Walk the Amsterdam Transvaalbuurt
Welcome to Transvaalbuurt, a neighborhood with a rich and complex history of change and upheaval.
Transvaalbuurt was annexed by Amsterdam (1896) and planned and developed by Berlage in the early 1900s. The streets were named after places and people in the former Boer Republic (South Africa). As you walk through the neighborhood, enjoy the examples of affordable worker’s housing built in the Amsterdam School style.
This area was predominantly a Jewish proletariat area up until WWII for, e.g. diamond workers. When most of the original residents never returned after being deported during the war, the area became a multicultural and “problem” neighborhood, Transvaalbuurt received economic stimulation by Minister Vogelaar in 2007 to improve the livability and safety. As you walk through this area, keep your eyes out for these stimulation areas: playgrounds with African animals, community gardens, book exchanges, and the placards of the Outside Museum for extra information (only in Dutch).
Enjoy your walk!
⏱️ Total Walking Time: 43 min
🧭 Directions: Hit this Link, then click the top right corner of the map to open full screen in Google Maps
FYI: the technology behind Google Maps is sometimes a bit shaky, so sometimes you need to click the link more than once, or zoom in to get the route view. Apologies for the inconvenience.
Transvaalbuurt Route Highlights
☕ Best Roast en Route: Rum Baba Roastery & Bakery
Rum Baba Cafe is the place to have a delicious coffee in the afternoon sun. Just around the corner you’ll find the Rum Baba Roastery & Bakery – the micro coffee roastery that provides beans for their cafe, and Cafe Bru among others. The coffee is delicious and just a super great place to go for a 1-1.
To add some meat to the story: across the street is the France Limousin Slagerij, the best butcher in the East. I really like them because they gave my dog a free snack as a welcome to the neighborhood.
Highlight A: Community Gardens
In 2007, Ella Vogelaar, the Minister of Integration and Housing identified Transvaalbuurt as one of the 40 problem neighborhoods in the Netherlands, aka “Vogelaarwijk”. The government used economic stimulus to improve the livability and social cohesion of the neighborhood by adding community gardens such as this one. Inside this garden, there is a communal herb garden for anyone to pick from as well as individual lots. On your walk, look for other community gardens (there are at least two more on this walk).
Highlight B: Mosque and playground
More than 50% of the residents in Transvaalbuurt come from non-Western backgrounds. The Multifunctional Community Centre/mosque (2008), played a big role in the rejuvenation of this area. This building is used by both Turkish and Moroccan communities and includes separate prayer halls, offices, and shared classrooms. Built in a hybrid architecture style, “the architectures of the Amsterdam School and of Arabic architecture have in common a robust massing combined with ornamentation (source – see also a great look inside the mosque)”. The playground outside highlights the public-facing nature of the mosque, while the interplay of transparency and privacy created by the facade gives privacy to worshipers.
As you walk past the mosque toward highlight C, look for the bronze turtles and a second community garden. There are also anteaters to be found later on this walk.
Highlight C: Housing developed by the Laborers’ Circle of Friends Housing Association
From 1901 onwards, housing associations could apply to the state for financial contributions. This gave rise to a large number of housing associations representing various social or religious groups. Here you can see the worker’s housing from the Labourers’ Circle of Friends (Bouwfonds Handwerkers Vriendenkring). Look for the HW motif on the facade for “Handwerkers Vriendenkring”. This is one of the housing associations that built affordable housing for workers relocated from slum areas.
As you walk, search the facades for other symbols representing the housing associations that built them.
Highlight D: Steve Bikeplein
Originally named Pretoriusplein, this square was renamed in 1978 after Steve Biko, a South African Apartheid fighter. The neighborhood banded together to petition the renaming as they did not want to celebrate Andries Pretorius, the leader of the Boers.
Look around at the architecture in this square to enjoy some of the loveliest facades in the neighborhood.
Highlight E: Transvaalplein worker’s housing and “museum without walls”
By the 1940s over 70% of the residents of Transvaalbuurt were Jewish, though mostly secular/non-practicing. Because of its proximity to the train stations and the limited entrances and exits in and out of the area, the population was easily isolated and deported during WWII. During a razzia on June 20th, 1943, about 5,000 Jewish residents across Transvaalbuurt were taken to Muiderpoortstation where they were transported to concentration camps. Virtually none returned.
Look for the star of David monument on the corner of the square and Transvaalstraat. You can see placards on the bay windows of many of the apartments — these placards are part of the open air museum in Transvaalbuurt.
Highlight F: Krugerplein
Though it might not look or feel it, you are standing at the heart of Transvaalbuurt. Look around you to spot the mural of Nelson Mandela. On the square is where I like to play petanque, and it’s mostly empty except for occasional markets. As you walk toward Highlight G, look for the apartheid monument of a hand holding a foot. Also search the facades on the right side of the street for decorative metal workers going about their work.
Highlight G: Kraaipan and Kraaipanschool
This charming section of the Transvaalbuurt was built as workers’ housing for poor Jewish workers. Families of as large as 10 people were living in one unit. Most of these families came from the impoverished Jewish slums around Waterlooplein.
Originally two schools were housed in this building, one Talmudic Tora school (right) and the Louis Botha public school (left). During WWII, Jewish and non-Jewish students were forcibly separated and the Louis Botha school became a school exclusively for Jewish students.
Today, the combination of renovated school and new build contains about fifty units for senior citizens with care support. The ground floor houses a neighborhood service point and social rental apartments.
Highlight H: Escape to the polder
This bridge used to mark the edge of Amsterdam. Criminals escaping police would dump their weapons, safes, etc. in the river before disappearing into the polder. If you look North East, you can see the weekend houses of rich Amsterdammers, pre-annexation by Amsterdam.
As you cross the bridge over the Ringdijk, you can clearly see how Watergraafsmeer is lower than the north side of the bridge. Up until the early 18th century, Watergraafsmeer was a polder – basically marshland. The area was reclaimed (classic Netherlands move) and bought by the rich, who rented out the land for farming.
If you are walking toward Highlight I, look for the pedestrian stairs on the right side of the bridge to walk down to the Vergulden Eenhoorn.
Highlight I: Vergulden Eenhoorn (The Gilded Unicorn)
When it was built in 1702, it was an outhouse / farm. There were many of these in Watergraafsmeer that belonged to the rich as a way to escape the crowds (and smells) of the city. Due to the city expansion, this old city farm is now an idyllic green oasis in the middle of Amsterdam. The expansion of the city was in spurts. The last one was planned in the 1940’s, but was delayed due to WWII. As a result, it kept its function as a farm up until the 1960s.
Currently, the Vergulden Eenhoorn houses a restaurant in the old cow barn, and the main building houses the hotel. It’s the perfect place to go for a cup of coffee or picnic and chill in lawn chairs on the grass in the summertime. Look on the main facade for the gilded unicorn. Fun fact: the owners of the Vergulden Eenhoorn also owns Hanneke’s Boom and Cannibale Royal.
Take the pedestrian stairs up from Vergulden Eenhoorn to take a stroll along the water. There you will see nesting Eurasian coots, reeds, and get a good view of Transvaalbuurt from the canal. This is one of my favourite places to walk the dog.