The Erasmus Bridge celebrates its 25th anniversary! In this collection we take you to 25 memorable moments when ‘the Swan’ was the shining centerpiece. From the arrival in her home port, the opening by Queen Beatrix to the light show during the Eurovision Song Contest.
A spectacular sight on the Nieuwe Maas river! On the 13th of April 1996, witnessed by ten thousand spectators and accompanied by a host of vessels, the pylon of the Erasmus Bridge reached its home in Rotterdam. The pylon was assembled in Vlissingen and transported by ship to Rozenburg, where one of the world’s largest crane vessels lifted the pylon onto a platform and transported it to the site for assembly.
‘Nobody wanted that bridge. Nobody at all! Not the politicians, not the civil servants, not the residents of Rotterdam-North and not the residents of Rotterdam-South. South never visited North, and North ignored South. The shipping magnates regarded the Nieuwe Maas as their personal highway to the sea, a sanctuary exclusively for the use of their ships. The Erasmus Bridge may be an icon now but at the time nobody could see any point in it.’
On Queen’s Day 2015, mayor Aboutaleb received Riek Bakker into the Order of The Netherlands Lion, saying this: ‘Without you, Mrs Bakker, the South Bank and Erasmus Bridge would not be there.’
The Erasmus Bridge was to connect those who lived on the opposite banks in both a literal and figurative sense. To symbolise this thought, a brunch was served from trams to five thousand residents of Rotterdam from both North and South. The tickets for this brunch, which actually took place on the Erasmus Bridge, were sold out within a quarter of an hour. The opening festivities were combined with those of World Port Days, the annual event which allows the public to get to know the Port of Rotterdam.
At the start of the brunch, each guest found a mug on their table bearing the words ‘Erasmus Brunch, 8 September 1996’ for them to keep as a souvenir. And the party wasn’t over after the brunch. On the next day, the Erasmus Bridge became a dance floor for an exuberant dance party, to which everyone was invited. It turned out to be a ‘walking party’ though, because only a maximum of ten thousand people were allowed on the bridge deck at any one time, as it was thought the bridge might be damaged if too many people were leaping about and partying on it.
Tram driver Edwin:
Dynamic Bridge Poem
Thirty-two metres of tram
driven by me across the Erasmus Bridge
to and fro.
My effort is small;
the tram is doing the work
and I am simply enjoying myself.
I am enjoying the ride
driving on the steel shins of the city
spanning two worlds,
South and North
and the bridge is the portal,
here, everything is connected.
Going from Wilhelminaplein
and sometimes to Vasteland.
The view from the Willemsplein
on the other side.
From North to South, and back again;
waiting for the ramp to descend
or just watching it go up,
that means the tram won’t be on time.
Oh well, let’s just watch the boats then
with the RET.
Erasmus himself said
that we are travellers
rather than residents;
that is what the bridge symbolises.
The official opening of the Erasmus Bridge took place on the 4th of September 1996. The cable-stayed bridge, designed by architect Ben van Berkel, soon became popularly known as ‘The Swan’. Queen Beatrix travelled to Rotterdam for the official opening of this second bridge (the Willemsbrug being the first) across the Nieuwe Maas river in Rotterdam. It was a festive occasion, crammed with performances and activities. The RET entrusted tram conductor Kees van der Stel with the auspicious task of making the first tram ride across the bridge, with Queen Beatrix as passenger of honour.
Kees van der Stel:
‘A lot of conductors were keen to do that opening ride with Queen Beatrix. The RET chose me because I had been closely involved with the building of the bridge. Among other things, I had visited the factory to give my opinion of the rail system. My wife and children were so excited! I thought it was a great honour, but I didn’t brag about it; I am quite a sober person. I did wear a special cap though. These caps had originally been purchased in 1975 but they were brought out to be worn again on this special day. On the day itself, everybody was tense; after all, the whole operation obviously had to run like clockwork. The Coolsingel had been cordoned off and there was a massive crowd of people. Queen Beatrix came out of the Town Hall and boarded the tram at its centre, exactly where she would have to get out again to step onto the red carpet. I still remember hearing her say: ‘My word, isn’t it slow’, but I was not allowed to exceed the speed limit of 10 kilometres per hour on the Coolsingel. The departure and arrival times were precisely planned; everything was very closely managed, not least because of the live TV coverage. And as the Queen stepped out of the tram just before the bridge, she gave me quite a friendly nod.’
Distinguished visitors! In 1997, the Netherlands commemorated the Marshall Plan. It was partly thanks to this relief plan that the post-war Netherlands were revitalised fifty years ago. The Marshall Plan was a comprehensive material relief plan which came into effect three years after the Second World War at the initiative of the then American Foreign Secretary, George C. Marshall.
President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary visited Rotterdam to commemorate the anniversary. Bram Peper, former mayor of Rotterdam, and his then wife Neelie Kroes attended the ceremony.
Bram Peper in Gers! Magazine:
‘This was a city bridge, so it was the city itself that needed to raise the necessary funding. We had a budget of 350 million guilders, and going over budget wasn’t common in those days. The Municipal Works department, which had also designed the Willemsbrug, devised a four-pillar bridge that was just within our budget, and then Riek introduced UNStudio’s Ben van Berkel, who designed a curved bridge. Truly superb. Superb and expensive; 45 million guilders too expensive to be precise. Yet we felt that the city deserved that bridge because of what it epitomised. So I had a model made, which we had delivered to the offices of Hanja Maij-Weggen, the then Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management. I said: “Let her get used to the idea, and then I’m sure I can talk her into funding the extra 45 million guilders.” In the jargon of the Ministry, a bridge is termed an artwork. Well, how much art do you want? And you know what – she said yes!’
‘Will the cables hold?’ That was the big question in October 1996 when it became clear that the Erasmus Bridge had started to oscillate in a force 6 wind. The deck of the bridge is suspended on span cables, a bit like the strings of a piano in that they each produce a certain tone. Employees from shock absorber manufacturer Koni of Oud-Beijerland mounted shock absorbers to the span cables of the Erasmus Bridge to absorb these unwanted vibrations. This was a clever technical feat, and one which has since been applied in many other countries!
‘Zouwe de touwe ‘t houwe?’ was written in 1997 by Arie van der Krogt:
‘Is the construction in danger
can you still trust the bridge
or will The Swan collapse?’
At the time, this saying was quite popular among Rotterdam residents.
Skate-surfing on the Erasmus Bridge! Like a number of other municipalities, Rotterdam has experimented with the concept of a car-free Saturday. The Coolsingel, Erasmus Bridge and Boompjes were closed to all traffic to allow the public to experience a car-free city centre.
‘It’s great to see how urgent this topic is right now. Since 2017, Rotterdam has been experimenting with the creation of temporary car-free zones under the title ‘Happy Streets’. We give the streets and squares back to the people for a little while, and we have already done this with a part of the West-Kruiskade and on the Wilhelminapier, Schiedamse Vest, Mariniersweg and Westblaak. We always engage with the residents beforehand about how we should lay out the area, taking account of their wishes and needs.
It’s great to see what happens as soon as streets become car-free; children play in the road and chalk on the pavements, people grab their bikes again and get together in little temporary parks. It creates connection and joy on a grand scale. Green is now more key than ever in new city projects, and cars are, quite literally, being deprived of their right to the road. Not only does that make Rotterdam happier and safer, it also results in better air quality.
In 2003, the Beach on the Maas was launched. Every summer, the Leuvenhoofd was converted into a beach complete with pavilion, and each year, 200,000 visitors came to the Beach to enjoy the ultimate feeling of summer right in the heart of Rotterdam. As well as enjoying the sunshine, food and drink, the beachgoers could also take salsa lessons, attend musical evenings and play beach volleyball. The sixth edition of Beach on the Maas took place in 2008, but due to the poor summer weather of 2007 and 2008, the organisers decided to discontinue the event.
Michel de Hey:
‘The Erasmus Bridge has a special place in my heart. Preforming during the dance parade was legendary but my set under the bridge at ‘Strand aan de Maas’ was also a fantastic experience’.
In the summer of 1997, 40 trucks, followed by 75,000 ecstatically dancing festival visitors, saw the birth of a tradition that would earn Rotterdam the title ‘Dance capital of Europe’. Within just a few editions, the Dance Parade grew into the most prestigious dance event in the Benelux. At its height, 400,000 visitors found their way to Blaak, Coolsingel and the Erasmus Bridge.
‘When the Erasmus Bridge was commissioned, it became clear that the span cables had not been correctly adjusted, so the bridge started to oscillate alarmingly in strong winds. It was closed to the public for some time until the problem was resolved. Eight years later, when the Dance Parade crossed the bridge for the first time, we baptised it ‘the most swinging bridge in the Netherlands’. After that first time, all traffic signs were removed from the Erasmus Bridge prior to the Dance Parade as a precaution, because all those dancing party people caused the bridge to exhibit significant movement, and it was thought that people might panic or even begin to feel seasick because of the swaying of the traffic signs. Eventually, in 2004, 2005 and 2006 hundreds of thousands of dancing people crossed the Erasmus Bridge more or less thunderously in the Dance Parade. The bridge moved up and down about 50 centimetres – that’s a metre in total! According to the experts, the bridge can safely cope with a movement of 1 metre in either direction.’
In October 2005 and 2007, in collaboration with the Dutch Ski Association, Rotterdam, brought winter sports to the Netherlands when the World Cup Snowboarding took place on the Willemsplein. A 100 metre-long, ski-jump with a height of 40 metres was constructed for these competitions.
Did you know…
Using 24 trucks, as much as 1 million litres of snow was transported from SnowWorld Landgraaf to the site in Rotterdam.
The Red Bull Air Race World Championship has taken place twice in Rotterdam; in 2005 and 2008. During this international air race, pilots must steer their aircraft around a defined course as fast as possible. The Rotterdam course had been laid out to include inflatable pylons with a height of about 12 metres. Witnessed by thousands of spectators and reaching dizzying speeds, the stunt pilots negotiated the trickiest of tracks over the Maas near the Erasmus Bridge.
‘When asked by the head of Red Bull in the Netherlands in 2004 if the air race could also take place in the Netherlands, I immediately said: “Absolutely!”.
From an extensive exploration of Dutch landmarks, a favourite emerged: the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam. So we got in touch with the mayor of the city and the chemistry soon turned out to be good. If we could ensure that everything was properly and safely arranged in the air, the mayor would make sure that the services required on the ground would be provided. The Rotterdam way: “action not words”. There are two things I will never forget; the collaboration with the people from Katendrecht and my first landing at Katendrecht International Airport. Notwithstanding some initial protest, the green and white flag was waving, and I was the first person given permission to land at Katendrecht. The second thing I remember well was being in the holding pattern over the Feijenoord stadium, gaining speed before flying under the Erasmus Bridge at a speed of 420 km per hour, my left wing sporting a sticker proclaiming “Rotterdam has the guts”.’
The annual Santa Run was already a well-known phenomenon in cities such as Sydney, Milan, London, Antwerp and Las Vegas, but on the 19th of December 2008, Qmusic brought the event to our port city when a total of 3,000 participants ran across the Erasmus Bridge. The men’s competition was won by Gijs Peters, and top athlete Daphne Panhuijsen came first among the ladies.
Did you know…
According to the BBC, the very first Santa Run in the world took place in 2001 in the Welsh town of Newtown, when 500 people dressed as Santa Claus ran through the streets to raise money for good causes. The Santa Run is not about making the best time, but more about fun and charity, which is why the running times of participants are not registered and all participants can cover the course as they please; walking, running or otherwise.
On the 3rd of July 2010 the 97th edition of the Tour de France started on the Erasmus Bridge.
Hans den Oudendammer:
‘This photograph was taken during the first leg – the prologue or time trial – of the 2010 Tour de France. I still have unforgettable memories of the start of the Tour and of the prologue. I was in the support vehicle with Tour chief Christian Preudhomme, behind the eventual winner, Fabian Cancellara. We set off from Ahoy, and after crossing the Hefbrug and Willemsbrug to Boompjes, we crossed the Erasmus Bridge back to Zuidplein, all in just ten minutes. We raced through the city at an average speed of 50 kilometres an hour. At that speed, this is a tricky circuit by car, let alone by bike and with thousands of supporters lining the route – the whole thing being for their benefit of course!
The start of the second leg moved me deeply. I have vivid memories of the playing of the national anthems of the Netherlands and France by the Dutch Marine Band and the departure of the peloton from the Erasmus Bridge. Those days around the Grand Départ, with a total of nearly a million visitors in Rotterdam, were outstandingly festive! An absolute highlight in the history of the Erasmus Bridge!’
In 2012, the Erasmus Bridge was the scene of the national television spectacle, The Passion, a narration of the story of Jesus Christ. A large stage had been erected under the Erasmus Bridge on the Willemsplein for thousands of spectators. Danny de Munk and Berget Lewis played the main characters, while others, including Frans Bauer, Charly Luske, Pierre Wind and Rotterdam’s own Sander de Kramer, Hugo Borst and John de Wolf, also featured in the cast. At the end of the performance, Danny de Munk appeared at the top of the Erasmus Bridge, singing the Marco Borsato song “Saying goodbye doesn’t exist”.’
Sander de Kramer:
‘The final scene of The Passion, next to and on the Erasmus Bridge, was truly breathtaking. A spectacle of colour and light; Rotterdam in all its glory… Superb, moving music, with an audience of thousands on site and another million and a half people glued to their screens. That night, everyone in the Netherlands fell in love with Rotterdam. I was so moved I had goose bumps all over my body, as it were.’
Formula 1 racing cars careered through Rotterdam during the VKV City Racing, with drivers such as David Coulthard and Fernando Alonso driving along the Hofplein, Willemsbrug and Coolsingel. For many years, this race event had attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors, but there were also many people who greatly disliked all that noise and smell, and Formula 1 racing cars never returned to Rotterdam after the 2014 edition. It was during that last edition that a boyhood dream came true for Max Verstappen, careering across the Erasmus Bridge at 230 kilometres an hour at the age of 16 – and without a driver’s license even. A truly unforgettable ride!
‘I can still remember when the Erasmus Bridge was completely blocked off for five minutes. All of a sudden, there was complete silence until Max’s F1 car started up. I stood there, halfway across the bridge, and I had already figured out my composition and camera settings. You try to imagine the speed in your mind’s eye, but at the instant when he flashes by just a few metres away from you, your heart really starts pounding – not least because you know you have one, and only one, chance to take that picture. That’s an experience I will always remember!’
The Rotterdam Marathon, which took place for the first time in 1981, is known as one of the most outstanding running events in the world. According to insiders, both the view and the atmosphere are unrivalled. The marathon usually takes place in the month of April. Both the start and finish lines are situated on the Coolsingel, in front of the Town Hall. In 2018, however, the start was on the Schiedamsedijk, at the foot of the Erasmus Bridge, which yielded some fine pictures!
In 2018, due to the reconstruction of the Coolsingel, the start of the Rotterdam Marathon was relocated from the Town Hall on the Coolsingel to the Vasteland at the foot of the Erasmus Bridge, making the Erasmus Bridge the symbol of the Rotterdam Marathon more than ever before. So far, 225,015 marathon runners have passed over the 800 metre-long bridge, that’s 450,030 feet. Based on an average step length of 80 centimetres, this amounts to 1,000 steps per runner. Then they come back, of course, which means that more than 450 million steps have been made on the bridge. This equals a distance of 360,024 kilometres, which is nine times around the world.
For nearly fifteen years now, Rotterdam has been organising the annual national firework show. On New Year’s Eve, at precisely midnight, a marvellous spectacle unfolds against the skies above Rotterdam. People from all around travel to Rotterdam and find themselves a place on the Boompjes, Willemskade or Wilhelminapier. A total of no fewer than 70,000 visitors is the highest number registered.
‘There is no other place where fireworks are as impressive as over the Erasmus Bridge. For years on end I just had to be at the Willemskade at midnight, surrounded by friends and my love, invariably with a glass of champagne in my hand. During the countdown, beams of light swing cheerfully up and down from the bridge, there is music and then… the first bangs and a heavenly coloured spectacle in the air that might go on forever. A perfectly orchestrated scene. Then you hear the words: “Welcome to the year 20xx”. This is a magic event, connecting all those present at that moment, and the whole city is bursting with energy and cheerfulness.
Since our son was born, we have taken to a somewhat more domestic celebration of the New Year, but as soon as he is old enough we will take him to the Willemskade. Now we can only hope that the national fireworks will remain in Rotterdam for a very long time.’
The British cruise ship Queen Elizabeth arrives in Rotterdam. Boasting a staff of 997 and room for no fewer than 2,092 passengers, this is the second largest vessel ever built for British-American shipping owner Cunard. Departing from Rotterdam, the ship will be embarking on four cruises this summer. Shortly after this photograph was taken, the vessel set out for its first cruise to the British Isles. These days, cruise ships moor at the Wilhelminakade every week, and their arrival is always announced by a loud and cheerful ship’s horn. Many ships sail to our port city on their maiden voyage and more than 100 vessels moored in Rotterdam during the 2019 cruise season.
Mai Elmar in ‘Our Port’: ‘
There can be no doubt that both the city and the country benefit economically from the growth of cruise tourism. The emotion of Rotterdam residents, however, is really priceless. You can hear a pin drop when the hawsers of a special vessel are cast off. Goose bumps… Rotterdam used to be a kind of “waterfront Schiphol” where you would board a vessel for an emigration or business trip. The introduction of aeroplanes led to a decrease in travel by ship. Today’s cruise ships evoke strong sentiments in the residents of Rotterdam. This became clear when a Holland America Line ship unexpectedly called in Rotterdam some years ago and the quays were crammed with proud Rotterdam residents.’
Did you know that the first of the World Port Days took place as early as 1935? In those days it was still a one-day event, intended to promote the port. The target group was not the public at large, but rather a select group of prominent business relations from home and abroad. The current event, which is aimed more at the general public, came into being in September 1978, and these days everybody can enjoy the spectacular demonstrations on the quays and in the water. Visitors can view vessels and participate in interesting trips exploring the port area.
Sabine Bruijnincx in ‘Our Port’:
‘As the port has increasingly moved from the city centre to the Europoort, it has also been out of mind to some extent; it has become more abstract. During the World Port Days we get the port back into the city, so that young and old alike can get to know this huge industry in an enjoyable and informative way.
In recent years, the focus has admittedly been on younger people; after all, they are the future of our port and we want them to experience it. Often, they don’t have a clue what goes on there, because if you are not involved with the port or don’t know anyone who is, then you probably never go there. People sometimes have the idea that the port only provides jobs that involve heavy physical work, and young people are often amazed when they see how technical and modern port life really is, for instance, how cranes are operated using joysticks.’
Rotterdam Pride is the annual event for LHBTIQ+, which has been organised in the city since 2014. Rotterdam Pride is for all those who want to celebrate the freedom of sexual diversity. Among other things, the event features an arts and cultural programme and the pride walk, as well as a multitude of parties right in the centre of Rotterdam. In 2019 the Erasmus Bridge featured the rainbow colours on the occasion of the sixth edition of Rotterdam Pride.
The horrendous death of George Floyd was followed by worldwide protests against racism and police violence. In Rotterdam, it was at the Erasmus Bridge that hundreds of demonstrators gathered in spite of the lockdown to express their support and to make themselves heard. Rotterdam, home to more than 170 cultures, is a truly multicultural city where equality and equal opportunities are more essential now than ever before.
On the 5th of May 2020, 300 lighted drones representing a flock of starlings flew over Rotterdam. An aerial ballet. Studio DRIFT and Mothership aimed to raise the spirits of Rotterdam residents by means of this symbol of freedom and hope. Residents could watch the scene using a live stream on TV and online, and in this way, could still enjoy and experience Liberation Day together.
Four Greenpeace climate activists attempt to reach the top of the Erasmus Bridge. The climbers are asking Prime Minister Mark Rutte to commit himself to climate action by means of this peaceful protest. This week, European government leaders are meeting together to discuss climate legislation. EU countries have already agreed that CO2 emissions must have been reduced by 40% by 2030.
Did you know…
‘Circular’ will be the Rotterdam standard in 2030. Rotterdam has everything it takes to make big steps towards a circular society, and its ambitions are just as big, to say the least. We want to see a 50% reduction in the use of fossil fuel resources by 2030, and in the process, the city is committed to a growth of between 3,500 to 7,000 jobs that will contribute directly to the circular economy. The Rotterdam community will be well and truly circular by 2050, by which time material cycles will all have been closed. Obviously, ‘circular’ will also have to be the standard for the building industry, not least because more than 60% of all waste stems from construction. The municipality wants both new and renovated buildings to be constructed from nothing but existing materials by 2050.
At the touch of a button by Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Erasmus Bridge was illuminated in honour of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. This happened during a live broadcast of the TV programme ‘Beau’. Host Beau van Erven Dorens drove the mayor to the Erasmus Bridge in a tuktuk from the Walhalla Theatre, where the studio was temporarily housed at the time. All the usual lighting on the bridge had been completely extinguished for the occasion in order to enhance the spectacular effect, and after the button had been pressed, the bridge didn’t just light up; thanks to the spotlights on the side, ‘The Swan’ looked as if she was flying.
‘The Erasmus Bridge is not just a connection between river banks; it connects all the cultures of the world.’