Christchurch is not the first city in the world to be destroyed by an earthquake, and it won’t be the last one either. As far as modern disasters go, it is actually rather restrained, with a remarkably minimal loss of life – we have, currently, 168 dead. In a similar sized quake in Haiti, they had between 100,000 and 200,000 dead. That’s the tragic thing – they still don’t know how many died – and because we have such a meticulously exact police force in this little country, we’ve got a very slow, but very accurate reporting of exactly who died, where and why.
Not so slow however is the demolition crews, who are ready on orders from Gerry Brownlee, to leap into action and destroy any remaining remnants of heritage and history. If action is not taken against him immediately, by the end of the week there could be a thousand buildings or more destroyed by bulldozer.
In other countries, they take a lot more care of their heritage. Take, for example, the capital of Poland, the wonderful old city of Warsaw.
For hundreds of years it had been the centre of a vibrant community of proud Poles. During World War II they were over-run by Nazi troops, and in 1944 the Warsaw uprising attempted to take back control of the city. They did not succeed.
In a furious act of retaliation, Herr Hitler ordered that Warsaw be burnt to the ground. Monuments and government buildings were blown up by special German troops known as Verbrennungs und Vernichtungskommando (“Burning and Destruction Detachments”). The city was almost totally destroyed by the Nazis during January 1945, until almost no trace of history existed any more: a full 85% of the city was destroyed.
But did the Poles say “Let’s get rid of the old dungas”? Or did they say “These old buildings have killed and they have no place in our future?” There is a memory of place that goes with the heritage of architecture, an essence within the walls that was so important to the people of Poland that they have rebuilt one small section of the city: the area surrounding the old Town Square.
Looking at these pictures, it is hard to believe that they were completely reconstructed from scratch. Impeccably painful reconstruction, brick by brick or stone by stone, the importance of these buildings to the Poles was understood well by them, and their perseverance has paid off. No Minister Brownlee telling them what to do – old Warsaw town lives again.