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De Brakke Grond

Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering. Don't let the ANNO 1624 fool you. This little gate, to be found between the Oudezijds Voorburgwal 298 and 290, dates back to the late nineteenth century, and most of the Renaissance elements are fake. Once, it was the eastern access to a court that was surrounded by several houses, built by the English distiller John Jorden between 1630 and 1633. This court was called De Brakke Grond, 'the brackish yard'. The reason for this unusual name is that is named after the well of the medieval Monastery of Saint Margareth. Because Amsterdam is built on peaty soil near a river, salty water is unusual.
The Brakke Grond on a map of Amsterdam made by Cornelis Anthonisz (1544).
Here you see the monastery on a map by Cornelis Anthonisz, made in 1544, shortly before Amsterdam became a famous city and started to attract foreigners like John Jorden.Later, the houses he had built around the court were used to sell colonial wares, especially tobacco.
Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering. After the loss of the Dutch Indies, the rooms in the houses were let out to people who wanted to celebrate parties. For example, the famous Ajax left winger Piet Keizer married in De Brakke Grond. The entrance was moved to the west, to the street known as Nes, 'the wetlands'. Since 1962, the Brakke Grond was a theater, and in 1978, it was taken possession of by the House of Culture of Flanders, which is the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium.
Flemish lion. The disastrous rift between the Netherlands and Flanders was created by religious differences (the south remaining Catholic when the north became Protestant), political opportunism, and the economic rivalry between Antwerp and Amsterdam. Some rivalry still exists. Belgians sometimes feel that they are not taken entirely seriously by the Dutch; and indeed, Flemish newspapers always have at least one page of news from the Netherlands whereas Dutch papers almost ignore the southern neighbors.

The indomitable, proud lion on this picture is the coat-of-arms of the medieval count of Flanders (or, a lion rampant sable, armed and langued gules), which is now used as the flag of the Dutch-speaking community in Belgium.

The Brakke Grond is now used as a theater, exposition room, and concert hall. In this way, Amsterdammers can see the best stage productions from Flanders. There are several related organizations in Amsterdam (e.g., John Adams Institute, Maison Descartes, and Goethe Institut), but the Brakke Grond is the only one with a stage. The stone slab on the next picture, at the Nes 45, commemorates the opening of the Flemish Cultural Center:
Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering.

Hoe cond' ick u, myn Broeders, oyt vergeten,

daar wy toch syn in eenen stronck geplant?

("How can I ever forget you, my brothers, because we are planted on the same root?"). This is a quote from Filips of Marnix, lord of Sint-Aldegonde (1540-1598), the mayor of Antwerp who wrote the Dutch national anthem Wilhelmus. It is from his Schriftuerlicke Lof-Sangen, 'Biblical Odes'.

Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering. Although I have visited some theater performances in the Brakke Grond, I like the concerts best. With my friends Jolanda and Lauren, I must have attended almost every rock concert during the last three seasons. We always greatly enjoy ourselves because the bands are really good, and play as if their lives are at stake. For many bands, a concert in Amsterdam offers an opportunity to reach another audience.
Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering. Jolanda, who works for a theater company, appears to enjoy every band; Lauren has become a great fan of Rumplestitchkin. I have fond memories of PJDS, Arsenal, and the Blackbox Revelation. The latter recently won a contest between two Belgian and two Dutch bands, and I was really impressed by the two brothers, who make music that resembles both the White Stripes and Iggy & The Stooges.
Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering. After the concert, you can meet the musicians in the nearby brasserie, which is the technical term for a pub or café that specializes in beer - although I am a teetotaler. It always surprises me how accessible the guys are, and how willing to speak about their music. This makes the brasserie a really nice place to be. Another reason is that the barmaids, bartenders, and cooks are a real team and work very hard, as if they have to live up to Marnix' motto repos ailleurs.
Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering. Among the regular customers are Marian, Marlous, Marco, but especially my good friend Richard, who (not unlike me) is part of the furniture. Here, you see him studying Farsi. In about two years, he learned himself the language of modern Iran. Of course the utilization of refreshing Belgian draft beer has greatly improved his learning facilities, but it should be added that Richard has the best of all possible teachers, a refugee named Sharona.
Brakke Grond. Photo Jona Lendering. This is the former assistant-manager, Jessica, on her last working day. If the quality of the brasserie has improved over the last year, it is to a large extent because she was a great host who made it very hard for us regulars to act according to the maxim that one should never pal up with the barmaid. It would be unkind to her former colleagues (and, besides, untrue) to say that things now aren't what they used to be, but from a personal point of view, we all sincerely miss her. Finally, here you can see the terrace of the Brakke Grond from the air. © Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 31 Dec. 2007
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