Several dusty and faded SSR member ties hang from the ceiling lamp in the kitchen, as does a pale blue underwire bra. “I’ve no idea who it belongs to,” says Cas Oosterwijk, 22. “It’s been here for quite a while and it’s part of the furniture now.” So are last night’s empty beer bottles and the ashtray full of cigarette butts. “We clean up once a week,” Cas explains. “On Wednesdays. So things are in good order for our pub night. Because obviously we’re not going to do it on Thursdays. We’re all hungover then.”
Salt, fat and flavour
According to the boys, ‘Hortensia Animalis’ means zoo. “Appropriate, isn’t it?” says the youngest resident, Sybren Morks, 20, while taking an enormous bite of the burger his flatmate Joris Roovers, 22, has just fried. It is clear that the guys need salt, fat and flavour.
“Once upon a time, real lions and elephants roamed these grounds.” Now there is a sculpture of a zebra on a pedestal behind the apartment building at Diergaardesingel, near Central Station. The residents of SSR’s oldest house in Rotterdam have a great view of it from their balcony at the back of the building. But obviously, the view from the front is infinitely better. The Koinoonia Society (SSR’s clubhouse, where the boys spend a lot of time) is right across the street, on the other side of the tramway tracks.
Scantily clad ladies
Actually, the residents of the Hortensia Mansion – established in 1986 – could be said to be a little bestial themselves. The walls of the inspiring lavatory are full of nice but scantily clad ladies, and lying on the floor are the boys’ club trousers, which still reek of beer and sweat from the night before. Once upon a time they were orange. However, since it is against the club’s rules to wash them, they are now quite grubby and shiny with grease.
Moreover, the entire house is filled with cigarette smoke. “Pretty much everyone in the house smokes,” says Stijn Blokker, 22. “Or at least they don’t mind others smoking. Other than that, we’re not too demanding of our new flatmates. As long as they’re chill dudes, they’re fine. They must not be too serious. We don’t invite prospective flatmates to pick the best one. Hortensia Mansion residency is by invitation only.”
Take the youngest resident of the house, Sybren, a.k.a. HJ. He doesn’t have a room of his own, which means he has no privacy. His bed is in the living room, where all his flatmates laze about drinking and yelling. This does not pose a problem to Sybren. “I actually kind of like it. When I’m tired, I’ll simply get under my duvet, but I’ll still hear everything that’s going on, so I’ll never miss out on anything. And if my flatmates want to join me under my duvet on a day on which we’re all completely wasted, I’m fine with that. I’m not too bothered.”
The wall above Sybren’s bed and the seating area that is right next to it are full of creative murals, many of which depict pornographic scenes and weapons. They range from President Trump amidst neon font and the house crest – a red-and-blue shield with a lion on either side – to a wooden scene featuring an orange lady being taken from the front and the back by two green gentlemen, cut with a fretsaw. Fun stuff.
And then we’ll drink. We’ll drink a lot
“We create these murals especially for the house party we throw once every autumn,” says Joris. “These parties are the stuff of legends. We’ll evacuate the entire ground floor when we throw one, taking all the furniture upstairs and storing some of it with the neighbours. Some 250 to 300 people will show up, and we’ll provide them with 750 litres of beer, a DJ booth and a beer pong table, and then we’ll paint the walls to some crazy theme. Using fluorescent paint, because that looks fab when you shine a blacklight on it. And then we’ll drink. We’ll drink a lot. Last year we polished off our entire supply of beer.”
They give their neighbours plenty of advance warning. “We’ll put notes in their letterboxes, along with ear plugs,” says Cas. “Most of them seem to be cool with it. And generally speaking, things are fine. Except for two years ago, when the police were forced to break up the party at 5am because the windows were all wide open.”
€15 tickets for men and €12.50 tickets for women
Hortensia Mansion’s house parties draw more people every year. “Quite frankly, we’re now getting a few too many people,” says Stijn. “Last time we were right on top of each other. But that’s great, isn’t it? We sell tickets to the event – €15 for men and €12.50 for women – and everybody loves to attend, so why the hell not.
“Sometimes people will say we’re overcharging and that we’re doing it to turn a profit. But hey, we must evacuate the entire ground floor, buy all that beer and then spend the next two days cleaning up and putting everything back in its place. It’s a lot of work, but we love doing it.”