From a heavily protected area to public terrain
Around 1895, the Department of War (formerly the Ministry of Defense) began using the Hembrug site, which was then the heart of the 135-kilometre defense circle, the Stelling van Amsterdam. Surrounded by large fences, the terrain produced ammunition in heavily guarded buildings for a century. Citizens were forbidden to enter this territory for many years. From 2014, the site was gradually opened to the public.
Are you curious about the history of the Hembrug site? Tours provide the perfect opportunity to delve into the turbulent history of this site on the North Sea Canal. During the tours, former employees of the Hembrug site relay their experiences about the company culture at the time through both funny anecdotes and painful facts. You will also be able to view the remarkable collections from the artillery test range, various metal and machine works, the Ministry of Defense and the Hembrug site itself.
From glassworks to gallery
Scattered around the site are many small studios used by artists, furniture makers, photographers and designers. Explore Flinders’ 500m2 space full of furniture, discover age-old glass-blowing techniques at Vrij Glas or visit De Makers Van, a design collective whose work can also be found at MoMa and Center Pompidou. More information about all the galleries, studios, shops and showrooms can be found on the website.
The Museum of Humanity
The Museum of Humanity is in building 155 and features the work of photographer Ruben Timman. He has made over 3,500 portraits of people from around the world. All images have been shot in the same way: straight-on against a dark background and without adornment. The result is People as a Masterpiece. The museum also hosts film evenings, music and theatre performances organised around social issues.
Het HEM has already been called the ‘Tate on the Canal’. Located in the former ball-bearing factory at the Hembrug site, Het HEM features an exhibition space, a library, a restaurant with a terrace and a hi-fi bar in one of the former shooting galleries in the basement. If planning permits are approved, a new hotel designed by Rem Koolhaas will soon sit atop pylons above the factory’s main hall. With much to see and do, you can easily spend a full day here.
With a diverse audience in mind, HEM wants to tell the stories that other more established art institutions might ignore. Four times a year a guest curator is chosen to stage their own ‘chapter’ (HEM’s word for ‘exhibition’) in the 9,000m2 space. The chapters are not unlike the Dutch TV show Zomergasten (‘summer guests’) where invited guests discuss their favorite things to watch over several hours – but in this case, instead of watching, you wander. The first chapter was put together by Edson Sobajo and Guillaume Schmidt, the men behind local sneaker emporium Patta, who closed their opening show with a boxing gala. Chilean-American composer Nicolaas Jaar has coordinated the second chapter, which consists mainly of sound works with light shows. The guest curator for the third chapter currently remains a mystery.
There are lots of tasty treats to choose from at HEM, from fresh fries and milkshakes at Café Hembrug, fresh produce at the Hembrug market, home-made pulled pork and custard sandwiches (yes, that’s right) to stellar cuisine at Restaurant Europa in Het HEM. Tip: it pays to arrive with an empty stomach. If you’re still feeling thirsty after all these goodies, drop by Lab 55 for a local specialty beer with a view of the canal, or dive into the HEM's ‘hi-fi bar’ for a cocktail.
Closer than you think
For those who get a little nervous about going beyond the A10 (Amsterdam’s ring road), there’s nothing to worry about: a new ferry service is in operation Thursday to Sunday from 17:30 to midnight ferrying people between Het HEM and Amsterdam Central Station.