When you’re biking or walking through Utrecht, you can’t fail to notice all the amazing buildings which reflect so many different architectural styles. Did you know that the houses on the Oudegracht all have 17th century facades, but the houses themselves are actually much older, even medieval? The Oudegracht is a great place to start discovering Utrecht’s wide variety of architecture. I would like to highlight one of those buildings for you: the Winkel van Sinkel. The ESN Black & White Introduction Party was hosted there, so you must remember the beautiful exterior and interior of this building. But first we have to go back in time, to let’s say… 1837.
The Winkel van Sinkel was an actual store, built between 1837 and 1839. The name says it: winkel means store. The company Winkel van Sinkel started out in Amsterdam and was the first Dutch warehouse. Still it would be the building in Utrecht that made the firm famous. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In 1822 Anton van Sinkel started a drapery store in Amsterdam, where he quickly expanded his business with more buildings, which housed amongst others a fabric store; a shop for home decoration; and a store for menswear. Anton even opened more stores in Rotterdam, Leiden and Leeuwarden. For his store in Utrecht, Anton bought up several buildings, which he had demolished in order to build a whole new warehouse. But the construction was delayed and the people of Utrecht started complaining about the hole on the Oudegracht. Finally, in 1839, the Winkel van Sinkel was ready to open its doors.
The new building was designed by the architect Pieter Adams, who was inspired by English architecture. You must have noticed the four heavy, cast-iron figures, which serve as pillars. These caryatids or kariatiden in Dutch are female statues and decorate the façade of the building. It are these giant, massive women which have defined the look of the Oudegracht. But back in the day, people would mockingly call them British whores, for they were made in England.
These statues were cause for another scandal concerning the building. The heavy statues were hoisted with the city crane from a boat on the Oudegracht, but the upper part of the crane broke on the wharf and fell into the water. The city crane was damaged beyond repair. On the wharf, you can still see where the crane stood. To tell the story, people made a short mocking poem, which ends with the lines: see now, a British whore / has overcome the tiny crane.
Another little poem was made to promote the store, the very first warehouse of the Netherlands:
In de Winkel van Sinkel In the Winkel van Sinkel
Is alles te koop. You can buy everything.
Daar kan men krijgen: There you can buy:
Mandjes met vijgen, Baskets with figs,
Doosjes pommade, Boxes of pomade,
Flesjes orgeade, Bottles of orgeade (almond syrup),
Hoeden en petten Hats and caps
En damescorsetten And ladies’ corsets
Drop om te snoepen Licorice to relish
En pillen om te poepen And pills to shit
With those cultivated last words, let’s go back to the present. As you’ve all noticed: the Winkel van Sinkel isn’t a warehouse anymore. The building is nowadays known as a cultural culinary warehouse. The former store is now a grand café and a restaurant; transforms itself to a club in the weekends; and hosts salsa parties and other cultural events, such as the Cultural Sundays. Make sure to check out their Facebook Page or website, because there are plenty of parties you don’t want to miss out on! Think of 80’s and 90’s parties, a NYE gala or the famous Nachtcolleges (deep/tech and UK house).
So, now you know the full story behind this spectacular building on the Oudegracht. When you’re on the steps at the front of the building, try to imagine one of the giant female statues falling onto the streets and taking the crane with her (and relive the moment the Utrechters had back in the 19th century). But after all do make sure to check out one of their parties, whether you like house, techno, salsa, pop or 80’s music!