Masters of Mobility


5.2 New Settlements

In earlier times, Brandenburg’s rulers had already tried to build up Brandenburg with Netherlandish help and Friedrich Wilhelm was to do the same.1 Johan Wijngaert, like Matthias Dögen agent of the elector, brought two groups of farmers together in Holland and Frisia.2 Both of the groups sent surveyors to the east. Maps were being drawn and propositions for land improvements were made. Eventually, 65 farmers signed a contract and moved along with their families to Brandenburg [4].3 But villages to settle down were not available and contrary to what had been agreed the groups were divided and due to the bad relationship between elector and the local nobility, the latter was not willing to support Friedrich Wilhelm’s rebuilding politics.4

Around 1650 the elector was more successful in his efforts to restore Brandenburg by tying skilled individuals to his personal network. One of those people was Aernoult Gijsels van Lier from IJsselstein. Already over 50 years old, he had had a rich career as governor of Ambon and commander of a VOC-fleet. After a conflict with his superiors, he resigned from duty and took up the plan to start a new East Indian Company in Brandenburg.5 Apart from these plans6 Gijsels leased the amt of Lenzen in 1651. The small town, about northwest of Berlin, had been occupied and destroyed by the Swedes in 1633. Gijsels started to reinforce the Elbe dykes and got people from Holland to Lenzen.7 Potatoes, tobacco and flax were produced and Gijsels tried to extinct a plague of wolves, he reorganized the guild system, had houses rebuilt and education and morality improved.8 Gijsels was one of the first persistent, residential Dutchmen to support the elector in his efforts restoring Brandenburg.9

This personal involvement of individuals from Holland was crucial in respect to the goals Friedrich Wilhelm had set himself, and in understanding the introduction of Dutch classicism in Brandenburg and Berlin, it is necessary to look not only to that architecture alone. The fate of centrally organised Brandenburg was depending on an aristocratic group that was responsible for restoring infrastructure, rebuilding residences, making enterprises profitable and bringing new élan. Unlike in the Dutch Republic, civilian initiatives in Brandenburg hardly played any role at all. On the other hand, the motives of Dutch immigrants were to gain money or to improve their living conditions. However, this collaboration did not arise from mutual initiatives. Had it not been for the Great Elector and his wife, there might never have been any Dutch influenced Classicist architecture in Berlin and Brandenburg at all.


Contract between the Elector of Brandenburg and 65 Dutch peasants, 1649 (Geheimes Staatsarchiv Berlin).


1 For medieval influences: Adler 1861; Rudolph 1889; Glaser 1939, p. 10; Materna/Ribbe 1995 and Oudesluis 1997, p. 38. For the 16th century: Schumacher 1902 and Theunisz 1943, p. 97.

2 Theunisz 1943, p. 124.

3 Theunisz 1943, p. 131-132 and 139-149.

4 Theunisz 1943, p. 168 and 172-173. Details about the conflict between elector and nobility: Glaser 1939, p. 24-26 and Theunisz 1943, p. 178-181; 186-187 and 192-195.

5 Meilink-Roelofsz 1969.

6 For the colonial ambitions of Friedrich Wilhelm: Van Tussenbroek 2006, chapter 5.

7 Küttner 2001, p. 5.

8 Peitsch 1985, p. 53-54.

9 Zander 1901, p. 166-173; Hoppe 1929, p. 99-105; Voigt 1938, p. 85-94 and Rodegast 1999, p. 12-16.

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