42 Reconstruction

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World Wars
On September 17, 1956 the proud mayor Hustinx addressed the city council enthusiastically, ‘The oldest city in the Netherlands now has the country’s most modern shopping centre’. The reconstruction of the city centre was finally complete and Nijmegen celebrated.

During the war Nijmegen was one of the most severely hit cities in the Netherlands. The bombing of February 22, 1944, the fighting during the city’s liberation in September 1944 and the following months in the front line caused most of the damage. Over 2200 Nijmegen people died. The damage to the city was immense. Over three thousand houses, four hundred shops, fifty catering premises, seven churches, four cinemas, two banks and the station were destroyed or severely damaged. Charred walls were the only remaining feature of the city hall.

The centre of Nijmegen was a wasteland and city planners had a ‘clean slate’ to work with. The city council saw the destruction as an opportunity to transform Nijmegen into an easily accessible and modern city. The plans for the reconstruction were developed in phases from 1944 to 1947. The difficult decision of whether to take a historical or a modern approach led to a pragmatic compromise. It was decided that old icons, such as the city hall and the St. Stevens church, were to be restored. Even though the old street plan remained more or less the same, it was made more efficient by including squares (for example Plein 1944) and wider streets. Bloemerstraat and Augustijnenstraat were widened and the demolition of the Dominicus church (largely mediaeval) made room for widening Broerstraat. This gave pedestrians and cars more space and made it easier for trucks to load and unload in the characteristic courtyards. The aim was to split the city centre’s functions into separate areas with the emphasis on shopping in the centre. However, the city council also wanted to create commercial, entertainment and religious centres. Industrial buildings were no longer to be allowed in the city centre.

The city council approved the plans for reconstruction in 1947. The permit from central government (important for gaining financial aid) took a few years longer. Once this was approved the reconstruction could finally start and soon the city was bustling with building activity. The injured city was finally healing.

The reconstruction completion celebrations of 1956 were understandable, but rather premature. Many large projects, such as the HEMA building, the city theatre and the construction of the tunnel under the station were yet to be completed.
From a wounded city to a healthy city
Plan for the reconstruction of Nijmegen, 1947 (RAN)

Source: Jan Brabers, in: De Canon van Nijmegen, Uitgeverij Vantilt (Nijmegen 2009)