The PlantagebuurtDate: 31 Oct 2017
Wittenberg is located in the heart of one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam - perhaps the quietest part of the city centre borough, with relatively few hotels but a vibrant history. That stately Plantagebuurt would become a green back garden for many was never the intention. Houses were only built after 1860, while before that time there were gardens and open green spaces which carried the name of plantage, Dutch for plantation. These houses could be rented for periods of 10 years. The Plantagebuurt is still a very green area. The lucky few who are living in the large houses with beautiful facades are often woken up by animal sounds from the nearby Artis Zoo, and many streets have names that start with Plantage. So here is a short introduction to some of the area’s highlights, all within a five minutes' walk of Wittenberg.
The monumental Wittenberg building was formerly named Lutherhuis, “house of Luther”, which was built in 1772 as a nursing home on the Nieuwe Keizersgracht. From 1974 until 2014 it was Nursing Home Wittenberg. The name refers to the Lutheran origin of the building; the German town of Wittenberg was the city where Martin Luther worked as a professor and where he nailed his famous theses to the door of the Schloßkirche (Castle Church).
The beautiful botanical garden of Amsterdam is an oasis of peace, even on sunny summer afternoons. The Hortus has a large orangery which is now used as a café and is probably the quietest and most beautiful work place in town for the self-employed. At this modest piece of land, more than 6,000 tropical and native trees and plants are growing, many of which are for sale in the garden's shop. New-born babies could easily stay afloat on the large leaves of the Victoria lily, and the garden has an enormous specimen of the beloved Ficus lyrata plant. The Hortus was intended as a garden for medicinal plants for pharmacists, although orange trees were the first addition to its current location. The undisputed highlight of a visit to the garden is the glass Palm House, which was built in 1912 and where many people from Amsterdam have promised each other eternal love.
Natura Artis Magistra, or “nature is the teacher of the arts”, is the full name of the oldest zoo in the Netherlands. It is immensely popular with young families that take their children here to meet all kinds of animals, from elephants to jaguar cubs. Artis was founded in 1838 to promote love and care for nature. Today's ethical objections to zoos do not seem to bother Artis, and the wild animals can rely on more and more space these days.
Restaurant the Plantage at Artisplein is open to the public and offers an excellent opportunity to watch the flamingos shake their pink feathers against the usually grey Dutch sky over an early cup of coffee. Stuffed animal Artis the Partis, the zoo's clumsy mascot, is the ultimate souvenir.
The Hollandsche Schouwburg
In the late 19th century, the Plantagebuurt became an area for entertainment with many theatres. The performances in the theatre at Plantage Middenlaan were abruptly ended during the World War II in 1942 when the theatre acted as a gathering area for Jews, from where they were taken via Kamp Westerbork to the extermination camps in Germany. The theatre became a Jewish monument after the war, the hall was turned into a courtyard, and there is now a commemorative pillar where the former stage used to be. During the Dutch National Remembrance Day on the 4th of May, the Jewish community still meets here for a genuinely impressive traditional memorial service.
The only park that is left in the city centre borough is situated along the water of the Nieuwe Herengracht and is popular for picnics on summer days from where one can watch the many boats go by. The park also features the Auschwitz monument Broken Mirrors from 1993, by Jan Wolkers. A few years ago, this work would be accompanied by a much larger monument of starchitect Daniel Libeskind, which would have been six metres tall and 1,000 m2 wide and would bear the 102,000 names of Dutch Holocaust victims who have never been buried. Given the significant size, the decision was taken not to execute this plan.
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