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The 18th century Dutch Quarter in Potsdam
Far away from the Netherlands-German border, and just outside Germany's capital Berlin, there is a little piece of Holland, "Das Holländische Viertel". The Dutch Quarter.
Set in the heart of Potsdam 134 red brick houses, ranged in four blocks and built with traditional 18th century Dutch architectural style and methods, line cobble stoned streets. Half-timbered, with sweeping gables, white pointing, tongue and groove joints, and many with "half" window shutters covering the lower part of the window for privacy, while leaving the top half open to the light.
An open air Dutch and German history museum, over 250 years old.
Built between 1732 and 1742, initially during the reign of Frederick Wilhelm I King of Prussia and then that of his son Frederick the Great, King Frederick II, they were homes for the Dutch artisans and craftsmen, amongst them cabinet-makers, masons and goldsmiths, who had been invited to bring their skills to the area and settle there.
The Dutch of the 18th century were admired as Europe's most modern and industrious nation, and King Frederick Wilhelm wanted to encourage them to move to his province.
Prussia, and Potsdam, had an enlightened tolerance towards immigrants that was unusual for the times, and eventually thousands of skilled, qualified craftsmen and workers, and their families, from France, Russia, Poland, Saxony, Palatinate, Wuerttemberg and Switzerland, together with those seeking religious freedom such as the Huguenots, settled in the region.
Much of Potsdam was wetlands so Frederick Wilhelm, consulted the known experts in construction on marshy soil, the Dutch, and "Das Holländische Viertel" was designed and built under the supervision of Jan Bouman the Older, a Dutch architect and master builder.
He was responsible for many of the Rococo style buildings that are still to be seen in Potsdam and Berlin, and the house that bears the name "Jan Bouman" in his memory is an architectural gem.
It is typically gabled, with a yard and timber-framed yard buildings, and although it had managed to keep more of the original architecture structure than many of the other houses it has been restored to its original plan, and this includes the beautiful garden.
All floors are open to visitors and it is used as a museum devoted to the entire history of Potsdam's Dutch Quarter, and gives a real sense of how the homes were originally, as well as their condition before restoration began.
For two and a half centuries the homes were occupied constantly, even though the artisans and craft workers did not arrive from the Netherlands in the numbers that had been hoped. French and Prussian artists, as well as soldiers and merchants, moved into the empty buildings and lived as neighbors with Dutch families already in residence.
Frederick William I, known as The Soldier-King, ensured these houses were also used as living quarters for his elite troop of foot soldiers, "The Potsdam Giants", whose minimum height requirement was "six Prussian feet", or 6 feet 2 inches. They really were giants in those times.
The Dutch houses might not have been very wide but they were comparatively tall, and each had a small area on the third floor where residents were required to house one of these "giants".
WWII left The Dutch Quarter unscathed, however the years spent as part of the German Democratic Republic, communist East Germany, saw the area fall into disrepair through lack of interest and resources.
Many houses were left derelict.
Having already been faced with the prospect of being demolished many times, it was the Netherlands Royal Family who, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany's reunification, provided financial support so that restoration of the Das Holländische Viertel could begin.
Now Potsdam's historic Dutch Quarter has regained its unique flair.
Eighteenth century Dutch architecture and town planning, now a mixture of homes with beautiful courtyards and gardens, small shops, galleries, artisan's workshops, bars, restaurants, cafes, together with a laid back ambiance and lifestyle.
April brings a popular Dutch tulip festival, a potters' market in September and of course it is "Sinterklaas" not St. Nicholas who always visits the Christmas market during Advent.
For tourists and Germans alike the Dutch Quarter is a perfect blend of the past and present. A small piece of combined Dutch and German history and culture surrounded by Germany's largest UNESCO World Heritage Site; Potsdam's opulent palaces and parks.
Illustrations: Residential buildings at Am Bassin street in Potsdam, by MrPanyGoff via de.Wikipedia, Plan of 18th Century Holländische Viertel - State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments and Archeological Museum, Condition of house documented after end of GDR and before restoration - public domain, Restored Houses in Dutch Quarter - Potsdam.de
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