I never thought I would ever see them from the inside, but I recently found out what sewers look like. Last month, I went down the drain and explored the surface below the city of Breda. This was during the “Week van Ons Water” (Week of Our Water), which was set up to inform citizens and businesses about the value of clean and safe water. The organisation planned lots of (mostly) free activities, so when I read about the sewer tours I just had to grab the chance to do some unusual sightseeing in my hometown!
While we were shuffling along like little blue ducklings following their sewer-guide-mother-duck-man, I kept my eyes wide open for any crawling creatures. I spotted countless of floating turds (naturally), but also noticed a shimmering and slimy blob just above the water. I asked one of the guides to point his flashlight to the wall and this is what we saw (I may have slightly manipulated the colours to make this image seem more impressive).
They have streets signs in the sewers! I bet they’re even more useful for navigation down where the sun don’t shine. Those little bowls you see in the second photo were spread all across the sewer. The guide told us they were actually put there long ago to lure the rats into the sewers, since the city was suffering from a severe rat plague. People tried to redirect the rats from the houses and streets into the sewer, hoping to relieve the citizens. Apparently it worked wonders, but the guide did warn us that the sewer generally isn’t a natural habitat for rats. There just isn’t enough nutritious food that hasn’t been ‘humanly processed’. The whole idea that sewers are filled with rats is actually an urban myth. Most of the time, you will only spot them in the drains when they’re moving from one building to another.
After a staggering 300 metres, the walk was over and we all emerged in the middle of the busiest shopping street of Breda. I felt like a (really smelly) celebrity wearing the trendiest suit of the fashion season. I asked one of the guides why they had put up those birthday flags in the sewer, since it seemed rather odd. He told me they had once celebrated a colleague’s 50th birthday at their workplace and decided to keep them around. Why not, I suppose!
Interview with a Sewer Expert
This man works for the municipality and he happily answered all my annoying questions. We discussed the severity of sewer smells and jointly concluded it really isn’t that bad for what is basically a freeway for faeces. He also revealed that at certain places sewers can actually smell quite nice. Think of a drain close to candy factories and certain chemical companies (he said it often smells like mint and cleaning product). Sewer workers do always take a measuring device with them. This helps them to keep track of any potentially harmful gases in the air.
“At certain places, sewers can actually smell quite nice. Think of a drain close to candy factories and certain chemical companies. Those places often smell like mint and cleaning product.”
I also asked whether other parts of the sewers in Breda were the same size as the portion we had walked through. Surprisingly, he told me that the drain we had gone into actually belonged to the widest part in the city. I’m not even 170 cm tall and even I kept bumping my elbows and head against the walls. Just imagine squeezing into even smaller passageways! In terms of weather conditions, the spring is apparently the best time to visit the sewers. This is because precipitation levels are reasonable and temperatures underground balance around a comfortable 20 degrees.
NOW! For a bit of bonus material, I will show you a very rare photo of me in stylish sewer ensemble: