From the Oldest Pub to Anne Frank
At the top of Prinsengracht, where it meets Brouwersgracht is the oldest pub in Amsterdam; Papeneiland. Yes it serves Heineken, obviously. It’s got big windows, and the light streams in and bounces off the blue and white tiles. In summer there are chairs outside with ingenious glass holders attached, you can sit in the sun and inhale the fumes as cars pass you on two streets. For me it’s more of a cosy winter pub, in the weak winter light it looks even more like a Vermeer painting. Its name means “Pope Island” and comes from the period when it was not possible for Catholics to openly practise their religion in Amsterdam. There were many secret churches, and one was opposite this bar at 7 Prinsengracht, apparently there was a tunnel joining the secret church on one side of the canal to the bar on the other. This seems a little unlikely to me, knowing the shifting sands Amsterdam is built on, but apparently this bar was used as a refuge for worshippers and that’s how the name came about.
From here Prinsengracht lopes around the city in a long arch, only the first part is really part of my neighbourhood. Crossing the first bridge and walking down we come to one hofje (courtyard), it’s open on Sunday and pushing the door reveals a peaceful, orderly garden. Many of the hofjes were originally part of the city’s almhouses and now are public/private spaces. You need to know which doors reveal hofjes, and when the doors are unlocked. This hofje is a very formal old fashioned garden, others are more wild. Once inside it’s important not to disturb the peace, these are people’s homes.
Anne Frank House is at number 263 Prinsengracht. There’s nothing but a small white plaque to distinguish it from its neighbours on the outside. Which was rather the point since Anne Frank and her family were to hide here for years before being betrayed in 1944 and sent to concentration camps. The museum entrance is two doors down and is in a larger building with a cafe and bookstore. The facade of the museum entrance is unexpectedly modern. I was rushing past one rainy day and a woman sheltering under its eaves asked me “where is Anne Frank House?”.