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Im in Amsterdam for the first time and I noticed these weird hooks on the top of nearly every building.

My initial idea was that they are used to hold flags during during national holidays etc.

What are these used for? enter image description here

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  • 17
    Moving furniture in and out through the windows, I'd guess.
    – littleadv
    Jun 17 at 19:37
  • 3
    Similar structures are seen on barns across the US. They are used for lifting bales of hay into the hayloft.
    – Wastrel
    Jun 19 at 14:12
  • I noticed when visiting Scandinavia some years back that these hooks were most common along the waterfront, suggesting that they might have to do with managing imported goods.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 20 at 2:55
  • 1
    @HotLicks Not only at the waterfront – mainly in cities that were involved in trading. They exist, too, e.g. in southern German cities like Ulm, Augsburg, Ravensburg, ... – all former free imperial cities gotten rich by trade.
    – Aconcagua
    Jun 20 at 7:04
  • 2
    They're for comedy routines in movies involving dropping a piano someone was trying to get in through a window. Jun 20 at 16:59

2 Answers 2

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In the old days they were used to lift goods to the higher floors which were storing areas.
These days they are used in moving house, still used in these days with mechanical lifts which moving companies use elsewhere (but if there is space they might use those lifts instead.)

In Dutch sign language there are (or used to be) 4 dialects and in three of those moving house is indicated by holding a box and moving it. In the Amsterdam dialect moving house was/is indicated by pulling on a rope (coming down from a pulley hanging on one of those hooks.)

Houses in Amsterdam which were build as homes and never as storage area are also build with the hooks, I think up to this day, as people still use the methods. I think even as recent as the last 10 years, there were still hooks build onto the buildings.

I live near enough Amsterdam to know it as a fact and I have seen it at least once.
This video (youtube) does not talk much about using the hooks but it does show moving furniture through the window and how his window could be taken out for a wide opening.

pulley and rope with hook pulley and rope in use

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  • 9
    Doesn't that also have something to do with the ungodly steep/narrow Dutch stairs? And the difficulty of moving stuff through them? Jun 17 at 22:42
  • 4
    @tjalling, not always. I have seen as narrow an steep stairs in many buildings. They just got that name of tourists who do not live in houses with narrow and steep stairs, like the Americans.
    – Willeke
    Jun 19 at 8:47
  • 5
    Of course the pulley is a bike wheel :) Jun 20 at 7:57
  • 3
    How does the rest of the world move pianos?
    – gerrit
    Jun 20 at 13:53
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    @Mark, nice if your appartment is on the third floor.
    – Willeke
    Jun 21 at 4:34
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In addition to Willeke's answer, http://shadowsofaforgottenworld.blogspot.com/2016/06/hoisting-beams-in-amsterdam.html?m=1 mentions that these lifting hooks aka hoisting beams were an indirect consequence of attempting to reduce one's taxes:

The smaller the width of the frontage, the lower taxes had to paid. [...] Since the houses were so narrow, the stairwells were too steep and narrow, making it largely impossible to carry up goods or furniture into the home. Thus beams were attached to the gables in order to hoist up (with a pulley and rope) large objects and load them through the large windows. Another feature of the old buildings is their slight forward slant, which helps prevent the objects from colliding with the building facades as they are hoisted up.

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    The slant and the hooks are older than city taxes, the narrow houses may well be because of taxes, but that is not restricted to the city or even the country, it was a usual thing in more places but nowhere else those hooks got added as regular as in Amsterdam.
    – Willeke
    Jun 17 at 20:23
  • @Willeke thanks, interesting, is the popularity of hooks in Amsterdam due to a higher presence of merchants (in the past)? Jun 17 at 20:33
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    Basically all what are now houses on the older canals in Amsterdam (all older than about 200 years) were build as storage or warehouse with living quarters for the owners, often very expensive living quarters, on the lower floors and storage on all higher floors. Newer building, including some build in recent years, also got hooks and windows which can be completely opened or removed, so furniture can be moved in.
    – Willeke
    Jun 17 at 20:36
  • @Willeke Got it, thanks! Why place the storage on higher floors instead of the lower floors? In case of flooding? Jun 17 at 20:38
  • 6
    No, the lower floors had the business, impressing quarters for the owners and the lower ground floor kitchen and staff quarters.
    – Willeke
    Jun 17 at 20:40

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