Science - November 10, 2005

Q & A / What is that copper pillar?

Last weekend a nine-metre-high statue caused a crowd to gather on the 5 Meiplein in Wageningen. It also made the news and all national newspapers. Now it’s gone. Did it just fly away?

Have you come across things here in Holland that puzzle you? Send an e-mail to wispr@cereales.nl and you may find the answer in the Wispr the following week.
The post is the subject of a long story that involves a lot of people. In the beginning, there was a prince named Bernhard, the father of the present queen, Beatrix. Bernhard has special significance for Wageningen as he represented the Netherlands when the Germans signed their surrender at the end of the Second World War in this town. Each year, on Liberation Day (5 May) a flame was lit, and the prince returned to take the salute from war veterans. When Bernhard died in December 2004, the municipality wanted to erect a statue to him. They chose for a tall copper pillar that could rise upwards and retract according to the amount of sunlight, with an eternal flame burning at the top, made by a Dutch monument designer.

To erect a statue in the Netherlands, however, you need legal permission. The municipality pushed the planning permission application through quickly in an attempt to get the monument erected in the square before Liberation Day. But when the citizens of Wageningen heard about the monument in March, they started to protest. Most people found the pillar ugly and not worthy of Bernhard. In addition, the use of gas was criticised as being expensive and a waste of energy. Meanwhile the list of names assigned to the monument grew: from pillar to post and phallus to penis, because of its form and movements. Wageningen UR also protested, as owner of Hotel de Wereld in the same square, claiming that the pillar would not match the monumental character of their building and would disturb the atmosphere of the square. In the end about 1300 signatures were raised, and the plans even received national media attention.

Due to the protests, the local authorities decided in April to look for another way to honour Bernhard and to search for alternative locations for the pillar. But after a few months of deliberation they returned to the initial location and the whole circus started over again. All the municipality did was to rename the statue ‘Flame for Freedom’ [bevrijdingsvuur]. In an attempt to convince the public, the pillar was erected for a three-day trial over the weekend preceding a public hearing on Tuesday 8 November.

The tall shiny object attracted much attention this weekend. The reactions varied. Some argued that it was out of tune with its surroundings and clashed with the liberation monument of the naked man on the square; others welcomed a Flame for Freedom. With the hearing however, the soap opera around this monument has not come to an end. More procedures and council meetings will follow. As things stand right now, the decision will probably be taken in December. The story is not over yet. / YdH

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