Mon 17 April 2017

citybooks | The second historical tour

A few times a year, the Flemish-Dutch House deBuren (“the neighbours”) sends a group of writers and a photographer to a city and gives them two weeks to look around and think. We put the stories and pictures they bring back with them on the citybooks website, which is now starting to bear a strong resemblance to a small city itself. For his internship at deBuren, Max Urai wrote a travel guide about that virtual city.

travel guide citybooks banner

In this second historical tour we will read four texts on the history of cities that are situated outside of the Dutch-speaking world area.


'Be Sure to Take Your Own Bicycle Pump'

Our first stop is one of the most listened to stories on citybooks: Jaap Faber’s Be Sure to Take Your Own Bicycle Pump, a tale about Bucharest. It is easily one of the funniest stories on the website; a strong, satirical look on the post-Soviet kitsch of the Romanian capital city:

‘A country that rids itself of a dictatorial system and treats itself to a democracy offers the unprecedented opportunity for everyone to fantasise about a wonderful future, and to extract the most utopian of wishful interpretations from every minor development. A McDonald’s on every street corner in the centre twenty years after Ceauşescu? Check. The biggest shopping centre in Eastern Europe? Check. The second-biggest shopping centre in Eastern Europe only five hundred metres from the first? Check.’

Read & listen to Be Sure to Take Your Own Bicycle Pump


Marcin Wroński writes ‘Postcards from Chartres’

Our next writer, Marcin Wroński, is particularly known as the author of several historical crime thrillers in Poland. In his story Postcards from Chartres, the nurse Miriam Groseille visits the very elderly Madame Fasolette, who shows her a box of postcards from the Second World War.

‘If the newspapers hadn’t been writing about the war, and if Zofia hadn’t been afraid for her parents, her first year in Chartres would have been a wonderful holiday. The town even looked a bit like Lublin, with its narrow little streets and steps in the historic centre, but it was smaller, warmer and prettier.’

Read & listen to Postcards from Chartres


© Amran Malik Hakim (citybook Jakarta)


‘A Scrap of Time’

Now we will go from France to Austria, but stay with the Second World War for a little while longer. In A Scrap of Time, Simone Lenaerts – who went to Graz – describes her attempt to write a novel about a boy from the Resistance who is arrested in Antwerp and ends up in Dachau via Graz.

‘At lunch in Restaurant Hofkeller I tell the woman with whom I share a table, who knows the city like the back of her hand, the story of my character and the route taken on my search for the prison.

“Graz-Karlau?”, she asks, surprised, “you were in quite the wrong place! The political prisoners that ended up here in the 1940s disappeared into the Strafgefängnis, the police cells at Paulustor, where the police headquarters are to this day, and the former Gestapo headquarters.”’

Read & listen to A Scrap of Time


Triyanto Triwikromo writes a series of poems on Semarang

Our last stop today is in Semarang, where we find a series of poems by Triyanto Triwikromo. In Little Stories of Pre- to Post-Colonial Semarang, he writes about well-known and less well-known individuals born in Semarang who, one way or another, were involved with the colonial occupation of Indonesia. Triwikromo himself lives in Semarang and is, even for a local, very well versed in its history. For the rest of us, it’s probably a good idea to keep Wikipedia open in a separate tab while we read this.

‘in the past you paid us 65 cents a day
and the railway for the Dutch Indies Railway was finished.

yes, yes
65 cents was our price
and we will not kill ourselves

just because our children are denied an equal education
and our wives cannot save
at the Bankvereeniging Oie Tiong Ham and the Javasche Bank
while carrying handbags and being stylish with peacock feathers in their hats’

Read & listen to Little Stories of Pre- to Post-Colonial Semarang


With this we have come to the end of our tour. Thank you for reading and don’t forget the guide.


Also read

- The musical tour
- The experimental tour
- Recommendations from the guide



Translated from Dutch by Annelies Dotselaere, who did an internship at deBuren as part of her Master in Translation at the KU Leuven Campus Brussels.


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