Rotterdam. It’s a city of contrast. And coffee shops. The real kind, not the fake kind….
Bombed to hell and back by the Germans during World War II, its already flat surface took on a new look of demolition and turmoil, with a large majority of the city being destroyed in the process. Referred to as the Rotterdam Blitz, which makes it sound more like a winter sale than a war-time bombardment, much of the inner city was wiped out entirely as the Germans effectively tore apart the Dutch resistance.
Going forward – the war won, the dictator dethroned, the Dutch government turned to rebuilding the remains of the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Buildings were approved, houses were churned out en-mass; with the main focus on rebuilding rather than re-renovating. This has given the city a rather characteristic style – which I have on my bad days referred to as ‘rather hideous’, or ‘the ugly step-sister of Amsterdam’.
One should not journey to Rotterdam expecting ancient cathedrals. To sum it up for you, and no doubt shorten your journey, I can tell you that we have one. Uno. Een. And somehow the cathedral thinks that it’s a tree and needs to lean towards the sun (which generally lurks on the horizon like a bad smell, afraid to enter the room). You will also be confronted by rather interesting works of art scattered around the city like brightly coloured M&Ms. Much of the work is something that probably should have stayed in the gallery, but somehow managed to break out and invade the streets. One often wonders if the artist was on Acid when he came up with the concept, or the city approver was smoking what was left of the approval certificate. Either way, these works of art make journeying through the city an interesting excursion (please see Buttplug Santa). Please remember to close your mouth as you saunter down the alleyways, as staring is something that the Dutch do much better than you ever will (yes, my Dutch friends, you know what I am talking about).
If one takes a walking tour, it would be quite easy to label the city as the ugly duckling upon a first glance. And on a bad day, shitting down with rain and nearly being killed by speeding bicycles, I would tend to agree with them. If we are judging by surface appearance, Rotterdam would probably be the last one picked for the soccer team. She would be the sympathy vote on American Idol; the slightly chubby girl who sings rather well, but would need some photoshop-assistance to sell any CDs. Preferably with lots of back-lighting and soft focus lenses.
But just as you would with a rather ugly family member – with time, you soon learn to forget the flaws and start appreciating the form and substance behind it. There is a myriad of sights and sounds to discover within the network of streets and alleyways, amidst the smoky haze of coffee shops.
And sometimes, just sometimes, our dear Cinderella gives us a glimpse of beauty beneath the ashes…