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Tony Grist

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Ypres [Oct. 17th, 2010|09:33 am]
Tony Grist
Ypres- or Ieper, as the locals prefer- got trashed in the Great War. The British were in and around the town and the Germans were on the higher ground to the north (There is no really high ground in Flanders) and the bombardment was continuous. Look at pictures taken towards the end of the War and just about the only thing still standing- only it's a shapeless lump of weevil-eaten brickwork- is the hollow stump of the Cloth Hall tower. Afterwards there was a proposal to leave things exactly as they were- as a monument to the dead- but the people of Ypres understandably wanted their town back- and took the extraordinary decision to rebuild it- medieval Cloth Hall and cathedral and all-  exactly as it had been. When it came to the cathedral- which was- as churches often are- an accretion of many hundred of years- they rebuilt the Romanesque bits as Romanesque and the early Gothic bits as early Gothic and the late Gothic bits as late Gothic. Modern Ypres looks like a miraculous survival of the high middle ages, but is, in fact,  almost entirely a creation of the 1920s. 






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Comments:
[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-10-17 09:40 am (UTC)
Were you at Hellfire Corner? Now a suburban roundabout. Double take, like when I exited Auschwitz train station and saw a boring lkooking bus stop on a bland street a km from the camp.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-10-17 09:55 am (UTC)
I believe we were. It's just by the Lille Gate, right?
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-10-17 04:15 pm (UTC)
I went via the Menin gate (Het Menenpoort) and walked out (tried marching at the same pace as my Grandfather). Pass a few cemeteries, voila. That road continues a few miles to Hill 60.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2010-10-17 11:24 am (UTC)
Wow. I'm working on a novel based around WWI and this really gives me some good context. Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-17 12:29 pm (UTC)
We did a great WWI battle tour round the area when we visited Flanders. We also visited some reconstructed trenches at Dixmude - the trench systems of the opposing forces had come to a halt there, and you could explore both, if I remember right. If you ever get a chance to go to Bruges (it's a short trip from the sea terminal at Zeebrugge), then you can choose from a wide range of tours which visit a number of the cemeteries and the actual battlefields. They're not cheap, but they're certainly comprehensive...

Good luck with the novel - hope it goes well.
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-10-17 04:14 pm (UTC)
That was the Yser front, the only Belgian territory unoccupied. Some decent hotels in Dixmude town square.
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-17 04:20 pm (UTC)
And some mighty fine purveyors of ice cream, too!!
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[User Picture]From: shanghai7
2010-10-17 04:56 pm (UTC)
Too cold for ice cream in November!
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-17 05:02 pm (UTC)
How about pastries, then? If I remember right, there was a rather lovely cake shop overlooking the square. There was a lovely one in Bruges, too, but when I tried looking for it on a return visit, I couldn't actually find it and couldn't help wondering if I'd hallucinated it. I suppose there's worse things in the world to hallucinate than patisseries...
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-10-17 08:52 pm (UTC)
Bruges/Brugge I only went through on a train or bus. Dixmude, I can recall the chop shop,an Asian 7/11 (he said Flemings were racist, the drunks sure as hell were) and going out to find the post office, in the rain, wearing the only headgear I had, my old Royal Corps of Signals beret.
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-17 08:57 pm (UTC)
What a marvellous image that conjours up!

We visited it twice. One trip was with a WWI minibus tour, the other on bicycles. It was 30 degrees - real ice cream weather!

I thought the big post-WWI tower saying PAX was quite ironic, considering the events of the next thirty years...
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[User Picture]From: shanghai7
2010-10-17 09:02 pm (UTC)
Was that Holts tours? I just wanted to see where my family were so went solo. Great for my own timetable but lousy as I can't turn to anyone and say "Do you know...?" Still, the only English voices I heard were loud, raucous, can't get a decent cuppa types. As for European history 1919-39, I did that, it isn't the war to end all wars it is the land fot for heroes betrayal...
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-17 09:07 pm (UTC)
I can't remember who ran it. It lasted all day and ran from Bruges and visited Ypres, Dixmude, various war cemeteries and a few more sites. It was certainly comprehensive, and the tour guide seemed to know what he was talking about.

The cemeteries were fascinating. I was intrigued by the fact that the British always buried their soldiers as individuals, whereas the Germans opted for collective burial. And to be standing in a cemetery where 44,000 men were interred! The mind just boggled, and not in a good way!
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[User Picture]From: shanghai7
2010-10-17 10:22 pm (UTC)
Yes I saw mass graves at Auschwitz. Your guide was wrong about British troops. Most were interred singly but some got placed 2, 3 or 20 to a grave. New Zealanders usually did that. The thing that REALLY annoys me is 1 year ago historian Peter Barton found most of the names of the 100,000+ unknowns in Geneva, mislaid since 1922. Given all the hype over Wootton Bassett shouldn't the Great War dead at least have names on headstones?
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-18 04:22 pm (UTC)
You would think so, wouldn't you? They go to such expense to excavate isolated bodies that turn up in Flanders, etc., go to all the hassle of the DNA testing so they can inform loved ones, and yet they can't do the same thing for the unfortunates who could be identified by documentary evidence. How weird is that!
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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2010-10-19 11:09 am (UTC)
i blogged on this previously. Weird? I am disgusted we have "Wootton Bassett fever" but the dead of Flanders aren't worth a few minutes work!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-10-17 12:50 pm (UTC)
Glad to be of assistance. There's a post coming up about the Tyne Cot cemetery.
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-17 12:25 pm (UTC)
Ah, lovely! Keep meaning to go back there to witness the cat-flinging ceremony...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-10-17 12:54 pm (UTC)
I saw a postcard featuring that. They have marching bands dressed as cats, yes?

I don't think it's any accident that so many painters of the bizarre- from Bosh and Breughel through to Ensor and Magritte- came from the Low Countries. That endless flat lanscape seems to be a fertile breeding ground for demons.
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-10-17 01:03 pm (UTC)
Probably. All I know is that they throw a stuffed cat from the steeple of the cathedral. It used to be a real cat, but Napoleon put an end to that barbaric little custom... It happens every six years, I believe - there's a skeletal cat adorning a roundabout (or 'round point' - I love that term!!) on the ring road around the city.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-10-17 01:19 pm (UTC)
Strange man, Napoleon- so careless about human life, so squeamish when it came to cats.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2010-10-17 04:06 pm (UTC)
Afterwards there was a proposal to leave things exactly as they were- as a monument to the dead- but the people of Ypres understandably wanted their town back- and took the extraordinary decision to rebuild it- medieval Cloth Hall and cathedral and all- exactly as it had been.

I think that's wonderful.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-10-17 04:08 pm (UTC)
It was a remarkable act of faith- and beautifully carried out.
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