It may seem strange but in all the misery that is gong on here in Christchurch I have found it at least has brought me a better understanding of my parents where it comes to their relationship with their city Rotterdam, the city in which I was born for that matter.
In may 1940, not long after the Second World War had started, the Germans lived up to their threat to bomb the city if the Dutch army did not live up to the demands made by the German forces. For two and a half hours the Germans bombed the city, destroying almost 26,000 buildings. The Rotterdam C8ity Archive reports:
As a result of the bombardments and shootings that took place between May 10th and 14th an area of 258 hectares (approx. 638 acres), of which 158 hectares (approx. 390 acres) of the built-on area and 100 hectares (approx. 248 acres) of streets and open spaces, had been demolished. The devastation of buildings was largely due to the big bombardment and the resulting fires. In the stricken area of 252 streets all buildings were destroyed and of 141 streets the built-on area was partially destroyed. Soon, this area was called “the debris”.
All together 25.479 dwellings were lost in which 77.607 people were housed. Besides that, 26 hotels, 117 boarding houses and 44 lodgings, in which some 2000 people lived, had been destroyed. In total 79.600 persons, who represented 12,8 % of the population of Rotterdam, were left homeless. Of these people, as from June 15th 1940 onward, 20.887 were accommodated in other municipalities, while others, at that moment, had found a temporary shelter within the boundaries of Rotterdam. A lot of industrial premises were also destroyed: 31 department stores and 2.320 smaller shops, 31 factories and 1.319 workshops, 675 warehouses and storage companies, 1.437 offices, 13 bank buildings and 19 consulates, 69 school buildings and 13 hospitals, 24 churches and 10 charitable institutions, 25 municipal- and government buildings, 4 station buildings, 4 newspaper buildings and 2 museums, 517 café’s and restaurants, 22 cinema’ s and 184 other business accommodations.
A few other air raids followed including the often overlooked bombardment of 31 May 1943: the Rotterdam City Archive reported:
On that day American bombers, coming from England, attacked the port- and shipbuilding installations in the dock area in the west of Rotterdam. The industrial area between Keilehaven and Merwehaven was hit, but a combination of strong wind and overcast also caused great damage to the nearby residential areas, especially in the Bospolder-Tussendijken District. The death toll rose to 401 casualties. About 10 hectares (approx. 25 acres) of built-on area and 8 hectares (approx. 20 acres) of public roads were destroyed. Around 16.500 people lost their homes. The bombardment later came to be known as the ‘Forgotten Bombardment’.
A once lively port city and trade center was left like this in the pics below.
The decennia years after the war were all about the rebuilding of the city and even until now Rotterdam was and still is a city in constant development and redevelopment.
A city that has the pride and joy of the people that loved there.
Christchurch Aftershock 22/2/2011
On 22 February 2011 my city was left in devastation after a serious aftershock left its center in devastated state.
And here as well thousands of buildings have been devastated, a large number of people have died and a city is left that needs to basically start from the ground up in many senses of the word, leaving people homeless, jobless, businessless.
In a very similar sense a city in which restoration is the keyword, very likely for the coming decennia.
A New Understanding of My Parent’s Pride of Their City
If there is anything I remember from my own youth, about 25 years and onwards after the first bombardment in Rotterdam, it is that of a city in m0tion, building, rebuilding but most of all a city of which its inhabitants were proud: a collective feeling of pride in the recovery of a city that basically had been wiped out. There was a community spirit when I grew up that seems almost out of the order when compared to other cities. There was a community culture: Rotterdam as the city of people that had their sleeves rolled up to ‘just do it’ and to restore the city in all its facets into an even better one. One to which everyone contributed in their own way and therefore was the pride of every single inhabitant. After hearing Bob Parker speak about the future of this city I got this imagination that one day, just like me, my grand children will not understand why people from Christchurch are so particularly proud of their city. And the answer will be probably be just the same:
This is the city that we built up from scratch upon the ashes of the demolished old city, all in our own way but ultimately by joining our hands together. We stepped up to the challenge and made it through together. And look at the result, it is even better than before.
I so imagine that it will be the same here in Christchurch. Most of all I think that after forty-five years of not fully understanding it, can relate better than ever to what my parents meant to tell us when they tried to explain what it means to not just lose your home or the safety thereof but your complete city. And like them I anticipate to be one of these people that inhabit Christchurch at an old age looking back at its and being proud for being there to build it back up from the ground, together with the rest of the people of Christchurch, all in our own ways but all with our hearts set on the same end result: a city that is even better, safer, that is the pride of its people, a city that is doing honor and glory to the name it bears more than ever.