Because of its explosively growing population (from 50,000 to 160,000), Amsterdam needed yet another expansion in 1662 (called Vierde Uitleg or Fourth Expansion): along the Kerkstraat (Church Street), between Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, four large empty spaces were reserved for new churches to be built. One of these spaces was the Amstelveld, now a lovely square, lined with 46 Caucasian wingnut trees and with a characteristic wooden church.
Of the four planned churches along the Kerkstraat, only the wooden Amstelkerk and the brick Oosterkerk (from 1671) were actually built. Much of the square’s charm comes from the Caucasian wingnut trees, native to the Caucasian region Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. The tree was introduced to France in 1784 and to Great Britain after 1800. On the edge of the square you can see an antique public toilet for men, which Amsterdammers call a “krul” (curl).
In 1990 reconstucted lanterns were placed on the Amstelveld, on 3.4 m (11.1 ft) long square oak poles. They were designed by Jan van der Heijden (1637–1712), artist, painter and inventor of an improved fire hose and mass produced street lanterns. He created the lanterns to provide better street lighting for Amsterdam — they used a mixture of rapeseed and linseed oil, in containers which would last all night. In 1669 some 1,800 were placed in Amsterdam (a world first), and in 1682 some 1,600 in Berlin as well.
There has been a Monday morning market on the Amstelveld from 1876 — in the past it was very busy and mixed, also selling textiles, cigars, books, puppies, fish, chicken and food. There was also a yearly fair. Today on Mondays there still is a plants and flowers market on the square and every now and then an antiques market in summer. A café, children’s playground, jeu-de-boules court and a space for soccer make it a lively square. On the square you find a statue of well-known Amsterdam pitchman and comedian Kokadorus, who dominated the (mostly Jewish) market here before the Second World War. The square was renovated in 2010, after local residents had saved many wingnut trees from being removed in a court case in 2007.
Amstelkerk (Amstel Church)
As part of the newly created second part of the Grachtengordel (Amsterdam Canal Belt), this temporary square wooden church was built in 1668-1670 for the inhabitants of the new area. It was designed by city master builder and architect Daniël Stalpaert (1615–1676), who helped create the Royal Palace, several city gates and ‘s Lands Zeemagazijn, the current home of the Scheepvaartmuseum.
The emergency wooden church was so simplistic that the population referred to it as “a preaching barn”. The church opened in 1670, still unpainted pine back then. Three years later two brick extensions were added, a home for the sexton and a bakery for the poor. The church never got a tower. The wooden bell frame was reconstructed for the 300-year anniversary of the church and recommissioned in 1970.
Originally there were plans to replace the wooden temporary church with a brick one, but these plans were never realized, making the temporary church a permanent one. It resulted in a large space being reserved around the temporary church and it being placed in a corner of the square. In 1840 the church reveived money from a rich widow’s will (Frederica Cramer, widow of an Amsterdam aldermen) — architect Hendrik Springer created the new neogothic interior, the first of this style in the Netherlands. Vincent van Gogh’s uncle, Johannes Paulus Stricker, was a preacher in the Amstelkerk and Vincent attended a service here on June 3, 1877. Until 1985 the building was in use by the Protestant church, since 2006 there are Sunday services by the Reformed Church of Amsterdam.
Already derelict and costly in maintenance, the church was acquired in 1986 for the symbolic sum of one Dutch guilder by Stadsherstel Amsterdam (City Restoration Amsterdam). After an extensive restoration, finished in 1990, the church was given a new purpose: offices, a home, a space to be rented out and a restaurant. The central space can be rented evenings and weekends for symposiums, lectures, dinners, receptions and marriages — it is an official Amsterdam marriage location. The church, once painted oxblood red but now white, is a national monument.
The wooden building is blessed with wonderful acoustics, making it an excellent venue for recitals and chamber music concerts — it is therefore home to several orchestras and ensembles. There is a monumental organ here (a still playable Bätz organ from 1843), as well as a Steinway grand piano donated by Russian piano player Youri Egorov, who died in Amsterdam in 1988.
Napoleon & the Amstelkerk
It is said that Napoleon — during his 1811 tour of Holland with his wife Marie Louise — stabled his military horses here on the Amstelveld in October 1811. He is said to have stalled his own white horse in one of the brick side buildings attached to the church in 1750, now the kitchen of restaurant Nel, back then in use as a storage for foot stoves (the wooden church was unheated). The story is very persistent, even though it has never been proven.
In 1811, at the start of Napoleon’s reign in Holland, a draft for his military was introduced here. He always needed soldiers because of his constant wars, and inside this church young Dutch men had their destiny sealed through drawing lots — low numbers had to go to war for the emperor. Many fled abroad to avoid conscription, wealthy people could pay for someone to take their place. The draft in the Netherlands continued even after Napoleon had gone in 1815, and was abolished only in 1997.
Kokadorus, a Famous Pitchman
The busy Amstelveld market was also frequented by many merchants, among them professional pitchmen praising their wares with lots of theater. Of these pitchmen Kokadorus was the undisputed and much loved king. His real name was Meijer Linnewiel, born in Leeuwarden in 1867, son of a poor Jewish family. He claimed he had chosen this name because his grandfather was called Ko, his grandmother Ka and his father Dorus, although their real names were different. He was famous for his stories, political comments, coarse sense of humour and impeccable sense of theatrics.
At the age of 10 he sold matches on Kalverstraat, at age 14 he was already working at the Amstelveld market. At his silver jubilee in 1906 as a pitchman he was given a medal by the Amsterdam citizens. Despite his exuberant public persona, in private he was a quiet and devout Jewish family man. Meijer and his wife Hendrika died before the German occupation of the Netherlands, but their children and grandchildren were all murdered in the Auschwitz and Sobibor concentration camps.
Jewish History of the Amstelveld Area
The old Amstelveld market had a distinct Jewish flavour because of the many Jewish merchants, some of them famous throughout the city. There were also many Jewish families and businesses in the neighborhood around the square. In February 1941 assault groups of the antisemitic NSB (Dutch Nazi group) provoked and attacked Jewish merchants here, starting many brawls. The riots were used as an excuse for one of the first pogroms in the Netherlands by the German occupiers. 425 Jewish men were rounded up and deported, almost all murdered in Mauthausen (Austria) — only 2 survived.
Those razzias in turn led to the famous Februaristaking (February Strike), a general strike organised by the then-outlawed Communist Party of the Netherlands against the anti-Jewish measures. The strike was initiated by Amsterdam shipyard workers, themselves facing forced labour in Germany. The strike was harshly suppressed by the Germans after three days. The Amstelveld market was declared forbidden for Jews in September 1941. After the deportation of the Jewish population during the Second World War the market never recovered.
Website Amstelkerk: https://stadsherstel.nl/eventlocatie/amstelkerk/
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