26 October 2008

Semarang Heritage Walk: Railway to the Past

The first stop was at the railway heritage exhibition at the former "De Locomotief" newspaper building in the Old Town of Semarang. In the colonial era "De Locomotief" was one of - if not the most - progressive newspapers in Netherlands India. It was named "De Locomotief" because locomotives at that time were seen as symbols of progress and modernity.

There were so many people who wanted to join the tour, more than the organisers had expected. Because of the demand, it was decided that instead of limiting the participants to 90, the maximum number would be 160. Three large buses were used to carry the participants. About two-third were university students of history, language and architecture. There were also some exchange students from Brazil sponsored by the local Rotary Club.

Semarang Gudang (formerly Samarang NIS, Semarang's - and Indonesia's - first railway station) is officialy still a station but practically abandoned because of the constant storm and tidewater flooding. The picture above shows the platform under water even though the sky was cloudless.

Samarang NIS terminus in 1867. On the left wing is the passanger platform, on the right wing is the goods station. When the new NIS station in Tawang was finished in 1914 part of this building was knocked down to make way for the tracks to the new station, leaving only the goods wing.

Semarang Gudang locomotive shed still exists, but inside it has been divided into small "apartments" of former PTKA employees. The building's floor and surrounding grounds have been raised to prevent flooding so it now looks considerably shorter than it originally was (see picture below)

(Photo: Basil Roberts)

Semarang Gudang shed in 1971 with C1406, originally SDS 6, in the foreground. This engine was built by Beyer Peacock, Manchester (UK) for the Serajoedal Stoomtram Maatschappij (SDS) in 1896. C1406 has not survived but classmates C1412 is at Ambarawa, while C1414 is on a plinth at Tegal works.

The PTKA (Indonesian Railway Company) Semarang office - formerly the joint office of the four Sister Companies / Zustermaatschappijen (Samarang Joana Stoomtram Maatschappij (SJS), Semarang Cheribon Stoomtram Maatschappij (SCS), Serajoedal Stoomtram Maatschappij (SDS) and the Oost-Java Stoomtram Maatschappij (OJS) - was designed by the influential architect and town planner Thomas Karsten (1885-1945). Karsten is much admired, among other things, for his ability to design buildings which are now considered "environmentally friendly" and "energy saving" long before the terms were even coined. The Sister Company building, built in 1930, is no exception. Here Karsten makes maximum use of natural ventilation and lighting. Karsten, who was married to an Indonesian women, also highly appreciated Indonesian art and culture, and this too is reflected in the design of his buildings.

Old postcard of the Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij (NIS) head office, Semarang

The Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij (NIS / Netherlands Indian Railway Company) headquarters was the first modern office building built in Semarang. Located at a prominent site, it is one of Semarang's main landmarks. The people call it "Lawang Sewu" (Thousand Doors), referring to its many doors. It was built in 1902 to the design of the architects JF Klinkhamer and BJ Ouendag. During the Japanese occupation its basement was used as a prison, and during the war of independence it was site of violent struggle between Indonesian youths and Japanese forces who had surrendered to the Allies. Unfortunately this beautiful and historically important building is now abandoned and its future uncertain.

The friendly gentleman on the right will guide you on an underground tour through the building's dark and damp basement. Because people think the NIS building is haunted, this is also a kind of a "ghost walk."

Lunch was served at Semarang Restaurant. This restaurant is owned by Jongkie Tio, a recognised authority on the history of Semarang and writter of several books about Semarang. Some samples from his vast collection of photos of old Semarang can be seen in the restaurant. By the way, those seriously enjoying their meals are Tommi (right) who designed the railway heritage exhibition, and was responsible for all the graphic design (banners, posters, T-shirt) as well, and my son Nandi (left).

After lunch we travelled to Ambarawa, about 30 kilometers south of Semarang, to take a trip on the steam train passing through Java's only rack and pinion line. The driver and fireman who operated the B2502 steam engine on this trip are former Diesel drivers being trained to replace Pudjiono and Darwanto, the current drivers at Ambarawa. According to Darwanto, who will retire next year (Pudjiono will retire in 2010), the two men, Heru and Slamet, have been taking turns doing most of the driving in the last three months. Soon, another driver from the Poncol depo will join the team in Ambarawa. So, it seems there will be no crisis of drivers in Ambarawa after all.

In the "back seat" a rather tense instructor watches his students drive the engine.

But, actually there was nothing to worry about. The trip itself was smooth and uneventful (as a good rail trip should be: no sudden drop of steam pressure, no stopping to take water halfway up the hills, no snapped brakes, no leaking cylinders, and no derailment; all of which have happened before), so it seems that Heru and Slamet are good students. Or was it just good luck?

Ambarawa station, safe arrival of the train from Bedono. Because of the large number of participants, they were divided into two groups. The first went on the uphill trip by train and returned to Ambarawa from Bedono by bus. The second group went up by bus and came down on the steam train. Not all were happy with this arrangement, but no one really complained (perhaps because the price of the tour was very, very cheap even by Indonesian standards). In any case, everyone had a good time.

Seno Prakoso, Coordinator of the Semarang Heritage Walk 2008

1 comment:

Ridwan Sanjaya said...

that's awesome event! good for tourism in Indonesia