Centenary trial run in Antwerp goes smoothly


One of the highlights of next year’s First World War commemorations in Antwerp will be a floating bridge connecting the left and right bank of the river Scheldt. On Saturday, 28 September, Belgian and Dutch army troops successfully carried out a trial run of this ambitious project.

Floating bridge will connect Scheldt riverbanks

Under the eyes of many curious onlookers, barges manned by military engineering troops assembled a string of segments that finally formed a bridge between the Steenplein on the right bank and Boeienweide on the left bank. The Belgian army built a similar bridge in August 1914, at the start of the First World War, when the fortified city of Antwerp became the temporary Belgian capital – sheltering the government, army and royal family. Info panels already installed on both sides of the river explain this history in four languages.

Via the pontoon bridge, Antwerp could be sufficiently supplied and quickly evacuated. When the German troops made progress in breaking down Antwerp’s defences, a large number of people crossed the bridge to flee to the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom. On 9 October 1914, Antwerp was conquered by the German aggressors, and the Belgian army blew up the bridge to make sure it would not be to the benefit of enemy troops.

During the recent trial run, only a few guests were allowed to cross the bridge, such as the patron and patroness of the project: Flemish actor Herbert Flack and Sihame El Kaouakibi, founder and co-ordinator of the Antwerp dance school Let’s Go Urban.

But the first guest to set foot on the pontoon was John Poullet. He is the winner of a story competition that the non-profit Vredescentrum set up with Oxford University and the In Flanders Fields Museum. His grandfather, Prosper Poullet, was Belgian minister of arts and science during the First World War.

Next year 100,000 visitors will be allowed to cross the river on 4 and 5 October (weather permitting – strong winds, for instance, could be a problem). During the festivities, the bridge will be broken up several times to let ships pass through.

Varied activity programme

During the festive opening on 3 October, a “peace parade” of about 1,000 children will officially inaugurate the bride. Architecture students of Artesis University College will create original lighting for the bridge, dancers of Let’s Go Urban will give a special performance, and literary organisation Vonk & Zonen will establish the poetry tour Hellemonden, which revolves around war poets.

In the run-up to the commemorations, the Vredescentrum is hosting a varied programme of activities with a network of about 40 other associations. Next month, on 3 November, Flemish historian Sophie De Schaepdrijvers kicks of a monthly series of lectures on the First World War at the Palace on the Meir. Also starting at the beginning of November, the Vleeshuis, or Butcher’s Hall, invites classes from the last year in primary education for an interactive workshop around diverse aspects of war and peace.

Early next year, a majority of Antwerp’s museums will take part in the commemorations through related exhibitions. The new Red Star Line museum will focus on the experiences of Belgian emigrants in America during the war years, while the MAS puts the spotlight on the masses of refugees who fled to neighbouring countries at the start of the war.

From January, Antwerp’s tourism service will also organise historical city walks, which start at the Banquet Hall on the Meir – where King Albert I resided during his stay in Antwerp – and end at the Steenplein.


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First World War

Claiming the lives of more than nine million people and destroying entire cities and villages in Europe, the Great War was one of the most dramatic armed conflicts in human history. It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Flanders Field - For four years, a tiny corner of Flanders known as the Westhoek became one of the war’s major battlefields.
Untouched - Poperinge, near Ypres, was one of the few towns in Flanders that remained unoccupied for most of the war.
Cemetery - The Tyne Cot graveyard in Passchendaele is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
550 000

lives lost in West Flanders

368 000

annual visitors to the Westhoek

1 914

First Battle of Ypres