Rotterdam once had a vibrant, historic city centre. Oude Binnenweg is the only pre-war shopping street remaining from that time. Let’s explore this special part of town with its Art Nouveau features, famous old pubs and trendy shops.
Words: Evelien Baks
It may be a small street, but it has a great history, if only for the fact that it was one of the first areas in Rotterdam to have asphalt used as paving material. More importantly though, Oude Binnenweg is Rotterdam’s only remaining pre-war shopping street. As a result of the German bombardment in May of 1940, the city’s centre was almost completely leveled. Miraculously, a small area between Karel Doormanstraat and Mauritsweg was spared, providing a glimpse back to a time when Rotterdam – like Amsterdam and Delft – was full of canals flanked by flourishing shopping streets. Indeed, there’s a rich history to be discovered just around the corner from Mauritsweg!
For centuries, Binnenweg, a long-established thoroughfare, was the connecting road between Rotterdam and Delfshaven. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ parts of Binnenweg were created, forming two streets, each with its own unique identity. If there’s mention of Jugendstil and cosy ambiance, then that would be in reference to Oude Binnenweg, while the broader Nieuwe Binnenweg has a more modern allure.
Oude Binnenweg may not be long, but that doesn’t mean it is short on experiences. On the contrary. A good way to become acquainted with the street’s charms is to visit the Melief Bender, a pub steeped in history. Not only is it one of Rotterdam’s oldest ‘brown cafés’ but after 144 years of trade, it is one of its best known. Order a serving of good old-fashioned beef sausage or try the famous Rotterdam bitterballen.
Since the 1930s, this busy pub has borne the name of its previous owners, Mr. Melief and Mrs. Bender. Prior to that, it operated under the name of Café du Lion d’Or. After the Second World War, the pub became a popular hangout for artists and journalists. Similarly, café Timmer was another iconic café on the street. In this almost 150-year-old, long, thin café, poets sat and pondered the meaning of life deep into the night and world politics were discussed at the bar.
An institution of a completely different order is the more than 90-year-old shop, De Spijkermand, a hardware store selling everything from scissors and swords to bolts and binoculars.
Fikkie the dog
Sitting outside Café Timmer is possibly the most stroked statue in Rotterdam. Fikkie, a bronze sculpture of a little dog (including poop) is a favourite of students who gather annually to give him a bath and a hug. Most probably, they can also be held accountable for his periodic disappearances.
Stroll on to the meters-high black Santa Claus sculpture located at the top of the street – an artwork that caused a bit of a ruckus prior to its installation there, thanks to the sturdy butt plug the gnome-like figure has clasped in his hand.
Up until World War II (1940-45), Oude Binnenweg, with its department stores, cinemas and jazz clubs, was one of Rotterdam’s liveliest streets. These days there’s a range of nice little shops and a famous ice-cream parlour housed behind restored Jugendstil façades. Gaze up at the cheese shop’s façade and notice the ornate Art Nouveau lettering advertising butter, milk, cheese and eggs. Opposite, more design features from the late 19th century can be seen in the windows and building façades.
Take the time to browse the shops. From fashion and flowers to books, art and ‘made in Rotterdam’ design items – there’s something for everyone on Oude Binnenweg.