4 of 4) Rotterdam, Netherlands

The fourth and final leg of the trip was to Rotterdam, Netherlands, 310 miles from Hamburg.

Country Manufacturing Value-Added (% of GDP): 12% (World Bank) 

Rotterdam is a progressive, multicultural city whose mayor is the first in the country to be an immigrant, a Muslim no less.  New Economy (2016) noted that “Rotterdam has embraced innovation and experimental programs in order to develop into one of the world’s most sustainable cities.”  The city has been chosen as the host of the 2025 World Expo, an international conference which addresses major global issues.  It’s been stated that “people were drawn to the city because of its new smooth running transportation networks” in the past several generations (Rotterdam Marketing, 2016).  The New York Times included Rotterdam as a “Place to Go” (New York Times, 2014) and it was named one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit in 2016 by Lonely Planet.  It is quickly becoming a hot tourist destination, with overnight stays in hotels going up by 14% in 2014 (Economische Verkenning Rotterdam, 2016).


1) Multinational Automobile and Supply Chain Tours:

The Netherlands employs the least percentage of its citizens in manufacturing of all European nations (European Union Eurostat, 2016) but serves as a supply chain epicenter.  The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and an integral cog in the European supply chain.  It handles more cargo than any American port.  The Port currently boasts “safety, accessibility and sustainability” as key priorities (Port of Rotterdam, 2016).  In hopes of becoming the smartest port on earth, leaders recently put forth a comprehensive plan called “Port Vision 2030″.  The Port recently received a loan of €900 million from the European Investment bank due to the need for increased capacity, and it has been labeled by the EIB as a “vital organ” of the European region (European Investment Bank, 2015).

One modern usage of the Port of Rotterdam includes the RDM (Research, Development, and Manufacturing) Innovation Dock, a collaborative effort with Hodgeschool Technical College.  The campus runs much of their operations in the Innovation Dock, which is a group of intermodal manufacturing workspace occupied by young entrepreneurs who seek improved supply chain access for their products.   Pieter Van Gelder first designed the Innovation Dock area along with a community of houses and residential spaces behind it (which we toured) so workers didn’t have to travel far for work.  Today, student machining and robotics labs work in conjunction with the Innovation Dock’s startup organizations.



During our stay, several Hodgeschool Technical College Automobile Engineering classes were in session (seen in the background of the picture below on the left).  We were able to check out one of the College club’s prototype engines in their racecars.


The Port of Rotterdam sees 315.2 million metric tons of incoming throughput and 129.6 million metric tons of outgoing throughput every year.  Automation and technology in the Port are constantly being upgraded.  Automated cranes usually pick up and unload containers, as only 50,000 of 19 million containers are inspected in full.

Bicycles are a common mode of transportation in the Netherlands, as there are said to be 13 million active bicycles in the country out of a population of only 16.5 million.  Reflecting Dutch culture, our Port tour was by bicycle.  Our tour guide first provided us a history of the construction of various phases of of the Port, which tends to coincide with the peak of imports and exports of certain products.  For instance, the massive Container Terminal was built in the 1960’s to accommodate the influx of American electrical appliance imports.  Each area is constantly modernized, including full automation in the Container terminal.  1 of 3 consumer products in the EU goes through the Port at some juncture.


The Logistical Center of the Port (shown from the bike tour on the picture on the left, and shown from our waterbus in the picture on the right) coordinates all vessel transportation and management of the Port and is located next to the Holland Amerika Line.

The Holland Amerika Line (in the background), is a 1873-1989 cargo and transportation fleet originating at the Port, which took millions from Europe to America, including many persecuted European Jews before and during WWII.


2) Cultural Excursions and Immersions:

Generally, food in Rotterdam is high in carbohydrates, allegedly because foods high in carbs were needed for the working class during the formation of the country.  Similar dishes are eaten for breakfast and lunch in Rotterdam, consisting of bread (bagels) with toppings such as Dutch cheese.  Mashed potatoes is a meat common for dinner, and natural juices are a customary drink.  Many students commented that bottled water and juice were always served in a glass bottle with a separate glass to drink from.

De Rotterdamsche Oude is a Rotterdam-made cheese.  It was developed because Amsterdam cheese was being served at De Kuip, a famous Rotterdam sports stadium.  The stadium owners decided to develop their own cheese they could claim for the city.  This Rotterdam cheese can officially be called old if it has been aged more than 1 year.  Below is a typical Rotterdam Cheesehouse (or “Kashuis”), which includes the Rotterdam De Rotterdamsche Oude (old cheese).  A few of the students bought Dutch cheese to bring back to their families.



Immigrant flows into Holland have given rise to various types of new restaurants and cuisines in the city, such as Spanish and Portuguese in the 1920s and 1930s, Turkish in the 1950s and 1960s, Moroccan in the 1970s and 1980s, and Polish today.  Residents of refugee camps established near Rotterdam during the Vietnam War have started numerous Vietnamese restaurants.  In addition, many Surinamese restaurants can be found in Rotterdam, because many people from the former Dutch colony of Surinam relocated to Rotterdam in 1975 after being granted independence.  Today, there are more Surinamese in the Netherlands than in Surinam.  There was a Surinamese restaurant across the street from our hotel which gained quite a bit of business from our group.

We experienced a South Holland Food Tour.  The first treat we pleasantly enjoyed was stroop, a famous Dutch cookie, made of caramel and waffles baked in a waffle iron.


Rotterdam’s newly renovated central train station, our destination point from Hamburg, was constructed in the square-mile area in the City Center district.  This area had been completely flattened during the Rotterdam Blitz, the surprise aerial attack by the German air force on May 14, 1940, that occurred in the midst of official German-Dutch negotiations and prompted immediate surrender by the Dutch government.  The Germans threatened to destroy Amsterdam next if the Dutch did not surrender, as the Germans wanted to gain immediate control over the integral Port of Rotterdam.  The Dutch were neutral in World War I, but were one of the first targets of the Germans in World War II.  Only 4% of buildings survived the Blitz.

The Church of St. Lawrence (seen below) is the only medieval building left in Rotterdam.  The photo immediately below shows the students near the statue of 16th century philosopher Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.  Erasmus, considered the George Washington of Rotterdam, ironically lived a block away from the Church of Lawrence and was born during the initial construction phase of the church.

St. Laurence church left standing after the Rotterdam Blitz (picture from Wikipedia)


Rotterdam’s modern architectural look exists only because of the Rotterdam Blitz.  One such modern building is the Markthal (Market Hall, see photo below), a public venue built in 2014 that has been called the food mecca of the Netherlands.  It contains 96 restaurants and 228 apartments.  Because Rotterdam was rebuilt after World War II with mostly office buildings, there tended to be a problem for businesses after the close of the workday due to the lack of activity.  Since the 1980s, new venues have been built with apartments and residential accommodations in mind.  The two student pictures below show Markthal from the outside (left) and looking at the roof (right).


The corporate tax rate in the Netherlands is lower than that of neighboring Germany and France, and many attribute this rate to the rise of Rotterdam as an affluent, global city during the past 20 years.  Many multi-national companies thrive in Rotterdam as a result, as long as their operations fit the Dutch culture.  The McDonalds below revised its typical American cookie-culture architecture to fit the Dutch style and has since won European awards for best architecture.  The popular cube houses shown below also have a modern look.


Several students had the opportunity to attend a Rotary meeting, which was another semi-formal event.  The presentation provided information about the how the Netherlands banking community fits into the global banking industry.  Again, the hosts were easily able to adapt so that the presenter accommodated us and presented in English instead of Dutch.


The traditional exchange of the Rotary flags was notable, since the creator of the Rotterdam Rotary flag was in attendance.  He chose to include a common Port vessel as their Rotary logo (he is the gentleman second to the right in the picture below).


The Rotary event was held at the local soccer stadium, home of the Excelsior professional team, which has been in existence since 1902.  The prominent grey building on the campus of Erasmus University overlooks the stadium, and can be seen in the picture below on the right.  A friendly staff member there allowed us access to the stadium and showed us their newly installed field turf.  Their stadium is the smallest of all professional soccer stadiums in the Netherlands.


The Windmills at Kinderdyk consist of 19 windmills built in 1738-1740, originally intended to pump the excessive amounts of water out of the local village into a reservoir.  Water from the Rhine River in Switzerland has long been a problem for the Dutch.  Today they pay €250 per family in taxes for water management.  It costs the country €5 Billion to manage the water supply.



Bicycles are an important means of transportation for Dutch citizens, and the Dutch zest for innovation has translated into 2 million electric bikes being used in the country.  The Dutch Parliament has banned sales of petrol and diesel automobiles by 2025, so all vehicles sold in the country will be electric by that year.  The picture below on the bottom left shows a typical bike rack around the perimeter of a tree in social areas of the city to accommodate bicycle transportation.  The other pictures below are the bike repository below Central Station, where hundreds of thousands of bikes are kept.


We had the opportunity to visit the town of Delft, home of the Delft University of Technology.  Delft resembled a typical Dutch town, with its canals and quintessentially Dutch old buildings.


We had time to tour the town and its canals in the town center.  William of Orange lived there in 1572, and our guide showed us his statue.  William of Orange led the Dutch resistance in Delft against the Spanish in the Eight Year’s War.  The New Church, pictured below, was built in the 14th century.


3) History of Capitalism/Trade:

Water transportation is an important component of many harbor towns, and Rotterdam is no different.  We utilized a waterbus to get from point to point on our Port tour (seen in pictures below).

Our Waterbus transportation from various points in the Port of Rotterdam


Erasmus University in Rotterdam features the internationally recognized School of Economics and School of History, Culture, and Communication.  One means of getting to Erasmus University and around the port is by water taxi, which is free for all college students attending school in Rotterdam.  We also had the opportunity to utilize water taxis to better get from place to place.

Technological map of the Water Taxi system at the Port of Rotterdam


The glass house pictured below is a collaborative innovation between the City of Rotterdam and the Delft University of Technology, a University included in the top 20 of worldwide rankings of Engineering and Technology schools.  They grow their own plants in the greenhouse that is part of the house.  The house is a model for sustainable living.



Museumpark is a landmark in urban planning, created in 1927.  It is divided into four main zones for various functionalities and is similar in design to an American industrial park.  It allows for ease of museum hopping with logistical efficiency.  The New Institute Building in Museumpark specializes in urban design and architecture.

Like the other modernizations of Rotterdam, Museumpark includes an underground walkway system for easy access to the various museums.
Our hotel was next door to the Witte de Withstraat (named after Rotterdam’s 1871 Navy), a gentrified street of cafes and galleries that connects Museum Park to the Maritime Museum.

Like other aspects of its infrastructure, Rotterdam actively pursues modernization to help facilitate transportation in the city.  Parking meters are modern and electric energy stations are common on the streets.  The Rotterdam Climate Initiative is a comprehensive plan (which includes the Port) to turn the city green.  During the time of our visit, the US administration was in Europe and announced that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Pact.

car charger
1 of 1,800 electric car charging stations in the city near parking spots.
parking meter
A common smart parking meter in Rotterdam, which drivers can locate via GPS if they lose track of their vehicle.
phone charger
Phone charging devices are located conveniently at local establishments.

It was a jam-packed trip, full of different adventures.  One student’s smart device calculated that (even with all of the European transportation/logistics we utilized-such as trams, waterbuses, trains, subways, watertaxis, bikes, etc.) we walked at least 100 miles during the trip.  Much like the typical European, we got plenty of exercise simply by walking instead of driving from place to place.

I posted this on my Facebook page as a wrap-up to our travels:

We are in Rotterdam, Netherlands (after Munich, Prague, and Hamburg), the final leg of the Purdue University Study Abroad I coined “Purdue Polytechnic’s Central European Multinational Automobile Organization Supply Chain Experience”.  It’s been a jam-packed trip and if anybody has the time, check out my upcoming reports (blogs) for the rundown of each city’s excursions. Like I had hoped, as our final destination, Rotterdam has been the favorite city, as 8 out of 10 students indicated as such.

I would have never had the ability to put this trip together without first taking this plunge with Lambert Doll, when we did our best to figure out Dutch culture 20 years ago during our first trip to Europe. I appreciate how you were always up for an adventure, Lambert…you are missed dearly. So much on this trip reminded me of when we faced the same conundrums 20 years ago, such as how to get around, how to talk to locals, how much is appropriate gratuity, and so much more. Glad I can pay forward your zest for life to these ambitious students from Purdue University.