The most famous person in my flat is Koop. I don’t know his real name, maybe Kobus or James, but maybe just Koop. He and his wife Nella were the very first residents when the flat was completed in 2001. For a while they were the only residents, two captains on a ghost ship, looking out over the sand hole that had become a city pool.
It was not actually the intention that Almere would grow in height. “Almere is a Dutch low-rise building,” HJA Hofland wrote in 1994, “single-family homes with a garden, a collection of tens of thousands of small kingdoms and mini-republics, grouped in manageable areas…”. He wrote a hymn to the city, which hit the hundred thousand inhabitants that year. He thought it was a national miracle, a Dutch dream, an unparalleled example of pioneering drive. The fact that, apart from the busloads of foreign architecture students, hardly anyone recognized the miracle as such, according to Hofland, this had to do with the fact that the polder, once completed, lost all sensationalism and became a matter of course. Once inhabited, the residential areas steadily acquired an “unsurpassable commonality.”
Koop is still proud of the fact that he was one of the first Almeerders to take to the air 20 years ago. We were the first here, he doesn’t fail to say every time I run into him in the hallway our front doors open into. He takes care of the flat like a child. Light systems, heating systems, balustrades, carpentry and stucco: nothing escapes his expertise. In mid-December, he single-handedly assembles a giant plastic Christmas tree that takes up half the entrance hall. He regularly refreshes the exchange list next to the elevator (“ATTENTION ATTENTION ATTENTION, Dear Residents, unfortunately the garage door has been hit again”). I see him everywhere, until suddenly I don’t see him anymore. For days there are two garbage bags next to his front door. In the exchange list someone has replaced a message about the VVE zoom meeting with a mouth cap.
A week later I find him in the doorway. He beckons me. They were infected, he says quietly, he and his wife. He didn’t notice it himself, but his wife is in the hospital. Every day he cycles to the hospital around the corner. He puts on a moon suit, sits at her bedside for a while. The recovery is excruciatingly slow.
One afternoon we drink coffee in his apartment. Look, he says, pointing to an armchair in the sunlight, that’s her place. Since she’s always cold, he’s put a piece of electric blanket under the carpet there.
First of all, he tells me when I get up to leave, we were the very first to live here.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 15, 2021