The Jewish Baruch Spinoza is a sort of Sephardic Portuguese parents who settled in Amsterdam around 1600. The family lives on Waterlooplein, where the Mozes en Aaronkerk now stands. Baruch was born there in 1632 and walked around here as a little boy. In 1639 the celebrated Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn came to live on the same street. So there is a good chance that their paths will cross here.
The shrewd comes to the idea that God Bar may not exist, not elaborated he appears in Bible, Torah or Quran. This is unheard of in 17th century Europe. dangerous. Less than a century ago, unbelievers were burned at the stake as heretics. Spinoza elaborates his ideas in writings that are disseminated in secret. He is banned from the Jewish community and has to leave Amsterdam. He died in 1677 at the age of 44 in The Hague from a long illness.
Spinoza will go down in history as one of the fathers of the Enlightenment and founder of the modern secular society as we know it today in the West. He is Holland’s most famous philosopher and an authentic freethinker.
The Mozes en Aäronkerk on Waterlooplein, built in 1841 on the spot where Spinoza’s birthplace stood.
In 1820 Eduard Douwes Dekker was born in Korsjespoortsteeg on the edge of the Jordaan. Dek, as he is called by his friends, goes to Gymnasium but leaves school. The perverse Eduard has no desire to learn at all. At the age of 18 he leaves for the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony at the time. Eduard is amazed at the corruption of both the Dutch and the native rulers.
Back in Europe he writes a book about it, Max Havelaar. It becomes an important one in national literature. Eduard takes the pseudonym ‘Multatuli’, which in Latin means ‘I have suffered’. But deck has especially suffered a lot from 2 mistresses and did not enjoy a fight in time again.
But Multatuli is also a real child of the Enlightenment, and thus of his fellow townsman Spinoza. In the then pastor-dominated Netherlands, Multatuli rebelled against the church. He is also committed to workers’ rights and women’s emancipation. Multatuli is a staunch feminist. In narrow 19th-century Holland all things that are unimaginable and unique.
Straight to death: Multatuli -a bust of him on the left- was the first Dutchman to be cremated. Until then it was the only option. The empty urn can now be found in the Multatuli Museum in the house where he was born at Korsjespoortsteeg 20. It is also located at the Driehuis-Westerveld cemetery.
In 1854 the girl Aletta was born in the large Jewish family Jacobs. She has always wanted to become a general practitioner like her father, but in the Netherlands in the 19th century that is only for men. After primary school, women should neatly stand at home behind the kitchen sink and, at the most, follow the Domestic Science School as a further education. But not Aletta. She ensures that she is the first woman to study at the University and becomes the first female art in the Netherlands. She settles in Amsterdam, where it turns out that her free spirit has much more in store for our country. It is almost impossible to imagine, but women do not have the right to vote. Aletta Jacobs changes that with her Association for Women’s Suffrage, founded in 1894. After a long struggle, universal suffrage is a fact in 1919.
The struggle for women’s suffrage was an international one. The photo above is from the Sixth International Congress World Federation for Women’s Suffrage in Stockholm, 1911. Aletta Jacobs is in the middle.
But, as befits a true freethinker, Aletta’s private life is also rather unorthodox: she marries the politician Carel Victor Gerritsen in 1892, but officially takes the traditional marriage vow whereby the woman obeys her husband. The couple lives in the stately building Tesselschadestraat 15, where they two have their own floor with a common floor in between.
Aletta is a member of the Freethinkers’ Association De Vrije Gedachte, founded in 1856, which aims to ‘liberate people from prejudices, ecclesiastical patronage, dogmas and truths with the help of reason, natural science and logic’. Completely in line with Spinoza and Multatuli. In 1929 Aletta Jacobs dies in Baarn.
Tesselschadestraat 15, former residence of Aletta Jacobs. There is a plaque on the side of the house.
‘It was still dark when in the early morning of the twenty-second of December 1946, Frits van Egters, awoke in our city, on the first of the 66 Schilderskade house.’ This is the first sentence from ‘De Avonden’ by folk writer Gerard Reve. The book is actually unreadable, which is exactly the point. It should reflect the gray boredom and dullness of post-war Amsterdam. And that works well.
Reve was born in 1923 at Van Hallstraat 25/2 in Westerpark. The family moves to Betondorp for a year and later to 116 Jozef Israelkade. This is where the young Gerard writes the controversial ‘De Avonden’. In the 1960s, Reve was one of the first Dutch people to openly admit his homosexual orientation. His books are full of homoerotic digressions that he mixes with fantasies of violence, drunkenness and religion.
The Amsterdam of that time is dominated by hippies, anti-Americanism and secularization. But Reve acts exactly the opposite. Instead of turning his back on the church, he converted to Catholicism. And goes full into it. He engages in Marian veneration and peppers both his writing and his speaking with religious rhetoric.
In 1969 he was awarded the PC Hooft Prize. This is celebrated with a 2-hour television broadcast, live from the Vondelkerk. The broadcast is a surreal circus with performances by the Singer without a Name, a magician and a juggler. In between, Reve is interviewed. He is anti-communist, partly because Russia supports Arab dictatorships that want to wipe the only monthly state in the Middle East – Israel – off the map.
The evening harmony with a speech by Reve in which he proclaims that ‘God, love and death are one word for the same thing’. And that death is the meaning of life, and the ultimate freedom. “The meaning and purpose of life is death. O death who art truth, draw near to thee.’ Then Reve and his friend walk out like a newlyweds, the Singer without a Name, magician and juggler in a long procession at the back. The Dutch television viewer from 50 years ago in complete departing.
Theo van Gogh
Theo van Gogh was born in The Hague in 1957, but has lived in Amsterdam for most of his life. He is a distant relative of Vincent van Gogh, but also of the Amsterdam alderman Floor Wibaut. His father’s brother was in the resistance during the war and was shot dead by the Germans.
Theo studies law but stops to make films. With varying degrees of success. At least as good at filmmaking is at interviewing: from 1989 he presents ‘A personal conversation’ for AT5 in which he directs but also interviews sharp and witty celebrities, ranging from Herman Brood to Roman Polanski.
He is also a publicist. And a sharp one. In the Metro he has a column in which he kicks hard at everything and everyone. Following Spinoza and Multatuli, Van Gogh criticizes religion. That should be possible. He is, as he says himself, ‘the village idiot who does nothing to anyone’. But that turned out not to be true. On November 2, 2004, he was shot by a Muslim extremist and half beheaded on a bicycle path in Amsterdam East.
Exhibition ‘Freethinkers: from Spinoza to the present’
From September 5, 2021 to February 27, 2022, the exhibition ‘Freethinkers: from Spinoza to the present’ can be seen in the Amsterdam Museum.
This article previously appeared in a slightly different form on amsterdam.nl.