On my husband’s most recent business trip to Brussels we devoted our Sunday to a walk around Antwerp, the city that represented the second rung of the corporate ladder in Onkel Hayn’s career. He was just 21 years old when he arrived, but had already spent almost three years in Rotterdam working for his cousin Ludwig Wilhelm Schoeffer, son of one of his father’s sisters. His employer in Antwerp was the son of another sister, Heinrich Eysenbach, who had started his business in 1853 and by January 1866 owned it outright. Unfortunately, he was not bound to enjoy his success for very long, as an unnamed illness (possibly tuberculosis) put an end to his life at age 39, only a year after Onkel Hayn’s arrival.
Although his time in Antwerp was short, Onkel Hayn seemed to be favorably impressed with the city and its residents, especially in comparison to Rotterdam:
Antwerpen war schon durch seine glorreichen geschichtlichen Erinnerungen an und für sich ein viel interessanterer Aufenthalt als Rotterdam. Auch das Äußere bot mit seinen stattlichen und vornehmen Gebäuden einen schöneren Anblick, als die einfachen und eintönigen Backsteinbauten von Rotterdam. Das bemerkenswerteste Gebäude ist die Kathedrale mit dem schönen spät gotischen Turm. Aus der spanischen Zeit stammen noch viele interessante Gebäude, wie der „Stehen“, ein Teil der alten Burg und Sitz der spanischen Inquisition, das Rathaus etc.
Ebenso verschieden wie die beiden Städte im Äußeren, sind deren Bewohner in ihrer Lebensweise, Sitten und Gewohnheiten. Der Holländer hat einen ernsten, zurückhaltenden, sparsamen Charakter, der Flamländer ist ungebunden, lebenslustiger, freigebiger und oberflächlich. Das öffentliche Leben ist in Belgien freier und ungebundener; man hält da nicht so streng auf die Etiquette.
Antwerp Stock Exchange Building
One of the buildings he didn’t mention in detail was the Commodities Exchange, where he spent every working day. This surprised me on first read, because the (unfortunately now condemned and barricaded) building is a magnificent structure, and its predecessor presumably also famed for its architecture, with a roof which resembled the Crystal Palace in London.
What I failed to take note of, is that the building burned down in 1853 and was not rebuilt until 1872, meaning this was not the building that Onkel Hayn would have conducted business in. No wonder he was so silent on the subject!
Still, it seemed like a visit to the building was in order, so armed with an address taken from someone’s blog post we set out. Little did we realize how difficult it would be to find. I knew it set was back from the main streets, so would not have an easily recognizable facade. But the directions from the blog proved to be completely misleading and our international smart phones refused to open any further web pages. So round and round we went. In hindsight I realize I should have looked it up on an old map, like this one:
Here it is marked clearly with the word “Bourse”, (trivia tidbit – Van der Beurse was the surname of an influential family from Bruges. You can read more about them and the history of the stock market here). As you can see on the map, the building is indeed hidden away, almost like a roofed atrium. Luckily, we did finally stumble upon it:
Alas, one can’t even peek inside since all doors and windows are boarded up. However, professional photographers have been allowed access and their photos are magnificent.
There has been talk of renovating the building and turning it into a hotel, but unfortunately the project does not seem to be moving forward at this point.
In closing, I think if Onkel Hayn were to visit Antwerp today, he would find it in many ways similar to what he knew. The historic district looks much the same, the street and most likely the house where his employer lived still exist, and the people are still open, friendly, and “lebenslustig.” In fact, I always get the impression that the locals are on permanent holiday in their own city. In any case, we had no problem spending three hours at an outside table of a 300-year-old restaurant, enjoying the “ambience” of the city, and feasting on mussels and frites (of course washing it down with some very fine “grape juice” as my husband likes to call it). Cheers to you, Onkel Hayn!