No ballz exploration - April 2007
I wanted to start a discussion about other forms of urban exploration. My thesis is that you don’t need the spectacular sites (drains, abandonments etc.) to find surprises. If you search and look hard enough you can be surprised just around the corner.

This is the report of a random urban bike tour I took yesterday. I hope it is a little bit interesting. Whether I fail or not - I enjoyed the trip and writing the report. I’m very interested in your opinions.

The expedition started with a positive sign. At the A. van Solmslaan I saw this removed graffiti. I like this kind of “buffing” very much. It does not really obliterate the graffiti, but recreates a new kind of abstract, legalized graffiti. Actually, it is often more interesting than the original. It is becoming rare, because cleaning methods that completely remove the graffiti are more popular.
I entered the Waterloostraat, because it was the narrowest street and I had never gone through it before. It was a nice weird street with a few old-time shops like this plumber.
I saw a nice window of a deserted living room and a big trash heap. I’m reading a book on urban scavenging right now so I inspected the heap.
I was not alone, another scavenger was also very interested. Secretly I took a quick snapshot of him. There was not much that I could use, but I was very interested in the video tapes that had been thrown out. Most of it was Star Trek copied from television. I took one video labelled “Jasper”, hoping that those were the family’s baby videos, but the tape only held more Star Trek.
I took another tape labelled “Guilty landscape / Armando” and “It thunders”. I assumed that this would contain work by the Dutch artist Armando who sees some trees and landscapes as “guilty”, because they’ve seen evil, but remain silent. But the tape only contains silent and very slow shots of dune landscapes. Curious.
If I had a bigger house I would have taken this headless Donald Duck phone with me. An eerie object, that would surely haunt me at night. Notice the clam shell with the big eyes.
A few minutes later I found a whole block of deserted buildings. They are being renovated, the authentic facades will stay, but the innards will be completely rebuilt. A very interesting and unexpected spot, with the ruin-walls and ping-pong tables. I hope these will survive the renovation.
We jump west. The Dijkstraat is so boring that it almost becomes interesting. But above every door is scene from some fairy tale. I saw Little Red Hood, The Evil Stepmother, The Wolf and I suppose these are Seven Leagues boots.
At the end of the Vlinderstraat is a weird back-alley that unfolds into a private back garden. It is secured by fences or walls on all sides, and the fences are securely locked. Erosion of public space?
The Oostzeedijk and the Oosteinde hold some old houses with rich decorations. I even found a few new “Green Men” for the collection.
We jump west again. In the Halhof I discovered a new “Entrance to Hell” for my own local collection of Dutch entrances. I suspect that this is the infamous “Treek” entrance used by asymmetrical Zigzag Religion Tops. John the Fortean has been searching for this one a long time, but he thought it would be made of bronze, not steel.
A few backsides later I saw this picture leaning against a window. “That’s old” I thought, but then I saw it was the back-side of the painting. The office space was deserted and I walked around the block to see the front side of the painting. But I couldn’t see it better than this.
There is some original graffiti in these back alleys. You don’t see much graffiti in chalk anymore. And it was the first time I saw graffiti in chewing gum. I still don’t know what the alien creature and “clothes protect the weak” is meant to mean. Google shows it as a slogan on a scooter site, makes sense there …
Skip a small distance north. Here in the Jonker Fransstraat was the computer shop of “Crazy Hans” but it has been gone a few years. I miss the weird chaotic shop where you never saw the difference between new and second-hand stuff. And their slogan: “Why should you pay more than at that bald one!” I was very glad that someone still had a picture online. Now there are just some trendy furniture shops and a bicycle shop. Nothing interesting.
Go north further. The Noordplein is the entrance to a poorer, but more interesting part of Rotterdam. The Noordmolenstraat is an exciting shopping area. Most shops are mid-sized family enterprises run by either old-time Rotterdammers or immigrants from the Mediterranean. It’s a visually interesting cultural melting pot, much more interesting that the center of town with it’s predictable logo shopping malls.
An authentic painted sign advertising the state lottery. When did Rotterdam have just five numbers in it’s telephone numbers? Now it has seven.

And when did bank accounts have just six numbers? Now they have seven or more.

Twenty years ago I used to shop for electronic components here. The "Van Embden" shop is still there. But you can't buy a transistor anymore. They sell sound systems, disco lighting and 220 Volt supplies now.
I thought hand-painted signs had died out many years ago, but here I saw many. A deserted bar still has this festive ceramic tile from 1969.
The street is full of contrasts. Crumbling buildings opposite a relatively chic antiques shop. I will return to this street for more pictures. I stopped at a Turkish bakery and bought a Turkish pizza with a Surinam fizzy drink and felt like I was in a New York suburb.
Just around the corner, Bergweg. I love the name of the video rental store the “Vidiot”. They have a Don Martin-like TV-watcher as their logo. When this shop is gone I’ll miss it just as much as Crazy Hans. Just for the name. Another hand-painted sign in front of a burnt-out parking lot.
The Bergweg is actually a very nice street with oldish (100 years old) houses. But you don’t really notice because it has awfully busy traffic through it. It should be a calm country lane, more like the ‘s Gravenweg near Capelle.

No Green Men here, but nice floral decorations.

The a U-turn into the Benthuizerstraat. This is one of my most favourite streets, because it has so much variety. I’m intrigued by the exotic “calling houses” and Internet cafes. These places are hotbeds of money laundering. They have a lot of atmosphere but I would feel out of place inside.

Actually, this is the same area where Wilfried Houjebek organized one of his psychogeographic experiments. My report of that evening is here:

My most favourite shop in Rotterdam, although I’ve never been inside. It sells only wheels. I like their slogan too: “Why carry anything if you can put wheels under it?” Their website says they’ve been here since 1922!
Turn left into the Zaagmolenstraat. Just around the corner is a second- hand bookshop called Atlas. (Incidentally, the same name as one of the calling houses above.) After I came in, the (lady-) owner locked the door and said: “Don’t worry, I’m not locking you in, but it’s more relaxed this way, isn’t it?” It’s a very good bookshop, with lots of books about Rotterdam, art and travel, high quality stuff. I bought two Rotterdam yearbooks (1954 and 1964) for just 20 cents each and a classic Dutch amateur geology book that I had been hunting a long time. But that one cost 18 euro. The lady certainly knows the value of what she sells.
The Zaagmolenstraat is one of those streets with one-man car-repair shops and even yard sales. I have to walk here more, because I don’t understand it very much.

But it still has many pleasant surprises, like this pair of Green Men.

And this wonderful improvised sign for a ceramic-tile shop. It is so very non-Dutch.
Making the more than 100 pictures, selecting the best ones and writing the report probably took me eight hours or more. Four hours to explore, four hours to write. So with all this investment this story should end in a grand finale. But it won’t.
The Wolstraat is a curious construction and just around the corner I found this intriguing picture. Is it child’s play, or is this the (Keith Haring-like) work of a professional artist? What is happening here?
But then, just around the corner blocks of houses have been demolished. I hope something worth-while will return in their place. And I hope not more of Rotterdam will disappear, just like Crazy Hans has disappeared.


Petr Kazil - April 2007
Adventure art - Buildering - Jan van der Meulen - Deserted - Underground - Remarkable - Curiosities - Ghosthunt - Graffiti - Borders