Traces of the Red Star Line 

The Red Star Line was active on the Eilandje in Antwerp’s harbour for more than a half century. The ships moored on the quay just before the bend in the Scheldt River. This is quite far from the city centre, but that was for safety reasons . The shipping company initially planned on transporting oil too. Even though those plans were never realised, the location was not altered. The departure point remained the large bollards just before the bend in the Scheldt River.

A departure was planned weekly, usually on Saturdays. On such moments, passengers bustled towards the Rijnkaai. There were up to 2500 passengers per ship. Third-class passengers had to pass through administrative and medical examinations first. First-class and second-class passengers were allowed to board without an examination. It was extremely busy; in addition to passengers, family and friends also gathered on the quay to wave goodbye, and did  curious onlookers who wanted to see the giant ships with their own eyes. All that activity left traces in the city, especially on the Eilandje.

 

The bollards of the Red Star Line

The Belgenland II, the flagship of the Red Star Line, moored in Antwerp for the first time in 1923. At that time the Belgenland II was the largest ship that ever moored on a quay in Antwerp. When the ship first arrived in Antwerp, it created a real commotion. Extra-large mooring posts had to be installed so that the ship could manoeuvre and moor. The bollards are still there.

SANBA – Rijnkaai 21

The offices of the Red Star Line moved to different locations in the city throughout the course of its existence. For a while they were in the Kammenstraat, later on the Jordaenskaai and then they were located at Rijnkaai 21, near the Red Star Line sheds. That is currently a beautifully renovated apartment building. The façade still displays the letters SANBA, Société Anonyme de Navigation Belge-Américaine. At the back of the building, in the Braziliëstraat, there are two coats of arms on the façade (of Belgium and of America) that give away the trans-Atlantic activity of the shipping company.

The Loodswezen

The Loodswezen is a less well-known place in Antwerp. It is marked by a statue that commemorates perished sailors. Ships that pass by sound their horns to pay homage to the sailors who perished in the war. This is a special place for the Red Star Line for a different reason: Eugeen Venesoen had his office here. Venesoen was Belgian Commissioner for Emigration from 1891 to 1924.

The café owned by Van Mieghem’s mother

Antwerp painter Eugeen Van Mieghem was a privileged eyewitness of all that occurred around the Red Star Line sheds. His mother ran a café across the street. Eugeen Van Mieghem was fascinated by the comings and goings of the emigrants. At that time photography was still in its infancy, so his hundreds of sketches and drawings related to harbour life are an important time document. The café disappeared a long time ago, but if you look closely at the bit of wasteland where the café once stood, you might find a trace of it. Where the café once stood there are now a few remains on the wall of a wasteland.

 

A part of the city that is undergoing development

Together with De Shop and the Montevideo warehouse, the Red Star Line site is one of the eye-catchers in the new Montevideo neighbourhood on the Eilandje.

The Red Star Line site is located in the Montevideo neighbourhood, in the heart of the old harbour neighbourhood called the Eilandje. A series of ambitious urban renewal projects are making the Eilandje a part of the city that is brimming with commercial and cultural activities.

The public space around the oldest docks was given a new lease on life. The renovated Felixpakhuis (Felix Repository) has housed the city’s archives since 2008 and the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) gives the old harbour neighbourhood a striking new urban beacon.

The renovated Red Star Line site is one of the eye-catchers in the Montevideo neighbourhood, in addition to the renovated De Shop and Montevideo warehouses and the redesigned Limaplein.