Michelle and I were invited to speak at a ThingsCon Salon in Amsterdam. Our local host and good buddy Marcel would put us up with his family – in Rotterdam. I hadn’t been, had heard many good things and met many exceedingly nice folks from there, and couldn’t wait to see it.
Turns out, Rotterdam delivers! Between the lines, throughout easily a dozen or more conversations over the last couple of weeks, the picture emerges that Rotterdam used to be somewhere on the scale between boring and dead; and that gentrification or even just a livening up felt pretty out of reach even five years ago.
Today, I could not have gotten a more different picture. The city is super lively, there’s lots going on, and what is happening seems to be driven by a compact but super strong, active community.
The streets do look a lot more empty even though the difference in size between Rotterdam and Amsterdam isn’t that huge (some 800K for Amsterdam v some 600K for Rotterdam)—I’m assuming it’s the lack of tourists that make it look a lot more empty.
But that didn’t stop us. Quite the contrary. Our host Marcel picked us up at the airport, bright sunshine overhead on a lovely day. He got us bikes within minutes, because of course in the Netherlands there is a super quick and easy bike rental scheme that in Germany we could only dream of.
Off we were. This list of activities is in no particular order, but it might serve to give you an idea of the kind of thing you can expect in Rotterdam, especially with someone like Marcel as your local guide:
We went up The Stairs, a temporary large-scale installation. Literally stairs, outside of a historic building, that you walk up to enter the building via the rooftop. The sound the metal construction makes is entirely hypnotizing, the view great. Who would’ve thought that walking up stairs could be so much fun?
Once up the stairs we had a delicious lunch on the rooftop and got ourselves a bit of sun-time over conversations. (Of course, Marcel knew the owners of the café.)
Lovely weather for a snack at this rooftop café.
Then a quick dash into a little infinity room inside the train station. One of many spatial interventions all across Rotterdam which just makes it fun in a low level way to explore.
Rotterdam central station, affectionately called Kapsalon because it looks like a corner of an aluminum tray in which Kapsalon is served.
A shop of local designers’ products and artworks turned out to be a treasure trove not just for Dearsouvenir, but also just lovely to check out. We were on a strict no-shopping policy because this was just the first of many legs of this particular journey, but in the end I couldn’t resist a couple of bright green socks.
The Boijmans Museum had an exhibition going on that featured a number of local designers and artists, many of whom share the office building with Marcel; of course he knew them all. (You see a pattern emerging?) Particularly the works by David Derksen were most excellent.
Boijman Museum’s cloak room is fun.
Noteworthy was also the museum itself. In true Dutch/Rotterdam fashion it was smartly designed and very playful. The cloak room was a construction of ropes and pullies and hangers in which you’d pull your clothes or bags up to the ceiling and lock them there, in full sight but out of reach. The backyard featured a round cage with a football in it; needless to say we couldn’t resist playing a bit.
Rotterdam seems to be the birthplace of the Kapsalon, a kind of take on the kebap that’s served in an aluminum tray and covered by baked cheese, or something along those lines. Incidentally, the train station looks like a corner of one such aluminum tray, wrinkles and all, and is henced referred to as Kapsalon as well.
Add to this the lower rent compared to (insanely high-rent) Amsterdam and an overall super green and quiet cityscape and you’ve got yourself an excellent place to live. Even working in Amsterdam isn’t a big issue: The train takes about 40min to Amsterdam Centraal (about 25 to Schiphol airport), and with an annual train pass it’s super cheap.
Amsterdam is certainly busier, fancier, and has more going on in absolute terms. But Rotterdam is quickly evolving, has a great community, and I’d say higher quality of life. It might just be the cooler of the ‘dams.
A couple of years ago they had the Architecture Biennial, don’t know whether they still run it. They had an audio guide, taking you through town and showing the remarkable experiments that have been going on there in the last 60 years. The market hall near Blaak is a recent example of this, and if the audio guide is still available, it is highly recommendable for your next visit