Sunday Travels #2: The Netherlands (Rotterdam)

Rotterdam: Now… and Then


Last week, Sunday Travels featured some general views of the Netherlands, as presented by Keystone View Company. This week, we’re going to look at the city of Rotterdam, by the same manufacturer. Apparently, through the eyes of Keystone’s American stereographers and captioners, Rotterdam is basically a canal with some other stuff around it. While there’s a mention or two on the verso text of the fact that there’s a large port in the city, the port isn’t a focal point. Nor is the architecture. Daily life? Not so much – though there is one non-canal scene; at some point, farmers milked their cows on the outskirts of the city. So we’ll take a brief look at what Rotterdam is – before taking look at how Americans saw it, 100 years ago.

Rotterdam Today

Rotterdam boasts the largest port in Europe; in size and shipping capacity, it is second only to Shanghai. With access to both the Rhine and the Meuse, and high-speed rail through Germany, the hinterland of Rotterdam is consists of over 40 million consumers. Not only is the port huge (at over 40 square miles), but it’s forward-thinking; it aims to be emissions-neutral by 2050.

The cultural scene is second in the Netherlands only to that of Amsterdam. In addition to the usual museums, old architecture, historic statuary, and other typical “tourist stuff”, the city offers some very unique attractions. For example, the Dutch Pinball Museum is… exactly what you should infer from its name. The Nederlands Fotomuseum is considered the best in the country. For the more architecturally-inclined, the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk somehow survived the bombings of 14 May 1940, which nearly leveled that part of the city.

Because of these bombings, and the need to rebuild, Rotterdam places a high emphasis on modernity. Due to the stereotypes of the city as a quaint bunch of canals, teeming with boats full of children with wooden shoes, which constantly pass by windmills, Rotterdam attempts to present itself as it is – and not as it was. This is reflected in Historical Museum Rotterdam’s choice to rename itself simply Museum Rotterdam. This need to move on is understandable. Nobody enjoys being stereotyped. And nobody quite does stereotyping as well as Keystone View Company.

Rotterdam a Century Ago, Through American Eyes

Turn-of-the-century Keystone cards have distinctly turn-of-the-century American viewpoints to them. Black Americans, gifted the “harmless” title ‘Negroes’, are portrayed almost colonially, with a combination of laughability and paternalism. There is often a watermelon or a porch in the mix, yessir, and more than a sprinkle of caricature. Asian countries often include adjectives such as ‘weird’, ‘strange’, ‘bizarre’, and their subjects are ‘Orientals’. Arabs (and sometimes Sikhs) are ‘Mohammedans’.

Rotterdam, meanwhile, is part of The Netherlands. And the Netherlands is that quaint and quirky little canal country. The Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk is not featured in any of the six Rotterdam cards I found amongst my Keys. On the other hand, five feature waterways – with the sixth focused on some rural farmers milking their cows. I sometimes get the feeling that Keystone was so successful just because they were so adept at making other nations feel alien and bizarre. Take the header image – a boy stands next to a boat on a canal. There are wooden shoes scattered about the boat. That’s Rotterdam, right?

Take another look at the Raumbild “Holland” series, which ought to have been titled “Amsterdam”. While a bit one-note, it’s almost clinical in its documentation of the aforementioned city. Meanwhile, these images are perhaps more evocative – but there’s an obvious editorial slant here. This is multiplied when one considers the verso text on the cards. We learn that Rotterdam is a port city, sure, but the scale of the port isn’t as important as the boats, canals, and other “Netherlandsy” things. Even the cow-milking stereoview features windmills. Let’s have a look:

The Stereoviews

Before we get to the gallery view, a quick note – I’m going to put both the cards themselves and the verso text into a gallery, thus consisting of 12 images. This is in keeping with my new gallery display format. However, it does force those who just want to see the views to skip past the text on the backs of each card. Feedback is always welcome here. While the new gallery format has been well-received so far, this will be my first use of it with Keys. Please feel free to let me know what you think.

Keep an eye open – next week we’re going to take a look at the Metropoolregio Rotterdam Den Haag – including Delft and The Hague – as well as a view of the Military Gates of Leiden.


These are now available in the “Travel Stereoviews” section of the boot sale.

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