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Department stores as playgrounds

Barry grew up in the city centre. The city was a paradise for playing. Department stores were his playgrounds, and vacant sites were perfect for Sledge rides.

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To a child’s eyes, even the quieter parts of a city can be a playground paradise. Barry’s story makes that amply apparent. In his childhood, department stores were new universes just waiting to be explored, and fallow fields were perfect places to go sledding.

Crossing Binnenrotte

Barry de Bruin grew up in a flat on Hoogstraat. When Barry was about twelve years old, he crossed the broad Binnenrotte boulevard for the first time. His range was no longer limited to the Hoogkwartier area, with its service streets, convent grounds and green spaces. Crossing that busy street opened up a whole new world of opportunities in the department stores on the other side of Hoogstraat. “They were just giant playgrounds.” His favourite departments were the animals at V&D - all sorts of pets were sold there back then - and the camping department. And the gaming computers at Dixons, of course, which were just becoming popular. Barry and his friends visited the department stores so often that they eventually knew all the security guards by first name. That was a good thing, too, since the shopkeepers weren’t always thrilled when the young friends dropped by.

Mysterious secret gang

Before his great crossing of Binnenrotte, Barry mainly played in the Hoogkwartier area: “a village”. The local children played at the fort on the Achterklooster convent grounds and in front of the Savoy Hotel. “The pit”, they called the convent grounds, and it was a wonderful place to go sledding when it snowed. Things could get rough in the neighbourhood back then. Blowpipe battles unfolded across the streets. If you wanted to belong to the local gang of kids, you spent a day with everyone chasing you. Barry was always able to avoid this ritual; he formed a two-man gang with a kid who lived across the street. And all the boys in the neighbourhood were convinced that there was a mysterious secret gang of kids in the area, although it probably never really existed in retrospect. The boys even had a name for the mysterious gang: “Kokomo”.

Things could get rough in the neighbourhood back then. Blowpipe battles unfolded across the streets.

Service streets

The De Bruin family lived in a fairly small flat. Barry recalls that everyone worked hard back then, but there were also lots of guests dropping by and lots of parties. There was more freedom in those days, in the optimistic wake of the 1960s. At parties, everyone just sat on the floor. From the balcony of his home, Barry could look down and watch people in the service courtyard behind them going to work, like the employees of the Deaf-Mute Institute. You couldn’t really play in the service streets; the business owners would move you along. There were lots of small businesses back then. They “weren’t always in the mood” to have a curious lad hanging about.

At parties, everyone just sat on the floor. From the balcony of his home, Barry could look down and watch people in the service courtyard behind them going to work, like the employees of the Deaf-Mute Institute.

Design

The design of the Hoogkwartier area is a bit nondescript, in Barry’s opinion. He does feel nostalgic about his neighbourhood, however. The smaller scale of the buildings is pleasant, making it feel proportionate and cosy. And the style of the buildings evokes a clear sense of the optimism with which they were built, he thinks, as evidenced by the Industry Building with its large open windows.

And the style of the buildings evokes a clear sense of the optimism with which they were built, he thinks, as evidenced by the Industry Building with its large open windows.

Appreciation

It’s nice that reconstruction architecture is receiving more widespread appreciation again, but that does not mean that change is automatically negative. One thing still hasn’t changed: children in the Hoogkwartier area still play on the convent grounds at the Achterklooster. These days, though, it’s Barry’s children playing there while grandma and grandpa, still living on Hoogstraat, watch them.

The story of
Barry de Bruin
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