Cows grazing on Schouwburgplein? In the archives of the Boijmans van Beuningen museum is a postcard, made by Rotterdam-based artist Wim Gijzen. Issued on the occasion of C’70 – short for ‘Communication 1970’, a happening celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Liberation – it’s a picture of cows in a grassy field.
The pasture is set off with gnarled pollard willows, spaced at regular intervals between De Doelen and Theater Rotterdam. Gijzen’s work has always contained more than a touch of irony, and his postcard illustrates our ongoing struggle with this square. It was a challenge back then, and it still is now, a half-century later.
It’s fair to say we Rotterdammers have a love-hate relationship with Schouwburgplein. It’s an iconic spot for sure, and everyone’s got an opinion about it. All the more since the Rotterdam landscape designer Adriaan Geuze came along and turned it into “a reflection of the Port of Rotterdam” done in steel, wood and rubber. Which was unfortunate for women trying to cross it on Christian Louboutin stilettos or men attempting to walk on crepe soles. It had become something of a danger zone – more slip ‘n slide than a spot to stroll. The coloured artificial lawn laid down by the Flying Grass Carpet restored what had been missing: warmth – in this city, practically a four-letter word.
Something needs to be done. And now, something will, as part of the ‘seven urban projects’ slated to upgrade the city’s outdoor spaces. Happily, its planners listened to Janneke Staarink, director of De Doelen, who has a front-row seat to this square. I talked to her about the iconic but ‘difficult’ space outside her doorway.
She aired her wish to make it low-traffic, stretch wall-to-wall and also let it serve as a stage – say if hippie Harry Hamelink, artistic director of Motel Mozaïque, wants to host his muse Eefje de Visser here. Janneke: “Instead of going to De Doelen and then straight back home, it should be a place where people will want to linger.”
Will Geuze get another go? Who knows. One thing’s certain, though. In a few years it will be safe to walk your stilettos from a Doelen concert to a good pub across the way or dance in your funky sneakers to Harry’s latest bands. But let’s not make it too warm and green. Skateboarders – another iconic part of Rotterdam – need the city’s rough edges to do their tricks, and grass just doesn’t give you a good roll. So, Adriaan: one hubba, if you please.