Interview with Harry-Jan Bus

Katendrecht has now become a trendy area of Rotterdam. Harry-Jan Bus was the first person to see the potential in Katendrecht, the former red-light district of Rotterdam. Thanks to him and his wife Rachèl van Olm, these days the neighbourhood offers culinary hotspots and theatre.

Written by Chantal Lindsen
Photos by Bart Hoogveld
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If you saw just how dilapidated the neighbourhood looked 10 years ago, you would wonder why on earth cabaret performer Harry-Jan Bus and his wife would choose the Deliplein in Katendrecht as the location for their new restaurant and theatre. Few others would even dare venture there; however, Bus and Van Olm did.
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Bus remembers the very first time he encountered this corner of Rotterdam, also known as De Kaap. It was 1978, he was still a child and Katendrecht was full of colourful seaside bars that were scene to much frenzied activity. ‘It was a no go zone,’ says Bus, ‘a desolate environment.’
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The owner of Theatre Walhalla also recalls having to deliver meat on the island some years ago. ‘While driving through the streets of De Kaap I couldn’t believe my eyes,’ he says. ‘Katendrecht wasn’t hit by the bombs and was very lively with many cafés. It was really contemporary, and I thought it was fantastic.’
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The place has remained close to his heart ever since. When all the bars began to shut down and De Kaap found itself down on its luck, Bus and Van Olm decided to bring it back life, transforming an empty ballroom into an intimate 80-seat theatre hosting 300 shows every year. It opened its doors in 2008. Four years ago, it was joined by the 150-seat Kantine Walhalla. Last year, the couple opened their latest venture, Werkplaats Walhalla, a production house and arts space where new talent can be incubated.
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As if that wasn’t enough, since 2009 they have also run Matroos en het Meisje, Rotterdam’s first French bistro.‘We needed a place where our visitors could get a drink and something to eat,’ says Bus. ‘But there was nothing over here at that time, so we decided to open a restaurant our self. We do not have a menu — you only tell us what you do not like. This was a very special concept nine years ago. Matroos en het Meisje has become a huge success.’
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At their French bistro, De Metroos en het Meisje (Delistraat 52)
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Bus ascribes the success of both the restaurant and theatre to the financial crisis. It was that, he says, that allowed him to pick up interesting property for a song. ‘In cities like London and Berlin you saw that people opened doors to restaurants and theatres in dilapidated neighbourhoods as well. Because only in those places could you realise something like this through the low prices.’
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And so the old haunt of prostitutes and their clients is now a hip hotspot with no end of places to hang out, including the Fenix Food Factory, SS Rotterdam (a former steamship that is permanently open to visitors) and all the restaurants on the Deliplein. But the old days aren’t entirely forgotten. Once a year, the Nacht van de Kaap (Night of the Cape) festival — another Bus initiative — brings the era of sailors and ladies of pleasure atmospherically back to life. Bus also organises De Ronde van Katendrecht, an annual bike ride where cyclists dressed up in cool Fifties outfits tear over the island, cheered on by hundreds of spectators.
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The pioneering Bus is justifiably pleased with how the city’s fashionable quarter has turned out. ‘Katendrecht has now become a new centre of Rotterdam,’ he says. ‘We started small and so much has followed in our footsteps. Culture is always a trigger and that makes the place what it is now. I am very proud of that.’

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