De Pijp (the pipe) was a monotonous neighbourhood that hastily built houses of rather poor quality. But the area was full of life. The houses around the Albert Cuypstraat were soon filled with artists, prostitutes and students. The Albert Cuypstraat in 1912 became the Albert Cuyp market open six days a week. The Quellijnstraat became the birthplace of Dutch cabaret.
The neighbourhood was boring; everyone agreed to that. The streets were straight up and down; there wasn’t a tree in sight. No self-respecting city should allow itself to have build something like this. But that was the outside; the area rapidly transferred into one of Amsterdam’s most bustling nightlife centres. The Frans Hall straat was reputed to be full of nightclubs.
Dutch cabaret saw its first light here. A diamond cutter called Eduard Jacobs had been to Paris, where he was exposed to the genre, and he wanted to do something like that in Amsterdam as well. Around 1900 he sang his first songs in a basement on the Quellijnstraat nr. 64. The place was called “De Kuil” (The hole in the ground). He sang sarcastic songs about poverty and prostitution that had never been done before. People were no longer only entertained; they were now confronted with the stark reality of life for the common man and women during those days. Jacobs became the minstrel of the dungheap.
De Pijp was primarily build to house the middle class and the newly emerging profession of office workers. The houses, at first glance, didn’t really look too bad. Not only did they have a separate kitchen, they even had a toilet. But they were poorly constructed. For instance, on the 21st of September 1876, two unfinished houses fell and took the third one with them in their collapse. A few years later, another place crashed as the builders had used mortar instead of cement.
This was all the result of poor piling, careless bricklaying and insufficiently baked bricks. The beams that were used were as thick as shingles. There were supposed to be lots of public gardens in the neighbourhood, at least that’s what the drawings said, but the builders considered those a waste of space and eliminated them from the project.
All this was allowed to happen because the city was not involved in the building process. Building practices were changing; before, everything constructed in Amsterdam was done by assignment; now, private building companies decided what was built and where. Many of these new emerging contractors had little money and were continuously cutting corners and tried to build as many houses as possible in as little space. It wasn’t only the green that was sacrificed; the streets also became far narrower than planned. The buildings were built as quickly as possible as the contactors were only paid when the houses were finished and sold off. This new form of construction was called “revolution building.”
The new tenants’ rent was hefty; many decided to rent out a few rooms to students studying at the universities. A number of them would become rather famous; others are infamous. A group called “the movement of the eighties” emerged, they created a revolutionary trend in art and literature, the group attracted young writers, poets, and painters. The genius and leader of this movement was a poet called Willem Kloos, who lived, drank and wrote in De Pijp.
Quite many prostitutes moved into the area as well; they were found on the velvet edge of the neighbourhood, in the expensive houses around the Sarphati park. There were several brothels one could visit there; other enterprise places provided rooms where one could spend a few hours with a lady of the night. Around the Albert Cuyp and the Govert Flick straat, the cheaper, more vulgar establishments were located. These were the venues where ironing ladies and housemaids could earn a little extra to supplement their wages. All this created a rather bohemian atmosphere.
The Pijp today hasn’t changed as much as one would expect; most of the prostitutes are gone, although some can still be found on the edge of the area, The Hobbema kade. There’s one brothel left on the Sarphati start, but it doesn’t call itself by that name. It calls itself a “club.” The neighbourhood is still popular with students; it’s also known as a yuppie district. But it’s not only these groups that are finding their way into the Pijp. Migrants seem to like it there as well, one thing that did change is the rent, it’s become one of the cheaper areas of town. The other side of the Pijp we haven’t mentioned, the area beyond the Sarphati park. It has become a real melting pot of cultures; it features a large Muslim population and blacks and students. Most of these people groups do not really interact unless necessary, one is polite to the other, but that’s as far as it goes.
The Pijp neighbourhood is window number 33 on the Canon of Amsterdam.