Vers Beton welcomes Janneke Earl as a guest editor. Janneke, born and raised in England and currently residing in the Netherlands, gives us a look on Rotterdam through the eyes of an outsider. She writes about the things that stick out and sparkle her interest. This time, Janneke takes us on a guided tour of the city’s wild side.
Growing up in England and studying in Scotland, lands of hills, sprawling countryside and eccentricity, it has been difficult getting used to only one way up and one way down a ‘Dutch Mountain’ – or bridge. I start to feel constricted if there’s no winding path to wander; even the meanders are man-made. There’s nothing truly wild about Rotterdam, although at first it strikes you to be a concrete wilderness. Everything seems too controlled for that – at least it tries to be.
We are only animals
Het Park, bending trails regardless, would feel more welcoming if there were mounds to hide behind to pretend you’re alone, or shelter from the North Sea wind that uses the Maas as a funnel.
Still, amidst the restraint there are the unplanned things that make Rotterdam distinct: single portion sachets of madness squirted on the perfectly cut fries. Canal-side, the birds take advantage of earmarked soggy playground-cum-floodplain to encouragingly patter out a rhythm in the hope of catching a worm. Chattering flocks of green parrots sweep erratically between the carefully positioned trees of Overschie.
A woman cycles her dog for exercise, on a lead, the dog panting to keep up. That’s efficiency. A man cycles a horse on a lead across a road, the man swerving and ducking to avoid being crushed. That’s proficiency.
Nearly sunset and precisely in the centre of the Willemsbrug, three seagulls are bathing themselves atop the deepest Maas waters. Oblivious to the shipping lanes and tremendous cargoes traversing those same depths, they roll and flap and bead the river down their backs as if it exists only for them.
Rotterdammers themselves mess up the orderliness they have created, or perhaps they are immune to it. We are only animals, after all.
In my experience, people embrace the bizarre here more than any other Dutch city. For instance, Kabouter Buttplug is something I can’t imagine going down well in Amsterdam (or any British town centre for that matter), but the sculpture is a readymade symbol of Rotterdam: a little joke to itself, an experiment, a kind of rebellion against polite restraint.
More of this, alstublieft
Some characters punctuate the place: Rod Stewart look-a-likes that roam the Nieuwe and Oude Binnenweg; or Gil and Moti – two unrelated men who dress exactly the same. Either Rotterdam attracts quirkiness, or nurtures it – maybe both.
It’s certainly an acquired taste: not everyone’s cup of tea. But Rotterdammers appreciate their unorthodox city with its layers of planning schemes in constant flux, as much as they respect the idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants (be it people or other creatures). Crazy within reason.
I think I have that tolerant disposition, which is partly what brought me here. However, in my opinion, there’s still room for Rotterdam to let its hair down and become a little more wild.