Sunday, September 03, 2006

Wereldhavendagen 2006

Braving gale force winds I stood on the Erasmusbrug and watched the evening spectacle of this year's Wereldhavendagen (World Harbour Days). Each year, the Port of Rotterdam opens its ports and gates to visitors and numerous festivities and excursions so that ordinary people can explore the Europe's largest and busiest seaport.

The port and the city are alsmost inseperable, and have a history closely tied to the Netherlands' economy and life. The majority of goods that arrive and leave the country go through the harbour, which is connected with an extensive network of railways and roads. Rotterdam itself is a modern city, and the only one in the Netherlands with a skyline of skyscrappers to speak of. 'Thanks' to the Germans who bombarded the city and its strategic harbour till Netherlands capitulated during the Second World War, Rotterdam has had to rebuild itself almost from scratch within the last couple of decades. No wonder this harbour-city with its international connections as well as connections with the rest of the country, is the pride and joy of the city. And the events this weekend celebrate that sense of nostalgia to the past when cruise ships moored on the docks, that sense of achievement you can clearly see when you see the tall skyscrappers compete with giant girafe-like cranes, and the sense of hope as the harbour and the city plans to develop into the future.

Laser lights, skylights, neolights boomboxes and ear-deafening music ushered in the evening's programme at 9pm sharp. The crowd was scarce at the time, perhaps deterred by the overcast skies, and, as soon as I stood still for a couple of minutes to take in the music and light show, the strong, strong winds. At times I couldn't stand still, since the sea winds were so fierce and unrelenting on the bridge. I felt a headache start to creep. I felt myself dread pessimistically the likelihood of me having to wake up in the morning with a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold. Forturnately as I left the house earlier on I decided against wearing just a T-shirt and wore a light-blue turtle neck sweater instead. Couples hid behind each other, embraced one another to keep warm. I embraced the wind that seeped through and triggered goosebumps and slight trembles.

There were different shows, each with very different characteristics. A wonderful 'dance of the cranes', as the gigantic steel storks turned their cumbersome bodies and seemed to gyrate on the spot to the beat of the music. With their massive 'hands' they dug into the river Maas and hoisted tonnes of water into the air. When releashed the water shed like a beautiful shower, sending vapour and moisture plummeting to the river below like a trickling waterfall. Colourful lights shone on the water made it all the more dazzling.

Then there was a choir singing so traditional Dutch hits, most about the life and drudgery of a sailor, about the goodbyes, the longings and the loneliness at sea. To contrast, a live DJ mixed and blasted disco and techno songs into the nightsky, this time with spiralling lights and flashing lasers as the dancers in the air and on the surface of the sea. I stood and could not keep my body from wriggling a bit to the beat of some remixes of songs I liked.

Rounding off the evening, the longest display of fireworks I've ever seen, projecting multi-coloured flashes and deafening explosions into the sky from a barge in the middle of the
river. I was bedazzled by the ever-changing kaleidoscope of shooting stars, giant balls of sparkling fairy dust, eliptical wheels of purple and white, rockets and missiles that soared up into the heavens and exploded with a loud sounding bang, leaving a trail of dense fog and smell of gunpowder. Soon I forget all about the cold, all about the pain of having to stand almost two hours.

Because it was worth it.

Go to my travelog for more pictures!

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