Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Call to Safeguard Bandung’s Dutch Heritage

Passing through the Braga area of Bandung feels like stepping back in time. European heritage buildings line the streets like footprints betraying the city’s Dutch colonial past, lending “Parijs van Java” its special atmosphere.

In fact, Jalan Braga’s rows of European buildings also make it a popular location for photography, both by locals and tourists. It’s not uncommon to see pre-wedding shoots under way.

Unfortunately, according to Harastoeti Dibyo Hartono, the head of the Bandung Society for Heritage Conservation, Braga’s condition is far from comfortable. Unregulated transport, a damaged road surface and poorly maintained heritage buildings have left the street looking shabby and glum, its tourist-pulling power all but lost.

A slowly eroding past

The environment has certainly changed, along with the names of streets, such as Pedatiweg — now Jalan Braga — but the old buildings are like bridges connecting the present with the past.

Just stick your nose into the Sumber Hidangan cake shop. The bakery, previously named Het Snoephuis, has been standing since 1929. It’s not only the walls and roof that are old, but the scales, coffee roaster and cake and bread-baking equipment, too .

Even though the owners are of Chinese descent, the shop sells cakes made in the Dutch tradition — janhagel, kattetong, eierkoeken, bokkepootjes and kaasstengels — ­all reinforce Bandung’s connection with Holland.

“This cake shop used to be full of customers, Indonesians and foreigners,” said Erna, 70, who has been working since 1959 for the store at Jalan Braga 20-22.

During the Dutch East Indies period, the bakery and adjoining restaurant was the gathering place for activists of Bandoeng Vooruit, a movement to promote tourism and civic life in the city.

Erna said the shop was not as busy as it used to be.

“There are some pieces that we can’t use anymore because they’re broken and there are no spare parts,” Erna said, pointing to an antique cash register.

Another one of the victims is the Sarinah Department Store, its structure in ruins. In its heyday, the store, which used to be named Onderling Belang, was the second branch of the Amsterdam-based fashion center. It opened its doors around 1910 and was renamed by President Sukarno.

“Now the atmosphere is so noisy that people are reluctant to shop in Jalan Braga,” Harastoeti said regretfully.

Bringing back the luster

Harastoeti says there are several things that could be done to return Braga’s luster, with the goodwill of the Bandung government. One is to reduce the volume of traffic passing through.

“It used to be easy to cross the road. People weren’t bothered by the traffic because there was only a little,” Harastoeti said. “Now, it’s impossible. There’s so much traffic and people find it a struggle to cross. The road splits the area in half.”

Another thing the government could do is ask store owners in the area to adopt one concept to make the shopping district attractive again. “Then we just have to package it to regain its appeal as a tourist destination,” Harastoeti said.

Promoting Braga as a tourist attraction is something that has long been a goal of the head of the Bandung branch of the Tour and Travel Agents of Indonesia (Asita), Herman Rukmanandi. He says the area holds great promise, especially for Dutch tourists.

“Since I worked as an unofficial tour guide in the 1980s, Braga had great potential, especially since Bandung and Braga are already well-known to the Dutch. We just have to remind them to visit,” he said.

The Bandung tourism department says the administration is starting to listen to calls for a Braga makeover. The city plans to hold meetings with interested parties to determine how to package the area for tourism.

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