A Tale of Two Dutch Cities (East vs. West)

From an outside perspective these two cities are very similar. Both are located in the Netherlands, have roughly 100,000 – 150,000 inhabitants, and are home to a large engineering and science university (of which there are only three in the Netherlands).

But that's where all similarities end. These are the tales of Enschede and Delft, the two Dutch cities that I have been able to call home.  



From August 2010 to July 2015, I lived, studied, and worked in Delft, located in the heart of the urban West of the country.

I like to describe Delft as the closest thing to a modern-day fairy tale.

Stately houses line the dozens of canals that crisscross through the old town center. Quaint shops sell delicate blue pottery and cheese to visitors. Ornate churches that were built centuries before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic tower above the cobblestone market squares. And in the evening groups of merry students stumble from one candlelit wooden pub to another.

Some of the best memories of my life come from this small piece of paradise, and it makes me happy that a new group of students move to Delft each year to experience this fairy tale for themselves.

One of the many canals in Delft 

One of the many canals in Delft 



I have been living in Enschede now for one month. Its tale, on the other hand, is less fairy tale and more Greek tragedy. 

From the early 19th century until the mid 20th century, Enschede, located in the mostly rural East, was one of the most prosperous cities in Holland. The booming textile industry had launched a Dutch industrial revolution, and Enschede was its epicenter. However, as textile production shifted to Asia in the 60’s and 70’s, the factories closed and the city found itself in an economic crisis.  

Now Enschede is a European version of Detroit. Abandoned buildings dot Enschede’s streets and gaunt-faced zombies roam the parks and cemeteries looking to buy drugs. The only signs of its glory days are small textile museums and the massive estates of the former factory barons that ring the city.


A former textile factory in Enschede

A former textile factory in Enschede


From these two tales it would be understandable to say that I had made the wrong choice. I should have stayed in my quaint western Pleasantville.  

But you wouldn’t be completely right.  

Enschede’s somewhat derelict state gives it a certain edginess, the kind that makes cities like Berlin and New Orleans meccas for the young and creative. Its galleries and live music joints, where people of all classes come together, have an atmosphere that is hard to find in more “liveable” cities like Geneva or Melbourne.

Enschede is also in the process of reinventing itself. Whereas historical Delft has looked the same for centuries, Enschede’s old factories and abandoned buildings are being turned into art studios, or torn down and replaced with some of the country’s finest modern architecture. And thanks to a lower cost of living than its richer western counterpart, the city has become a center for business start-ups.

Modern houses in the recently rebuilt Roombeek neighborhood of Enschede

Modern houses in the recently rebuilt Roombeek neighborhood of Enschede

East vs. West. Poor vs. Rich. Promising vs. Stable. These are the tales of my two outwardly similar Dutch homes. And while I may not be living in a fairy tale anymore I am living in a real living city that is on the cusp of change, and that makes it an exciting place to live. 

The graffiti and gaunt addicts are just part of its Gothic charm.  Right?

At least that’s what I keep telling myself…. 

Enschede main square 

Enschede main square