A visit to the Hef Rotterdam

De Museologue @ De Hef

Rotterdam has an epic bridge; the Hef. This lift bridge is out of use, but remains in place, forever lifted to its highest position. As a watchman and a reminder of Rotterdam’s history, it stays there untouched. Until today. As I happen to run into the person with a key, I am invited to take a peek inside the operator’s room. And as if that wasn’t being lucky enough we climbed its dazzling stairs right at the moment of sunset. The result is a series of my richest vistas over Rotterdam. Like, ever.

So what does this bridge look like? As it used to be a railway bridge it is hugely unfriendly to anyone afraid of heights. But if that doesn’t stop you, it offers a unique view over the tracks that seem to stop in thin air, as the middle of the bridge is lifted. Walking up, we arrive to the operator’s room. Everything here is original; the Gipsen chair with damaged fabric, the levers that pull the bridge up and down, and the only key for this operation, typically shaped to prevent copying. And over the bridge itself we find the chains, weights and contra weights, weighing tons of kilos but looking perfectly tended.

I remember when the bridge was lifted in 1993. I was six years old and it was the talk of town, and I didn’t even grow up in Rotterdam city. It was because they built an underground railroad, connecting Rotterdam with Breda and beyond, a modern concept at the time. It shaped Blaak, the square that now houses the train station, Saturday market, and that is surrounded by remarkable architecture (Cube houses, library building, the “crayon” and since recently the Market Hall). Before, the railroad was dividing the square in two, because it used to be above the ground.

Today it’s waiting up there, only coming down when it’s really stormy weather. It happened last November. It’s a bad omen when it does, warning town about what’s coming. Who knows what will come of it in the future. Plenty of ideas have swirmed creative minds, but noone has offered city hall a convincing enough plan. As of now, the 19th century bridge (with the lifting part added in 1927) is a hint: ‘psshhht, Rotterdam has a history too!’

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