Frame talks to...
Harry-Jan Bus, pioneer of the ‘Kaap’

Almost every citizen of Rotterdam knows him: the cheerful Harry-Jan Bus (58) from Katendrecht. With the arsenal of initiatives he undertook there, he can rightfully be labeled as a pioneer of the ‘Kaap’. Frame visited him and asked about his vision for the future Rijnhaven District.

Just to be sure, let's start with a brief introduction. Harry-Jan is founder and director of Theater Walhalla, founder and co-owner of restaurant De Matroos and the Girl, initiator of De Nacht van de Kaap, the Ronde van Katendrecht, the Kid Dynamite Jazz Festival and the Welcome Home Street Theater Festival. He also belongs to the successful Rotterdam cabaret trio De Tunes.

Do we have a complete list with this? ‘Yes, that's all right, but I didn't do it alone. Together with my wife, Rachel van Olm, I embarked on this adventure. We are really a team, she focuses on the artistic side and I focus more on the business side. We are also still co-owner of “De Matroos en het Meisje”, together with Eva Eekman. When we started on Katendrecht more than ten years ago, it was still a gribus. Yet this seemed to us to be the perfect location to attract an audience in an accessible way. You often let people rediscover such a place in the form of festivals, art and culture. Apart from the theater, we thought it was very important that a healthy business climate should prevail, so we also set up a business association in 2009’, says Harry-Jan.

The step from the village of Stampersgat in Brabant to the raw Katendrecht is at least remarkable, how did you end up here? ‘At the age of 18 I went to Rotterdam to study. I was not a boy who often came to the South, I mainly stayed in the center. Until I got a part-time job at a meat trade that supplied meat to Chinese restaurants, there were a lot of them at Katendrecht at the time. That's how I ended up there for the first time and I was immediately impressed. Back then it was still the red-light district of the city; I immediately thought it was a very exciting, colorful place and it has always stayed with me. The “Kaap” has a unique history; the free-spirited population, the sailors, the whores, the cafes ... It is a place with a story.’

What do you think about the fact that Frame focuses on the higher and luxury segment with the development of the Rijnhaven District? ‘I think that is actually just as tough as our choice at the time to set up Walhalla here. Everyone pointed to his forehead when hearing that idea. “A theater at Katendrecht? Man, that will not work, nobody will go there.” We have now proven the opposite and I am quite proud of that. Frame, like me, believes in the power of this area, I admire her plans a lot. I think it is daring, but I understand it completely. When we gave performances here in 2010, very few people from the city knew this place. At the end of such a show we opened the curtains and you had a view of the skyline. Some people in the tribune started crying with emotion, with pride, with the "this is our city" feeling. That is priceless. I think that is exactly how Frame feels. The fact that the most expensive penthouse in the Netherlands will be here soon is almost symbolic for the change that Katendrecht has gone through, but at the same time very typical: the “Kaap” continues to surprise.’

'In ten years this will be the nicest village in the city of Rotterdam. I'm really convinced of that.'

Do you agree with the criticism that Katendrecht would no longer be affordable for the 'ordinary' Rotterdammer? ‘What I find particularly important in that context is that developers must ensure that they do not push the pioneers, like me, out of the area once their development becomes a success. Then you do not recognize the role of the pioneer. My call would therefore be: make sure that you also provide social and cultural functions. I also expect that the residents of Bay House and the surrounding new residential complexes will soon enjoy visiting shows in Walhalla, for example.’

How would you like to contribute to the Rijnhaven District? ‘My biggest wish is to make a theater with a middle room for around 500 seats. With Walhalla we now have a room for 80 seats and a room for 170 seats, but what Rotterdam misses is a middle room. For the artists that perform with us, the step to the Luxor Theater is simply too big. We have researched it and all our stakeholders are saying it: the time is right.’

What do you think the Rijnhaven District will mean for Rotterdam as a city? ‘It will be the new center. You just feel it. The attraction of the water, the Erasmus Bridge, the Wilhelminapier and the Rijnhaven Bridge; Katendrecht and the Wilhelmina Pier are very different, yet complementary to each other. That is what makes it so interesting.’

There are many ideas about the area development of the Rijnhaven, how do think about that? ‘I am happy with the plans for the development, but I would think it would be terrible if there were only houses. Space has an enormous quality. You need that for a nice walk and to recreate. It would be great if you could just sail in with your own boat and moor it. And that may well be in addition to a € 20 million yacht from Saudi Arabia. I like going from one sphere to the other. My preference is therefore for a varied program, with a lot of attention for the plinth in which there is room for craftsmanship.’

Finally: what do you think this area will look like in ten years? ‘Then the population has doubled and this is a wonderful place to grow up and get inspiration. But above all, it is then the nicest village within the city of Rotterdam. I'm really convinced of that.’

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