Seven wonders of the world port
Rotterdam and I have had a bumpy ride this last two years. I would say the world port, as it is called, is as stubborn as I am. Looks different than the other picturesque Dutch cities, has a specific both business and art sense, and even a "Turkish delight" of its own (if you must, order a kapsalon when in town).
Still, as both time and the cultural adaptation curve tend to act, I am now in a stage of an almost warm familiarity. So the seven wonders act as a reminder to self and an invitation to others to discover Rotterdam.
Since I am talking about this enormous international port, I will begin wondering at a 143 years old boat on display at the "Maritiem Museum." In a close-to-the-original good state after renovation, the "Buffel" is a former naval ship, with a rich history serving as coast guard and training ship for, in its busiest times, up to 350 boys.
With some imagination, visiting the boat can be an authentic trip back in time and a glimpse at the young sailors working hard in the coal room, sleeping in hammocks, enduring punishment in the dungeon, as well as at the captain’s dinners and his compass-driven route decisions. All the while you can hear the canons and steam engines.
Nearly an ethic majority
Almost 50% of the Rotterdam citizens are not actually Dutch, but at least have one parent who is a foreigner. The mayor of the city is himself Moroccan, Muslim, and has an immigrant descent. Rotterdam is, in my eyes at least, as multicultural as it gets.
I now take Dutch lessons from the municipality, and I have met people from places that vary from Tanzania to Pakistan, Cabo Verde to the UK. I am therefore surrounded by amazing life stories, and fashion or food stores that act as samples of the various cultures.
The cube houses
Rotterdam is quite known for its innovative architecture. Not always necessary aesthetic, in my view, but this view excludes the cube houses. The 38 cubes were designed in 1977 by architect Piet Blom.
These geometrical trees have angled walls and windows, and are a real wonder to visit or simply stare at from different sides.
The city’s architecture museum, NAI, is also a quite intriguing modern establishment revealing the old-new contrasts in Dutch architecture.
You never know when you are going to encounter one. And, most of the time, you also do not know what to make of it. The shapes that populate the streets of Rotterdam are varied in their use of material and overall theme, but they all look somehow contemporary. And then there is a Picasso sculpture, in the Museum Park. Seriously, I do not know what to make of them, they are a wonder indeed..
I spent my student year in the one area of Rotterdam that escaped the cruel Second World War history. Delfshaven is a colourful neighbourhood, and what I had actually expected from a Dutch place: ginger bread looking houses, a market, a windmill. Not that many Dutch people. I still go back for the antique shops, second hand stores, and the harbour bar where they mostly play rock and sell Belgian beer.
Art & Housing - Poortgebouw
Across the Erasmus Bridge, in the South of Rotterdam, a 19th century building hosts an engine of the city’s subculture. Poortgebouw had hosted a meteorological station and a port company until 1978, when it was abandoned. Rotterdamers then protested against its turning into an Eros Centrum. In 1980, still abandoned, and during a time of shortage of affordable housing, the building was squatted.
Around 30 young people with different backgrounds and artistic energies now live there. They form an association which organises, in Het Poortgebouw, cultural events such as concerts.
I discovered contemporary dance in Rotterdam, namely the barefoot dancers with their seemingly fluid bodies who dominate minimalistic stages and play with visual effects and sound samples. I see these choreographies not only as stories the viewer can put together him / herself, but also as odes to the apparently unlimited movements of an otherwise limited body.
Scapino has been on the dance scene since 1945. The dancers form an international group which tours both Dutch venues and festivals and theatres outside the Netherlands. This is, for me, a source of fascination in its purest.
In the end, none of these so-called wonders were part of my decision to stay longer than initially planned in Rotterdam. For me it was more a matter of people. Still, I sometimes enjoy acting as a tourist in the place I know call "home." I would not go as far as saying I got really attached to Rotterdam, but at least it captured my interest.