Sunday, August 30th 2015
Taking the bus to the central station as usual, we then walked along the River Ij to the Westerdok and IJdok (see this Google Map).
The way onto the Ikdok is along a sort of ‘panhandle’ road lined with the most unusual architecture I have seen for a long time. Here are a few glimpses of what we saw:
As it was still quite early and a Sunday, there were not many people about and very little movement on the water. It was very calm and peaceful, especially as we were in the midst of a great city.
We had not yet had breakfast and looked around for a cafe that was open. We had already seen several places but they were all closed, their staff no doubt having a Sunday lie-in.
We spotted chairs and tables on the pavement and this seemed a good sign. A notice declared (in English) that French breakfast was available. We didn’t need any more prompting.
After breakfast we continued our ramble, looking at the architecture (see the ‘glimpses’ above) and the views over the water. The riverine scenery reminded me a bit of some parts of the Thames though in reality it rather different.
Between the Ijdok and the road is a triangular body of water (see map) which has been made into a harbour for yachts and small craft, called the City Marina IJdok.
We crossed the wider end of the marina by the foot bridge and continued walking north along a road called Westerdoksdijk. This is a wide and pleasant thoroughfare.
I looked across the northern end of the Westerdok and saw this white bridge shining in the sun. It closely resembles representations of the Arles Bridge that appear in a number of Van Gogh’s paintings (for example, see here). Its peculiar ‘wings’ are counterweights for lifting the bridge to allow boats to pass through.
We now made our way to the day’s main event, a tour of an early 20th-century social housing project of unusual and beautiful design, known popularly as Het Schip (‘The Ship’) because many of its features remind people of a ship. Two longer blocks and a shorter one form a triangular ground plan in which are contained 102 flats.
The complex was designed by architect Michel de Klerk, a founding member of the Amsterdamse School of architecture, and is perhaps the finest surviving example of its principles. The first two blocks were built in 1913-14 and the third one in 1919. In the above two photos, the drum-shaped feature contains what was the Post Office and is now the reception for tours of the site.
Traces remain inside of the post office, not least the splendid red post box and the Art Deco telephone booth.
The tour begins with a look at a mock-up of the typical living conditions endured by a worker and his family in the early decades of the 20th century. The family would be confined to a single room with no proper washing facilities and a bucket for a toilet. It hardly need to said that moving from such a hovel to a flat with several bedrooms, running water and a flush toilet represented a huge leap in workers’ living standards.
The tour began by examining the outside of the building. It is clear that, far from just putting up a brick box for workers to live in, the intention was to build a structure that was beautiful in its own right and was pleasant to live in.
All of the other visitors were Dutch but the tour guide spoke in English throughout and the other members of the group made comments or asked questions and chatted with us in English too.
Here are a few more views of the design of the exterior:
Although there are several entrances (see above photos), the short side of the triangle forms a kind of formal or main entrance. With the sun behind it, it was a little difficult to photograph.
It is topped by a tower, obelisk or spire – all of those words seem to fit. One is almost irresistibly drawn to ask what the tower is for. Actually, it isn’t for anything; it is purely decorative.
While most of the flats are inhabited and, I imagine, have been updated during the century of their existence, one flat has been kept in its original condition to show visitors.
A large number of people milling about in a flat makes it hard to get unobstructed pictures.
I think it natural to compare these dwelling with modern council flats. Discounting the old-fashioned facilities (see below), I think they compare favourably. The design was predicated on the philosophy that the family should live together as a unit, children and parents sharing home life. There was a touch of ‘social engineering’ in this, namely that if you improve people’s lives, then you improve the people, morally and socially.
The kitchen seems to modern tastes a little antiquated but I think that not a few of us can remember using kitchens just like this!
This visit was certainly instructive. The building is historically interesting in its own right as an example of the work of the expressionist Amsterdamse School but also of how, with good will and intelligent planning, people’s lives can be improved to their benefit and, through them, the benefit of the whole of society. This seems to be a lesson that government learn again and again only to forget it in between times.
We paid a quick visit to the Olympisch Stadion (Olympic Stadium). We could not go inside and had to be content with looking at the exterior. It was designed by Jan Wils, also a member of the Amsterdamse School, and first used for the summer Olympic Games of 1928.
This statue honours ‘The Baron’, also known as ‘The Father of Sports’ who was the first chairman of the Dutch Olympic Committee and the first Dutch member of the IOC. He was responsible for bringing the 1928 Olympic Games to Amsterdam but died in 1924 and therefore did not live to see them. There has been comment about his salute which is explained on the plate attached to the sculpture in these words: ‘The statue depicts the Olympic salute, which was used during the Roman Empire. Since World War II, the outstretched arm has been associated with the Hitler salute, but this monument was created in 1928 and has no relationship with Hitler at all’.
Promotheus stole fire from Olympus to benefit mankind and is therefore associated with the Olympic flame. This particular sculpture by Fred Carasso was commissioned by the Dutch Olympic Committee ‘to create a war memorial for the victims from the world of sport. The statue was intended to express freedom and sport’ (plate attached to the sculpture).
We stopped off at this handsome late 19th-century building, now the American Hotel Amsterdam. I imagine (though I haven’t checked) that prices of rooms would be somewhat outside our budget but sitting on the terrace sipping an iced tea was as pleasant as it was affordable!
Suitably refreshed, we proceeded on the final jaunt of the day, a visit to the Pathé Tuschinski cinema. This opened in 1921 and was commissioned by Abraham Tuschinski. It evinces a mixture of styles in which the philosophy of the Amsterdam School again appears.
We could visit only the foyer but we sat for a while a looked around at the magnificent décor, dodging the people in an attempt to take some photos. (The above is a multi-part scan and shows a small amount of distortion.)
The above shows a decorative motif behind the counter of the coffee and snack counter.
The picture in this alcove is highly stylized, in fact verging on the abstract, but if you look hard you can begin to see – or is it imagine? – figures.
It is, all in all, a remarkable, unique and beautiful setting, creating an atmosphere of wonder and fantasy for the audience even before they seat themselves in front of the screen.
This was our second and last full day in Amsterdam. Tomorrow we must be up in good time to catch our train at Amsterdam Centraal. It has been an enjoyable trip and I am sure we shall return again one day.