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In Jakarta, it’s hip to like history

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Sara Schonhardt

(Read caption) Jakarta’s history museum is flanked by vintage bicycles.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Indonesian youths with a penchant for the past have injected new life into Jakarta’s Old City. Once home to the city’s main port and 17th-century Dutch settlements, the area known then as Batavia is now abuzz with teens who come to ride vintage bicycles, visit the history museum, or snap pictures in front of several crumbling colonial facades.

Groups such as the Sahabat Museum, an informal community of history aficionados, lead walking tours of the area. Sahabat Museum has organized nearly 100 tours around Indonesia since starting in 2003, but founder Ade Purnama says the Old City remains a favorite among youths.

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“Because they live here, they grew up here, and they want to know the city’s history,” he says, noting that the last tour he organized there drew roughly 1,000 people.

Many participants come to enhance their knowledge of the country’s past. But Mr. Purnama sees the tours as part of a broader effort to get people to appreciate Jakarta.

Many buildings in the Old City remain in ruin. Their owners say they won’t invest in rehabilitation until the government enacts a widespread revitalization program.

In the meantime, Indonesians are finding other ways of bringing new life to the area. The Indonesian Heritage Society leads tours of historical sites, such as an old bank, a soy sauce factory, and the former homes of Dutch elite, as does a group called Cultural Explorer.

“This is an interesting way to learn about our city,” says Bulan Mendota, who was on a recent Sahabat Museum tour.

By learning about Jakarta, says Purnama, youths will also learn how to make it better.