Rotterdam The Netherlands
Rotterdam, The Netherlands. A modern city. Photo – Our Cities.
  • An ANZAC-inspired article from contributor Wouter Jellema
  • The city of his birth, Rotterdam, had to be completely rebuilt post-war
  • Despite this tragic past, the city these days is a bustling, modern one

Have you ever wondered why the City of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is so modern compared to many other cities in Europe?

Europe is known for its rich history. Many places in Europe have castles, houses with a story, architecture from thousands of years ago, historical theatres, canals, arenas, and so much more history. This makes Europe a popular destination amongst travellers.

Why is there this one city that stands out of the crowd, with its modern buildings, lack of history, new roads, and so forth? 

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Image –

The reason dates back to the Second World War, where on the 10th of May 1940, the low countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) were invaded. Both countries had declared neutrality, but by having the Netherlands and Belgium under German control, Hitler had a free passage to attack France from the North and a defence line, preventing the UK from setting a base on the mainland.

The Dutch soldiers fought as best as they could, and Hitler grew tired of the resistance, so on the 14th of May, he ordered the bombing of Rotterdam, and as the city fell in ruins, the Netherlands surrendered. A few brave Dutch soldiers in Zealand (Zeeland) continued their resistance until the 17th, after which the Germans also took control of this province. Belgium surrendered on the 28th of May as ordered by their King Leopold III.

The result was almost five years of occupation. At first, for most parts of the Netherlands, not much changed. However, as the tide started to turn, with Germany losing ground from 1943 onwards and having the allies and the Russians pushing the boundaries back from both fronts, the oppression became worse.

The famous winter of 1944 – 1945 (Hongerwinter) shows how important our freedom is. People were afraid, tired, hungry, and nobody was safe. On the 5th of May, the Netherlands was free again. 

“Lights along the fire line memorialize the bombing of Rotterdam, 14 May 2007” – Wikipedia

It was in the aftermath of the war that Rotterdam had to be rebuild from scratch. Hence, it has a more modern look compared to the other cities in Europe. 

De Verwoeste Stad, (The Destroyed City), sculpture in Rotterdam by Ossip Zadkine.

Today, Rotterdam is known for its modern look, being the biggest port of Europe, its student life, Feyenoord, job opportunities, and its international, multi-cultural image. 

Lest we forget

“When the invasion of Holland took place I was recalled from leave and went on my first operation on the 15th of May 1940 against mainland Germany. Our target was Dortmund and on the way back we were routed via Rotterdam. The German Air Force had bombed Rotterdam the day before and it was still in flames. I realised then only too well that the ‘phoney war’ was over and that this was for real. By that time the fire services had extinguished a number of fires, but they were still dotted around the whole city. This was the first time I’d ever seen devastation by fires on this scale. We went right over the southern outskirts of Rotterdam at about 6,000 or 7,000 feet, and you could actually smell the smoke from the fires burning on the ground. I was shocked to see a city in flames like that. Devastation on a scale I had never experienced.

— Air Commodore Wilf Burnett.” – (Wikipedia)

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