Rotterdam: A city rebuilt

On Wednesday morning Oliver and I packed our bags yet again and walked to Amsterdam Central Railway Station where we bought tickets to Rotterdam. I wish I had the knack of packing light because our bags have grown heavier with each stop; they now are full of solders, knights, books, soccer gear, Crumpler bags etc etc.

Waiting on the platform at Amsterdam Central Station

 

We arrived in Rotterdam after a slower than expected train journey then a race to the conference hotel in a pricey cab. My first conference session had already started, but I arrived just in time to give my 5 minute talk.

After the talk, we checked into our hotel. For reasons unexplained we were upgraded to a room in a 5 star hotel next to the conference hotel (at no extra cost). So our room easily is the biggest and fanciest we have had on this trip. The room is spacious. We have a spa bath (after no baths only showers everywhere else) and a TV embedded in the bathroom mirror! This morning Oliver enjoyed a bubbly spa bath while watching TV. We are on the top floor of the hotel with a wonderful view over the port of Rotterdam. Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and the 5th largest port in the world.

Our room at the Mainport Hotel, Rotterdam

 

So Rotterdam very much is a working harbour, like Sydney, and we have wonderful views day and night of many different vessels.

 

Today I've been at the Biennial Conference of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition: giving two talks (one for myself and one for Penny Van Bergen; both went well), tossing around ideas, and lining up new connections for our team. Five other members of our team — Adam Congleton, Aline Cordonnier, Doris McIlwain, Amanda Selwood, and John Sutton — also gave talks today, which were very well received. Tomorrow and Saturday Rochelle Cox and Misia Temler, also from our group, will present their talks. So, busy.

Oliver went out and about today with the lovely Nina McIlwain, Doris and John's daughter. Oliver has loved being part of the conference scene, talking to people in the team and to researchers from all around the world. I think he is enjoying the limelight as the only kid at the conference. Nina was that kid once, as the daughter of two academics who have travelled far and wide to conferences. She is incredibly smart, articulate and warm and I hope Oliver turns out just like her!

This evening we went to a reception at the Rotterdam City Hall, called Stadhuis. The City Hall, completed in 1915, is one of only two buildings that survived bombing by the Germans on 14th May 1940. On that day, German bombers razed to the ground almost the entire old city, much of it dating from medieval times. Here is what Wikipedia says about the Rotterdam Blitz:

In total, 1,150 50-kilogram and 158 250-kilogram bombs were dropped, mainly in the residential areas of Kralingen and the medieval city centre. Most of these hit and ignited buildings, resulting in uncontrollable fires that worsened the following days when the wind grew fiercer and the fires emerged into a firestorm … Although exact numbers are not known, nearly 1,000 people were killed and 85,000 made homeless. Around 2.6 square kilometres of the city was almost levelled. 24,978 homes, 24 churches, 2,320 stores, 775 warehouses and 62 schools were destroyed.

Below is a painting of Rotterdam sometime between 1890 and 1905, before World War II and the German bombing. You can see the Tower of St. Lawrence' Church, built around 1660, in the background:

 

Now here is a photo of Rotterdam after the German bombing. Again you can see the Tower of St. Lawrence' Church, this time in ruins:

 

This photo reminded me of the destruction in Christchurch, New Zealand, still very evident two years after their devastating earthquakes (including the February 2011 earthquake). Here is a photo I took with my brother Gary in April this year. Like Rotterdam, almost all of Christchurch's buildings were destroyed and/or need to be pulled down. An entire city centre gone for all time.

The Christchurch Cathedral after the February 2011 earthquake

 

Will Christchurch be able to rebuild as Rotterdam has done so successfully? Circumstances are, of course, very different but it was inspiring to visit the beautiful Rotterdam Stadhuis — almost the lone survivor of an earlier age — and then walk outside and around their new Rotterdam.

Inside Rotterdam City Hall or Stadhuis

Inside Rotterdam City Hall or Stadhuis

Outside Rotterdam City Hall or Stadhuis

Modern Rotterdam

 

Tomorrow is more conferencing while Oliver and Nina seek out some fun. Then later in the day I hope to see more of Rotterdam with Oliver before final conferencing on Saturday and then we fly home from Amsterdam on Sunday. We will let you know what we discover!

 

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