The Green Connection is a platform that tries to connect neighbourhood initiatives and care institutions to work together more closely to improve the health and well-being of residents in Rotterdam West.
Joint efforts of local residents in Rotterdam West yielded something beautiful: a neglected wilderness along the railway has been transformed into a nature reserve. The squatted guardhouse of the Dutch Railways has changed into a cosy community centre. Dutch Railways and Pro Rail didn’t react very supportively on this citizens’ initiative, but they had to admit that something special was created in the heart of the city. That the ‘Railway Garden’ was not a whim, became clear when the first vegetables were harvested here. Locals meet each other in their community centre between the trees.
The need among city dwellers to enjoy nature in their living environment is not surprising. But the fact that this collective desire actually takes shape in the form of green oases in the concrete city jungle is extraordinary. It seemed to good to be true that it would be possible to connect these green neighbourhood initiatives in Rotterdam West. But even that miracle has happened! It is possible to make a circular 8 kilometre green walk. Initiator was The Green Connection, a platform that tries to connect neighbourhood initiatives and care institutions to work together more closely to improve the health and well-being of residents in Rotterdam West. This green route is one of the means to make this happen. The green walking route is displayed in the waiting room of the doctor, and physiotherapists advise their clients to take a nature walk in the city. Children can join in activities such as survival trips, shearing sheep and watching night flies.
I was familiar with the Railway Garden, the Essenburg Garden, the Picking Garden and the Roof Park as separate parts, but the experience of one long forest walk in my own living area was new when my fellow traveller Rommy and I put on our hiking boots. The Essenburg Park has different paths, each with its own character. Blackberries tempt us to be picked, although most of them are out of reach due to the height of the bushes or because of nettles. With a small ferry you can reach the Picking Garden, but you can also walk on and cross the area via various walkways. Benches have been placed to rest and enjoy nature. A few meters higher trains pass on a regular basis. When you leave the Essenburg Park, you see on your right hand a station building that was built in 1903. Beukelsdijk Station was meant to be a part of the railway connection between The Hook of Holland and Germany, but the structure was never used as a station. It is wonderful that it has been preserved as a monument although it could use a fresh coat of paint. You can say the same about the two neighbouring wooden guardian houses.
We cross the Schie via the Beukels Bridge. The next part of the Green Connection starts on an abandoned parking lot, which is only used when football club Sparta plays home games. This is an intriguing transition area. A sandy path runs through the trees, a signal post indicates the former presence of a railway line. The track is still visible on the bridge across the Horvath Way. Due to the abundant plant growth, we expect no longer any train traffic here so that we can continue our walk safely. Through the trees, the familiar image of the Lee Towers at Marconi Square suddenly pops up. I get the strange sensation that walking through nature goes much quicker than crossing ‘normal’ streets in the city. When I see the Justus van Effen complex on the left and the grazing sheep on the other side of the dyke, I really feel like a tourist in my own city.
We approach the probably most famous part of the Green Connection: the Roof Park, that was created on top of a strip of shops. While we climb the slope – which is a unique experience, because where else do you find this in the Netherlands? – we can see on the right side the artists’ colony that makes this formerly degraded part of Rotterdam so attractive. This is where the studios of local artists are located, like Kunst & Complex and Joep van Lieshout who was recently visited by rapper Kanye West. The most eye-catching building is Studio Roosegaarde of artist Daan Roosegaarde, who works with his team on a more attractive world, but who also points his spotlights on the chunks of space scrap that need to be cleared from earth’s orbit. Where man appears, he leaves trash behind. The Roof Park is no exception to that rule. Not only do we see careless leftovers and empty packages on the grass, we even find a collection of shoes.
“When we saw a rabbit during our vacations, we used to stop cycling because that was something special,” tells Rommy. If you were to do that here, you’d better stay, because the rodents are really teeming. The local government have placed noise poles to dislodge them, but the animals seem to be immune to the sound. They look after us as we walk past, not really impressed. The sloping grass is pierced with dozens of rabbit caves. I start humming Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright Eyes’, the theme song of the rabbit animation film Watership Down.
From the Roof Park we have a nice view over the industrial area and the ports behind. A solar-panelled driven pontoon with cows is moored in one of those ports. Talking about city nature! A waterfall cascades from the stairs in the middle of the park. An ideal place to cool off when the summers get hotter in the future. At the edge, not far from the trees, a group of young people gives the impression of camping permanently. The road is descending, so we use completely different leg muscle groups. It is possible to take beautiful pictures from the banks of the marina in the Middenkous where windmill Distilleerketel, Euromast and Erasmus Bridge can be caught in one panoramic image. We ignore the Garden on the Pier ‘where residents of the Loydkwartier can recreate, grow vegetables, herbs and flowers and meet each other’ this time.
We head to Old-Delfshaven where the Pilgrim Fathers left the Netherlands for an uncertain adventure in America, 400 years ago. Many buildings in this area are still authentic: The Pilgrim Father’s Church, various antique and trinket shops, artists’ studios, gin cafés, beer brewers and several restaurants. A less attractive façade is hidden from view by a large picture of artist Kees van Dongen who was born in 1877 in Delfshaven and who, as a painter, had an eye for the beauty of the Aelbrachtkolk. Via the Nieuwe Binnenweg, Heemraads Square and Heemraads Park we reach the last part of the Green Connection: the Heemraadsingel that has been beautiful there for over a hundred years.