Siebold Hartkamp2 March 2017

In an attempt to prevent eviction, in 1965 the tenants of a stately home on the Willemsparkweg contacted the fledgling Student Housing Foundation at the VU Amsterdam. Former tenant and law student Siebold Hartkamp (1938, Mayor of Sneek for 1993-2003) tells how the fashionable Oud Zuid neighbourhood became his home base. 

In the 1960s, the Willemsparkweg (named after the adjacent Willemspark, which was later rechristened the Vondelpark) was known as the home of Amsterdam’s well-to-do. Ornamentation and rococo frills decorated the facades. Even then, the stately calm of the street was occasionally interrupted by the line 2 tram, which ran the length of the street.

The Zeilinga family lived at number 200, and rented out the cellar and the first floor. The family occupied the rest of the house – at least, when they weren’t at their apartment in Nice or Menton, or a hotel in the Passage in The Hague. The first floor was leased to Jacob Prins, a psychologist who managed to get his foot in the door at number 200 as the first member of the Oratorical Association Areopagus. It wasn’t long before other Areopagites – the colloquial name for the other members of the student association – moved into the house as well, including myself and my partner Toos.

Ideal landlord

It was impossible to imagine a better landlord, because Mr. Zeilinga was never there. The Zeilingas had reached a certain age, and they only interrupted their hotel stays on the Riviera or The Hague every six months to change their wardrobe. Our ladies made sure that the house was spic and span before they arrived, and we were invited to tea with the Zeilingas, who undoubtedly thought we were neat young gentlemen. Their children, however, would come to know us better.

In 1965, Mr. and Mrs. Zeilinga died within a few months of one another. The heirs wanted to sell the house, and terminated our lease in order to deliver it unoccupied. It was then that we found out how useful our studies had been: my housemate Wybe Taekema knew every jot and tittle of rental law, and in a strongly worded letter he informed the Zeilinga heirs that we had leased the property directly from the owner, and were therefore entitled to rent protection.

A property sold in good condition and unoccupied

For my part, I had become intimately familiar with the VU. I contacted the fledgling Student Housing Foundation there and told them that we knew of a suitable property for them to purchase, which would be delivered unoccupied. We still lived there, of course, but we were also their original target group and were planning on leaving the property within the near future. We also promised our full cooperation with the purchase and renovation of the property, under the condition that the accommodations could only be granted to members of the Oratorical Association Areopagus in the future.

The VU agreed to those terms, purchased the building for a price that was considerably lower than the original asking price, and thoroughly renovated it. We made an agreement with the board of Ares that as long as we lived there, the house would serve only as housing for Areopagites, and not as a location for club events. After all, we were 8th-year students, married and had no desire to host wild parties other than our own.

Paper door

In the mid-60s, the State Secretary of Education and Science in the Cals cabinet Hans Grosheide (Ares 1948) officially opened the WP 200 in a style appropriate to the dignity of his office: we had him jump through a paper door. I remember that he took a moment to check to make sure that there wasn’t a wooden door behind the paper first; after all, he knew all too well who he was dealing with.

Many other Areopagites followed after us, but by 1967 it was finally time for me to leave. It was a bittersweet farewell, but in addition to all of the nonsense and horseplay, we left the association something of great value. Perhaps it’s a good idea to get together next year to celebrate the house’s 45th anniversary with everyone who has ever lived there, and to leave behind a plaque with all of our names.

Share your memories

If you have any memories about the Willemsparkweg or another student house you lived in during your studies at the VU, leave them in the comments below!