Will Rotterdam Make Way for Jeff Bezos, Lord of the Seas?

130 feet of clearance. Photo: Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Jeff Bezos has it all. Billions of dollars, spaceships at his disposal, and soon, a $500 million super-schooner. The megayacht has been in the making for years, and is being built in the Netherlands. Upon completion, Y721 will be the largest sailing yacht in the world, with three masts, a black hull, and an accompanying “shadow vessel” with a helipad and room for Bezos’s other water toys. Yet misfortune has still befallen him. The yacht is large. Too large, by at least one critical metric: It cannot fit under the historic Koningshaven bridge in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, which it will need to get past to reach the ocean.

So city officials reportedly came up with a plan: They would temporarily dismantle part of the bridge so the Bezos yacht may pass underneath it. Bezos and Oceanco, the company building his superyacht upriver, would foot the bill rather than the city itself, and the bridge would be rebuilt after its ordeal. But officials have now backtracked, saying the plan has not yet been approved.

This is perhaps because the local population was not thrilled to hear that the bridge — known as “De Hef,” and a beloved local landmark even though it is no longer a working bridge — would be taken apart. “I think that’s why there is so much turmoil about Jeff Bezos and his boat,” the Dutch author Siebe Thissen told the New York Times. “People say, ‘Why this guy?’ It’s a working-class town, and they all know that Jeff Bezos, of course, he exploits his workers, so people say, ‘Why should this guy be able to demolish the bridge for his boat?’” The Times reported that hundreds of locals had said on Facebook that they would attend an event called “Throwing eggs at superyacht Jeff Bezos,” which sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

“Rotterdammers are proud of their city and don’t tear down iconic buildings just because you are superrich,” Pablo Strörmann, the event organizer, told the Times. (Strörmann also told the newspaper that the event was “mostly” a joke. Too bad!)

It is now unclear whether the city of Rotterdam will indeed dismantle De Hef for Bezos’s benefit. Nor is it clear what will happen to the superyacht, which must presumably find another way to open sea, or be built closer to it — unless Bezos is willing to settle for the world’s largest riverboat. Perhaps Bezos has finally discovered one problem that money can’t solve. Massive wealth will get you a lot. It will soothe fractious city officials and quash union campaigns, but maybe it can’t overcome the sentiment of a city that gives a damn about an old bridge.

Bezos is currently the second-richest man alive, behind Elon Musk. He has quite nearly conquered all he surveys. He can use his money to slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the borders of space. But for now, De Hef stands in the way of his domain over the sea. Congratulations to the people of Rotterdam.

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