Monday, November 9, 2009

David Kokernot's Boyhood Home in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Jews in the eighteenth century celebrated their marriages at their synagogue, rarely bothering to register them with the civil authorities. After the turn of the nineteenth century, however, the authorities insisted that all marriages be registered in the same manner as those in the Dutch Reformed Church. On January 29, 1808, David Kokernot's parents complied, even though they had already been married for several years--David's older brother was about eight years old.

"There appeared Levie Moses, from Amsterdam, a Jew aged 25 years, on the Kerkstraat, by the Magere Brug, No 6, accompanied by his mother Rebecca Moses..." reads their marriage intention announcement. These documents always give the residence street, or at least the neighborhood, of the bride and groom, and sometimes the actual address appears, like here. Kerkstraat (Church Street) crosses the Amstel River via the Magere (the Dutch say "MA-her-uh") Brug (bridge), but number 6 is nowhere near that crossing, probably because addresses have been renumbered since 1808.

The Dutch are fastidious record keepers, and a visit to the Amsterdam Archives cleared up the numbering. One shelf there contains volumes of computer printouts listing every address in the city, before and after the renumbering done in 1853. Kerkstraat 6 had become Kerkstraat 623 that year. Another shelf contains volumes detailing the changes of 1875. Kerkstraat 623 became Kerstraat 449 that year, and remains so to this date. It was an easy walk over to Kerkstraat, and, indeed, 449 was a half dozen doors from the Magere Brug.

Amsterdam has many hundreds of bridges, but the Magere Brug is probably its most famous. It appears in the Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever, as well as almost all picture books of the city. The drawbridge is manually raised by the dual counterbalanced beams that resemble the oil well pump jacks so common in California and Texas. The 1691 original bridge had only a single draw span.