Reunited With ROTTERDAM, Part Two

Peter Knego continues his documentation of the hallowed, 1959-built Dutch Ship Of State, the SS ROTTERDAM, now preserved as a hotel and convention center in Rotterdam.


Steamship Rotterdam Foundation

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2015 unless otherwise noted.

Friday, March 27, 2015

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DSS ROTTERDAM builder’s book.

In December of 1996 while on SS ROTTERDAM’s final Christmas cruise, I sat with a friend, musing over the ship’s builder’s book.

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SS ROTTERDAM Smoking Room, facing aft.

In the surrounds of the Smoking Room’s angled ceiling, exotic cabinetry, glowing woodwork and bronze sculptures, we wondered what the future held for this magnificent creation, hoping that the SS ROTTERDAM would not meet the same fate as her legendary Art Deco fleetmate, the SS NIEUW AMSTERDAM of 1938. To this day, people lament that glorious ship’s demolition in 1974 and many still ponder what might have been were she properly preserved.

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Living the dream with Klaas Krijnen in the Smoking Room.

How fitting that 19 years later, that same gentleman, Klaas Krijnen, would be taking us throughout the ship, beginning with a visit to the Smoking Room. Klaas’ grassroots efforts to save the ROTTERDAM were conceived before she concluded her Holland America Line career in 1997 and kicked into full gear when the SS Rotterdam Foundation was formed in 2001 to help raise awareness of her historic and architectural merit.

Helping usher the ship through lay up, sales to various entities, asbestos removal and re-purposing as a hotel, the foundation now works closely with the new owners, WestCourt Hotels, for her ongoing curation and preservation.

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SS ROTTERDAM Tropic Bar painting.

We moved aft through the Tropic Bar, once the exclusive, tobacco-infused domain of the ship’s most entrenched followers. Many passengers never knew of the existence of this lair, whose entrance was partially obscured by the large wooden screen in the aft portion of the Smoking Room. Some of architect Carel Wirtz’ finer details were lost in the latest conversion but the spectacular jungle painting by Wally Elenbaas and the bar stools are “as was”.

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SS ROTTERDAM Grand Ballroom, facing starboard from Sun Deck level.

Entering via the Tropic Bar, our next stop, the double deck Grand Ballroom, nee Ritz Carlton, is probably the ROTTERDAM’s most important and spectacular salon. Designed by architect Joost Schuil, its main focal point is the lovingly restored lacquer painting by Cuno van den Steene which spans the length of the forward bulkhead.

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SS ROTTERDAM Grand Ballroom balustrade detail.

Nothing in this space lacks a specific design purpose, from the enameled brass framed fish fleeing the jaws of a sea serpent at the base of the balustrade for a tangle of fishing nets in the balcony to the oyster-shaped bronze dance floor and bronze sunburst clock, all by artists Leo and Jan Eloy Brom. Haro Orp fashioned the fish-themed Murano glass mosaic-topped tables in varying shapes and size.

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SS ROTTERDAM Grand Ballroom, facing forward.

Even the ceiling has an oceanic theme with its illuminated color tubes giving the illusion of bubbles.

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SS ROTTERDAM Grand Ballroom, facing port from Upper Promenade Deck level.

The only major visible alteration are the two small service bars in the aft/lower portion of the room.

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SS ROTTERDAM Upper Promenade Deck Foyer, facing aft.

We headed back through the Smoking Room to the foyer which Carel Wirtz designed, including the centerpiece “confident” sofa and the brightly colored glass panels that match the angular patterns in the Smoking Room carpet.

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SS ROTTERDAM Library painting.

On the starboard side of the foyer, the Card Room was in use as a conference room but we did get a chance to peek in at the former Library on the port side. Now also used primarily for functions, its surviving focal point is the fishermen painting by Nel Bouyhuys-Klaassen.

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SS ROTTERDAM Odyssey, facing forward.

For the rest of the morning, we would venture fore and aft, up and down, visiting parts of the ship that were either occupied with meetings or off limits on the prior afternoon. Now a conference room, the Odyssey was our dining room of choice during our five ROTTERDAM cruises, not because it was any nicer than the virtually identical La Fontaine but because we had dear friends who would only dine there.

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SS ROTTERDAM Odyssey ceramic detail.

The former first class dining room was decoratively identical to the tourist class La Fontaine but its gorgeous ceramics by Nico Nagler depicted scenes from Homer’s Odyssey versus La Fontaine’s fables.

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SS ROTTERDAM Club Room, facing forward.

Back up on Promenade Deck, the Club Room is an upscale restaurant located just forward of the Lido.  Originally the Tourist Class Smoking Room, it became the Casino during the ship’s latter HAL era. We didn’t get a chance to dine in this beautiful space, which is paneled in warm woods and features Murano glass light fixtures as well as an alabaster fireplace with enameled friezes depicting the servants from Erasmus’ “Praise Of Folly” essays.

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SS ROTTERDAM Rijsenwijk tapestry in corner of Club Room.

Designed by Gisèle d’Ailly-Van Waterschoot van der Gracht and woven by Joke Haverkorn van Rijsewijk, the four original wool tapestries that adorned each corner were stolen from the ship in Gibraltar a decade ago.  The two ladies reunited in 2007, and after almost 50 years, they recreated the 4 tapestries from the original paintings.

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SS ROTTERDAM facing forward from midships platform.
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SS ROTTERDAM facing aft from midships platform.

Without the drizzle hampering our efforts, we had time to document some key deck areas, starting with the observation platform that tops the midships superstructure.

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SS ROTTERDAM Skyroom painting by Akkermans.

In the base of the platform, the Skyroom has been largely altered for use as a meeting room but its iconic Akkermans painting, fondly nicknamed “The Flying Hamburger”, still adorns the forward bulkhead.

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SS ROTTERDAM Sun Deck Executive Club, facing forward.

Most of the accommodation and officers’ quarters on Sun and Boat Deck have been converted into boardrooms. The new Executive Club tips its decorative cap to the Smoking Room with its similarly patterned carpeting.

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Klaas Krijnen and Ton Wesselink reflected in Captain’s Dayroom mirror.

Accompanying us for much of the day was the SS ROTTERDAM’s General Manager, Ton Wesselink. Wesselink, who bears more than just a casual resemblance to actor Gerard Butler, has been working closely with the SS Rotterdam Foundation to keep the ship as pristine and authentic as possible.

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SS ROTTERDAM over stern from Sun Deck.
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SS ROTTERDAM fantail, facing aft.

One area that has been under restoration is the fantail, where the teak has been renewed and/or replaced. During our visit, it was still covered in tarp, awaiting finishing touches but just a few days later, the work had been completed. Admission to the Lido Deck is free and visitors can purchase a drink or a meal in the adjacent Lido Restaurant and enjoy the view of Rotterdam. For safety reasons, the swimming pool has been transformed into a wading pool.

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Meanwhile at the other end of the ship, it was a treat to walk out onto that long, sheered bow to savor ROTTERDAM’s finely tiered cheekbones and sculpted brow.

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SS ROTTERDAM Engine Room, facing starboard.

Following her retirement, the ROTTERDAM’s engine room was shut down but kept intact, unlike that of QUEEN MARY, which was largely gutted. Guided tours of the machinery spaces can be purchased separately or in tandem with the other tours offered on board.

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SS ROTTERDAM Engine Room control panel.

It was a new experience to stand in this space and not be consumed with noise and heat.

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SS ROTTERDAM Superior Manhattan stateroom.

Klaas next led us to see some of the other hotel room categories the SS ROTTERDAM has on offer. Our first stop was a Superior Manhattan, with its black and white soft fittings. All hotel rooms feature a spacious double bed, separate sitting area, air conditioning, hairdryer, free wired internet, coffee and tea facilities, laptop safe, mini bar, desk, flat screen TV, cleaning service (included) and a private bathroom.

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SS ROTTERDAM Superior Bahamas stateroom.

Bahamas staterooms have a tropical color scheme but are otherwise the same as the Manhattan and Original (see prior post) categories.

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Deluxe Rooms are similar to the ship’s original suite accommodation. Some feature vintage works of art and multiple portholes in addition to a more spacious floor plan.

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SS ROTTERDAM former Chief Officer’s cabin, facing port.

At the forward end of Sun Deck, the former Chief Officer’s cabin is now Executive Stateroom 601. At the top of the accommodation tier, Executive Staterooms occupy forward Sun and Boat Decks, have a separate sitting area and a view over the ship’s bow. It would be well worth the extra price to inhabit these lofty spaces for a day or two.

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Frank Aarens and SS ROTTERDAM tender.

When SS ROTTERDAM arrived in her home port, her modern tenders were removed and purchased by the Aarens family who offer them up for catered excursions around the port of Rotterdam. It is hoped that the tenders will also be used to ferry guests to and from their former mother ship in a similar manner to the local water taxis. Klaas was kind enough to arrange for me to take a 30 minute ride in one of the tenders to get some exterior footage of the ship.  I wondered if this was one of the tenders I rode in ports like St. Lucia, Skagway and St. Vincent.

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SS ROTTERDAM at Rotterdam.

After a day of rain and drizzle, the skies opened up, bathing the ROTTERDAM in glorious sunshine. She looked so magnificent in her original color scheme, it was hard to not just set the cameras down and ogle.

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SS ROTTERDAM furrowed prow.
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SS ROTTERDAM hind quarters.

One thing is for certain, unlike most modern ships, this Grand Dame has no unflattering angle or displeasing detail. For more information on the local tender service, please go to:

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SS ROTTERDAM Ocean Bar, facing aft.

A long, wonderful day of exploration had come to its reluctant end. We capped it off at the Ocean Bar, with its fish scale ceiling and light fixture mimicking a fish’s eye hovering over a wave-shaped bar. This was another favorite watering hole of ROTTERDAM’s devoted clientele with its picture windows offering an ever-changing panorama of the maritime world.

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Beer time in the Ocean Bar.

We reminisced, toasted and celebrated our surrounds. Long overdue, our rendezvous with the ship and Klaas was all-too-short. As the sun rose the following morning, we would embark upon an extortive taxi ride to Schiphol and flights back to the U.S.

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Klaas Krijnen.

A legion of ship lovers and anyone who appreciates the design and style of the mid 20th Century owes a nod to Klaas Krijnen for making a seemingly impossible dream come true. Thanks in large part to his efforts, the ROTTERDAM lives on.

End of Reunited With ROTTERDAM

Very special thanks: Frank Aarens, Klaas Krijnen, Ton Wesselink

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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