March 9th, 2022. Rotterdam. We walked almost ten kilometers. In search of the past in the present and the present in the past. A way of sensing the city in its different temporalities and of underlining the importance of collective and individual memories in the understanding of its forms and consciousness (Rossi, 1966). Finding traces of tensions and conflicts in the urban fabric that “erased” one memory to the detriment of another, discussion between the past and the present. “Ghost stories for grown-ups” (Walburg, 2015). A heartless city.


Anti-tank iron objects, made by some Rotterdam locksmiths to show solidarity. The City Hall building (Stadhuis Rotterdam), spared in the bombing by the German as they wanted to keep the data on the city’s citizens. On one of the towers, now appears the flag of Ukraine. A series of street art in shades of blue and yellow in the Plein 1940, where one can find the sculpture “Destroyed city” (De Verwoeste Stad, 1953) by Ossip Zadkine, a memorial of the massive destruction of the city center perpetrated by the German Nazis in 1940. The suffering city because its heart was taken away. A huge void was left.


Academy of Fine Arts Rotterdam, Willem de Kooning Academie. One of the very few buildings downtown that survived the bombing. At the time it was a prestigious bank. A rumor says that Hitler had this building spared because the owner was a Nazi fascist. A rumor that has not been proven. Next to the academy, another building, built after the war, much later. Behind it, new buildings, quite recent.


WitteHuis, ie White House, built in 1898 in Art Nouveau style, with a height of 45 meters. It was then the tallest building in Holland. A skyscraper, American style from that time. On the left side, first, old buildings, followed by modern and tall ones. A small area that also survived the bombing.


Post-war building next to a pre-war building.


Haringvliet Canal, dating from 1590. Statue for the Mariners. Commando-type special forces that defended the city’s points over the river against invading Germans from the south. Very ironic. They defended too well. So, Hitler got angry and decided to bomb the city. And he said that Amsterdam would be the next city. Unconditional surrender or bombs.


On the edge of fire. Spotlights placed on the ground (at the places where the bombs fell). There are hundreds of these marks that form a line. They only light up on the night of May 14, the day the city was bombed. The St Laurens Kerk Gothic Protestant Church which also survived. Photos displayed inside the church that show how it looked like before the bombing.


Schielandhuis, built in the 17th century (1660). Very dissonant — only new buildings around. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have everything in one image. Schielandhuis mirrored in a modern building next door.


Another monument — Delftse Poort — that symbolizes the rebuilding of the city. A Poort is a gateway to a city. The old city gate in Rotterdam, a design by the architect Pieter de Swart, was built on the Hofplein in the period 1768-1773. Until 1940, the stone city gate was the icon of the city. Inside, old artifacts from that Poort burned.


West Kruiskade. Where the old and the new coexist. Modern building on the right and the old pre-war ones on the left. Westersingel. The same, but on the opposite side, at dusk.

Text: Zara Pinto-Coelho & Willem Kramer

Images: Willem Kramer

Published on 11-04-2022


Rossi, A. (1982/1966). The architecture of the city. The MIT Press.

Warburg, A. (2015). Histórias de fantasma para gente grande. Escritos, esboços e conferências (Org. L. Waizbort; Tradução L. B. Bárbara). Companhia das Letras.




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