Tag Archives: Rotterdam

Integration: its beauty, its ugliness

6 Jun

The world becomes ever more integrated. In many ways, to my mind, it’s a beautiful thing. I’ve been reminded of this phenomenon over the last week. My Colombian wife and I were in France, listening to Jose Gonzalez, a Swedish-Argentinian who sings in English. I read novels by an Austrian, a Frenchman and an American and began one by a Norwegian. We’d driven down via Belgium from the Netherlands where we’d been staying with my wife’s Colombian friend and her Dutch husband. Along the way we passed lorries coming from every corner of the EU – Romania, Lithuania, Portugal, Italy… How sad that Little England has begun to turn its back on the world. Ah, well… And as we travelled back to England, I began to hear news of the latest terror attack, one of the uglier aspects of our global society, perpetrated by individuals with their roots in Pakistan, Morocco and Libya. These events will only end when we’ve truly begun to understand one another and to embrace our differences. 

Below are some of the sights I encountered along the way. 

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All text and images © PSR 2017

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De Oude en de Nieuw

2 Aug

De oude en de nieuw… the old and the new coexist peacefully in the Netherlands. I alluded to this idea in my previous post about my visit to Rotterdam where modernist architecture in the rebuilt city sits happily alongside traditional Dutch building styles. Images of old Holland – the sails of windmills and wind-pumps turning, barges drifting on a vast network of inland waterways – appear centuries ahead of their time, viewed in retrospect. As you arrive in the country from the sea, the vast wind farms that confront you seem emblematic of the Dutch approach to energy-generation and transportation.

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Moving freight by water in the Netherlands

In many ways the Netherlands feels much more civilised and progressive than the insular Saxon kingdom in which I live. Government policy in the UK seems to be heading backwards with respect to the environment. The apparent abolition of the tax regime designed to encourage the production of low emission vehicles, the removal of subsidies for domestic solar panels, the obstacles the planning system places in the way of onshore wind farms, the enthusiasm for fracking…

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Electric cars charging in a Rotterdam street with those ubiquitous bicycles in the background

Meanwhile, back in Rotterdam, cyclists are everywhere and electric cars charge in the streets. It’s a blend of old and new approaches to transport, but focused firmly on the future. Here again, the Dutch appear to be years ahead of the British in their thinking.

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Electric sports saloon recharging. Look carefully – the bikes are there again.

State-owned public transport, clean and efficient, inexpensive for the citizen to use, forms the third element of the Dutch approach to getting around and between towns and cities. In Rotterdam, there is a genuinely integrated transport system, overseen by RET and NS and consisting of trams, buses, metro and trains. “Hier veranderen voor tram, trein en bus,” the pre-recorded voice merrily announces as you approach the next metro station. The situation could hardly be further removed from that in the UK where priority is entirely focused on the private motorist and private ownership of transport provision. Roads are congested and public transport is dilapidated and inefficient.

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A gleaming metro train arrives in Delfshaven station

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The old and the new combine in a celebration of Delft earthenware at Delfshaven’s modern metro station

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Trams in Den Haag – oh, yes, and in the right hand margin, women on bikes…

So while the Dutch embrace a cleaner, greener future, the British, it would seem, are going to hell in a handcart, or at least, nowhere fast in a filthy train carriage. De oude en de nieuw

All text and images © PSR 2015

Rotterdammerung

30 Jul

These days, I generally keep a journal when I travel in continental Europe. And maybe one day, I’ll write up all of the entries into a book. In the meantime, here’s a short reflection on my recent trip to Rotterdam.

I had been to the city several decades ago, and then, only for a few hours. The Harwich to Hoek van Holland ferry crossing is on my doorstep so I thought I’d take the opportunity to spend a few days in the Netherlands. Amsterdam versus Rotterdam, Ajax versus Feyernoord, Amstel versus Oranjeboom… the Netherlands’ two biggest cities have always been rivals. But why choose to visit the latter rather than the former, most people would probably ask? Ah, well, that’s the nature of the man, isn’t it? And there was investigation to be done.

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The train arriving to dispatch me to Rotterdam

14 Mei 1940. The Rotterdam Blitz. The historic centre of the city was destroyed entirely – a few miraculous survivals aside – in the course of one terrible day. Over 20,000 buildings flattened, the River Schie filled in with the rubble… And five grim years were to follow – the Holocaust, the Hunger, the harsh rule of the Nazis and their Dutch puppets, the NSB… I visited the Museum Rotterdam 40-45 NU. A humble institution, with few visitors or so it appeared, it was no bigger than a provincial museum. And that’s kind of fitting since all that was left of the great city by time the German bomber aircraft had finished with it could be accommodated within the walls of a small town. The story its displays tell is almost unbearably poignant. Later, I followed part of the Fire Boundary walk, marking out the area devastated on 14th May. Circular icons in the pavement, lit by LEDs, delineate the extent of the inferno.

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Sculpture outside the Museum Rotterdam 40-45 NU in Coolhaven

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Pavement symbols marking the Fire Boundary in Rotterdam

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Fire symbols beneath your feet – they glow red at night. This one is in Oude Binnenweg, which suffered catastrophic damage.

And so, Rotterdam was forced to reinvent itself. There were some, in the Delft School, who wished to rebuild the city in its previous incarnation, and evidence of this can be seen in many of the city’s streets. And then there were the modernists… Much of Rotterdam’s post-war architecture is spectacular. The city itself is vibrant. Smart shops and vast office buildings dominate the centrum, its streets bustling with people from every part of the globe, transported in shiny trams and speeding trains on the metro.

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Ultra-modern buildings in Rotterdam, including on the end there, “Paul’s Church”!

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The sight that greeted me as I walked out of Centraal Station

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Modernist iconography

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The Market Hall in Blaak, where a damn fine cup of coffee and pain au raisin may be taken

A few outlying areas escaped the destruction, most noticeably, in Delfshaven. It provides a direct conduit back to the pre-blitz city, a glimpse of how Rotterdam might have looked had it not been bombed. And it put me in mind of the display in the entrance of Museum 40-45. Alongside photographs of the shattered Dutch city are more recent images – Aleppo, Baghdad, Gaza… If hatred and the will to power are left unchecked, this could be any city. It could be mine. It could be yours.

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Near the Oude Sluis inn where your writer managed to order his de Konink in Dutch

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Back street in Delfshaven

I alluded to these events in my vast, unpublished war novel.

Five Englishmen, a Canadian and a Czech walked into a bar.  It was no laughing matter.  Tomorrow maybe or the day after, they’d be taking part in their first raid over enemy territory.  In the meantime, there was some serious drinking to be done.  It involved an element of what is sometimes called ‘Dutch courage’, though much good it had done the citizens of Rotterdam as the dive-bombers had been smashing their homes into brick-dust.  The odd glass or two of advokaat must have seemed scant consolation.

Tot ziens for now…

All text and images © PSR 2015