When I studied at the University of Amsterdam I have crossed this bridge more times than I can remember on my way to History classes. It is one of the many bridges in Amsterdam. Fairly nondescript that got its fame more from the many junkies selling you a bike for next to nothing. A bike they probably stole from you a week before.
The bridge is called De Sleutelbrug (The Keybridge) and is on the main path from the Rokin to the University of Amsterdam. This area is full of local history. Not only is it now the university, but a large part of the complex was once a hospital. The university complex is still called the Onze Lieve Vrouw Gasthuis, Our Dear Lady Guesthouse.
It wasn’t until I was doing research for a walking tour of Amsterdam beer history that I found out that the bridge is named after a brewery that stood nearby named De Sleutel.
The history of brewery De Sleutel matches that of the rise of Amsterdam as a global economic power. Amsterdam got its first wealth by holding a monopoly on beer from Northern German cities like Hamburg where beer was made that was significantly better than what was produced locally. This trade led to more trade with the Baltic Sea. Grains and wood was imported into the city and distributed throughout Northern Europe. With the wealth from this it was possible to build ships that could sail to Asia to open up the spice trade. You need capital for this, and that was made by the trade with Northern Europe.
De Sleutel Brewery was started by Gerrit Bicker in the latter part of the 16th century. With the money he and his predecessors made, they could expand into other enterprises, especially trading companies. This made them incredibly wealthy. So wealthy in fact that they could build an entire island north of the Haarlemmerstraat, called the Bickerseiland. At its peak this island housed more than ten wharfs for the construction of ships. With economic power came political power and for a long time they were one of the most important families in the city, and by extension the country.
The brewery stood somewhere in what now is the Binnengasthuis area. Now it is an administrative part of the university, as well as having some classrooms and the food hall. Before that it was part of the hospital, and before that even it had a city carpentry shop and the brewery.
Not a single stone, wooden beam or even a plaque remembers us that there once was a brewery here. A brewery of a famous family no less. The only thing that remains is that small bridge with such a generic name that no one even things of a brewery. Which is more than for most historic breweries.
I will add more short articles Amsterdam beer history, and hopefully soon I will be able to give a tour through the city, showing the few remaining signs of beer history. I will keep you all posted.