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Jakarta Post

Lawang Sewu'€™s spooky image eliminated to lure more visitors

  • Ainur Rohmah

    The Jakarta Post

Semarang, Central Java   /   Sat, December 28, 2013   /  10:36 am
Lawang Sewu'€™s spooky image eliminated to lure more visitors

A thousand doors: The historic Lawang Sewu building in Semarang, Central Java, stands out in this photo taken on Thursday. State train operator PT Kereta Api Indonesia, which owns Lawang Sewu (which means a thousand doors), is working to change the building'€™s somewhat sinister image into a popular venue for events such as art performances and exhibitions. JP/Ainur Rohmah

Lawang Sewu, literally meaning a thousand doors, has long been known as a haunted Dutch colonial-style building.

But is the building really that scary? Well, not anymore. The formerly dilapidated building is now well-maintained and has a fresh ambiance.

State-owned railway company PT Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI) has been transforming the image of Lawang Sewu by turning it into a tourist spot and exhibition area.

KAI Museum manager Sapto Hartoyo said his office had been trying to disassociate Lawang Sewu from the spooky image that had long been attached to the old building.

'€œIf the building is known as a haunted place, people will be afraid to come. Or, if they do come they do so only to test their bravery,'€ Sapto said in Semarang recently.

Sapto said that by organizing on-site activities, people would be more interested in visiting. Among the activities organized at Lawang Sewu include music concerts, exhibitions and historical tours.

'€œWe will cooperate with the Semarang Tourism and Culture Agency, Art Council, cultural practitioners and other parties to make Lawang Sewu merrier,'€ Sapto said.

Built in 1904, Lawang Sewu was initially the office of the Nederlands-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij or the headquarter of a private railway company.

People started calling it Lawang Sewu because the building has many big windows, there are some 600 of them.

'€œMaybe because its windows are high and wide, people see them also as doors,'€ Sapto said.

During Indonesia'€™s fight of independence, the building was once the location of what is known as the five-day fight in Semarang between local youth troops AMKA (Angkatan Muda Kereta Api) and Japanese troops.

Because of its historical value, the Semarang municipal administration in 1992 declared Lawang Sewu as one of the city'€™s 102 protected historical or ancient buildings.

So renowned for its ghost stories, the building has been used to film a reality TV show in which contestants'€™ fears were tested. Horror movies have also been filmed in the Lawang Sewu area.

Sapto said that in 2014, his office had planned to renovate Building B of the compound and had prepared
Rp 1.8 billion [US$146,806] in funds for the purpose.

He said Building A would become an exhibition zone while Building B would be used as a culinary and bazaar site. Sport facilities will be available on the third floor of the building.

'€œWe have another dream of organizing a ballet performance or wayang orang [Javanese classical drama] performed by theater group Ngesti Pandawa here once a month on the eve of full moons,'€ he said, adding that the rooms in the buildings would also be available for rent in the future.

Currently, according to Sapto, an average of 1,000 visitors visit Lawang Sewu every day. The figure increases to 3,000 on weekends. Visitor are charged an entrance fee of Rp 10,000 (80 US cents) and an additional Rp 30,000 for a guide.

A visitor, Anggun Puspita from Bandung, West Java, said she found Lawang Sewu interesting because of the building'€™s uniqueness. '€œIt'€™s not scary at all,'€ she said, adding that she really enjoyed various exhibitions being held there.

Another visitor, Lucky Wirawan from Kendal, Central Java, told of a similar experience. '€œIt was dull the last time I came here. It'€™s more lively now with various events and art performances. This is good,'€ he said.

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