Science - April 28, 2005

Book tells story of a ‘world famous’ hotel

The history of Hotel De Wereld is inextricably linked to that of Wageningen and in particular the celebration of the liberation of the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War in 1945. The journalist Leo Klep dug into the history of this special building and wrote a book that was published last year to mark the official opening of the current hotel-restaurant. This week an English translation of the book was published just in time for the 60th liberation day celebrations.

It is not so easy to imagine now, but the 5 Mei Plein was already a strategic crossroads many hundreds of years ago, and an inn has stood on the site of Hotel De Wereld since the 1660s. The author describes the history of this inn, which over the centuries developed into a hotel of standing.

The road between Rhenen and Wageningen was for many years the only east-west route in the region, and was also the postal route between Holland and Germany as long ago as 1600. The author describes the stopping place just outside the city walls ‘the first stopping place for the rest of the world’. When a national highway was built between Utrecht and Arnhem the inn gradually developed into a real hotel. The opening of the national agricultural school (Rijkslandbouwschool) in 1876 meant good business for the hotel, as many visiting government representatives from the Netherlands and abroad used the accommodation.

It was in Hotel De Wereld on 5 May 1945, that the German Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz officially surrendered to General Charles Foulkes, Commander-in-chief of the Canadian liberation army, in the presence of Prince Bernhard, Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch army. The surrender made the hotel ‘world famous’, but its function as a hotel went into decline in the post-war years. In 1970 the building became property of what was then the agricultural college (Landbouwhogeschool), and thus narrowly escaped demolition. De Wereld fulfilled various functions for the university for a period of about twenty years.

As Wageningen UR (as it had become by then) started to consolidate its accommodation, the future of De Wereld hung once more in the balance. In the end the decision was made to restore the building to its former use, and once again its doors are open to delegations from all over the world, recalling the Chinese mission that visited in 1906, spending the night and dining in style while coming to ‘study the miracle of agricultural education going on in Wageningen’. / GvM

Leo Klep, A brief history of Wageningen, through the windows of Hotel De Wereld, 2005, ISBN 90-801224-3-2, Futura Uitgevers. The book is available in local bookshops, price 16 euros.

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