Isabel Albuquerque (30) comes from Recife, a city in the north-east of Brazil. For her Master Global Markets, Local Creativities, she spent a few months in Glasgow, then a year in Barcelona and is now in Rotterdam. At the beginning of this year, she was able to rent a room through a friend in Middelland, which perfectly reflects the variety of West. On one side, you have Heemraadssingel with its peaceful green surroundings and stately town houses, whilst on the other side you have the bustle of Nieuwe Binnenweg.
Feels like home
“We have bars and cafés on our doorstep,” says Isabel in front of Café Steijn, a regular haunt for her and her housemates. “I was really surprised how busy it is here on the street, there are always people around. I really like that, also during this pandemic, the fact that you can see people. It feels a bit like being home. Except it doesn’t rain so much in Recife,” she laughs, sheltering in a doorway. Despite the bad weather, life on Nieuwe Binnenweg goes on. Cyclists negotiate the raindrops, badly parked cars and the treacherous tram rails.
A bit further on – the rain has now stopped – the tram loudly rings its bell. A car is blocking part of the road. The driver hurries out of Warung Mirosso to move his car. “It smells lovely here,” says Isabel. “I really must try Surinamese food some time.”
In the Brazilian delicatessen Supermercado Finalmente Brasil, where she often does her shopping, the man behind the counter recognises her. “Oi!” They chat in Portuguese. The shop opened in Rotterdam five years ago, with the diverse population of West making it the perfect place for it. Besides guarana, tapioca and marmelada, it sells lots of maize products. Isabel buys a pack of paçoca, a typical Brazilian treat made of peanuts and sugar.
“I’ve never seen so much diversity in my whole life as here in Rotterdam,” says Isabel. “Just look at this street! It’s like a microcosm. I also like being able to talk to everyone, because everyone speaks English. That wasn’t the case in Barcelona, for example.” She also likes the relatively affordable rent in West. “I pay less rent and live in a nicer area than my friends. They’re all a bit jealous!”
On Genestetplein in Spangen, on the west bank of the Delfshavense Schie, third-year medical student Mees Kommers (22) shares a house with three other students. The evening before, they’d had a party to replace the cancelled festival summer. Fortunately, they didn’t bother the neighbours. “We live in a neighbourhood with only families, and we consider ourselves a bit of a family too. Three young neighbours always like to do things with us, like when we were painting the walls. I think they’re quite intrigued by our student life,” says Mees with a laugh, as the girls watch us from behind the window.
The lovely verandas, well-trimmed hedges and the big playground on Genestetplein are in stark contrast to the image of Spangen as one of the bad areas of Rotterdam. The area also has interesting attractions, like Spartastadion Het Kasteel, the oldest football stadium in the Netherlands, and the old Van Nelle coffee, tea and tobacco factory. Mees has only been living in West for a year, but already has his favourite places. By bike, he shows us Justus van Effenstraat, where in 1922 a revolutionary housing complex was built with an elevated street. His architecture student friends from Delft are enthusiastic about Spangen, particularly because of this housing complex. The complex, now a type of gated community, is perfectly maintained with its green courtyard and big galleries.
Around the corner is Snackbar Florida, a typical Rotterdam snack bar which is frequented by the housemates. “At the start of the pandemic, we were all quite depressed by lockdown, so we regularly bought frikandels and chips. It was like a kind of community centre where everyone met each other. If we can’t decide what to eat, we’ll come and get frikandels.”
Compared with Nieuwe Binnenweg, it’s quiet in Spangen. Just outside the neighbourhood, on the other side of Marconiplein, is the Dakpark, where Mees and his housemates sometimes go for a walk in the evening. He points to the Action and Albert Heijn XL signs which can be seen from the roof. “Those are essentially a student’s two basic needs,” he jokes. It’s windy on the roof of the shopping centre, where you can find a wooden playground and a variety of flowers, plants, trees, grasses and rabbits. In recent years, the animals caused so many problems by burrowing in the ground that the roof became unstable. Now they are scared off by pillars that give off a scent.
“I love living so close to Erasmus MC and that there are so many nice places nearby. In fact, it’s relatively undiscovered. Not many people come here, even in summer,” says Mees. From a small elevation, we look out over an alternative skyline of Rotterdam: the combination of business parks, The Lee Towers and the old city harbours in the Merwe-Vierhaven area. “If you want crowds, you can go into town. Here we can enjoy the peace and quiet,” Mees concludes.