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, with a nod to the Sistine Chapel, has made a gigantic, digital ceiling painting. "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 - in Rotterdam we like to look ahead. But to allow visitors to stay longer in the city center, one of the aims of the College and this symposium, it can do no harm 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.

For that, however, you have to look carefully, because the current state of the Coolsingel hardly reminds us of the position it once occupied in the Monopoly game. Cluttering, demolition and new construction overgrow the relics of reconstruction. The business community and committees of local notables decorated new buildings and squares and turned the city center into a graphic novel, in which stories about loss, resilience and future optimism were communicated to customers, citizens and visitors. Today, those stories have often sank into the swamp of oblivion, but they are still dormant as false lights. In folklore and in fairy tales, wandering lights play an important role: they lure travelers off the beaten track and drag them deeper into the forest - and there the adventure begins: not on the straight path, but in leaving the safe route. In other words, without wandering lights no longer staying in the city center.

While the Dutch Monopoly game was displayed in the shop windows for the first time, 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 he was received to his own surprise as an ambassador for the most progressive art city in the world. Rotterdam was praised in the Guggenheim, the MoMA and the Baltimore Museum Of Art 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 the cheeks, Doelman returned to Rotterdam. In his essay, he aptly summarized the almost casual but extraordinary performance of the city. (I quote) 'Who ever suspected that this city would gain a special international reputation? And yet that reputation has arisen. All of a sudden. In a few years. Perhaps the best thing of all is that we find it very common here in Rotterdam, that all those images are there. And this particularly affects foreigners - that it is possible and that everyone is content with it. It is a miracle that is welcomed internationally and with jealousy. Everyone became familiar with it in a miraculously short time. Why? Because this collection summarizes the entire tragedy, it is a reminder of the war crime disaster, the desperation and the angry protest. In Rotterdam we hear the cry of horror, but we also see the will to rise again from the rubble '(end of quote).

Doelman could also have said: 'Now we no longer have to explain what Rotterdam is'. Behind me you see only a very small selection from our wonderful city collection, which still gives shape to the most extraordinary reconstruction museum in Western Europe. In addition, the 24 museum is open 24 hours a day and admission is free. The unsuspecting visitor who walks from Central Station to the Market Hall can briefly indulge in these wandering lights, which bring him into contact with the miracle of Rotterdam, that is to say, with the unbridled will of the city to keep coming up. to focus and renew. That is why Visual Arts & Public Space (BKOR) and Sculpture International Rotterdam (SIR) will pay special attention to the cartoon of the city 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 have a number of disappeared images return, including the first reconstruction monuments of Han Richters, already made in 1940, while the debris on the Coolsingel was still smoking. His ode to the earliest heroes of Rotterdam, the architect and the stonemason, disappeared in the violence of urban renewal in the 1960s, but deserves a new place in the city center as the guiding motive of our cartoon. Finally, the largely private collection also deserves the moral protection of the city authorities and project developers: works of art are destroyed almost every week due to demolition and new construction - think of the phenomenal Birds by Jan Bezemer on the Coolsingel - or head for unique works of art right down to their demise - such as the heavily battered sculpture by Naum Gabo for De Bijenkorf - regarded worldwide as one of the most special works in public space. This endangered city center collection only has two requirements: right to exist and recognition.

An example of this was the restoration and redevelopment of the station post office by Claus and Kaan Architects in 2010. Much attention was paid to the restoration of thirty monumental works of art, including the western façade bar by Louis van Roode, who gave the post office in 1960 the nickname 'Post Cathedral'. Thanks to the mediation of BKOR, the once removed entrance sculpture by Kees Timmer also became one 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.

Related artwork

The family (1959) Louis van Roode
Untitled (1959) Louis van Roode
Phoenix (1959) Kees Timmer
Untitled (1957) Naum Gabo
Corporate Entity (1963) Wessel Couzijn
Welfare (1953) Piet Starreveld
Monument for all fallen 1940 - 1945 (1957) Mari Andriessen
The destroyed city (1953) Ossip Zadkine