Preserving Memory in the Netherlands

28 Mar

by Tom Thompson-

During our Spring Break I went to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for work. I normally do not get this lucky, but sometimes things go your way.  There was a little spare time, so I decided to go to a few museums and see if they were similar to what we have in the United States.

First, the city of Rotterdam is a major business center and has some beautiful high-rise buildings and bridges. The city was all but leveled by the Germans in World War II and so nearly the whole city is relatively new. It has wide boulevards with trams running down the middle and curbed-off bicycle lanes for the zillions of riders. One of the locals told me they were tearing down a building from 1953 because it was so old. Since they had to start from nothing in 1945, his comment left me wondering if building preservation is important in Rotterdam. Even though this is a very old country, perhaps the residents of Rotterdam are not emotional about building preservation because it does not represent a distant past?

Haven Museum

Rotterdam's Haven Museum

I walked around the city, but bad luck, I was free on Monday when all museums are closed. However, I was able to walk around the outside of the Haven (Harbor) Museum, which has numerous boats of various types but primarily those that brought cargo into the town. There are also cranes and other equipment used to load them. There were no outside plaques, so maybe you need a guided tour or audio tour to find out more information. I found one small museum area that was open as there were a few students (history majors?) working. They let me walk around but all of the

Museum Display

A small display at the Haven Museum

plaques were in Dutch. The exhibits displayed the workings of the modern harbor in terms of traffic control of the huge container ships that make this the largest port in Europe. I did take a picture of one display describing a past era when a small variety shop was contained on a boat and the proprietor moved on the canals to get to his customers.

Walking on, I found this monument to those who lost their lives in World War Two.  The monument is called “De Boeg” or “The Bow” in English. The plaque attached translates to: “National Monument The Bow to the memory of the seafarers who have died in the Dutch Navy during the Second World War 1939-1945.” In the same way that we honor the memory of our military dead, the Dutch have placed this monument.  It is the only one that I saw in the harbor area.

The Bow Plaque

The Bow Plaque

My last memory preservation find on this day was a Walk of Fame.  There were handprints, footprints, and signatures in cement, just like in the U.S.  Mostly European singers and rock bands were represented, as well as Americans, most of whom I would rate as mid-level U.S. pop music stars. A few brief examples for music fans; UB40, Golden Earing, David Lee Roth, and La Toya Jackson.


La Toya Jackson's square on the Rotterdam Walk of Fame

I finished the day thinking that our preservation of the past in the United States is not that different from the Netherlands and my other travel in Europe. Maybe this is because most of our American heritage was developed from the European cultures. Now it appears that we are exporting one way of memorializing people; did the Walk of Fame in Rotterdam have its roots in the Hollywood Walk of Fame?  My experiences this week lead me to believe that we are not very different. In their own way, all countries preserve the memory of people, objects, and events to remember and honor the past.


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