“Oh Waterlooplein, oh, Waterlooplein, pretty and ugly at the same time, poor and yet rich, melancholy but oh so fine: our Waterlooplein”
The Waterlooplein area has been praised in song, painted, photographed and is ‘world famous in Amsterdam’ – but what is the real story behind the famous square and the surrounding neighbourhood? In the summer and autumn of 2020, the Jewish Cultural Quarter presents an extensive exhibition on the Waterlooplein neighbourhood: the heart of Amsterdam’s former Jewish district.
A vanished neighbourhood
Waterlooplein – Biography of a Neighbourhood focuses on the major developments from the 17th century to the present. 3D reconstructions, film footage, photos, objects and archaeological finds allow visitors not only to discover the neighbourhood itself, but also to see how archaeologists and historians are able, using individual elements and research, to create an impression of a neighbourhood that no longer exists.
A neighbourhood that has had many faces: during the 17th century, the area around Waterlooplein square was particularly multicultural thanks to the many immigrants, including Portuguese. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the neighbourhood was characterised by appalling inequality between rich and poor. During World War II and shortly afterwards, the area saw indescribable suffering. This exhibition tells all of these stories, as well as showing how the neighbourhood was completely transformed by the arrival of the controversial city hall and opera house in the 1980s, and how it looks now.
The exhibition is organised by the Diaspora and Identity Project (D&I Project), an NWO Project for which the University of Amsterdam – in particular the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (ACASA) – is cooperating with the City of Amsterdam’s Monuments and Archaeology Services Department and the Jewish Historical Museum.
Image: Displayed merchandise with mirror, Amsterdam, 1949 - Emmy Andriesse. Collection Jewish Historical Museum.