Amsterdam’s industry has been shaped by trade, from the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC (Dutch East India Company) in the 17th century to the establishment of a fair cocoa industry today. For city dwellers, chocolate lovers and anyone who believes that things should be done differently, this tour will change the way you eat, shop and see the world.
Start at Prins Hendrikkade 600.
1. National Maritime Museum and VOC Ship
From the starting point, you will have a good view of Het Scheepvaartmuseum (The National Maritime Museum) and the replica of the VOC Ship Amsterdam. (Until the end of March 2021, the VOC Ship is being refurbished so you’ll see the Clipper Stad Amsterdam there instead
In the 17th century, Amsterdam was the largest port in the world. Ships passed through importing and exporting a range of goods and two-thirds of all vessels which sailed the world were built here. The city’s maritime industry is one of the country’s greatest success stories but it also one of the darkest passages in colonial history. The Dutch East India Company wanted to enforce a monopoly on spices and for a long time, trade was synonymous with war. Look closer at the VOC ship and you will see hatches, the shutters of which would have concealed cannons. For many decades, the people of the Banda Islands in Indonesia suffered fighting, famines, massacres and deportation at the hands of the Dutch attackers.
Behind the ship, the grand building that is now the National Maritime Museum was originally the arsenal for the Admiralty of Amsterdam. It housed an enormous supply of ammunition and equipment for the construction of warships including all kinds of sails, bullets, anchors, cannons and rifles. The Admiralty's main client was the Dutch East India Company. Built in 1656, in only nine months, the speed of construction shows how much money was poured into the spice trade at the time.
Incidentally, the real VOC Ship was never able to complete the months-long journey to Indonesia. It was shipwrecked off the coast of England where the wreckage can still be seen to this day.
Cross the Prins Hendrikkade, turn left over the bridge and then turn right until you reach the end of Kadijksplein. You are now in front of the gate to the Entrepotdok.
2. Koffiehuis van de Volksbond (People’s Union Coffee House)
Left of the gate, you’ll see a small brick house that reads Koffiehuis van den Volksbond. In the 1890s, an influx of workers moved to Amsterdam in search of better job prospects. Employment however was difficult to find and the uncertain existence they lead meant that many workers quickly turned to drink. In those days, weekly wages would be paid at the local pub, ensuring that paychecks were all too easily converted into alcohol. Many would return home to their wives with empty pockets, having drunk it all away. Fed up with this, the women decided to take action. In partnership with local business owners, coffee houses were set up across the city to discourage drinking. Even though beer was still served, there was no Jajem (Jevener) on sale to tempt the workers, which saved them a lot of money. This is one of the last coffee houses that is still in its original state.
Go under the gate and turn left.
Here you’ll see the largest pakhuis (warehouse) complex in Amsterdam, now converted into residential apartments. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, these buildings were crammed full of goods from all corners of the city. In those days, you had to pay both import and export duties for the transit of goods across Amsterdam. That is why in 1827 the national warehouse was established so goods could be temporarily stored without any taxes being charged. The facade of the complex would have been completely closed off, with just one entry point on Laagte Kadijk where there would have been a small gate.
From here you can also see a historic crane and the back of the Artis Zoo. With a bit of luck, you might be able to see the giraffes and elephants in their outdoor enclosure.
Walk to the end of the Entrepotdok, turn left onto Sarphatistraat and then walk straight until you see Brouwerij 't IJ on your right.
4. De Gooyer Corn Mill
Windmills and Dutch history go hand in hand. At one time, there were over 9000 windmills in the Netherlands and in the pre-industrial era, their functions were diverse. Mills were an advanced way of generating energy; they were used to grind grain, saw wood, make paper, press oil and even drain entire polders. The first polder mills were created at the beginning of the 15th century to empty lakes and ponds and create new habitable landscapes. These early experiments developed into the large-scale land reclamation projects witnessed in the Netherlands today.
De Gooyer Corn Mill has been the home of Brouwerij 't IJ since 1983. Speciality draft beers are brewed right here on the Funenkade, next to the windmill. There’s a beer tasting room and the terrace is an excellent place to have a refreshing brew before continuing your walk.
Cross the bridge to the left of the mill and walk straight along Czaar Peterstraat. Take the first street on the left (Eerste Coehoornstraat) and walk straight ahead into Oostenburgerpark. Pakhuis Oostenburg is located on the right side of the park.
5. Pakhuis Oostenburg, Multatuli and fair trade
In 1661, the VOC bought up most of the land on what was then Oostenburg Island. They established shipyards and warehouses which were filled with exotic imports from across the world including spices, tobacco, coffee and cocoa beans. Suddenly Amsterdammers were introduced to products they had never seen, smelled or tasted before.
As the prosperity of the city grew exponentially, nobody took the time to ask where all this wealth actually came from and at whose expense. The writer Edward Douwes Dekker (who used the pseudonym Multatuli) was one of the few to denounce the injustices and oppressions at the root of the colonial system. His 1860 novel, 'Max Havelaar or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company' played a key role in shaping the colonial policies of the Dutch East Indies. Although his rebellious attitude cost him his job as a government official, Multatuli is now regarded as one of the most important Dutch authors of all time.
Walk back to the Czaar Peterstraat.
6. Czaar Peter
This street is named after the Russian tsar, Peter the Great who stayed here for four months in 1697 to learn the ship carpentry trade. It’s amazing to think that one of the most powerful men in the world at that time walked around this area, drinking in the pubs and living as an Amsterdammer. We know that the 25-year-old tsar visited the Hortus Botanicus and the Royal Palace on Dam Square. He also liked a glass and reportedly had many sweethearts in the area. Tsar Peter spent time in Zaandam and Czar Peter House there is also well worth a visit.
Today, Czaar Peterstraat is home to various sustainable entrepreneurs who are making conscious choices to affect change in the world. Pop into Not Just a Gift, run by Laura Wienesen who has lived in the area for 50 years, which sells original sustainable products. Kaffa Coffee is also a great place to stop by. Marcos Desta comes from Ethiopia and personally ensures that his coffee is grown under the right conditions and is purchased for a fair price.
Walk to the end of the street and turn left to reach the Cocoa Museum.
7. Cocao beans and chocolate
Did you know that Amsterdam is still the largest cocoa port in the world? Find out more about the chocolate business by ending your tour at the Cocoa Museum. This special place is run by Henk Jan Laats who studied cocoa for twenty years whilst living in South America. He believes that "because everyone loves chocolate, it is the ideal way to talk about the history of chocolate, our food, the environment and the challenges ahead."
In the museum, you will also find products from the Chocolade Makers. Every year, the beans used to make their bars are transported from the Dominican Republic to Amsterdam on the "Tres Hombres" sailing ship. This is the only wind-powered cargo ship in the world that transports its goods completely emission-free. Chocolade Makers products are organic, fair trade and champion sustainability. As we have seen on this tour, learning from the mistakes society has made in the past give us the opportunity to do things differently in the future.
Tours that Matter
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The route map was drawn by illustrator Monique Wijbrands. View her work at: moniquewijbrands.nl