Castrum Peregrini – Intellectual Playground was a WWII hiding place at the Herengracht in Amsterdam. For more than six decades since, a scholars and artists community emerging from the wartime underground circle lived and worked there, editing a literary review and organising high quality small scale cultural events.
A group of youngsters survives nazi persecution in hiding on the 3rd floor Herengracht 401. They call their safe house Castrum Peregrini.
Gisèle van Waterschoot van der Gracht and Wolfgang Frommel took up the role of educators, protectors and friends. They are key to the physical and spiritual survival of the group and any further developments of Castrum Peregrini
In the years following the liberation the group scatters across the world only to realise that the formative years in hiding had made them a spiritual family. They start to think about how to continue living together, working together and/or staying in touch. The idea of a magazine gains shape.
The foundation Castrum Peregrini is formally set-up. Gisèle donates the building Herengracht 401. Besides the magazine and the publishing house the main goals of the foundation is to establish and maintain a library and archive on the foundations core themes and values arising from the foundations history and network.
Wolfgang Frommel dies in the appartment on the 3rd floor, Herengracht 401
The magazines last issue is published. A new series of publications is initiated in at Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen, Germany under the title Castrum Peregrini. Neue Folge. Further to that publications are now connected to projects and realised in partnership with third parties such as Roma Publications or Uitgeverij Cossee.
Opening of the new project space at Herengracht 401/Beulingstraat and launch of a new activities programme.
Today the building -with it’s history, collection of artefacts, library, archive and inhabitants- hosts an intellectual playground in the light of freedom, friendship and culture: a whitecube for contemporary work in a historic context.
Gisèle is knighted by the mayor of Amsterdam for her role as founder of Castrum Peregrini.
“The foundation’s origins trace back to 1942 when Dutch painter Gisèle van Waterschoot van der Gracht opened up her apartment at the Herengracht 401 to take in German-Jewish students and teachers from the Quackerschool in Eerde. While this group of young men stayed locked up for years in their small hiding place to avoid Nazi persecution, Gisèle, together with German poet Wolfgang Frommel, tried to make their lives bearable. Not only by coming to their aid with the necessary material support but also by providing them with a psychological safety net consisting of literature, poetry, and fine arts. After WOII Gisèle managed to buy the entire premises and offered it to Frommel and the young men she had helped through the war. During the 1950s the group started to issue a literary magazine named after their former hiding place ‘Castrum Peregrini.’ The idea of establishing a publishing company began to take shape, and in 1957 the foundation Castrum Peregrini was formally set up at the Herengracht 401. The foundation was concerned with the magazine and the publishing company, but also with the creation of an archive and a library focused on Castrum’s core values of friendship, freedom and culture.
Today Castrum Peregrini has moved away from being a magazine, and has developed towards being a centre for the intellectual and artistic exploration and expression of friendship, freedom, and culture. Castrum has its own unique profile combining a historical perspective with what it defines as the urgencies of our time. An interdisciplinary approach and an intergenerational manner of working are key to its activities.
Castrum has maintained its tradition of assisting with the realisation of books and magazines that reflect on its current activities and on its history. In the past, such historical reflections often took the form of personal contributions to the Castrum Peregrini magazine, or the publication of memories by people who were closely involved with Castrum’s past, such as the memoires by Castrum associate Claus Victor Bock (1985). In recent years Castrum’s publications appear to have attained a more scholarly character. Examples include ‘Gisèle en haar onderduikers’ (Giséle and her hiders) (Defuster and Somers, 2008);
All of this takes place under the watchful eye of Gisèle (born 1912) who still lives at the Herengracht 401, taken care of by the current Castrum generation. This underpins the intimate atmosphere that is so characteristic for Castrum’s internal dynamics. Its core team consists of only three members: director Michael Defuster, programme co-ordinator Lars Ebert and communication manager Frans Damman. Keeping with the Castrum tradition the majority of its members also reside at Herengracht 401, generating a unique bridging of public and private spheres.”
Anais van Ertvelde, summer 2012