Emma Becque peers behind the red curtain of Amsterdam’s Royal Theater Tuschinski, discovering the inspiring, and tragic, story of a man who changed the course of cinema-going in Europe. Read on for his legacy - a cinema of dreams.



Moviegoers are captivated by the layered blend of architectural styles—Amsterdam School, Jugendstil, and Art Deco at the Royal Theater Tuschinski © Isabel Bronts 

In 1921, the Dutch newspaper
Het Vaderland lauded the newly opened Royal Theater Tuschinski a beacon of the Roaring Twenties' cultural revolution. Celebrated for its facade, described as "beautiful in line, beautiful in stone," it embodied Abraham Tuschinski's vision of luxurious, accessible cinema.

Today, under Pathé's stewardship, the theater's opulent Art Deco elegance continues to captivate audiences. Yet, its grandeur is underpinned by a tragic tale. Behind the curtain is a story as riveting as the films projected on to its screen.

Abraham Tuschinski was born on May 14, 1886, in the modest town of Brzeziny, Poland. The son of a merchant and tailor, young Abraham inherited his father's craft and a fervent aspiration for the American dream. In 1904, aged 17, Abraham wed Mariem Ehrlich, affectionately known as Manja. Fueled by youthful ambition, he ventured alone to Rotterdam, intending to reach the United States.

However, fate had other plans, and Rotterdam became his new abode. There, he found employment as a craftsman and became a guide for fellow immigrants navigating the complexities of early 20th-century Europe. His dynamic spirit quickly bore fruit, enabling him to reunite with Manja in Rotterdam, where they established Polski, a lodging space for Eastern European Jewish emigrants.



The nascent cinema scene in The Netherlands, still in its infancy before 1909, was soon electrified by the opening of Cinéma Parisien by Jean Desmet. This introduction sparked a burgeoning competition that saw the rise of seven new theatres in 1911. Among these was Thalia, conceived by Tuschinski.

Yet, when adversity struck, and Thalia faced financial ruin, Tuschinski's indomitable spirit shone through. Undeterred by those who deemed his visions unattainable, he famously retorted, "Nothing is impossible!" With this mantra he, alongside his brothers-in-law, Hermann Ehrlich and Hermann Gerschtanowitz, salvaged Thalia and expanded their cinematic empire by acquiring three further failing theaters.

Venturing from Rotterdam, Tuschinski dared to dream of building a grand cinema in Amsterdam. In 1921, amid the charming chaos of the city centre near the Munt, he transformed a collection of dilapidated buildings into an opulent theatre unmatched in its splendour and accessibility. The design of the Royal Theater Tuschinski showcases a blend of architectural styles - Amsterdam School, Jugendstil, and Art Deco - brought to life by the renowned architect, Hijman Louis de Jong.

This Gothic building was erected at the cost of four million guilders and hailed as a playground of luxurious pleasure. A "perfectionist", Tuschinski cultivated an experience through the interior décor, a collaboration between Pieter den Besten and Jaap Gidding.


The Moorish Room is decorated in Moorish style and was originally intended as an intimate sitting area. The hidden space is themed around One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folktales © Isabel Bronts


In 1926, a scant four years post its grand opening, Abraham Tuschinski was anointed with Dutch citizenship, marking a high point before the shadows of the Second World War cast a pall over Europe. With the onset of war came a sharp rise in societal anti-Semitism, creating a fraught landscape for Tuschinski and his theatres.

Disaster struck on May 14, 1940, when the Luftwaffe's bombs obliterated four of his cherished cinemas during the Rotterdam Blitz, plunging Tuschinski into a period of profound adversity. The calamity continued on a sultry midsummer's day in 1941 when flames engulfed the Royal Theater Tuschinski in Amsterdam, consuming two grand auditoria and a collection of irreplaceable artworks by Pieter den Besten.



In the aftermath, the theatre, stripped of its founding spirit, played only German films to audiences entertained solely by German artists. The occupation further erased the theatre’s Jewish identity by renaming the establishment Tivoli.

The final act of Abraham Tuschinski's tragic saga unfolded on June 1, 1942, when he was forcibly taken to Westerbork, a prelude to his last journey to Auschwitz, where he was killed on September 17 of the same year. In the same poignant vein, his wife, brothers-in-law and Tuschinski architect Hijman Louis de Jong were also murdered in Auschwitz. This marked a sombre chapter in the storied history of the theatre he had built yet remains a legacy to his dreams and resilience.



The post-war era breathed new life into the space In the wake of World War II, the Royal Theater Tuschinski emerged rejuvenated. Remaining today, each detail of the space serves as a trailer for the magic of the movie ahead. An example, the 'Pauwenzaal,' or Peacock Room, epitomises Tuschinski's 1920s cinematic vision.

Cascaded above, stylised peacock murals and a swirling marble carpets in acid yellow and rich pruple commissioned by artist Jaap Gidding blended the Art Nouveau and Art Deco signature aesthetic. Equally, framed printed materials, including movie posters, programmes, and the company journal Tuschinski News are totems of the past. Each fragile artwork was meticulously crafted to match the majestic walls. Artists such as Elias Ott (1883-1969), Jac. Jongert (1883-1942) and Pieter den Besten (1894-1972) reimagined pictorial film posters through an Art Deco lens.


The cinema lobby on the ground floor, pictured in 1921, showcases the carpet designed by Jaap Gidding, which has since been replicated by CS rugs during the cinema's restoration © Amsterdam City Archives Collection


Throughout history the Royal Theater Tuschinski has transcended its role as a cinema. The hidden space is a cultural linchpin, embodying the unique vision of its founder. Historic halls are resplendent once more with Pieter den Besten’s original wall paintings - restored after their loss to wartime fires - and the newly ordained Bar Abraham offers an escape from the bustling cityscape. A sentiment mutually shared by enthusiasts of the 1920s and those lucky enough to visit today.

In 1996 the Tuschinski was back where Abraham started in 1921. The French Pathé, which supplied Tuschinski's first film material and granted him with his first license, has since owned the cinema that bears his name. Today, the Tuschinski is a testament to the enduring power of art and architecture and a celebrated venue in Amsterdam’s cultural tapestry, thanks to Abraham Tuschinski's resilience and motivation.


During World War II only German films were shown in the theatre alongside German artistic performances © Isabel Bronts

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