De Hoge Heren

The building with Jan in the middle.

When I heard from it ...

Jan van der Meulen will illegally (solo-) climb a building in Rotterdam next Thursday. He visited me two weeks ago and showed me the special homemade hooks he will use for the ascent. He already placed four of them in the lower 12 meters of the ascent route. Posing as a maintenance worker he simply rappelled form the balcony of one of the inhabitants, while that person was looking on! He's got balls! I'll keep you informed. I've taken a day off to go and look at his ascent (and probable arrest).

When I saw it ...

At 10:00 I arrived at the appartment building "De Hoge Heren" near the Erasmus bridge. The building is 100m high and the facade is made out of black segments with a rough, stone-like texture. Narrow vertical and horizontal slits form a grid over the whole wall and serve as hand- and footholds. Still the route is not easy, at least 5c.

There was no one in sight. I drove around and then I saw Jan, decorated like a Christmas tree with slings and gear. He carried an old shopping bag with 110m of rope. For the occasion he was dressed in blue-white striped trousers and a red-white striped sweater. He had an orange helmet on his head. Well, he would be very visible on TV ...

He walked to the starting point, and a small crowd of reporters, camera-men, photographers and journalists followed him. Jan had asked me to distribute his brochures to the onlookers, to film the onlookers and especially to record the police and their reactions. "No need to film me, there will be enough camera's doing that."

An easy job for this climber ...

Jan's entry was quick and simple. Stepping onto a low billboard he climbed onto a roof at 1st floor level. From there he climbed three floors up over a featureless surface. A few days before his climb he had already placed four bolts into the facade and now he used them for protection. It was crucial to cross this part quickly and then he would be out of reach of ordinary ladders.

Jan uses a simple and efficient technique for soloing, but it is difficult to describe in text. He carries a section of rope up with him and attaches it to an anchor at regular intervals. From the fourth floor upwards he used the balcony railings as anchors. He also uses a device that grips the rope in case of a fall. This is not the usual Grigri or Shunt, but an industrial safety device.

 In the mean time the first onlookers gathered. I filmed and interviewed them. All were impressed and sympathetic. "You have to have the guts to do something like this." And: "I wouldn't dare to do it myself."

The climb went quickly and without problems. At regular intervals I called Jan's wife to tell her how her husband was doing. Jan thanked me afterwards for this service, he didn't have the time nor opportunity to call her himself.

Jan got sympathetic reactions from the people along whose balconies he was climbing. He was offered coffee and water. Only on one of the lower balconies an old lady said "I'm going to call the police".

The unavoidable police

When the police arrived Jan was almost finished with his climb. I went to speak with them and I explained that no extra precautions were necessary, and that Jan would be willing to come with them afterwards. They were calm and businesslike and settled down to enjoy the spectacle. One policeman went up onto the roof to watch Jan's progress.

I was surprised by the different reactions of the police and of the caretakers of the building. In private they liked the show and readily admitted that it was good fun. But as soon as a microphone or camera was near they withdrew into their formal, professional attitude: "No comment." and "We'll check if he has done any damage, and then we'll sue him."


Jan climbed over the edge of the roof for symbolic purposes, and then he climbed down again so the camera-men and journalist could interview him from one of the balconies. In the meantime he was hanging from his rope, and talking like a waterfall. He knows how to appear good on TV.

He rappelled down the facade - in two steps, his rope was too short for one rappel - and again was filmed, photographed and interviewed. Meanwhile the police calmly waited for the end of the show. Jan finished his interviews, walked over to the police and was taken into custody. The small police-bus vanished round the corner. "There goes the gladiator" one of the policemen said.

Jan is pulling down the rope after the rappel - and giving a last minute interview before being taken away.

We gathered Jan's gear and rope and put them in his car. I drove to the police station but I was told that they could keep Jan locked-up  for 6 hours and that it was no use waiting for him.

At 17:00 I saw Jan on TV Rijnmond, the local Rotterdam TV station. They had made a nice documentary about the climb, with spectacular shots and an interview. All in all 20 minutes all about Jan van der Meulen. The focus was on the fun and professionalism of illegal climbing, not on the spectacle or the adrenaline rush. A good, balanced piece of journalism. It was aired every hour for two days.

Now Jan has left for Northern Italy, to solo-climb real mountains, higher than 100m. He left a piece of homework for me. I have to call the pilot of the police helicopter, if he has any recordings of Jan's climb ...

Reports and pictures ...

Pictures of the climb (and a Dutch report by Ben van der Ploeg) can be found here:

And here on the site of the Dutch BBC:

Afterwards ...

Jan received two fines of NLG 90 ( 40,80 euro) for his illegal climb. I don't have the precise legal paragraphs but one was related to "climbing an object by the side of the road" and the other to "causing a disturbance". Jan was a bit disappointed with this: "In 20 years of illegal climbing I never got a fine and not this ..." He'll have to pay the fines himself, the climb was not sponsored by anyone.

Jan van der Meulen is Hoogbouw-Ambassadeur

Hoi Petr, Hier gaat ondermeer je belastinggeld naartoe:

Geachte heer Van der Meulen,

Via internet kwam ik uw naam tegen op website over Urban Adventure in
Rotterdam van Petr Kazil. Uw naam herinnerde ik me meteen als de persoon die
deze zomer het nieuws haalde wegens de beklimming van de Hoge Heren in
Rotterdam. Fantastisch nieuws wat dat, omdat ik deze daad ervaar als een
overwinning van de mens op zijn eigen creaties. Wolkenkrabbers worden
hiermee teruggebracht tot een menselijke schaal.

Vanuit de Stichting Wolkenkrabbers Rotterdam organiseren wij publicaties en
bijeenkomsten met als doel kennis over hoogbouw in Rotterdam te organiseren
en verspreiden teneinde te komen tot een succesvolle en doordachte
ontwikkeling van de toren als het symbool van Rotterdam. Onze meeste recente
publicatie is 'Hoogbouw Moet', waarin we een actueel beeld geven van de
ontwikkeling van hoogbouw in Rotterdam. Via deze stichting kunnen wij, een
vijftal personen die professioneel met de ontwikkeling van wolkenkrabbers in
Rotterdam bezig zijn, uiting geven aan ons eigen enthousiasme voor
wolkenkrabbers. Dit enthousiasme delen we graag met een ieder die zich sterk
maakt voor de beleving van de wolkenkrabber in Rotterdam. Dit doen we onder
meer door het aanwijzen van hoogbouwambassadeurs, een voor de persoon
betreffende onvrijwillige benoeming omwille van zijn verdienste met
betrekking op het eerder genoemde. Deze consequentieloze titel belonen wij
graag met een hoogbouwboeket. Wanneer u het ons toestaat sturen wij u graag
een speciaal hiervoor samengestelde plant toe. Hiervoor dienen wij te
beschikken over een adres. Uw voorgangers zijn onder meer Jan Hoogstad, Rem
Koolhaas, de Euromast en Hans Kombrink. Ik zie uw reactie graag tegemoet.

Met vriendelijke groet,

Jan Klerks
Voorzitter Stichting Wolkenkrabbers Rotterdam

Do you know any other climbers like this? Mail me at (obfuscated) kazil a.t euronet d.o.t nl

Back to: Buildering, Urban Adventure Home - 2001 Petr Kazil - 7 July 2001