It’s 1986 and Bram Peper puts today’s city on paper …

Rotterdammer of the week

April 9, 08:04

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Rotterdam – Bram Peper is not feeling well. The man who, as mayor, was the basis of present-day Rotterdam, is in a lot of pain and often depressed. So we did our best to make it a happy hour and a half, during the interview with a very special Rotterdammer of the Week.

By Jasper Scholte and Emile van de Velde


Bram Peper looks out of his office at Coolsingel. He has been mayor for four years now and is still only 46. Outside, he sees in a town a retreat. He thinks well of. And then he picks up his pen.

“For the first few years, we were only concerned with austerity. It was the dark eighties in the Lubbers I cabinet. At one point I thought, ‘What are we really doing here?’ And then I started writing a note. About how Rotterdam should become a real city. ”


Peper (82 now) is sitting at the table in Café Loos on Veerhaven with the note in question (‘I did not have it anymore, I am not a special curator. So I looked it up in the City Archives’) in Café Loos on Veerhaven, near his House. It was brought by his regular driver Henk. Without Henk, Peper would hardly get anywhere. Physical discomfort does not exactly make life easy for our former mayor. He is in constant pain. A lot of pain. During the interview, if the pain becomes too intense, he should regularly gasp for breath, pausing until he can continue talking.

“There is excruciating pain around my knee. I get all kinds of shots from the doctors, but it does not help. It is also useless to operate, I already have two artificial knees. Luckily I have Henk, because of him I get somewhere “I think you’re just in time for this interview, make it an early obituary.”

the late eighties

After the first note, Peper gathers a group of Rotterdammers around him, who also want to move forward. He saw that it was time for a new generation of new ideas. That younger people also had something to say about their city. The new Rotterdam is modeled in various committees and working groups. Plans were made that led to the Rotterdam we now live in.

“I found out that there were all kinds of people with ideas who did not know each other. I brought them together. Once you have a vision, you do not need to do much more, just spread the virus a little bit. And you have to be lucky. I had very good councilors around me. It was the time of monism, the councilors also sat on the city council. So if we decided something in the council, we quickly got a majority in the council as well. ”

1986 – 1994

Railway tunnel, Kop van Zuid, high-rise buildings on Weena, urban renewal in old quarters, the courthouse to the south, the Erasmus Bridge. Rotterdam is undergoing a metamorphosis at a dizzying pace. And the first note comes alive.

“Those were the heyday of my time as mayor. Something new was going to happen. The spirit of the times was also clear. I was a good lobbyist, knew how to bring the right people together. Rotterdam actually never had money, compared to Amsterdam. But councilor Joop Linthorst said: ‘We have become good at savings, let’s continue with that.’ This gave us a little more leeway. We bought Hotel New York with municipal money, which was the beginning of Kop van Zuid. We also saved De Hef from demolition with municipal money. ”


The Erasmus Bridge is open. One of the starting points for all plans was to connect the south and north shores. The story has been told many times but is still beautiful.

“There was a plan from Kommuneværket for a fairly simple bridge, Willemsbruget had succeeded after all. But Riek Bakker arrived with the young architect Ben van Berkel. His design was beautiful but much more expensive. Then we went to The Hague for extra money. A few days before our visit, we had a scale model of the bridge placed in the minister’s window frame. She was already a fan when we came in, so we just started talking about the money. Rotterdam had already pre-financed the Botlek tunnel, which was quite unusual, so we also had it in our pockets as change. ”

1994 – 1998

His last year as mayor. The new momentum from the past is gone, and there are regular thunders on Coolsingel. Peper leaves Rotterdam in 1998 to become Minister of the Interior. Upon his retirement, he was awarded the Van Oldenbarnevelt Medal, the highest prize in Rotterdam.

“The last few years have not been the best. All my friends were gone now. My collaboration with Hans Simons and Hans Kombrink was difficult. God, what could that Kombrink talk about without really getting anything out. I was not known as a friend of the people, but I visited everywhere. In people’s homes, in drug houses. We were dealing with Perron Zero, Pastor Visser was completely impossible to talk to. When my colleague shouted that he was done with that man, decided I to wipe the place clean.Dec. Most junkies on Platform Zero came outside the city and there were fewer of them in the winter.We also moved GJ de Jonghwegs prostitution outside the district.And grabbed Deliplein, it has now become very nice.”


We talk to each other while bombs fall not far from Holland. Bram Peper is from 13 February 1940 and in his hometown of Haarlem he experienced World War II as a child. He can hardly see all the war pictures in the news now.

“It’s not a fun time. First all that corona pandemic, terrible, boring. Sometimes I go out for coffee or lunch with old people. No, I do not understand much of what is happening on Coolsingel. I read Rotterdams Dagblad and De Havenloods. I’m very depressed sometimes. I’ve been through war. When I was little, there was an error bombing in the neighborhood where I lived. I saw the bodies. My mother did not let me play outside after dinner that night. And right on the corner where I always played football, a bomb fell. And then I now see the pictures from Ukraine. It will be another damn war at the end of my life … “

1999 – 2003

Anyone looking for the name Bram Peper online will quickly find the receipt deal. The former mayor is said to have made false statements for tens of thousands of guilders. Peper resigns as minister and gets confused with the Rotterdam City Council. He gives up his prize. He is also deeply disappointed with his party, the PvdA. After several years of investigation, Peper is rehabilitated by the judge and is awarded significant compensation.

“I have had a hard time. And I do not know if I am rehabilitated enough. I won everything, but it all came afterwards and looked way too late. I’m still a member of the Labor Party. Bart Tromp once said, ‘Later, there will always be a better time to say goodbye to something.’

1986 – 1994

The 1986 memorandum also described Rotterdam’s population composition. In a cozy city, a city that can also be enjoyed, there must live different kinds of people. And should be enough to do.

“For example, we have tackled the Prinsenland district. From seventy percent public housing and thirty percent middle class to exactly the other way around. A vibrant city needs a middle class. And in a lively city, there should be plenty to do. We have opened Kunsthal, the theater, the Maritime Museum. In fact, the question we asked ourselves was: ‘A lovely city, what kind of a city is that? Where do we want to go? “


The city has changed beyond recognition since 1986. Rotterdam is full of international attractions. Self-consciously, the city sparkles in the spring sun.

Postscript: Bram Peper deserves a statue. And we have to take care of that now!

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