No doubt, Rotterdam is a beautiful city. No Rotterdammer will argue with you. But Rotterdam is also a unique city. ‘Rotterdam can’t be filmed’, the Rotterdam poet Jules Deelder told us with his poem ‘Rotown Magic’. Because Rotterdam is so exceptional, you can’t compare it to The Hague, Utrecht and certainly not to our big rival Amsterdam. What is the best way to understand Rotterdam and the people of Rotterdam? Let us help you. We’ll list 7 Rotterdam characteristics to get to know the city better. After reading this blog, you are at least half a Rotterdammer.
1. Port city without a port
‘No words but deeds’ is a port slogan from the 19th century that is inextricably linked to the working city of Rotterdam. But many who visit Rotterdam for the first time will wonder where that famous port of Rotterdam is then. Where can I see it somewhere in the city centre? Well, you can’t. The pride of Rotterdam is miles away from the center towards the North Sea. There you’ll find the large ports and terminals that are fully automated. This is also where the huge mammoth tankers moor and you can see many other large ships.
Of course, it makes sense that the major ports of Rotterdam are far away from the city centre. Think of the space needed for the port activities, the proximity to the North Sea and because of the health risks for local residents.
If you are interested in visiting the port of Rotterdam, there are several possibilities. You can join us on a trip to discover the Waalhaven. This is the nearest port from the centre and the Waalhaven is still in use. We provide a special harbour bike tour which is led by our harbour expert Edwin. If you really want to see the big picture, then it is definitely advisable to take a look at the FutureLand website. There you can experience the big harbour up close.
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2. The Second World War is never far away
Rotterdam is the modern architectural city of the Netherlands. A Dutch metropolis with a unique skyline and unique buildings such as the Cube Houses, Erasmus Bridge, Market Hall and the Timmerhuis. Rotterdam feels like a dynamic and young city whose appearance is constantly changing because of the new buildings.
One of the main reasons why the city feels so new is the impact of the Second World War. The devastation of the bombardment (14 May 1940) largely wiped out the old city centre, but also gave it space to redesign Rotterdam. As a result of this post-war city planning, there is still room to develop new buildings in the city centre.
The observant visitor sees and feels how the Second World War is still present in Rotterdam. The most famous monument of Rotterdam is the The destroyed city of Ossip Zadkine. In a powerful way the despair and suffering of the bombardment is depicted here. But the war is also still present in Rotterdam in a mental way. The well-known official motto ‘Stronger through struggle’ is such a typical reference to the period 1940-1945. Queen Wilhemina had chosen this motto to indicate the courage and strength of the people of Rotterdam.
If you want to know more about Rotterdam and the Second World War, we advise you to join our Rotterdam War Tour.
3. Medieval village
What is the most important event in the history of Rotterdam? The transformation into a world port city? Or the bombardment of Rotterdam during the Second World War? If you look at these two historically decisive moments, you might also think that Rotterdam is a city that is “only” about 200 years old. After all, where can you find buildings in the city centre that are older than about 200 years? There is one characteristic building that tells more about the roots of Rotterdam and that is the Laurenskerk (St. Laurens Church) which is located near the Market Hall.
The Laurenskerk was built in the period 1449-1525 and, like many other places of worship, was the centre of a medieval city. You don’t see much of it anymore, but Rotterdam is a medieval city with more than 700 years of history. Around 1270 fishermen started building a dam in the river Rotte to establish a settlement and in 1340 Rotterdam was granted city rights.
Rotterdam has experienced the same events as many originally other medieval cities; from city expansions to public hangings and cholera outbreaks. However, the bombardment, the period of reconstruction and the ultra-modern architecture mean that you see very little of the medieval city.
4. City of workers
Rotterdam is by definition the working city of the Netherlands. We say that in Rotterdam the shirts are already sold with rolled up sleeves. In Rotterdam the money is earned, in The Hague the money is distributed and in Amsterdam they spend the money. But where does this (stereotypical) image actually come from? Most likely this has to do with the growth of Rotterdam as a world port city from 1870 onwards. It was then that the well-known motto ‘No words but deeds’ came into fashion.
But the influence of the Second World War was certainly not overlooked either. The whole of the Netherlands had to be rebuilt, but especially Rotterdam after the bombardment. There was no time to grieve and look back. The focus was on the near future and we had to work hard. The city in ruins had to be rebuilt to boost the Dutch and Rotterdam economy.
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5. Football fever
Rotterdam has no less than three professional football clubs. Excelsior is the small charming club from Kralingen and Sparta is the traditional club that plays football in a lovely old-fashioned stadium. But most of Rotterdam is for Feyenoord, the largest people’ club in the Netherlands. This is where everything that is archetypal Rotterdam comes together.
The fans desire beautiful football combined with the principle of ‘work for your money’. The famous Rotterdam slogans ‘Sterker door strijd’ (Stronger through struggle) and ‘Geen woorden maar daden’ (No words but deeds) are also intimately linked to the football club and these slogans appear as a tattoo on many bodies of Feyenoord fans.
Feyenoord have traditionally been a workers’ club. Founded in 1908 in the working-class district of Feijenoord, the club quickly became the favourite of the ordinary people because of the many successes it achieved. Feyenoord were the first Dutch club to win the 1970 European Cup 1. Then a tradition is born by celebrating its success at the Coolsingel with hundreds of thousands of fans. Still when Feyenoord win a national championship or cup, the Coolsingel fill up for the biggest club in the Netherlands.
6. Mocking with Amsterdam
Rotterdam and Amsterdam are two completely different worlds. In Amsterdam you stroll through the golden Dutch 17th century and see the canals and old townhouses. In Rotterdam you come across the super modern architecture.There is also a big difference in mentality. Rotterdammers are straightforward and Amsterdammers are often said to be arrogant. In short: there are big differences and Rotterdammers like to make a joke to mock the Amsterdammers.
For example, the famous Dutch comedian Dorus sang in the sixties ‘Do you know what a Rotterdammer likes best about Amsterdam? That’s the last train to Rotterdam, the smallest child knows that’. For many it’s just a joke, but some take the rivalry with Amsterdam quite seriously. There are stories of Rotterdammers who prefer to make a detour to Belgium or Germany to catch a plane there instead of flying from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport…
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7. Giving nicknames
Making up and assigning nicknames is a real sport in Rotterdam. The city alone has several nicknames with Rotjeknor, 010, Rotown and Roffa. But also many buildings have beautiful nicknames. The most popular are: The Swan for the Erasmus Bridge, the Koopgoot (Buying Gutter) for the Beurstraverse shopping street and De Kuip for the Feijenoord football stadium.
But Rooie Willem (Red Willem) for the Willemsbrug, the Blaakse Bos (The forest of Blaak) for the Cube Houses and the Shark’s mouth for Rotterdam Central Station are also often used. Not only buildings in the Maasstad are given suitable nicknames, but also people. Rigardus Rijnhout (1922-1959) is the largest Rotterdammer ever with his 2 metres and 38 centimetres. He is reverently called the Giant of Rotterdammer. If you are interested in more nicknames, then our Highlights Tour is definitely something for you.