Day 2 in Antwerpen!
We began the day with an interesting lecture on the concept of the European identity. With the advent of the European Union in 1950, the leaders of “Europe” have sought to foster a European identity in addition to citizens’ national identity. In addition, the EU provides a powerful economic union that makes Europe a stronger world power together in trade and negotiation (More on the politics of the EU when we visit the Parliament tomorrow). Currently, there are 28 member states and 24 official EU languages. One of the challenges of creating a unified Europe is the fact that people communicate in different languages – and a loyalty to one’s language is naturally very strong (consider the Flemish who had to fight for the right to speak Dutch). However, the goal of the EU is that people can be “United in Diversity,” unified for peace and prosperity while still preserving one’s personal culture, tradition, and language. An pro-EU advertisement in the Netherlands depicted a Dutch tile piece with images from the Netherlands but also from across Europe, suggesting that one’s identity is not solely linked to the home country.
As a product of Flemish and Spanish ancestry, I have a connection to both nationalities but also a larger identification as “European.” Thus, I hope that the EU succeeds especially because as an EU citizen I appreciate the option to live almost anywhere in Europe (sans UK). With the EU, free movement of European citizens may give rise to children of mixed European origins and thus they perhaps may develop more of a “European” identity rather than solely to the country of their birth.
Lunch in NYC
During our lunch break, we went to a knockoff New York City – aka the burger place near the Cathedral called “Manhattn’s” [sic]. I must admit that the falafel burger was delicious. We also explored some of the market that was sprawled across the Groenplaats square across from the Cathedral in which a statue of Rubens is erected.
Rubens is one of the most famous painters of Flanders, a prolific painter in the early 17th century, producing a multitude of paintings focused on strong colors, movement, and charged scenes from the bible. He lived in Antwerp in which he modeled and expanded a large estate based off of the Italian Renaissance style he encountered in his travels. The Rubens House was an impressive estate even at the time, boasting his home, studio, portico, and courtyard.
Rubens was so interested in the Italian palace architecture that he wrote and illustrated a 1622 book called the Palazzi di Genova, a manual illustrating and describing the palaces in Genova, Italy. He encountered these during his visits to Italy and the book helped spread the popularity of the architectural style across Northern Europe.
Something interesting about the walls in some of the rooms in the Rubenshuis is the gold leather – the walls are covered in leather plated in a layer of gold decoration. I also noticed this when I visited Gold Leather – this leather is also prominent in the Plantin-Moretus Museum earlier.
One painting I particularly liked was the painting of the “kunstkammer” or picture gallery of a certain Cornelis van der Geest. In the early seventeenth century, painting the gallery of a wealthy citizen was all the rage. Cornelius was a major art collector in Antwerp as well as a friend of Rubens. The painting depicts Cornelius, Rubens, Van Dyck, and the rulers of the Netherlands. The collection depicted in the painting is well preserved throughout the low countries. One of the works depicted, is a portrait — the original which is placed right next to the painting!
Red Star Line
Next stop, the Red Star Museum, based off the Red Star Line that operated in the same building from 1871 to 1935 when droves of Europeans emigrated to the Americas.
The Red Star Line was an ocean passenger line funneling passengers from the Eurasian to American continent. It had main ports in Antwerp, Liverpool and Southampton and in Europe and New York City and Philadelphia in the United States. Antwerp was the largest of these the European ports. Around two million migrants traveled to America on the Red Star Line – a process which we learned was most often long and arduous.
First, passengers would have to take trains from their homes to the port of Antwerp. Upon arrival, employees would put the luggage and clothes in large steam sterilizers for disenfiction. Passengers were forced to strip and shower and their items subjected to pressurized steam. A physical examination (gymnastics) was also required. Extensive sanitary checks in America meant that the citizens were checked in Europe already in order to avoid having to send passengers back (at the cost of the Red Star Line).
Most of the migrants came from Germany and Eastern Europe, according to the museum. A quarter of the two million immigrants were Jews, including notable scholars such as Albert Einstein who regularly used the Red Star Line.
An interesting fact that the museum touched upon is that the Red Star Line expanded to the tourist market in the 1890s. After the first world war, more and more people were able to pay the crossing and thus the Red Star Line began to develop fancy first class. After the Immigration Act of 1924, the United States government severely restricted migration from Eastern Europe, forcing the Red Star Line to convert part of its fleet to cruise ships for the Caribbean and far East.
Regardless of individual motivation for traveling across the seas, it was fascinating to learn a bit about the stories of those who braved the journey. Some perhaps made a better life for themselves, but many were disappointed and lived a hard life that only later generations would reap the rewards for.
Plenty of advertisement, which was interesting:
The Night is Young
To close the day we trekked our way back and beyond the hostel to find a turkish place known by Pablo to be inexpensive. I also stopped by DelHaize on the way to snatch a baguette (I still have that Gouda cheese :D).
I had some stokbrood with fries and vegetables which was extremely filling and only 4 euros. The price range of food in the city can range dramatically.
Back to the hostel I took the opportunity to exercise. And by exercise I mean to get overly committed to a series of intense games of foosball. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it is essentially a game of soccer played on a board. The ball is the size of a ping pong and the players are fixed humans on rotating rods. By spinning and moving your rods, you try to get the ball in the opponents goal. Anyway, it’s actually quite fun playing the game with multiple people on a team which I haven’t done before (admittedly, this is only my second time playing foosball in my life, the first time being in a hotel in Xian, China).
Afterwards, I checked out Mechelseplein, a square nearby with a few others in which I saw St. George’s Church (did I mention how I am still impressed at the high density of large churches in one city?). But, more importantly, we found some nice bars. It was nice how the atmosphere was relaxed without the wild, busy craziness of the Leidseplein night life next to our hostel in Amsterdam.
Pretty picture to end the day – courtyard of the Rubenshuis.