Pop stage Annabel is closed, the HipHopHuis turned off the lights months ago and the Biergarten has closed the open-air bar behind man-sized crush barriers. Since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, it has been dark behind Rotterdam Central Station between eleven o’clock in the evening and five o’clock in the morning.
The night is gone from life. Or, as a visitor to the Rotterdam underground bar POING, a little further away, snidely remarks: life has disappeared from the night. And the worst part, they say, is that hardly anyone seems to care.
Take the press conference last Tuesday. There, one line appeared on the screen: “Nightclubs remain closed.” They could do it with that, says Timo Koren, lecturer in cultural history at Erasmus University. In 2019 he researched nightclubs in Amsterdam.
They are called nocturnal animals, the people whose lives mainly take place between eleven o’clock in the evening and five o’clock in the morning. For them, these are often the most important hours of the day.
Thys Boer heads the N8W8 Rotterdam foundation, an independent advisory body that promotes nightlife. According to him, the nightlife ensures talent development, employment, social cohesion and increases the attractiveness of the city. What the night means to himself? “During the day my to-do list is full, at night I don’t need anything from a list.”
The nocturnal animals all find nightlife important, for the same reasons. During the night they got to know themselves, got to know other cultures, they feel connected, the most beautiful plans are created, there is room to experiment.
Ask Ofra Beenen, disc jockey and co-founder of online radio station Operator: „I got my first kiss in the club, and then other (love) relationships followed. But now everyone is on an app. That cannot be the intention.”
Or to Marcel Haug, owner of the comedy club of the same name. “The night breaks through ranks and ranks. I learned a lot about social interaction.”
Often they do not know where the night will end and who they will meet. But that is no longer possible in a life where for two years every coincidence has been demolished from the meeting.
It leads to loneliness, Raven van Dorst sees. For the TV series nocturnal animals the Rotterdam musician drives through the night, but in the last two seasons the night is almost empty. The few people that the non-binary Van Dorst does meet, often struggle with their demons, he says. “They’re looking to connect, but there’s no one in town, so they’re alone until dawn, with their worries.”
Until the corona crisis, Van Dorst himself also lived mainly at night. “I prefer to be on a stage, and then smell nice in a van.” But the European tour, which was to follow an album released just before the pandemic, was rescheduled three times. In the end, Van Dorst canceled it. “With every cancellation I got a dent in my energy.” Then, after a deep sigh: “Did we make that whole record for jan cock.”
brave civilian men
It is not surprising that nightlife does not play a prominent role during the corona pandemic. At the end of the 1990s, when nightlife was mainly linked to excessive drug use, the national government transferred nighttime policy to the municipalities. They then, in accordance with the then acclaimed theory of the American sociologist Richard Florida, use the nightlife to attract a creative class to the city, to boost tourism and thus make the city more interesting for investors. “They weren’t interested in the social value of nightlife.”
The night culture, he just wants to say, has long been out of the picture at Rutte cs. In addition, the people from the nightlife rebel against the bourgeois culture. And then they would suddenly have to ask for help from those good bourgeois men? “No, they think: throw things open as soon as possible, then we’ll arrange it ourselves.”
“What can you expect from a prime minister who talks about discos,” says Thys Boer. He sits at the bar of POING, which, in view of the early closing, is already full at eight o’clock in the evening. “The citizen who makes the policy has won.” Boer points to the open churches; no one talks about that anymore. But that the nightlife is also a kind of religion, that the club is a community center is? “That’s not getting through.”
Also read: The abolition of the night shows the dominance of the common man
“The fact that the night culture is not recognized as a culture has been confirmed in this pandemic,” said Ofra Beenen over the phone. She is on her way to a party in Amsterdam. Beenen, who is also a part-time teacher at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, sees the consequences for her students. Many of them suffer from a burnout or, as she calls it, a bore out. “They are not stimulated enough. Sitting with their parents in Capelle aan den IJssel or in a student house, seeing the same people over and over, don’t push any boundaries. They miss a lot in their development.”
This is also experienced by Maxime Lems, student at the Willem de Kooning Academy and barmaid at comedy club Haug. She was nineteen when the pandemic started, she was just getting started in the nightlife. Learned to express himself there, adopted a different, more daring clothing style. “I looked at others and thought: so you can look like that too!”
When the night closed, it turned out doubly bad for Maxime. Not only because she could no longer go to a cafe and club, but also because she studies leisure & events management – but those events no longer took place. “Suddenly I thought: what am I doing this for? I did a lot of desk research, but I didn’t go out.”
Also read: Every clubber knows you can have spiritual experiences on the dance floor
She now works part-time in the comedy club of Marcel Haug and Debbie van Polanen. They realized their dream, their own comedy club, in the course of 2019. Started in a temporary building, after four months they moved to the current accommodation, at the foot of the Willemsbrug. It was a year in which they invested a lot and earned little. That was supposed to happen in 2020, but then corona struck. The club closed, the staff went home and Marcel and Debbie stared numbly from an empty hall over the Maas.
They say they received little government support. After all, it is based on the turnover in 2019, and that’s when they just started.
Political hot flash
They reopened last weekend, with two shows until 10pm and a show on Sunday afternoon. But their plans for late night stand up comedy show still seem a long way off. Late night comedy has its own dynamic, they know. “The comedian, who appears in the regular theater after his show, is more uninhibited, the audience is looser, the boundaries are blurred.” Great shows, says Haug, who previously booked comedians for festival and TV but when he can host them in their club – no idea.
Thys Boer also does not dare to predict when the night will open. But when the time comes, it will be a storm, he says. And then a debacle like last year (‘dancing with Jansen’, as Hugo de Jonge said) is lurking. A political hot flash, Boer calls this opening, intended to gain a white foot in the public eye. That is why science must first say what must be done, and the entrepreneur what is possible. “Because a nightlife with one and a half meters, a mouth cap and a mandatory seat is a surrogate nightlife. That cannot flourish.”
The night must be arranged differently, says Raven van Dorst. To start with in Rotterdam. Because what does Van Dorst see when he drives into the city at night after shooting? “After four hours, only the shawarma restaurants and two gay bars are open. Nice for me, but for everyone else?”
Van Dorst argues for a different approach. “For two years we experimented with a closed night. Let’s experiment with open closing times for two years, then the entrepreneur himself decides when the tent closes.”
Perhaps, he says, Rotterdam will become a cultural hotspot again. “Because now it is a metropolis that behaves like a hamlet.”
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