The fourth and final leg of the trip was to Rotterdam, Netherlands, 499 km 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.” It has been chosen as the host of the 2025 World Expo, an international conference that addresses major global issues. In the past generation visitors have been “drawn to the city because of its new smooth running transportation networks” (Rotterdam Marketing, 2016). The New York Times (2014) included Rotterdam as a top global “Place to Go”, Lonely Planet (2016) named it one of the world’s top 10 cities, and the Independent (2019) listed it among the best European cities to visit. It is quickly becoming a hot tourist destination, with overnight stays in hotels going up by double-digit percentages in recent years (Economische Verkenning Rotterdam, 2016)
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, 2019) but serves as a supply chain epicenter. The Port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and an integral cog in the European supply chain and handles more cargo than any American port. The Port currently boasts “safety, accessibility and sustainability” as key priorities (Port of Rotterdam, 2019). In hopes of becoming the smartest port on earth, Dutch 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). Annually, it sees 323.2 million metric tons of incoming throughput and 145.7 of outgoing throughput (Port of Rotterdam, 2019). 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.
The Dutch are trying to enhance their already vital bicycle culture. Bikes are an important means of transportation for Dutch citizens, and the Dutch zest for innovation has translated into more than 3 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. In 2019, 200,000 of the 8 million cars in the country are already electric. The picture (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 beneath Central Station where we picked up and deposited our bikes and where hundreds of thousands more bikes are secured.
There are said to be 13.5 million active cyclists 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.
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).
2) Cultural Excursions and Immersions:
Our hotel was located on the port’s former wine harbor. All legal wine coming into the city was required to enter via this route. 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 beverage. Many students noted that bottled water and juice were again served in a glass bottle with a separate glass to drink from, like all other cities on our trip.
De Rotterdamsche Oude is a Rotterdam-made cheese developed to compete with the Amsterdam-made cheese that 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).
Our group went on a South Holland Food Tour. Among other distinctly Dutch items, we had stroopwafel (Dutch cookie made of caramel and waffles baked in a waffle iron), Dutch bitterballen (gooey meatballs with a crispy coating), and Dutch-seasoned French fries eaten on a stick, dipped in mayonnaise.
The Holland Amerika Line was a cargo and transportation fleet originating at the Port that operated from 1873-1989. It took millions of travelers 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 far right of the picture) coordinates all vessel transportation and management of the Port. The traditional last-stop of our food tour, the Fenix Food Factory where we had Dutch cheese, is located across the harbor and it is scheduled to be torn down so that a museum dedicated to the Holland Amerika Line can be built.
The photo below shows the students near the statue of sixteenth-century philosopher Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. Erasmus is widely considered to be the Dutch George Washington.
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 on May 14, 1940 during the Rotterdam Blitz, the surprise aerial attack by the German Air Force 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 79th anniversary of the Blitz occurred a few weeks before our visit. 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 in the picture below.
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, the St. Laurence church after the Rotterdam Blitz (right; picture from Wikipedia) and how it looks today (left). The church was intentionally left by the Germans as an aerial landmark.
Rotterdam’s modern architectural look exists only because local leaders decided to rebuild in modern style after the Rotterdam Blitz. An example 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.
We visited the Windmills at Kinderdyk, which are 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 each year. It costs the country €5 billion annually to manage the water supply. We learned that the Dutch are commercializing this area, as we now had to pay €7 per person to see the windmills, and noticed a massive museum being built. Some commented that this is very American.
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 (see picture below). 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, which also accommodate mopeds and and some delivery vehicles like the innovative bike lane-accessible UPS vehicle (see picture below, right). 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.
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. 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.
The first Rotary club in the Netherlands was chartered in 1923. Rotary became so successful in the Netherlands that by 1928, American Rotary founder Paul Harris visited some Dutch Rotary clubs. Today, the Netherlands has 478 clubs around the country. The Rotary meeting we attended was held at the Rhoon Castle, which was built in the 12th century. The program was presented by an employee of Royal Dutch Shell about the company’s future in innovation.
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 business-friendly 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.
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 inter-modal 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 wouldn’t have to travel far for work. Today, student machining and robotics labs work in conjunction with the Innovation Dock’s startup organizations. Students attending different colleges and universities located on or near the harbor are often employed by these startups. We were able to look around at the various projects, including a new energy concept for a Formula 1 vehicle.
As is the way with Study Abroads, there were interesting adventures with surprises around every corner. The statue pictured below was intended to be a Santa Claus with a Christmas tree. The locals commonly refer to it by a different name.
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 are pictured (left to right) a phone charging device commonly located at local establishments, one of the 1,800 electric car charging stations in the city near parking spots, and a smart parking meter that drivers can locate via GPS if they lose track of their vehicle.
Guy Myers never seemed to run out of energy and enthusiasm, and capped off his Central European tower-hopping spree by climbing 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.
Keep exploring!…that’s a wrap.