New life to Amsterdam’s sporting heritage: major renovation of the gymnastics hall from 1887


The Amsterdam Gymnastics Building from 1887 is being restored. True, it is no longer a sports building, but the old glory of gymnastics is returning to the streets.

Gymnasium drawing Through Amsterdam City Archives

A large billboard for GF Deko Aannemers on the Nieuwe Passeursstraat in central Amsterdam alludes to a glorious gymnastics past. The old gymnastics hall and the original Gymnasium 19eCentury front from 1887, we’ll restore it to its former glory here.

In the building behind it, where De Krakeling Youth Theater was located until 2020, a major renovation is already underway. Architect Alexander van Rath of Kodde Architecten was responsible for it for several years. Because of the subsidence, a foundation repair was necessary, so that the theater troupe moved a few kilometers to the Westergasfabriek site. This led to an exploration of the history of construction in the original state of the building, a foundation for Dutch gymnastics.

The second golden age

The former Turngebouw dates back to 1885 when a large number of notables from Amsterdam raised money for temporary employment projects. At that time, the city was rapidly filling up with new residents, who were housed in poor lodgings. Poverty was appalling. In progressive and liberal circles, private funds were collected for new construction, for which workers could also be put to work. In this way, two major social problems of the time were addressed, as the government itself left him alone.

He was nothing less than meddling in this. Philanthropist and banker AC Wertheim, for example, achieved a lot in this way. We also find many illustrious names from the second half of the nineteenth century as members of various committees, which ensured that Amsterdam began its second golden age. The Artis, Rijksmuseum, Central Station and Vondelpark, among others, were built at that time – all after the participation of these notables.

At exactly the same time, the gymnastics movement first blossomed in Amsterdam. The gymnastics club Olympia was founded in 1863 and still exists today, and now it is royal. Around 1880 there were about 800 to 900 gymnasts in the city. In 1882, gymnastics became compulsory in Amsterdam’s primary schools for both boys and girls. However, gyms with sufficient air and light were not yet available, such as today’s news In 1885: “These exercises must be done in unsuitable rooms, with insufficient ventilation, without opportunity for proper cleaning, and in which, in proportion to the size of the rooms, too many gymnasts are employed at one time.”


Because of this combination of circumstances, the fledgling gymnastics movement became part of a second golden age. Partly because of Wertheim, the Gymnastics Buildings Association was founded in 1886, which was finally commissioned to build a complete site for the gymnastics movement. Architects J. Ingenohl and KJ Muller were commissioned to work on the Amsterdam Gymnastic Building on the corner of Nieuwe Passeursstraat and Marnixstraat.

They were both gymnasts, so they knew what the points were. This went further than simply creating areas for exercise, because good general hygiene was a very important spearhead at the end of the nineteenth century. This means good washing facilities and working ventilation. In our time, we take this for granted, but at the end of the nineteenth century this thing was just a desire of a significant part of the population. Turngebouw was therefore the nineteenth century’s answer to a major social problem. 130,000 guilders were available for the construction, which can be compared to less than two million euros in our time.

At the end of 1887 was the inauguration and the beginning of a new chapter for the gymnastic movement. In any case, it was important enough that the mayor, two aldermen, a few aldermen, and some other professors and doctors attended. “The gymnastics building has been a great asset for gymnastics in this country in general and for Amsterdam in particular,” he said. General Trade Journal in his report.

A few weeks later, members of the Amsterdam Gymnastics, Strength and Friendship Society, Olympia and Lycurgus ceremoniously opened their new home. They were so impressed that they all insisted on being there. today’s news: “The great gymnastic hall, adorned with garlands of fresh green, flags, and banners, could scarcely contain the number of ladies and gentlemen who came for the ball.”

Mathematical Archeology

During the following decades, the Amsterdam Gymnasium was the beating heart of both national gymnastics and Amsterdam in particular, as noted in 1887 presciently. In the post-war decades, decadence struck more and more, leading to an increase in criticism during major events.

In 1971, the gymnastics building was completely closed and an era that lasted more than eighty years ended. To the frustration of the members of Olympia, the Society sold all its shares, giving up its property. Seven years later, De Krakeling Youth Theater took over this site. Olympia was stolen from her refuge and then she got into big trouble. The gymnasts were no longer involved and so were the stage makers. Under these new circumstances, the hall was divided into a foyer and a stage room, standing until De Krakeling’s departure in 2020.

That huge hall was now completely opened up again for renovation. The old roof is on display again, as it was completed in 1887. So the visit feels like a journey with a time machine. During the tour, Alexander van Rath clearly enjoys his work, which now feels like a cross between traditional architecture and mathematical archeology. A search was performed on the original colors of 19e century. An old sneaker was found in the curved foundations. Parts of the original gymnastics floor are visible again. Wooden dragon heads on stab beams receive full attention once again. Particularly amazing is that by breaking down the walls, daylight streams in again from all sides.

The texts on the wall are still legible, already applied at the opening in 1887. On one of the walls we read ‘Three want to help each other to raise his great work of six men’. In one of the speeches at the dedication ceremony, this was explicitly referred to as a token of collaboration. Then there’s the adage “say is good, but action is better,” a very early Amsterdam variant of “actions speak louder than words.”

All of these texts will remain readable after the renovation, even if the building had a commercial purpose. “Amsterdam gets a beautiful 19th-century building,” says Van Rath, “and spared no expense.” The building will also be without gas.

Set up

All should be completed in 2023, possibly as office space. Fortunately, one of the most impressive parts of the former gymnastics building is already visible, as it was seventy years ago. Hanging from the outside, on the corner of Marnixstraat Small memorial With the text “To our fallen comrades 1940-1945”. For example, gymnasts in Amsterdam commemorated the hundreds, possibly thousands, of club members killed in World War II. Money for this was provided by the gymnasts themselves, a cent or a quarter a week.

It’s all part of Amsterdam’s gymnastics legacy, which can be seen in full glory again this year.

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