Have you ever seen a news report which only names an area and only shows a photo of a building but you know exactly where it is - to the point of being able to name the exact street - even though you have not been in the exact place the photo was taken from for over 30 years??? Or am I finally going completely mad???
On Sunday afternoon I was looking at the website for NOS (Dutch State News Broadcaster) when I saw a headline about some flats in Rotterdam being involved in a gas explosion. Now, anything which mentions Rotterdam gets my interest going. So I clicked on the headline and started to read the article. I thought the block of flats in the photo looked familiar. Then the place name "Schiebroek" passed my eyes. I was absolutely positive I could name the street those flats were on but I was scared of being proved correct. Unfortunately, later reports confirmed my worst fears (as did one of my Mum's cousins who had seen a status I had put on Facebook about it).
Schiebroek is a suburb of Rotterdam which you could say I have had a very strong connection with in the past (and I still have very fond memories of the place). In fact, up until I was around 10 years old, it had quite a lot in common with where I am living now - its inhabitants included one of my grandparents. I can actually be more specific than that. The street which had the flats affected by the gas explosion (Moddermanstraat) was the exact street where Oma lived.
I have written bits and peices about the first flat I remember Oma living in (mostly in the original Inkyworld blog) but I hope you will forgive my trip down Memory Lane this once?
Not only did Schiebroek contain Oma's flat. It also had a couple of other things in common with the suburb of Leicester my English Grandparents lived in. Both halves of my Grandparents (English and Dutch) lived around the corner from a row of shops. Both places also either contained or had contained a tram terminus (Leicester's trams had disappeared a long time before I was born but you can still get on a Lijn 25 - used to be a Lijn 5 - tram outside Rotterdam Central Station to take you to Schiebroek). That was how I knew I was going "home" when I was a little girl - stand me facing the Central Station at a stop for the Lijn 5 tram and I was happy. (My love of "oneandahalf buses" - what English people, for some strange reason, insist on calling "Bendy Buses" even though it is the rubber bit that bends and not the bus itself - came later.)
Although if the same thing happened in the house my English Grandparents lived in at that time as has apparently happened to Oma's flat in Schiebroek I would be very worried indeed. Second thoughts - I would have to move back in with my Dad as I am currently living in that house. In fact, as I was thinking about typing this blogpost I suddenly realised that out of my parents, Grandparents, and me, my English Grandad is the only one who never lived outside the city limits of his hometown.)
The first thing to strike me about the flats was the hospital type doors you had to go through to get to the stairs. Thick wooden doors in dark brown with a small window in each and diagonal metal handles which met in the middle.
Once you had got through those you had the letterboxes on your right, the stairs on your left, and the entrance to the cellars in front of you. Go up one flight of stairs - put suitcase down, turn self round 90 degrees to your right, pick suitcase up, walk forwards five paces, and repeat first two steps - proceed up second flight of stairs and exit doors in front of you. Please note - the only illumination you get will be from the handily positioned light in front of the doorway on the walkway. (Luckily for me it was my Dad who had to carry the big brown suitcase which necessitated the maneouvers to get from the main entrance to the first floor walkway.) Turn left and - in my case - start running or walk quickly towards the lady standing outside one of the flats. You have now reached Number 47 - otherwise known as your destination.
Moddermanstraat 47 was a "House of Surprises" as far as I was concerned. Surprises ranging from homenade dresses and other clothes (I remember two dresses with patterns which reminded me of Licorice All-Sorts), as well as rollerskating down the hallway, and running a toy car down the same hallway (that car was a realistic model of a sportscar - although, I did get a shock when my Grandad ended up buying a car which looked almost identical a few years later).
I can still remember the layout of the flat even now. The first door on your right as you entered the flat was the kitchen with its net in the window of the door (red, yellow, and blue polka dots) - not forgetting the scary water heater from Hell with its open flame over the hot water tap. Next door you had the toilet. Then you had the bathroom/ Straight in front of the front door you had the living room. On the right of the front door you had the dining room (where Oma and I slept when my parents and I visited her). Next door to that you had Oma's bedroom (which my parents slept in when we visited) which opened onto a balcony.
Funnily enough the only thing I actually miss about that flat is one of the few items which didn't manage to make it to my Dad's house after Oma died but did make it to Oma's last flat (or - to be totally honest - one of them did) . It also happens to be the one thing I found seriously painful in warm weather.
Oma had a set of dining room chairs which resembled four-legged versions of typists chairs - with faux leather (probably vinyl) coverings on the seat and back. Peeling your thighs off them in hot weather was painful in the extreme if you were wearing shorts. I was glad when they were upgraded to upholstered chairs when she moved - although she did keep one in her last flat.
I was really sad when she moved away from Schiebroek (not only because the English translation sounds as crazy as the original. "Schie" - pronounced "Ski" is a river and "broek" - pronounced "brook" - are trousers). She moved to sheltered accommodation in a place which was nowhere near as fun to get to by public transport. Put it this way - if a car or a bus starts driving along railway tracks there is something wrong somewhere - if a car or bus starts driving along tramlines it is normal (just make sure a tram isn't heading straight for you). Getting there by car wasn't that much more interesting - well, the only landmark there was was a sign for a "Colourroll" superstore or some kind of carpet warehouse shop. Her new flat was outside Rotterdam.
I almost forgot. The Sheltered Accommodation Oma moved to was called "Bermensteyn". However, that name never made it onto the address portion of any mail she recieved - it was always "Bazuin" (or bassoon) - which was the name of the street.
The only memorable thing about "Bermensteyn" as far as I am concerned was actually a matter of some dispute (as in my parents and Oma didn't believe it happened but I know it did and it has put me off multiple door entry intercom systems for life).
In order to get into "Bermensteyn" you had to press a button on an enormous intercom panel - there were well over 100 flats with well over 100 corresponding buttons on this panel - and wait for the resident of the flat to let you in (or whoever was in the flat). One day I was returning from somewhere and I pressed the button for someone to let me into the building. Whilst I was waiting for an answer the panel seemed to come to life with a man and a woman talking away to each other in Dutch. I have been wary of those things ever since!!!
I may never be able to buy Moddermanstraat 47, Schiebroek, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, as I don't know if it is now going to be demolished - but I can be happy with the thought that I have at least been able to stay in the flat of my dreams!!!
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