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Perhaps you will find a recommendation to visit the Trade Unions Museum a little strange. You do not need to be a fervent champion of workers’ rights to come here though, because this site is also attractive for another reason; the building that houses the museum is one of the most outstanding by the famous architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage.
Understanding the background to the building is, however, necessary. In 1894, the General Dutch Diamond Cutters’ Union was founded after a successful strike. The diamond cutters’ guild had extraordinary power in the city because of the importance and the amount of money moved by the business. Strength and rigour prompted the success of the strike and thus definitive impetus to the Dutch trade union movement.
This building, the characteristics of which earned it the name “the Bastion of Berlage”, was later constructed in 1899. The construction, which has an austere brick facade, was influenced by the architecture of the Italian palaces.
The project also featured the collaboration of other artists such as Roland Holst, who made the decorative panels, and Henriette van der Schalk, who worked the ceramic items that expressed phrases about social solidarity.
Coffered ceilings and bas-reliefs stand out on the interior of the building, as does the striking hollow in the stairway that is scattered with sculptures and built in coloured bricks. For those who like to read between the lines, Berlage is said to have created this colossal hollow as a symbol of the path of the working class to the light. The diamond-shaped lights here, however, pay homage to the workers involved in the workers’ struggle.
If, in addition, you would like to learn a little more about the history and development of socialism and workers’ revolutions in the country, take a walk around the Trade Unions Museum because the story it tells is truly interesting.
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