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 that 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 Lonely Planet named it one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit in 2016.  It is quickly becoming a hot tourist destination, with overnight stays in hotels going up by 14% in 2014 (Economische Verkenning Rotterdam, 2016).  In 2017, 1.8 million visitors stayed in local hotels, up 12.5% from the prior year (Hotelovernachtingen, 2018).



1) Multinational Automobile and Supply Chain Tours:

The Netherlands employs the smallest 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 several operations in the Innovation Dock, which is a group of intermodal manufacturing workspaces occupied by young entrepreneurs who seek improved supply chain access for their products.  Pieter Van Gelder designed the Innovation Dock area to include 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.

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, and only 50,000 of 19 million containers are inspected in full.

Bicycles are an important means of transportation for Dutch citizens, and the Dutch zest for innovation has translated into more than 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 (left) shows a typical bike rack around the perimeter of a tree in social areas of the city to accommodate bicycle transportation, and the picture below (right) displays the bike repository below Central Station, where hundreds of thousands of bikes are kept.


There are said to be 13 million active bicycles in the country out of a population of only 16.5 million, the most per-capita bike usage of any country.  Reflecting Dutch culture, our Port tour was by bicycle.  Our tour guide first provided us a history of the construction of various phases 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 being modernized, including full automation in the Container terminal.  1 of 3 consumer products in the EU goes through the Port of Rotterdam at some point.  Below are pictures from our bike tour of the port.


The Holland Amerika Line was a cargo and transportation fleet originating at the Port that operated from 1873-1989.  It took millions from Europe to America, including many persecuted European Jews before and during WWII.  The Holland Amerika Line building is shown below in the picture on the left.  The logistical center of the port (shown rising above the Holland Amerika Line building in the picture on the left) coordinates all vessel transportation and management of the Port.


Rotterdam truly thrives because of its supply chain management capabilities.  As we learned from our tour of the BMW factory, automobiles produced in Germany are often transported and exported via train.  We had the opportunity to see this firsthand at a train station en route to Rotterdam (see below).

trains ship
Supply chain achievements such as bimodal transportation of cars from factory to rail to the port are what Rotterdam does best


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 are 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).  We didn’t run across cheddar or American cheese, while in Rotterdam, but we found plenty of opportunities to sample Rotterdam De Rotterdamsche Oude.

Typical high-end Rotterdam cheese company

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.  Among other distinctly Dutch items, we had stroopwafel, a Dutch cookie made of caramel and waffles baked in a waffle iron, Dutch bitterballen (gooey meatballs with a crispy coating), and Dutch poffertjes (small pancakes with powdered sugar, which were made 20 at a time by a Dutch food vendor who has sold poffertjes out of the same food stand for over 30 years and who invented an innovative contraption to make them in bulk.


Rotterdam’s newly renovated central train station, our destination point from Hamburg, was constructed in the square-mile area of the City Center district.  This area was completely flattened during the Rotterdam Blitz, the surprise aerial attack by the German air force that occurred on May 14, 1940, in the midst of official German-Dutch negotiations and prompted immediate surrender by the Dutch government.  In their desire to gain immediate control over the integral Port of Rotterdam, the Germans threatened to destroy Amsterdam next if the Dutch did not surrender.  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 photo below shows the students near the statue of 16th century philosopher Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus.  Erasmus is widely considered to be the Dutch George Washington.

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Purdue University students in front of the Erasmus statue in Rotterdam


The Church of St. Lawrence (seen below) is the only medieval building left in Rotterdam.  Interestingly, Erasmus lived a block away from the Church of Lawrence and was born during the initial construction phase of the church.  Below, St. Laurence church after the Rotterdam Blitz (left; picture from Wikipedia) and how it looks today (right).


Rotterdam’s modern architectural look exists only because of the Rotterdam Blitz.  One of these modern buildings is the Markthal (Market Hall, see photo below), a public venue built in 2014 that has been labeled the food mecca of the Netherlands.  It contains 96 restaurants and 228 apartments.  Because Rotterdam’s City Center was rebuilt with mostly office buildings after World War II, 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 infamous cube houses shown below have a typically modern-Rotterdam architecture.


We visited the Windmills at Kinderdyk, which 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 annually to manage the water supply.

windmills group
Purdue University students in front of the Windmills at Kinderdyk


The emphasis on pedestrians and bicycle riders was apparent in our logistics.  Unlike the other cities on the Study Abroad, Rotterdam gives precedence to bikes and pedestrians at all crossings, with the recognizable red bike lanes seemingly everywhere.  In lieu of any specific stop signal, pedestrians and bikes assume the right-of-way, and as such the red bike paths were very noticeable.  Getting around in Rotterdam was a unique experience and stood as a reminder that every city we visited during our trip was different in its own unique way.

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Scene of a typical red concrete Rotterdam bike lane


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 buildings, most of which are over 500 years old.  We had a bit of time to tour the town and its canals in the town center.  The New Church, “Nieuwe Kerk” in Dutch, (below, middle) was constructed in the 12th century.  Its tower, which several students climbed (view from below, left), was constructed in 1356.  William of Orange, who lived there in 1572, led the Dutch resistance in Delft against the Spanish in the Eight Year’s War, and was entombed there in a mausoleum in 1584.  The fish market (below, right) has been in business since the 12th century as well.  Delft is a quiet, slow-moving, quintessentially Dutch town that stood in stark contrast to the modern architecture and fast-moving style of Rotterdam.


A call-back from our visit to Prague involved seeing a Delft University of Technology flag.  Delft University is the largest and oldest Dutch technological university, known for its prowess in engineering and technology.  It is a strategic partner of Czech Technical University, which is a strategic partner of Purdue University.

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Delft University of Technology flag


Built in 1914, the City Hall of Rotterdam (the Stadhuis op Coolsingel in Dutch) is one of the very few buildings in the city to survive the German bombing campaigns in World War II.  Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Mayor of Rotterdam, has an office there.  He is the first immigrant mayor of a major European city.  His family migrated to Amsterdam from Morocco when he was fifteen years old.  His dual citizenship is a point of controversy surrounding him, along with the fact that he is a dedicated fan of Amsterdam’s AFC Ajax, Amsterdam’s local soccer team and rival of Rotterdam teams, and not of Feyenoord, the local Rotterdam favorite.  He regularly frequents local pubs and events and is always willing to chat with anyone, regardless of religion or social status, or to lend himself, physically, in a crisis.  In fact, Aboutaleb has been identified as the “most popular politician” in the Netherlands (Watkins, 2017).  We had an opportunity to tour the Stadhuis op Coolsingel.


It was no surprise that Sir Winston Churchill, hero of World War II and quasi-liberator of the Dutch, was displayed prominently at the Stadhuis op Coolsingel.  However, many were surprised that American George Marshall was also displayed in an equally-prominent position.  George Marshall was a US Army veteran, Chief of Staff to two US presidents, and US Secretary of State (from 1947-1949).  He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.  However, he is best known as the creator of the Marshall Plan, or officially the “European Recovery Program”, which provided American financing to build up war-torn European cities destroyed in the war.  This was another moment that gave many of us great pride in being Americans and made us cognizant of how America has impacted the world for the better throughout its history.

IMG_0876City Hall WinstonGeorge Marshall


It was no coincidence that City Hall survived the German bombs during the Rotterdam Blitz.  German aerial precision strategically spared the City Hall and Post Office, since the records and data kept there would help them identify any supposed political enemies of Germany.  Below is a picture of the outside of City Hall (left) as well as the nearby Post Office (right), with visible bullet holes from when German soldiers invaded the buildings in the immediate aftermath of the Rotterdam Blitz.


Throughout the city are reminders of the Rotterdam Blitz and the city-wide fire that ensued.  Markers at the boundaries of the fire show the perimeters of the fire within the city, as pointed out by our tour guide below.



3) History of Capitalism/Trade:

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 they take advantage of the city’s logistical amenities, including access to efficient water transportation.

Water transportation is an important component of many harbor towns, and Rotterdam is no different.  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.  The Erasmus bridge can be seen from the water taxi (below, upper right).  We also utilized a waterbus to get from point to point on our Port tour (seen in pictures below).  A technological map of the Water Taxi system at the Port of Rotterdam (below, upper left) is an innovative approach to port logistics.


An alert student from Purdue Polytechnic Columbus noted that the Rotterdam water taxis had engines from Columbus, IN-based Cummins (see below).



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



Our hotel was a few blocks away from the Witte de Withstraat (named after Rotterdam’s 1871 Navy), a gentrified street of cafes and galleries that connects the urban-planned Museum Park to the local Maritime Museum.  We had a group dinner at a Japanese restaurant there (which completed a goal of having group dinners at every WWII Axis-country themed restaurant), and I had an enjoyable conversation with a dear Dutch friend who joined us for dinner and engaged that side of the table in some interesting dialogue (below, right).


Some students enjoyed climbing up the tower of the famous Rotterdam Euromast to the 96 meter high observation platform, or “crow’s nest”.  Like Hamburg’s TV tower, this structure provides navigational guidance to its citizens and a beautiful view of the city from above.  It was designed for the Dutch Floriade, an international festival held every 10 years.


We were privileged that a student (Kathryn) had a birthday while in Rotterdam.  We sang to her the typical Happy Birthday song in English, then in Mandarin Chinese (compliments of Rubin), and then in Dutch (compliments of our tour guide).



As is the way with Study Abroads, there were interesting adventures with surprises around every corner.  The following statue pictured below was intended to be a Santa Claus with a Christmas tree.  The locals coined a different name for it, which is not appropriate to repeat in this venue.



Like other aspects of its infrastructure, Rotterdam actively pursues modernization to help facilitate transportation in the city.  Parking meters are modern and electric charging stations are common on the streets.  The Rotterdam Climate Initiative is a comprehensive plan to turn the city green, including the Port.  Below is pictured one of the 1,800 electric car charging stations in the city near parking spots (left), a common smart parking meter in Rotterdam that drivers can locate via GPS if they lose track of their vehicle (middle), and phone charging devices that are conveniently located at local establishments (right).


I would never have had the ability to put this trip together without first taking the plunge with Lambert Doll, with whom I did my best to figure out Dutch culture 21 years ago during our first trip to Europe when we were Purdue students ourselves.  I appreciate how you were always up for an adventure-you are dearly missed.  So much on these trips reminded me of when we faced the same dilemmas 21 years ago, such as how to get around, how to talk to locals, how much constitutes an appropriate gratuity, and so much more.  I’m glad I can pay your zest for life forward to these ambitious Purdue University students.