current Papenbrugsteeg (between Beursplein and Warmoesstraat). This bridge was demolished in 1884 when the Damrak was partially filled in.
Trade Buildings Near the Oude Brug
In the Dutch Golden Century (Gouden Eeuw, 1588 to 1672), a number of buildings were constructed near the Oude Brug, thanks to the flourishing trade in grain and other bulk goods. In 1617 the Korenbeurs (Grain Exchange) was built on the New Side, demolished in 1884. Next to the bridge there was also a wooden building for the Korenmeters (Grain Measurers Guild), who got their new headquarters on Nieuwezijds Kolk in 1620.
On the Old Side the old Stads-Exijns-Huis (City Excise House) was replaced by a new building across the alley, the current Accijnshuis from 1638. Today the quay along the north side of the Beurs van Berlage (Berlage’s Exchange) is the only thing remaining of the original Oude Brug (Old Bridge), which the Accijnshuis was located next to.
Bureau voor Handelsinlichtingen
Across from the Accijnshuis, at Oudebrugsteeg 16, the building from the end of the 18th century housing The Grasshopper. Once a famous coffeeshop, now just a restaurant and bar, no more cannabis is sold there. This was previously the Bureau voor Handelsinlichtingen (Commercial Information Office). Before that the spot was the previous City Excise House, on stilts in the water of the Damrak.
When the Excise House moved to number 7 on the other side of the alley, that first building was demolished. After filling in a part of the water, a police post was constructed there in 1830. The Bureau voor Handelsinlichtingen rented the building from the city later in 1903.
- On the front the text: De Cost Gaet Voor De Baet Uyt (Cost Precedes Gain)
- On the Oudebrugsteeg side: Omnibus Idem (The Same To All)
- On the other (North) side: Ick Waec (I Guard)
Excise & Taxes
From the 16th to the 18th century taxes were mostly regional and local levy. At the time of the Eighty Years War (1568–1648), a hated national tax was introduced by the Spanish, the so-called Tenth Coin. This was a type of VAT, 10% on all sales of moveable goods (food, drinks, clothing, etcetera). I wonder how the people from those days would have reacted to the current VAT in the Netherlands being at 21%…
During the French period (from 1795 to 1813) Napeoleon Bonaparte introduced a national tax system and the Accijnshuis lost its function. It became a café, called Het Wapen van Amsterdam (The Amsterdam Coat of Arms) from 1924 on, popular with barge skippers. When their exchange moved to the Houthaven (Wood Harbour), the café lost many loyal customers and was forced to close. After years of neglect it was restored and has housed Café Heffer since 1997.
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