Searching for the real Rembrandt in Amsterdam

Copies but no original greet bikers on the trail of Carl Stearns Clancy and Walter Randell Storey

Gary Walker (left) and Geoff Hill at the Hotel Rambrandt, Amsterdam. Photograph: Peter Murtagh

Gary Walker (left) and Geoff Hill at the Hotel Rambrandt, Amsterdam. Photograph: Peter Murtagh

Sat, Mar 30, 2013, 06:00

Searching for a hotel in Amsterdam named Rembrandt turns out to be a little like searching for a pub in London called The Queen’s Head.

There are rather a lot of them.

Carl Stearns Clancy and Walter Randell Storey stayed in a Rambrant Hotel in Amsterdam in November 1912 when they rode their Henderson motorbikes across the Netherlands as part of their round-the-world adventure.

In pursuit 100 years later, Belfast men Geoff Hill (at 6ft 7in, the only hill in Holland), Gary Walker and I rode off the excellent Stena Hollandica from Harwich early yesterday morning and made for Delft, Clancy’s and Storey’s first port of call when they exited Rotterdam.

Toy town Holland presents itself to us immediately: brick roads, bicycles everywhere, neat, trim little homes with neat, trim little gardens and every scrap of land everywhere used to the full. Grazing ducks and geese wander the polders, rested for winter. Drainage canals are frozen, and the glasshouses – acres and acres of glasshouses – are not yet bursting with growth.

In Delft’s Markt Square, the magnificent dominating New Church seems like it ought to be a place of pilgrimage for two northern blokes; for here are interred the remains of one of the Williams of Orange – William the Silent, to be exact.

He was done in in 1621 during the Eighty Years War and traumatised more than a mere nation; his little dog was consumed by grief and consumed no more, starving itself to death in sorrow at the loss of his master.

But the Dutch had their revenge on his killer, one Balthasar Gerards who was, as the church leaflet puts it, “severely punished”.

“Parts of his body were dismembered with red-hot tongs. He was then quartered while still alive, his heart cut out of his chest and laid on his face, and his head chopped off,” it says before adding, with a straight face and not a hint of irony: “But by all accounts, he remained calm.”

Yes. Of course he did.

Only I enter the church, which is Dutch Reform, but I am rewarded by a recording of a choir, organ and brass ensemble giving a spirited rendition of Charles Wesley’s seasonally appropriate Jesus Christ Is Risen Today .

The matter of the Rembrandts arose 60km later in Amsterdam.

From the outside, number 17 Plantage Middenlaan looks every inch the well-to-do merchant’s home that it was when built in the 1840s. Today, it is the Hotel Rembrandt, proudly run by Liset Kelderman whose daughter, Lynn Oplamic, is manning the reception when we drop by.

The reception-cum-library has a lovely cosy, homely feel to it. Clancy stayed in his Rambrant Hotel for three shillings and his and Storey’s bikes were garaged next door. There’s a garage next door to the Hotel Rembrandt.

“Oh that’s so cool,” chirrups Lynn when we tell her about Clancy. “My Mum, she will love this. She’s been on a bike in South America. It’s a real, like, motorcycle and so she’s interested in all the bike stuff.”

But deeper research reveals that Mrs Kelderman’s Hotel Rembrandt only became the Rembrandt after the second World War, before which it was the Pension Halberstadt, a house for single Jewish women, who were murdered by the Nazis.

The man at the other end of the phone in Amsterdam’s Hotel Rembrandt Classic must have thought he was being roped into a pub quiz. “I have an odd question,” I began, “Sorry but maybe you can help. Was your hotel there 100 years ago in 1912, do you happen to know?” I asked.

There’s a pause on the line, but eventually the answer comes back: “No, it was four houses knocked into one a few years back.”

Clancy and Storey ate at De Kroon restaurant close to the Rembrandt Classic, and so shall we. But where did he stay for the night; where was his Rambrant Hotel?

Who knows? But hey, Mrs Kelderman, Clancy and Storey staying in your lovely little hotel is just too good a tale not to write into your Hotel Rembrandt’s history.

I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

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