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Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station

June 19th, 2012 · No Comments · International Destination Information

An Architectural Wonder in the North of Belgium

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

In old European cities, you can see the weight of history when it comes to the architecture that is generally shared by the public. Train stations, churches, city government structures, major plazas, shopping arcades — all of the truly public spaces have been used in many cases as a testament to a country’s wealth and power, and document that statement by attaching it to a period in history.

Antwerp is certainly no exception, and while not being an overwhelmingly large city, it is very clear when you arrive by train and make your way up out of the underground that it is a great city with a tremendous history behind it. We were blown away, and on our last trip to northern Europe, it was definitely our favorite train station, and well worth the effort to get there just to see it in person.

Interior Spaces, Historical Details: Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station

W.G. Sebald’s literary masterpiece AUSTERLITZ focuses in great detail on the architectural masterwork that is Antwerpen-Centraal railway station, as this is where the narrator first meets the novel’s namesake, and the first discussion of how time changed the lives of humans in European, and the direct connection of that evolution to the railway stations across the continent. He writes:

“Towards the end of the 19th century […] when Belgium, a little patch of yellowish gray barely visible on teh map of the world, spread its sphere of influence to the African continent with its colonial enterprises, when deals of huge proportions were done on the capital markets and raw-materials exchanges of Brussels, and the citizens of Belgium, full of boundless optimism, believed that their country, which had been subject so long to foreign rule and was divided and disunited in itself, was about to become a great new economic power — at that time […] it was the personal wish of King Leopold […] that the money suddenly and abundantly available should be used to erect public buildings which would bring international renown to his aspiring state.”

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

Sebald continues, not longer after the above passage: “[…] designed by Louis Delacenserie, it was inaugurated in the summer of 1905, after ten years of planning and building […] The model Leopold had recommended to his architects was the new railway station in Lucerne, where he had been particularly struck by the concept of the dome, so dramatically exceeding the usual modest height of railway buildings, a concept realized by Delacenserie in his own design, which was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, in such stupendous fashion that even today […] exactly as the architect intended, when we step into the entrance hall we are seized by a sense of being beyond the profane, in a cathedral consecrated to international traffic and trade.” And this is indeed exactly how it feels to come up out of the Earth and into the human-made glory.

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

While we didn’t get to take any sort of trip through the zoo, travelers will take great pleasure in the fact that it’s directly adjacent to the central railway station in Antwerp, offering multiple sightseeing opportunities within just the space of a short walk.

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

Film maker Peter Kruger in his film ANTWERP CENTRAL (’93) “takes the viewer on a journey through the physical and mental space of Antwerp’s railway cathedral, from its construction to the present day. The film covers three centuries of Belgian railway history: from the moment that the national railway company laid its first tracks to the development of the high-speed rail link in the 21st century. Echoes of Belgium’s colonial past and the location of the station in the centre of the bustling diamond district and next to the city zoo add a surreal touch as contrasting pairs, such as animal and human, nature and industry, baroque and modernity, dilapidation and renovation are complexly juxtaposed.

Drawing inspiration from the book “Austerlitz” by W.G. Sebald, screenwriter/director Peter Krüger approaches Antwerp Central Railway Station as a magical realistic location where present and past, history and daily life, fiction and reality are in constant flux. Running as a thread through the film are the dreams and reminiscences of a traveler, played by Johan Leysen, who arrives at Antwerp Central and through whose eyes we observe the station.” The trailer alone, viewable through the link above, is well worth the two minutes it will cost you from your life, and will undoubtedly make its way into a future post here on the site.

Antwerpen-Centraal Railway Station, Belgium

[Photos Via: Belgium Travel Info]

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