Skip to main content

Het Withstraat Dagboek: We Lopen Naar de Kop van Zuid

De Hef, or Koninghavenbrug, as seen from the Erasmusbrug, Rotterdam.
There is no mistaking the distinct feel that this a European city as you brace yourself against the exfoliating coldness of the wintry Rotterdam air. The people look similar to me, but the buildings, roads and atmosphere all feel very different.

It is the afternoon of Thursday 9th February and we are heading for the Kop van Zuid (Southbank) area of Rotterdam. Our ultimate destination is the Nederlands Fotomuseum – the Dutch national photography museum.

After prising the students away from MacDonald’s, having been on a voyage of discovery to the Dutch version of Co-op with an Italian student who didn’t like the sound of a Big Mac for lunch, we have regrouped, looking like the tourists we are, on the corner of Westblaak and Coolsingel.

We are quite an incongruous looking group: a couple of white male teachers and a female Asian teacher (who has an unnatural obsession with handbags), with students, male and female, who are British, Iraqi, Somali, Bengali, Arab, Pakistani, white, black, mixed-race, Muslim, Christian, some with a hijab, some without, all hyperactive.

In a typically student-esque saunter, we make our way along Coolsingel, crossing the eerily quiet main road, on to Schiedamsedijk, with the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge) up ahead and the still air peppered only occasionally with the ringing of a tram bells.

Leaving the relative shelter of the town centre and its tall buildings, slipping and sliding on patches of ice and snow as we go, the road becomes more exposed and once more the frosty air begins to blast against my skin – thankfully I had packed a jumper affectionately as the yeti. Eventually we reach the foot of the Erasmusbrug, a bridge that carries, bikes, cars, trams, buses and noisy inner-city London students over to the Kop van Zuid.

Erasmusbrug, seen from Kop van Zuid.
The Erasmusbrug is an instantly striking piece of architecture, reminiscent of giant white harp lying across the Nieuwe Maas, one of the many channels that dissect the city. According to my Wallpaper City Guide, the tall structure at its centre is referred to locally as the ‘Swan’.

More curiously, off in the misty middle distance sits De Hef (The Lift), a 1920s lifting bridge which has eluded demolition and continues to straddle Koningshaven with its middle section permanently up. I can feel myself falling strangely in love with this city already and its charming, if chilly, feel.

Continuing off Erasmusbrug, my immediate concern turns back to one of my students, an Iraqi girl who has taken to greeting everyone she meets with ‘hallo’ – the correct Dutch way of saying 'hello'. However cute it might seem at first, after ten minutes of hearing ‘hallo’ repeated in the style of a broken record I begin to worry about my sanity and the patience of Rotterdam’s residents.

Luckily, most passers-by humour her and return the greeting before once more tightening their faces against the wintry wind.

Students inside photography museum.
A short while later we arrive at the Fotomuseum in the Kop van Suid, an intriguing building housing photographic installations and interactive displays. The media students head off to a photography workshop, whilst me and my band of six hijabi girls get a guided tour. Any fears that they might not be too interesting in photography are quickly allayed as they start quizzing the guide about anything and everything they see.

A busy afternoon completed, the evening will hold the opportunity to rest back at the Home Hotel, if the students desist from stampeding up and down the stairs for long enough!


Popular posts from this blog

Atay Maghrebi: To Essaouira and the Atlantic

Leaving Marrakech, the landscape stays flat, except for a few distant outcrops of rock. The sensation of the inhospitality of the environment creeps up on you as the olive groves become fewer and further between and rough scrub runs away to the base of distant hills.
Eventually, the landscape starts to undulate as you pass through small towns like Sid L’Mokhtar, and, after two hours, Morocco simply runs out of land as the coach starts to plummet down to the Atlantic coastline and the peeling whitewash of Essaouira’s medina.

The morning started with the obligatory slices of sweet cake dipped into apricot jam, with a side of yoghurt and coffee. I had a chat with Merissa who was already awake and wearing sunglasses like she was nursing a hangover.
I packed up my bags and meandered my way out of the medina towards Bab Laksour to get a taxi.
Having learned the lesson last year that taxi metres are always mysteriously broken in Marrakech, I readied myself for a battle with the driver who…

Atay Maghrebi: Out of the Dark and into Jemaa El-Fnaa

The night time offers a wealth of opportunity and intrigue in almost any country, but when I'm somewhere where my understanding of the language extends to just a handful of phrases and disconnected words, I find it all the more enthralling. Marrakech genuinely quickens the pulse and widens the eyes by night, with the famous Jemaa El-Fnaa as its wildly arrhythmic beating heart.

After a day of perfectly idle wandering and preparing for my journey to Essaouira, I sat up on the roof terrace, ordered atay, read the ending of Alex Garland’s The Beach and waited for sunset.

During this time, a Dutch woman and a Belgian man sat near to me and started to talk about a range of subjects. Most of their discussion was centred around the regular banalities of two travellers who don’t know each other well and clearly don’t have a great deal in common.
Shortly before sunset, the Belgian man caught my attention as he started to regale his newfound friend with quotes from the Quran taken both ou…

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English.
From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together).
She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing.
In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the widow’s nephew, bound for Mogadishu – still called