When I first moved to Amsterdam in 2003 and was looking for a job, I remember that someone in one job agency handed me a piece of paper with the name of a company and the name of a building. The verbal instructions that followed were something like: “Just around the corner, through the train station, straight ahead and then left. You can’t miss it.”
Well, it turned out I could, and it pretty much took forever before I found the place.
They could have given me the street address instead and I would have found it right away, but that’s Amsterdam for you.
I can just imagine how it must have been to come to Amsterdam in olden days with an address that consisted of nothing but the name of a house and if you were lucky maybe the name of the street.
The houses got their names after their gable stones. Let’s say you were looking for the house with the red hat at the Keizersgracht. Unless you found someone who could point it out for you, you risked to have to walk several kilometers and be careful not to miss the thing, which you easily could, because gable stones are not all that big.
The house owners could put up on their gable stones whatever they thought was important to show to the world. Many had animals like a cow or sheep and they seemed to be quite attached to those animals. So much so that their gable stones showed their animal.
Or their fruit tree
Others used their gable stones as a kind of advertising for their trade
Or they wanted to show that they were good Christians
Or they found it important to let people know where they originally came from
Today also the Dutch mostly use the address system the British invented, and which is as follows: In a street that points away from a city’s center the house numbers will always be lowest near to the city center and get higher the further you get away from it. Furthermore it is always the case that when you stand at the end of the street that is closest to the city center, the uneven numbers are on the left side and the even numbers are on the right side.