Bickerseiland, Amsterdam


This largest of the Western Islands was origi­nally called Voor­eiland (Front Island), created together with the other two Western Islands at the start of the 17th century. It is still called Bickers­eiland, although it is not a true island anymore since the enlarged railway line towards Haarlem caused the original Eilands­gracht near it to be filled in. The island is now surrounded by Bickers­gracht, Realen­gracht and Westerdok.

Two happy lazy cats on a doorstep on Bickersgracht, Amsterdam

Two happy inhabitants of Bickers­eiland on Bickers­gracht (March 2022).

Jan Gerritsz Bicker

As a consequence of the judicial fight over the island, caused by land specu­lation by mayors Oetgens and Cromhout (see the blog post about the Western Islands), this island laid bare for quite some time. Jan Gerritsz Bicker (1591-1653), after whom the island was named, had been a leading force for the creation of these islands (together with Jacob Reael, after whose brother Realen­eiland was named).

Detail of a portrait of Jan Gerritsz Bicker from 1663, attributed to Wallerant Vaillant

Detail of a portrait of Jan Gerritsz Bicker (1591-1653) from 1663, attri­buted to Wallerant Vaillant (Amster­dam Museum).

Bicker bought this island in 1631 from the city and then constructed 10 ship­yards, a marina, many ware­houses and a few houses there — including a large three-story house for himself, with a tower on top from which he could see his ships returning to the IJ. This building was demolished around 1700, only the wooden statue remains of Bicker’s former mansion. Bicker was city inspector of rope­works — in 1647 he became a council member and in 1653 he was mayor, shortly before he died. After Bicker’s death the city was able to acquire most of the land, but not the buildings on it.

View from Hollandse Tuin, Amsterdam, at the edge of Bickerseiland, towards Westerdok

View from Hollandse Tuin, at the edge of Bickers­eiland, towards Wester­doks­dijk (June 2022).

What you see in the photo above was an un­ob­structed view over the open waters of the IJ in Bicker’s time (before the creation of the Wester­doks­dijk in 1832) . Bottom left you see the the art work Omge­vallen Boom (Fallen Tree) by Pieter Engels and Shlomo Koren from 1983, made of black granite — nicknamed The Whale by the islanders.

Industries & Later Decay

Bicker’s ship­yards were instru­mental for the industries in this western part of town. They gave rise to ware­houses, rope­walks, carpenters, saw­mills, iron workers and tar cookers. During the Napoleontic wars and French occupance (1795-1813) commerce and industry went downhill here. After that there was a brief revival until 1890, when wooden ships were replaced by iron ones. By the end of the 19th century one shipyard after the other closed on the island. The real decay set in during the Second World War and many inhabitants left the area.

Map from 1777 showing the many shipyards owned by Bicker on Bickerseiland, Amsterdam

Map from 1777 by Caspar Philips Jacobsz, showing the shipyards owned by Bicker. East is on top (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

Eilandsgracht Diminished

In 1877-79 the railroad was lengthened from the Haar­lemmer­poort (Haarlem Gate) to an auxiliary station near Droogbak, in 1889 all the way to the new Central Station. To construct the rail­road track, the Eilands­gracht (Island Canal) between Bickers­eiland and the city was partly filled in and an ele­vated rail­road viaduct was created, half on the Haar­lemmer Hout­tuinen and half on the former Eilands­gracht. When in 1918 it was decided to double the tracks, another stretch of the canal was lost. In front of Bickers­eiland so little was left in 1928 of the former wide canal that the city decided to fill it in alto­gether.

Seven Original Bridges on the Western Islands in 1737

On the map below from 1737 we see the old situ­ation with the following bridges:

Westelijke Eilanden, Amsterdam, with the original bridges, map by Gerrit de Broen from 1737

Westelijke Eilanden in 1737, with the original bridges, detail of a map by Gerrit de Broen (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

  • Bickersbrug or Eilands­brug (removed) – Island Bridge, from Haar­lemmer Hout­tuinen to Bickers­eiland. This bridge from around 1620 was replaced by a fixed bridge circa 1870, removed around 1920 for the expansion of the railway tracks. It ran between the current Buiten Oranje­straat and the current Hendrik Jonker­plein.
  • Dommersbrug (removed) – Dommer’s Bridge, from Haar­lemmer Hout­tuinen to Prinsen­eiland. Dommer was a rope­maker and council member in 1579. This bridge was removed in 1860. The bridge ran from the current Buiten Dommers­straat to Prinsen­eiland.
  • Sloter­dijker­brug – Sloter­dijk Bridge, from Nieuwe Teer­tuinen to Prinsen­eiland.
  • Drieharingenbrug – then called Vliegende­brug (Fast Opening Bridge), from Prinsen­eiland to Realen­eiland (Vier­winden­straat). A motion was passed to remove the bridge in 1858 (together with the Karse­booms­brug), but this one was spared after another vote.
  • Zandhoeksbrug – Sand Corner Bridge, from Bickers­eiland to Realen­eiland.
  • Soutkeetsbrug – Salt Shack Bridge, from Realen­eiland to Zout­keets­gracht (near windmill De Bok at bulwark Blauw­hooft), now Barentsz­plein. This bridge is now called Pete­mayen­brug. The name Zout­keets­brug now belongs to the bridge from Plancius­straat towards Zout­keets­plein.
  • Karseboomsbrug (removed) – Cherry Tree Bridge, from Realen­eiland to Zout­keets­gracht (more to the west). It dated from before 1625 and was named after a building on Zout­keets­gracht which had a cherry tree on a gable stone. This bridge was removed in 1858. It was located where the Vier­winden­straat on Realen­eiland bends towards the Zout­keets­gracht.
Railway tunnel at the southern end of Hollandse Tuin on Bickerseiland, Amsterdam

The railway tunnel at the southern end of Hollandse Tuin on Bickers­eiland, leading towards Haar­lemmer Hout­tuinen. In the background (across the rail­road tracks) the Post­hoorn­kerk (Post Horn Church) on Haar­lemmer­straat (August 2021).

Three new “old” bridges are now on the Western Islands: Drie­haringen­brug, Pete­mayen­brug and Zand­hoeks­brug. After 1928 Bickers­eiland was not techni­cally an island anymore, but a sort of peninsula. The space below the rail­road tracks became Tussen de Bogen (Between the Arches), in use by businesses or as storages and sheds. Now the ele­vated rail­road track isolated the island inhabitants even more than the Wester­doks­dijk did — where once there had been a bridge (Bickers­brug or Eilands­brug) across the Eilands­gracht, there were now only low and unin­viting viaduct tunnels between the Haar­lemmer Hout­tuinen and Bickers­eiland.

Aerial photo from 1920 of Bickerseiland and Bickersplein, Amsterdam

Bickers­eiland with Bickers­plein (now Hendrik Jonker­plein) and Eilands­kerk (demolished in 1950), already without the dome. KLM aerial photo from 1920. The hall of the Jonker factory on the right is now Squash City (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

Eilandskerk (Island Church)

In 1659 the city council decided to build wooden preaching barns — on the Eastern and Western Islands and on the Amstel­veld — as a temporary measure, to cope with church needs of the suddenly increased population. The plan had been to replace them in due time with brick churches. On Bickers­eiland a brick replacement was built in 1739. Vincent van Gogh’s uncle Johannes Paulus Stricker preached here (and in the Amstelkerk as well). Vincent visited this church a few times in 1877.

Eilandskerk on Bickerseiland, Amsterdam, postcard from 1920

Eilandskerk on Bickerseiland, the Eilandsgracht not yet filled in, on a postcard from 1920 (Stads­archief Amsterdam).

When in 1879 the railroad tracks right next to the church were opened, the soggy land under the church gave way because of the vibrations and the church started to sag. The dome was demolished in 1910 to diminish the weight, but by 1939 the condition of the church had gotten so bad that it was closed — it was eventually demolished in 1950.

Hendrik Jonkerplein, Amsterdam, looking towards the railroad tracks and Tussen de Bogen

Hendrik Jonkerplein, looking towards the elevated railroad tracks and Tussen de Bogen. On the left, at Grote Bickers­straat 2-4, a former Jonker machine factory building from 1908, designed by Gerrit van Arkel, now apartments (July 2022).

Streets & Bridges on Bickers­eiland

The streets on Bickers­eiland:

  • Bickersgracht – Bicker’s Canal. Double warehouse De Faam and petting zoo De Dieren­capel. Gable stones and house names point back to the shipyards which were here once. Many ware­houses have been trans­formed into homes and studios.
  • Kleine Bickersstraat – Small Bicker’s Street.
  • Grote Bickersstraat – Large Bicker’s Street.
  • Blokmakerstraat – Pulley Maker Street. Houses from 1982.
  • Hendrik Jonkerplein – Hendrik Jonker Square (before 1956 named Bickers­plein). The former Jonker factory building at number 2-4 was made into apartments in 2018 — the name of the factory is still on the façade. On the square is Café ‘t Blaauwhooft. At number 4 a gable stone with a crowned hammer and nails from 1644.
  • Ketelmakerstraat – Kettle Maker Street. At Ketel­maker­straat 6 the building of sports center Squash City, former factory hall of Hendrik Jonker.
  • Zeilmakerstraat – Sail Maker Street.
  • Keerpunt – Turning Point.
  • Hollandse Tuin – Holland Garden, named in 1981 after one of the former shipyards on the island. Derelict buildings were replaced with modern houses. There are three art pieces here: Omge­vallen Boom (Fallen Tree), the poem Walk On Water and the statue De Reus.
  • Touwslagerstraat – Ropemaker Street.
  • Minnemoerstraat – Wet Nurse Street, probably named in the 17th century after a gable stone with a wet nurse on it.
View north along Bickersgracht, Amsterdam, from Galgenbrug

View north along Bickersgracht from Galgenbrug. On the left Prinseneiland, on the right Bickerseiland (July 2022).

Bridges on Bickers­eiland:

  • Galgenbrug – Gallows Bridge, from Prinsen­eiland to Bickers­eiland.
  • Zandhoeksbrug – Sand Corner Bridge, from Bickers­eiland north to Zandhoek on Realen­eiland.
Zandhoeksbrug, Amsterdam, viewed from Realeneiland towards Bickerseiland

Zandhoeksbrug, viewed from Realen­eiland towards Bickers­eiland (July 2022).

Limited Homes & Large Offices

Around 1630 there was a small neigh­bor­hood here, called Zeven­huizen (Seven Houses), named after the number of houses. At the start of the 18th century the city became a little more permissive towards homes being constructed on the islands (as opposed to having only businesses there). Bicker had houses built here for the workers on his shipyards. In 1953 Bickers­eiland was still designated as an area “with minimal housing”. Even in 1968 the city still described the islands as “work islands” (only Zandhoek on Realen­eiland was an exception). On Bickers­eiland there were only 250 homes in 1939, down to only 120 in 1972.

Bickersgracht, Amsterdam, looking in northern direction

Bickersgracht, looking in northern direction (June 2022).

Destructions, Restorations & Replacements

Bickerseiland had been designated in the 1950s by the city as an area of large scale business locations, to combat the economic slump and decay. Around 1965 much of the northern part of Bickerseiland, derelict and neglected, was demolished by project companies, who planned to create huge offices there. The city had authorized two huge office blocks on Bickers­eiland, called Walvis (Whale, 1965) and Narwal (Narwhal, 1973) and more were planned. Huge protests from inhabitants and several conservation societies changed this course of events. Alderman Jan Schaefer (1940-1994) freed huge funds for extensive renovations and experimental new buildings.

View north from Bickerseiland, Amsterdam, along Westerdok, Bickerswerf on the left

View north from Bickerseiland along Westerdok, Bickerswerf on the left (August 2021).

The Narwal complex was build anyway in 1973, but was torn down again in 2000 and replaced by Bickers­werf, a complex with apartments on the water of the Westerdok. Two young architects, Paul de Ley and Jouke van den Bout — still students then — created and alternative plan to build more homes instead. Empty lots between the old houses were filled with new social housing, replacing derelict houses on the island between 1975 and 1985, alternated with complete restorations of historical lots.

Large office blocks on Bickerseiland, Amsterdam, seen from across the Westerdok

Large office blocks and apartment buildings on the edge of Bickers­eiland, seen from across the water of the Westerdok. In front a children’s playground on three barges in the water of the Westerdok. (March 2022).

The Giant of Bickerseiland

The wooden statue — at the crossing of Hollandse Tuin and Touw­slager­straat on Bickers­eiland — returned here in 2011 after roaming the world for more than 40 years. A drawing from 1647 shows the statue right above the entrance of the house of island owner, merchant, shipyard owner, ship builder and mayor Jan Bicker. It was most likely a statue of a Roman soldier (with spear, shield and helmet), created by a carpenter working on one of Bicker’s shipyards. Bicker’s mansion was demolished in the 1700s, but the statue survived.

De Reus van Bickerseiland at Hollandse Tuin, Amsterdam

De Reus van Bickerseiland (Giant of Bickers Island) at Hollandse Tuin (October 2021).

The statue showed up later at shipyard De Reus (The Giant), although it is not known when exactly it was placed there — but that’s how it got to be named De Reus. The shipyard was sold in 1850 to machine factory Jonker & Zoon. By 1951 the statue had become so damaged by woodrot, that Jonker factory carpenter D. Rijnsdorp created a replica in teak. In 1972 the Jonker factory left the island after 150 years, their former managing director moved to Alicante in Spain and took the statue with him as a souvenir. A former Jonker factory building at Bickers­gracht 2-4 (corner Hendrik Jonker­plein) from 1892, designed by architect Gerrit van Arkel in NeoRenaissance style, has been trans­formed into apartments in 2018.

Side view of De Reus van Bickerseiland at Hollandse Tuin, Amsterdam

Side view of De Reus van Bickers­eiland (Giant of Bickers Island) at Hollandse Tuin (October 2021).

Around the year 2000 a few island residents started an investi­gation, aiming to bring back the giant to Bickers­eiland. They found the statue in 2006, owned by Jonker’s grandson in Canada, who then donated the statue to the island. Using inter­national tramp vessel services, the statue finally arrived via Africa on the Canary Islands, from where it was flown to Amsterdam. It was restored in 2011 and placed on Touw­slager­straat near the water, close to where once Bicker’s mansion stood.

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