It’s been seven years ago already when I walked around the Erasmus University campus as a student. The campus is called Woudestein. I considered this a missed opportunity: ‘Campus Erasmus’ has a much better rhyme. I did not have any more thoughts about Erasmus, I really did not know much about him. Of course, you could see his elegant handwriting here and there, and there was a statue of Erasmus at the campus. And there was one in the city. But that was it.

During my studies I visited the city of Leuven, a classical university city in Flemish Brabant. I actually learned to be proud of Erasmus there. A city guide explained that Desiderius meant a lot to Leuven. He wrote most and the best of his works there. He thought it inappropriate that Rotterdam called its university after him: “He was only born there.” My fellow students and I remained silent: we didn’t know how to respond. Since that visit, I know that Erasmus is a name people can be proud of.

On my way!

I did not consider Erasmus a lot after I graduated. My brain got reactivated only recently. I saw the adages at Rotterdam Central Station as a celebration of his 550th birthday. I only then realised how strongly Erasmus and his name are intertwined with the city. What else had been called after him? Would I be able to find some pride of ‘our’ Erasmus in this city of rawness and concrete? I went on my way, out to find the companies that carry the name Erasmus (the university and hospital excepted).

I found: Eetcafé Erasmus [Diner Erasmus], Erasmus Advocatenkantoor [Erasmus Law firm], Erasmus Apotheek [Erasmus apothecary], Erasmus Consultancy, Erasmus Drive, Erasmus Koeriers [Erasmus Couriers], Erasmus Leven [Erasmus Life], Erasmus Logistics, Erasmus Partyservice, Erasmus Trading, Hotel Erasmus. I was somewhat disappointed. In my mind, I already saw myself making pictures of shabby cafés and garages that had been called after the humanist without much thought. Alas.

  • Erasmus Partyservice – I expected balloons and got a catering service in a business park close to the airport.

  • Erasmus Logistics – Unreadable characters on a grey little building between other grey little buildings.
  • Hotel Erasmus – Graffiti and cheerless brown closed curtains below a meaningless logo.

Grey buildings and mysteries

Still I remained curious. Would all these companies use that elegant handwriting of Erasmus as a logo? How did they honour his legacy? Would I be able to capture that pride with my camera? I was eager to see magnificent typography and subtle references to the humanist.

  • Erasmus Trading – ‘Erasmus’ is nowhere to be seen. The nameplate at number 25 appears to have been removed recently.

  • Erasmus Drive – No ‘Erasmus’ here too. A mansion without a nameplate and unfortunately no learner car anywhere near.
  • Erasmus Consultancy – An amateurish sticker indicates where number 81A might be. There is no sign whatsoever that a distinguished consultancy agency resides here.

What I got were little nameplates on grey buildings, located at meaningless business parks. The logo of the Erasmus Diner clearly refers to Erasmus, the Bridge, not Erasmus, the man.  Some locations were actually quite mysterious. Erasmus Drive, Erasmus Consultancy: no trace of a company name at these locations. Where is the pride of Erasmus?

  • Erasmus Eetcafé [Erasmus Diner] – A very clear reference to Erasmus: the bridge. Not surprising, given the location at Kop van Zuid.

  • Erasmus Leven (Erasmus Life) turns out to be a division of Delta Lloyd. The insurance company is hidden in this enormous grey building located at the Boompjes, at the north end of the bridge.

Fortunately there is the pharmacy at the West-Kruiskade. It is located in a splendid facade building, and they use a dignified logo.  The greatest feeling of pride I found with Erasmus Koeriers  [Erasmus Couriers], at the Oostzeedijk Beneden. Six vans with his name as logo on site, and two canopies on the building. But even here I didn’t find a reference to the humanist Erasmus.

  • Erasmus Advocatenkantoor [Erasmus Law firm] – This office remains very visible in the busy city life at the Zwart Jansstraat. Bright colours and style. 
  • Erasmus Apotheek [Erasmus Pharmacy] – Stylish facade building at the West-Kruiskade with a dignified logo. This is more or less what I expected to find before I started.
  • Erasmus Koeriers  [Erasmus Couriers]– An abundance of traces of the name ‘Erasmus’. Six cars and even two canopies!

I thought back to the proud man from Leuven. He would find himself reaffirmed in his thoughts about Rotterdam and Erasmus. Still, the name ‘Erasmus’ is connected with daily life in Rotterdam, and certainly not just as a lesson in history. This is how Erasmus survives, and that is a form of pride.

A co-operation between Erasmus Magazine and Vers Beton.

In 2016 Rotterdam celebrates the 550th birth date of the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. In this series, Vers Beton explores the meaning of Erasmus’ thinking for the city of Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Vers Beton is a journal for people in Rotterdam who like to reflect on their city.

This series has been made possible by a financial contribution by the city of Rotterdam.

This piece was published earlier in Dutch in the online magazine Vers Beton.

Translation: Melissa van Amerongen.