Rotterdam, past and present

When commuters and visitors come out of Central Station in Rotterdam, they are greeted by a video billboard just a few feet away. That billboard has been quite a topic of conversation among our group, who’s noticed its odd juxtapositioning between the city’s tragic past as a war-torn area and its current status as one of the Netherland’s commercial hubs.

Images of Rotterdam in 1940, when Jews were transported from local neighborhoods to concentration camps and the city itself was bombed, appear between advertisements for H & M, a hip clothing store for young women in Europe and the United States. The black and white photos of war are in sharp contrast to images of bikini-clad women sauntering towards the passerby.

A picture of war-torn Rotterdam outside Central Station

A picture of war-torn Rotterdam outside Central Station

Tuesday of this week (May 5) was National Liberation Day in the Netherlands, the day on which the Dutch celebrate the end of occupation by Nazi Germany. At 8 p.m., the city goes silent, as citizens pay respect to the many who lost their lives during the war and remember years of horror and destruction in their homeland.

After the silence, everything returns to normal–chatter and music in the pubs, laughing on the city streets, and the familiar noises from trams and bicyclists.

I have to wonder if there’s a reason for the layering of past and present in the images outside Central Station. In Rotterdam, memories of the past remain strong. The city thrives, though, on the path it is forging today.

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