National Geographic : 1950 Dec
Mid-Century Holland Builds Her Future By SYDNEY CLARK A THE big air liner circled to land on Amsterdam's Schiphol field, where I had previously come to earth several times before and since the war, I peered below, trying to glimpse the condition of this field which had been utterly devastated by the ravages of war. When I stepped from the plane, I promptly saw how energetic is this country, the Nether lands, which we inaccurately call "Holland." In the spring of 1945, when the war ended, Schiphol was a ruin, seemingly lost to the world of transportation. Literally nothing was left of it except a fantastic mass of rubble and bomb craters. Within two months the Port Authority of Amsterdam and the KLM (Royal Dutch Air lines) had cleared the area, established a few temporary runways, and erected on the field a wooden town of offices and workshops around a central stem called Liberty Street. From Shanty Town to Modern Airport At the time of my first postwar landing, in the spring of 1948, Schiphol still seemed a shanty town, though roaring with activity. Then began the flow of Marshall Plan funds and materials to back the country's own enormous energies. Courage, drive, resourcefulness, vision-by any word the spirit of the Netherlands is a force in the Western World. To see that spirit in action is an experience. And nowhere is it better exemplified than here on Schiphol field. Today the wooden town is largely replaced by a gleaming one of steel, concrete, and glass. There are 11 large hangars (one named "Wil bur and Orville Wright"); workshops where 6,000 skilled mechanics and technicians serv ice the air fleets of Holland and of foreign operators; a nearly-million-dollar engine test stand; and a station building with a hand some restaurant and a roof cafe. A thousand persons can eat, and very well, in Schiphol at one time, but these facilities are already too small, for on big days there are sometimes 10,000 visitors, besides 2,000 passengers coming and going. "Schiphol is my window to the world," says Albert Plesman, KLM's founder and presi dent. But a window is a two-way thing, and this one has been my window to the Dutch spirit. Ten million persons now live behind this window, within the small house of Holland (map, page 752), and therein lies an al most frightening challenge to the nation. The 10,000,000 mark was passed late in 1949, though before the war the nation numbered only about nine million, and a century ago three million. In the decade of the 1930's it was fashion able to worry about the probable early decline of the population. Now the worry, real and acute, is quite the other way around, for it is feared that in 15 to 20 years there will be 12 million in this congested dwelling place. By enormous labor and expense the nation is adding a bit of land here and there, taken from the resentful sea, but these small ad ditions cannot solve the problem. Holland is scarcely larger than Maryland; yet it has about five times the population, though Maryland is one of our more densely populated States. The country's birth rate is three times its death rate. Statistical life ex pectancy is just under seventy years, among the highest in the world. At Kinderdijk in South Holland I entered an old windmill. Its wings are now stilled, as are many others in Holland, because of the far greater effectiveness of electric pumps. A stout woman greeted me in stoutest Dutch, and I could catch scarcely a word of what she was saying; but I caught her smile of welcome, a warm one. Old Windmill Houses Family of 12 Children and more children, all from the same mold, with blue eyes and unruly straw colored hair, swarmed about her. There were 10 of these youngsters; with the mother and the laborer-father they were living in the mill by government arrangement. Members of the family took me to every part of their novel windmill home, showing me the odd dwelling contrivances, such as recessed beds, crescent shelves, improvised chairs, and ladder-stairs. They showed me, too, that the mill could still work if war should come again and shut off electric power. This Kinderdijk home was an illustrated lecture on Holland's desperate housing short age. Holland has two obvious ways to attack her chronic problem of congestion, cruelly increased by the dwelling casualties of war. One is industrial advancement, with new thousands of city flats (page 749). The other is land-land and more land-for farming families.