When I follow the girl from Pleincafé Wilhelmina and we go into the Windstraat through the Columbusstraat, I have no idea what to expect. About halfway down the alley we look at a little old pink building. The triangular gable at the roof suggests that this must be an old building and when I zoom with my camera, my feeling is confirmed. 1760 is clearly etched in the wall.
Unbelievable that these walls have been here for over 250 years. Ten generations have walked past her door, went inside her door. Even before the slave rebellion in 1795, before the construction of the pontoon bridge in 1886 and before the arrival of the first car in 1910, she was already here. This lady has seen the growth and structure of our island with her own eyes.
When she unlocks the lock from the large grille and unlock the rear door, my eyes have to get used to the darkness. There is hardly any space to move inside. The entire ground floor from left to right and from top to bottom is in use as storage space. That is also the reason that the Pleincafé owners – Danny and Paul – bought the building in 2013. To use it as a storage space for extra stuff. Not the most noble function for this historical building, but at least she is certainly no longer unemployed.
In addition, she has had this function for much longer. The previous owner used the building at the Windstraat as storage as well. He owned a bag store at Breedestraat and used the ground floor to store his stock. He used the first floor as his office and this is where my true interest lies: not the storage space downstairs, but the forgotten space above and I would really like to see this space with my own eyes.
“Paul told me that the staircase should be on the right”, the girl of Pleincafé tells me. But the wooden panel that is visible at the door, has a small lock. She shifts the cooling next to it to the left and a second panel appears which is locked with a sliding clasp. When we open the panel, the staircase reveals itself. “I have never been there”, she says a bit apprehensive. “Are you coming with me to have a look?”, I ask her. But she shakes her head and looks up with wide eyes to the dusty staircase. “I must return to Pleincafé, here are the keys. Please bring them back when you are finished”. And before I can give an answer, she leaves – it almost seems like she is relieved. All of a sudden it is very quiet; I am completely alone. Fortunately, some daylight lightens up the staircase and I am excited to discover what is waiting for me upstairs.
The story I have heard is completely in line with reality. The stairs and the hallway at the first floor are completely untouched. In the thick layer of dust, I only see my own footsteps. In the window frame lies a booklet. Italian courses. ‘Unusual’ I think at first. A language that, in the hodgepodge of languages on our island, has little enthusiasm. But then I realize something. Where do you get the nicest bags? Klaro, Italy!
This time has clearly stopped a while here. The boxes of books and papers scattered on the ground, the empty bookcase, antique television and in a second room with a desk I see some coins and several empty bottles. As if they took a drink after packing of the last moving boxes and then the time was flashed forward 50 years. Surreal and a little ‘spooky’.
When I show the pictures of my discovery to Paul, he tells me one striking detail. In the space downstairs, they found a huge vault when they bought it. They tried to move it with six grown men, but it couldn’t be moved and even if they were able to lift it, it wouldn’t fit through the front door. It is still a mystery how this vault got here and so is the content of the vault. No one knows how to open the vault. Even after they asked the son of previous owner, it remained unclear. If it is ever about to work, I would like to be there. Who knows how far this unintended time capsule goes back in time. Who knows what is hidden behind that steel door.
History only becomes history when information and knowledge in transferred from generation to generation, but sometimes the transfer skips a generation. And well, it won’t be remnants of Indian tribes who lived here before Christ, but this meeting still felt a bit like an archeological adventure…
With thanks to Manon Hoefman