Category Archives: History

Real HEMA on Kalverstraat


Kalverstraat 170 is a stately merchant’s house from the second or third quarter of the seventeenth century. In the second quarter of the eighteenth century a renovation took place where the current facade was built. The property has an interesting architectural history, but is mainly connected with the history of a famous Dutch department store. On November 4, 1926 the initial establishment of HEMA was opened here.

The Hollandsche Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam (H.E.M.A.) was established on November 4, 1926 by the Jewish directors Arthur Isaac and Leo Meyer of luxury department store De Bijenkorf. The first branch was opened on Kalverstraat. A few days later, a second branch followed in the Oude Hoogstraat 14-18. The strong international orientation of Leo Meyer, he had the idea for a unit price shop for people on a tight budget, which he had gained during a trip to America. Prices were initially not more than 25 and 50 cents; in 1928 were also more expensive products introduced of 75 and 100 cents, ‘the best quality that can be manufactured at such low prices’.

The first two stores did not fare as well as the founders expected. The shop in the chic Kalverstraat got little attention of shoppers, while the branch on Oude Hoogstraat had a to small floor space to handle the influx. The low conversion didn’t prevent the board to open many branches in the rest of the country at a rapid pace. When the Depression struck deeply the Dutch economy in 1929, the public flooded in and the realized large profits.


Until the establishment of the HEMA stores in 1926 department stores were posh palaces for the richer part of the population. Stores like Hirsch & Cie., Maison de Bonneterie were fashion palaces for the elite. The well-off middle class did her shopping at Metz & Co., Gerzon Brothers and De Bijenkorf. HEMA was a store for everyone. HEMA gave the common people even its first coffee shop where the customers could eat a three-course meal for 50 cents. The staff consisted mainly of unmarried women, in white clothing, worked about 75 hours a week. Due to the low unit price shop H.E.M.A. was once seen as a ‘poor man’s shop’. Wealthier Dutch did not want to be seen on the street with a bag from HEMA. (How times change to nowadays!)

The Second World War left a significant scar in the history of HEMA. In July 1942 all Jewish employees had to be laid off and the board was pushed to the side. HEMA meant during the war years <em>’Helpt Elkaar Met Alles'</em> which translates in ‘Helps Each Other With Everything’. The dismissed Jewish workers were supported wherever possible but after the liberation there was not much left of the blazing HEMA of before the war. Many shops were in ruins or looted. 201 employees, including the management, were killed in the camps. They are commemorated every year on May 4 at the headquarters in Amsterdam-North..

After the liberation the management of the HEMA changed drastically: fixed low prices were no longer used, HEMA stood for the highest possible quality for as little money as possible. This proved a success and HEMA expanded at breakneck speed. In the 50s HEMA became the first franchise organization in the Netherlands. With approximately 150 ‘Affiliated Companies’ is HEMA still the largest franchisor in the country. Early 90s, the group opened its first stores in Belgium. Meanwhile HEMA is also based in Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom. The shop on Kalverstraat changed places and is now underground in Kalvertoren, but it is still called branch number one.


When you ask a Dutch person what he or she would miss most when he’s abroad, 8 out of ten would say HEMA’!

BTW this is a video of what to do with shoplifters…

Day Of Hearts… I Love You!

HartjesdagOriginally Hartjesdag (Day of Hearts) was a festival celebrated on the third Monday in August in the areas of Haarlem and Bloemendaal and in various parts of Amsterdam, particularly around the Haarlemmerplein, in the Jordaan, and on Zeedijk. On Hartjesdag fires were kindled and children collected money. Later it developed itself into a type of cross-dressing carnival, where men dressed as women, and women dressed as men. A typical scene was captured in the oil painting entitled Hartjesdag, by the artist Johan Braakensiek in 1926.

During the German occupation in 1942 the Hartjesdag became prohibited, and after the war it eventually became obsolete. In 1997 a local committee on Zeedijk, Amsterdam, decided to see if they could revive the tradition. Each year since then, the festival has flourished into a two-day event on the 3rd weekend in August.

Where the name Hartjesdag comes from is not clear. Probably it has arisen in the Middle Ages. It is suspected that the name is a bastardisation of ‘hertjesdag‘ (Deer Day). This was a festival where in the forests around Haarlem deer (herten) hunting could be done by the ordinary people, which was normally reserved for nobility. The deer were then taken to Amsterdam and roasted in the streets.

On Sunday evening it’s now ‘Night of Romance’, when at the bars and restaurants, but also in small theaters in the surrounding streets, live music is played and songs are sung. On Monday they start with a brunch for the people of the neighborhood, and the ones who feel part of the neighborhood (like me, and I live 4.5km on the other side of town). After brunch the ‘Hearts’ (people who normally don’t cross-dress) and ‘Queens’ (the ones who do!) can register to win a prize at the end of the day.

I was greeted by a creature looking as ‘Divine’ who knew me by name, and I didn’t know who he was. I do know now, and when he dares to do it, with consent of his wife, I can do it too… next year!

Here are some photos who were posted on Facebook, I thanked the photographers already. They are in random order, and will change place every time you open this page. Click on one and it will open in a new page, there you can scroll through them.

An Underground Tank Full of Information

In the late 19th century, the toilet was introduced as we know it today. Previously most of Amsterdam households possessed a toilet cubicle in the courtyard of their house. The earliest mention of such a sanitary facility in the city, a heymelichede (secret) dates back to 1377. From 1528 it was officially obliged to provide every house with a crapper. Traces of these crappers archaeologists find regularly.

Cross section of a cesspool with dome and chute
Cross section of a cesspool with dome and chute

The round or rectangular walled container of the cesspit that had an average size of 2×2 m and 2 m deep, often it had a dome on top with an opening for the chute, which came out in the outhouse. A cesspool was often used by a single household, but it also happened that a well was connected through several chutes of privies from different premises. In addition to the sanitary function, the well was used in order to throw away waste. So these cesspools may contain large amounts of household waste, ranging from kitchen waste to crockery.

There were strict urban regulations for maintaining cesspools by homeowners. These full wells had to be emptied among other things. For this night workers were deployed. These workmen took their name in the night hours when they had to do their work because of the smell and inconvenience. The easiest way to empty a septic tank was to dig out these items from the chute. More dramatic was when the dome had to be broken and a mason had to restore the well later. The city took strict supervision of emptying these wells. In 1621 for example, the presence of a sworn superintendent by the mayor was made mandatory, to ensure that everything went properly and to prevent that the contents of the wells ended on the streets or in the canal. In practice of course, no-one was taken with such rules, according to a strengthening of the rule in 1623 which stated that the night workers had to be certified in order to practice their profession.

Appliances from a cesspool on Herengracht, 1675-1750
Appliances from a cesspool on Herengracht, 1675-1750

Emptying a cesspool was a costly operation and was often done only when it really had to. It often happens that cesspools that are found at archaeological investigations are often stocked. The utensils and food scraps literally give us a glimpse into the kitchen and on the table of Amsterdam households. Septic tanks are unique archaeological receptacles full of information that call many different, sometimes personal, aspects of daily life in the past visible and alive. In the past 40 years, the archaeologists of the Amsterdam municipality have unearthed nearly 400 cesspools.

See a map with all the cesspools they’ve found here

Hidden Gems

Amsterdam is a city full of hidden gems, some in plain sight (but overlooked) and others in places you don’t expect them. For IDAHOT (International Day against Homo-, Bisexual- and Trans phobia) we did a show at CMA on Paradijsplein. In the former meter-building of the Eastern Gas Works. Inside it looks like a bar / theater from the turn of the century, red velvet, ostrich feathers and ‘brocante’ which translates best to flea-market art. When I told the rest of the crew what the surrounding looked like, I said “its old trash but its got atmosphere.”
If you’re looking for me, I’m not in the picture! These people are the ones that are important, my job is doing the design and styling of the flyers / posters and taking care of the mon€y that goes in and out. That was May 17.

Last night I went out to dinner with friends, our first stop was the Proeflokaal (Dutch for tasting tavern) of Wynand Fockink. Many Amsterdammers have never been there or know of its existence, and I like to keep it that way. It’s one of the gems of the city.

-slurping-tulip-glasYou will find the Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal and liquor store in the Pijlsteeg, an alley behind the National Monument on the Dam square in Amsterdam. In around 1679 Wynand Fockink started a liqueur distillery. Soon a Proeflokaal was added, where customers could taste and buy the products. To this day, this practice has continued; here liqueurs and genevers are still being made using the same 17th century traditional craft methods. Wynand Fockink produces more than 70 Dutch liqueurs and genevers which can be tasted in an authentic 17th century environment in the old time honoured way of bowing to the drink and slurping the first sip from a traditional tulip glass.

Knowing what we would have for dinner, cod, we had us poured a ‘Mykonos’, a shot of Angostura bitter, a shot of Singelburger bitter (with a hint of ginger in it) and to finish the drink off a shot of lemon liqueur. Then we made a bow to the drink and slurped the first sip. Why waste good stuff because the glasses are filled to the brim.

Afterwards we went to Casablanca, to stay in the theme of southern places. Casablanca is a small theater restaurant on Zeedijk, which I’ve passed many times but never went in. Until now.

The decor is circus, all around, posters, clothing, props and Corgy toys of circus cars and trucks from the fifties. We had a wonderful meal, a vegetable stracciatella soup*, cod and a sweet dish to finish it all of. If you’re wondering what stracciatella soup is, (I did too, thinking of ice-cream) it a very tasty aromatic vegetable broth with loads of fresh herbs, but minus the beaten egg. Try the Food network for a recipe.

After dinner we had a nightcap at ‘t Mandje, Amsterdam oldest Gay bar (since 1927) when sodomy was still a crime.

BOWI5739-3Okay, here’s a photo of me during IDAHOT, together with the Brothers Grimm. Dresscode was black and gold…

A Ship Wreck Full Of…

European Stories.

Oak from Germany, the Czech Republic and South Scandinavia for the construction of the ship, hemp from the Baltic region to make ropes and iron from Sweden for the manufacture of guns. Three examples of the many European products that are processed or came in as cargo were present in The Amsterdam, a ship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), which stranded at Hastings. The historical (trade) relations between Amsterdam and several European countries that represent these products are now to be discovered the digital installation of The Amsterdam.

Digital installation The Amsterdam | Photo Monuments and Archaeology

This East India ship The Amsterdam was built in 1748 on the VOC-yard Oostenburg. In January 1749 it sailed after loading and embarkation on Texel for the long trip to Asia. This proved short-lived. A rough southwesterly storm hit the ship adrift and it stranded at Hastings in southern England. Since it is still under water in the surf of the beach. at very low tide only the wreck is dry. The Amsterdam is the best preserved original East India ship from the 18th century. The hull is intact (45 meters long, 12 meters wide) and is 7 meters deep sunk in the beach.

The wreck Amsterdam at Hastings
The wreck Amsterdam at Hastings

The past few decades have developed different research plans. Exploratory research by underwater archaeologists in the 80s of the last century showed that there are tens of thousands of objects hidden in the ship. Because of that dive operation even a special edition of Bob and Bobette, ‘Fear on The Amsterdam’, appeared. The most recent initiative is to work out a plan with Dutch and British partners that the wreck completely filled exhibited in an aquarium and examined by divers. Therefore a digital installation is created of The Amsterdam.

The products are 3D printed markers from left to right: wood, hemp and rope, food, wine and beer, drugs, guns and muskets, glass and metals
The products are 3D printed markers from left to right: wood, hemp and rope, food, wine and beer, drugs, guns and muskets, glass and metals

The system was developed on the occasion of the Dutch EU Presidency and in line with corresponding theme Open and Innovative City. In the gatehouse of the Marine Base everyone can see an interactive table with two large screens, and discover the stories that lie behind The Amsterdam. One screen shows the map of Europe and the origin of the various products that were transported to Amsterdam and were bought by the Dutch East India Company for the construction and equipment of ships. Through 3D printed markers of archaeological finds, animations are activated from the wreck of eight different product groups and their relations with the various countries and cities in Europe. The second screen shows the map of Amsterdam with the addresses of suppliers of each of the eight product groups and supplies in the 40s of the 18th century.

Power Display In Masonry

According to the Amsterdam Courant “a great noise” should have sounded during the night of Saturday April 13 to Sunday, 14th, 1822 on Oostenburg. Which is not surprising, during that night half the grain warehouse by Cruys and Co. plunged to the ground. The crash site immediately attracted a lot of attention and the picturesque ruin was soon immortalized by various artists. This attention was not for nothing, the collapsed building was in fact not just a warehouse, but the former Sea warehouse of the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

The console with leaping lions from the former East Indian Country House, Department of Monuments and Archaeology
The console with leaping lions from the former East India Country House, photo Department of Monuments and Archaeology

The VOC Zeemagazijn (Sea warehouse) dominated from 1660 to 1822 the streets of Oostenburg. It was part of the extensive shipyard complex on the isle of Oostenburg, where between 1665 and 1799 five hundred East-India ships were built. The central warehouse, also known as the East India Country House, was with a length of 215 meters (705 feet), width of 25 meters (82 feet), four floors and a double loft the largest industrial building in the Netherlands. It formed a link between Amsterdam and Asia. Thus, the supply went from the town of outgoing VOC ships from the Sea warehouse and this was the place where in Asia it brought back goods as porcelain and spices were stored prior to further distribution. Exclusive import products that can now be seen in the exhibition “Asia> Amsterdam. Luxury in the Golden Age” at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, USA. (until June 5, 2016*) Only after providing a demolition permit in 1829 the building finally disappeared from the cityscape.

Etching of King William I visiting the ruins of the East Indian Sea warehouse by A. Lutz, J. Jacobs & Co., 1822, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Etching of King William I visiting the ruins of the East Indian Sea warehouse by A. Lutz, J. Jacobs & Co., 1822, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Last October, archaeologists from Monuments and Archaeology used the redevelopment of Oostenburg immediately to dig next to the Van Gendt-halls to see if there were still traces of the past VOC were present. Three meters below the road surface foundation remains were as expected found of the Zeemagazijn. The allure of the Sea warehouse is properly reflected in one of the finds, a stone console that has landed in a ditch after the demolition in 1829. This construction fragment (83 x 32 x 19 cm) was originally designed, and was cemented in a wall piece, the projecting part is decorated with two forward-catching lions. Another example of such a show of force in the masonry of a business can be found in the Shipping House (Scheepvaarthuis) on the Prins Hendrikkade. Here the viewer is impressed by the heads of seafaring heroes who are stabbing out of the wall.

*“Asia> Amsterdam. Luxury in the Golden Age” was on show at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam from October 17, 2015 to January 17, 2016.

Prayer Temple in Amsterdam West

In the Jan Maijenstraat in Amsterdam West sits a large brick building on the square, that doesn’t at first sight equals the reminiscent of a church. The letters above the entrance indicates that it is indeed a church; the Jerusalem Church. It is the only church from the period of the Amsterdam School, both outside and inside have been remained intact. Reason enough to declare this monument to Amsterdam School Monument of the Month.

Jerusalem Church - photo Albert Palsgraaf
Jerusalem Church – photo Albert Palsgraaf

At the beginning of the 20th century was like decades before a big shortage of housing in the city. After the famous Plan South by architect Berlage in 1917, the city presented in 1922, Plan West. The plan was also known as the 6,000-houses plan called for the number of laborers housing who would appear west of the Admiralengracht. The Jerusalem Church was one of the three churches built in this area. Under the motto ‘City without temple’ Dutch Reformed churches collected money for years to pay for the construction.

The Jerusalem Church was designed by architect F.B. Jantzen and built in 1928-1929. The church, in tight Amsterdam School style, pops out of a block of social housing and fits harmoniously into the other buildings in Amsterdam School style in the forecourt. Connecting the church with the underlying housing blocks had been a deliberate choice of the architect to express that God will dwell with men. The design is clearly influenced by the buildings of the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, with the characteristic cubic shapes and flat roofs. The terrace structured building looks reminiscent of a temple from the Middle East.

Interior Jerusalem Church
Interior Jerusalem Church

The interior is designed as a unit, largely by Jantzen itself. Previously, he was guided by numbers and colors that had a Biblical sense. For example, the stained-glass windows are rich in biblical symbolism. But this is also reflected in the chandeliers, the central headlight symbol of Jesus surrounded by twelve smaller lights, the apostles. The dark furniture from tropical wood contrasts with the white walls. The 42-voice Furtwängler & Hammer organ in the church, has like the building a monumental status and was restored in 2014. Incidentally the church, which is still, as such, is in use as a branch of pop temple Paradiso.

This year’s Open Heritage Day Amsterdam celebrates its 30th birthday and as a tribute 100 years Amsterdam School will be celebrated. In addition to the regular weekend in September, it will open doors of a special Amsterdam School building, from April on every second Sunday of the month. The Jerusalem Church is the first to open its doors, and on Sunday, April 10th from 12:00 to 17:00 you can visit the building. Admission is free, during the tours they will tell you more about the building and from 14:00 the organ will be played occasionally.

Already curious? Look ahead to local broadcasting AT5 and its item Streets of Amsterdam from this week while visiting Jan Maijenstraat. Spoken text is in Dutch.