Amstelveld and Amstelkerk, Amsterdam

Amstelveld & Amstelkerk

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.

Amstelveld with the Amstelkerk, Caucasian Wingnut trees and terrace, Amsterdam

Amstelveld with the Amstel­kerk on the left, Caucasian Wingnut trees and terrace of Café Nel (August 2020).

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).

Me on Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, with Reguliersgracht and Amstelkerk

Here I am standing on a bridge on Prinsen­gracht near Amstelveld — straight ahead the Reguliers­gracht, across the canal to the left you can see the red House with the Stork, to the right (partly visible) the white wooden Amstelkerk  (March 2021).

Special Lanterns

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.

In front of the Amstelkerk, Amsterdam, a street lantern from 1883 and one from 1669

In front of the Amstel­kerk on Amstel­veld, a cast iron street lantern from 1883 with the Habsburg imperial crown on top, behind it the oil fueled street lanterns from 1669, designed by inventor Jan van der Heijden, on their square wooden oak pole (June 2020).

Replica of an oil fueled street lantern from 1669, Amstelveld, Amsterdam

Replica of an oil fueled street lantern from 1669, by inventor Jan van der Heijden, near the playground (March 2022).

Amstelveld Market

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.

West side of the Amstelveld market in 1891, Amsterdam

West side of the Amstelveld market in 1891, by city photographer Jacob Olie (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

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.

Amstelkerk, from the corner of Reguliersgracht by Pierre Fouquet, 1783

Amstelkerk, from the corner of Reguliers­gracht by Pierre Fouquet, from the Dreesman Atlas, 1783 (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

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.

Amstelkerk seen from the Prinsengracht side, Amsterdam

Amstelkerk seen from the Prinsen­gracht side (March 2022).

Music Venue

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.

Amstelveld from the market space, looking towards Reguliersgracht, Amsterdam

Amstelveld from the market space, looking towards Reguliers­gracht. In the fore­ground an Amsterdam “happertje” (translated in English as biter or gulper, a public drinking fountain which squirts water up) (March 2022).

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.

Kokadorus at work on the Amstelveld, Amsterdam, postcard from 1905

Kokadorus at work on the Amstel­veld, post­card from 1905 (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

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.

Statue of Kokadorus on the Amsterdam Amstelveld

Statue of Kokadorus from 1977, made by Erica van Eeghen, on the Amsterdam Amstel­veld square (August 2020).

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.

Amstelveld with Amstelkerk, Amsterdam, seen in the direction of Utrechtsestraat

Amstelveld with Amstelkerk, seen from the corner of Reguliers­gracht in the direction of Utrechtse­straat (March 2022).

Amstelveld video

Website Amstelkerk:

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