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De Heuvel still builds bridges

Irene Smit is the chairwoman of the Heuvel Foundation and talks passionately about the post-war reconstruction monument

De Heuvel still builds bridges

Creation of De Heuvel

“Let’s sit up top, so you can enjoy the view of the city, even though the weather isn’t really ideal.” Irene Smit’s beaming smile and enthusiasm make you quickly forget about the poor weather. She’s the chairwoman of the Heuvel Foundation and talks passionately about the post-war reconstruction monument. “Did you know that Gebouw De Heuvel voor de Centrale Hervormde Jeugdraad (‘De Heuvel Building for the Central Reformed Youth Council’) was first located in the park near the Euromast, in what is now the Heerenhuys? At the time it was called Heerenhuys, so De Heuvel Youth Centre is named after the former estate ‘De Heuvel’.”

Place for youths

She explains that the building was repossessed in 1955 by the municipality and the youth organization had to find a new home. Not a simple task in a post-war period dominated by housing shortage. Pastor Schoch and the youths managed to collect a lot of money, thereby ensuring the construction of a new building. “Schoch,” she explains, “did so much for the character of De Heuvel. He realized that the destructive war had broken down traditional religious barriers. Schoch wanted to continue this process of desegregation. That’s why De Heuvel became a place where young people could share their knowledge. A place of encounter and dialogue between various groups. He was very active in that area.”

“Schoch,” she explains, “did so much for the character of De Heuvel. He realized that the destructive war had broken down traditional religious barriers.”

Autumn tournaments

She recalls the autumn tournaments that pastor Schoch organized in De Heuvel, and which she took part in as a secondary school pupil. “You could sign up for all sorts of things: sports, chess, drawing, bridge, music and recital competitions. I went to school at Caland Lyceum, now called the Wolfert, and took part in music and recital competitions. I think I could still play Handel’s Sonata on the recorder!” She laughs. Her finest memory is of winning a recital prize. “One member of the jury was Mrs Van Walsum, the wife of the mayor, an exceptionally charming and well-dressed lady. And she published her own poems and diaries. She and her husband, the mayor who oversaw the post-war reconstruction effort, and who also opened the Heuvel building, were an example to me and my parents.” It’s not difficult to picture the elated teenager that Irene was back then. “You had to read two poems. I read two by Ed van Hoornik, a typical post-war poet. “Hebben en zijn” was one from the compulsory category.” She has the poem with her.

“You had to read two poems. I read two by Ed van Hoornik, a typical post-war poet.”

Hebben en zijn

Op school stonden ze op het bord geschreven.

Het werkwoord hebben en het werkwoord zijn;

Hiermee was tijd, was eeuwigheid gegeven,

De ene werklijkheid, de andre schijn.

Hebben is niets. Is oorlog. Is niet leven.

Is van de wereld en haar goden zijn.

Zijn is, boven die dingen uitgeheven,

Vervuld worden van goddelijke pijn.

Hebben is hard. Is lichaam. Is twee borsten.

Is naar de aarde hongeren en dorsten.

Is enkel zinnen, enkel botte plicht.

Zijn is de ziel, is luisteren, is wijken,

Is kind worden en naar de sterren kijken,

En daarheen langzaam worden opgelicht.

There’s a moment of silence. The poem still hits home 45 years later, thanks to Irene Smit’s skill in reciting poetry. She adds that she was so thrilled when Mrs Van Walsum told her she’d won and could pick up her prize from the messenger at City Hall. “That was really something. Picking up my prize at City Hall.” She shows the book, read so often it’s nearly falling apart, entitled Stroomgebied (‘Catchment Area’), an anthology of poetry by the post-war generation.

“That was really something. Picking up my prize at City Hall.”

One individual can make so much happen

“These poems are clearly rooted in Christianity. In that sense the organization was also very prescriptive. We don’t try to do that as much.” As one of the directors of the heritage building, she makes sure that the building is essentially used in the way that Louis Schoch had envisaged at the time. With an emphasis on bridging opposites, something that is just as badly needed now as it was right after the war. The question is whether that will be successful, but she is positive. “It fills me with hope when I see that one individual can achieve so much on the strength of his involvement in one domain. Just like pastor Schoch back then, and people like Hans van Putten today with his Thomas Houses for people suffering from dementia.”

As one of the directors of the heritage building, she makes sure that the building is essentially used in the way that Louis Schoch had envisaged at the time.

Educating to eliminate the need for conflict

As though the Syrian refugees hear her wish, they climb onto the sunny roof terrace for a small break during their Dutch language class at De Heuvel. The peer inside curiously and laugh. Irene responds with a laugh too. “These people are so motivated. They want to learn, to engage in conversation. And that is something that De Heuvel can facilitate more. A café that stimulates conversation with people who hold different views. Listening without judging, making you aware of your judgement.” Plenty of candidates for a café in De Heuvel. But not just anybody can start here. A strict expression crosses her face. Irene’s job is to be careful in selecting tenants. Affinity with bridge building is important. “My greatest challenge is this: How do you educate people so that they have no desire for conflict?” She has embraced this challenge. They are the values that De Heuvel has always upheld.

Plenty of candidates for a café in De Heuvel.
The story of
Irene Smit, bestuursvoorzitter gebouw ‘De Heuvel’
Period
1945-
Subjects
Stories