It was in the year 1638 that the merchant Willem Gerardszoon Spieghel returned home to Amsterdam after many years away. Years that he had spent in the lands of the Meuse where he had made his fortune in the wine trade. And had fallen in love. Her name was Alys, she had freckles and the soft accent of the south and every time she smiled Willem felt his beard itch. She thought him nervously scratching his beard rather charming and when one day she playfully let her hand caress his face he was hers forever. The next day Willem asked her to marry him and his beard itched again. She returned his love, married him and bore him several healthy children. It is therefore safe to assume that Willem Gerardszoon Spieghel was a happy man. As happy as one could be in the seventeenth century. However in the early years of his middle age he did miss one thing: the city of his youth. He was homesick. And he reasoned that he could continue his wine business just as well from Amsterdam as he could from the Meuseland. So in the spring of 1638 he travelled to the city on the Amstel to find a suitable house. It would have to be big enough for his family, his servants and a sizeable collection of wine barrels. And it would have to reflect his fortune and success as a merchant. But Willem discovered that already in 1638 the real estate market in Amsterdam had gone crazy and he thought the houses on the fashionable Gentlemen and Emperor canals were far too expensive.
Then he came across something interesting. Not on the recently constructed canal girdle but on the medieval Oude Zijds Canal. The house was built more than fifty years ago but had been handsomely mantained and was still in a good condition. It had ample room: a basement, three floors and a large attic. Built from red brick with yellow stone ornaments in the facade: lion masks, flowers and, strangely enough, skulls. Each window had stained glass elements with the city coat of arms in the upper part: St Andrew’s crosses in white on a black background surrounded by red panes of glass. The bottom half of each window consisted of small panes of glass in a checkered pattern of white and green.
This house would do. And the owner wanted to get rid of it. In the front room they discussed the sale over a glass of wine. Willem complimented his host on his good taste but the man kept silent, obviously somewhere else with his thoughts. He was a merchant, like Willem, but from the ancient city of Bremen where he was desirous to spend his final years. Willem thought him somewhat agitated, nervous even. Occasionally the man would glance over his shoulder to the door leading into the front room as if he was afraid of what might descend from the staircase behind it. But he wanted to sell the house and asked a very reasonable price. Some would say too reasonable but Willem had inspected the house thoroughly and could find no flaws so he signed the bill of sale. He was about to get up and leave, the bill safely rolled up in his hands when the old man from Bremen leaned in to him and in a whispering tone gave him very precise instructions about one part of the house that needed to remain undisturbed.
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