The miracle of Rotterdam

Siebe Thissen Lecture at the city center symposium Municipality of Rotterdam, 25.11.2014

With the realization of the new Central Station and the Markthal, marketing has received new impulses from Rotterdam. In the wake of the unbridled enthusiasm that our city has exhibited since 1940, urban beautification has always followed. Up to the present day. The station square will soon have the artwork Kissing Earth, two shiny and transparent globes, designed by Olafur Eliasson, and for the Markthal, Arno Coenen created a gigantic digital ceiling painting with a nod to the Sistine Chapel. "Now we no longer have to explain what Rotterdam is," said a euphoric Fred van Beuningen, director of Rotterdam Partners, in the Algemeen Dagblad. That's great - we like to look ahead in Rotterdam. But to allow visitors to stay longer in the city center, one of the objectives of the College and this symposium, it cannot hurt to add an extra dimension to the city that is now in the spotlight.

Next year we will not only bear the title of "European city of 2015", but also commemorate the fact that 75 years ago, just as heroic as the legendary Baron Von Münchhausen, pulled up its own hair from the dredging bombing bombing 1940 from May. In that example of powerfaring, the city not only showed resilience, but also achieved a great performance. In 1961, at the completion of the Dutch edition of the board game Monopoly, the Coolsingel, Hofplein and Blaak were already in the most expensive zone of the game, close to Amsterdam's Kalverstraat, which, however, had taken 300 years to its status to redeem. This zone is located exactly between Central Station and the Market Hall, which as postmodern bookends keep the previous iconic Rotterdam together.

However, you have to look carefully for that, because the current state of the Coolsingel reminds very little of the position it once occupied in the Monopoly game. Clutter, demolition and new construction overgrow the relics of the reconstruction. The business community and committees of local notables embellished new buildings and squares and turned the city center into a graphic novel, in which stories about loss, resilience and optimism for the future were communicated to customers, citizens and visitors. Today, these stories have often sunk into the swamp of oblivion, but they are still dormant as wandering lights. In folklore and fairy tales, wandering lights play an important role: they lure travelers off the beaten track and pull them deeper into the forest - and that's where the adventure begins: not on the straight path, but in leaving the safe route. In other words, no longer stay in the city center without wisps.

While the Dutch Monopoly game was first displayed in the windows, the art critic of the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, Cees Doelman, wrote a beautiful essay about 'the miracle of Rotterdam'. He had just completed a journey through the United States, England and France where, to his own surprise, he was welcomed as the ambassador of the most progressive art city in the world. In the Guggenheim, the MoMA and the Baltimore Museum Of Art, Rotterdam was praised for its courage to realize 'contemporary sculpture in the midst of the modern urban bustle'. Deeply impressed by all that praise and with a red blush on his cheeks, Goalkeeper returned to Rotterdam. In his essay, he aptly summarized the city's almost casual but extraordinary achievement. (I quote) 'Who would have ever suspected that this city would acquire a special international reputation? And yet that reputation has emerged. Suddenly. In a few years. Perhaps best of all, we already find it quite normal here in Rotterdam, that all those statues are there. And this particularly affects foreigners - that it is possible and that everyone is happy with it. It is a miracle that is celebrated internationally and with envy. In a wonderfully short time everyone has become familiar with it. Why? Because this collection sums up the entire tragedy, it is a reminder of the disaster of war crime, despair and furious protest. In Rotterdam we hear the cry of horror, but we also see the will to rise again from the rubble '(end of quote).

Goalkeeper could also have said: 'Now we no longer have to explain what Rotterdam is'. Behind me you can see only a very small selection from our wonderful city collection, which still shapes the most special reconstruction museum in Western Europe. In addition, the museum is open 24 hours a day and admission is free. The unsuspecting visitor who walks from Central Station to the Markthal can enjoy these wispy lights, which bring him into contact with the miracle of Rotterdam in an unforced manner, that is to say, with the unbridled will of the city to get up again and again. focus and refresh. That is why Visual Arts & Public Space (BKOR) and Sculpture International Rotterdam (SIR) will pay special attention to the visual story of the city center in the coming year.

But to be able to tell that story better, a number of actions are desirable, including the lighting of image-determining ornaments and sculptures. A good example is the way in which Emiel Arends of Bureau Binnenstad designed the facade sculpture The family by Louis van Roode on the Westblaak at night. It is also a consideration to return a number of lost statues, including the first reconstruction monuments by Han Richters, already made in 1940, while the rubble on the Coolsingel was still smoking. His ode to the earliest heroes of Rotterdam, the architect and the stonemason, disappeared in the violence of the urban renewal of the XNUMXs, but deserves a new place in the city center as the leitmotif of our cartoon. Finally, the largely private collection also deserves the moral protection of the city council and project developers: works of art die almost every week due to demolition and new construction - think of the phenomenal Birds by Jan Bezemer on the Coolsingel - or unique works of art are heading straight for their demise - such as the heavily damaged sculpture by Naum Gabo for De Bijenkorf - considered worldwide as one of the most special works in public space. This endangered inner-city collection has only two demands: right to exist and recognition.

The restoration and redevelopment of the station post office by Claus en Kaan Architecten in 2010 was exemplary in this context. Much attention was paid to the restoration of some thirty monumental works of art, including the western facade by Louis van Roode, who nicknamed the post office in 1960. 'Post Cathedral' delivered. Thanks to the mediation of BKOR, the once removed entrance sculpture by Kees Timmer, a Phoenix that rises from its own axis - the symbol of Rotterdam, added to the entrance again.

The miracle of Rotterdam was indeed a small miracle because the business community and the municipal government had unselfishly pursued a common goal since 1940: to show resilience, zest for life and optimism for the future in images. And precisely that pact, which is still reminiscent of the monumental art of our inner city, brought us to the highest regions of the Monopoly game. Let us therefore continue to explain what Rotterdam is, for example by enticing visitors with our own false lights, so that the interest in Rotterdam can deepen in a playful way.

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