Following the war, a lot of Flemish cities were faced with the same question. Should their city rise from the ashes in full glory and look just as it had? Or did reconstruction offer opportunities for new urban visions? Should one honour the dead by leaving the rubble lie where it was? Or should one choose for big commemorative monuments?
The answers to these questions varied widely. There was some tension between visions fixed on the future and gazes fixed more on the past. At both a material and a mental level, there was some hesitation between remembrance and carrying on.
This question was nowhere of more importance than in the Westhoek. Cityscapes and landscapes had been completely wiped off the map. Ypres had been almost completely in ruins since May 1915. And, as for the thirteenth-century Cloth Hall, only a stump of the bell-tower remained.
The British had lost a large number of countrymen on the battlefield in this area, and wished to commemorate them. The city in ruins became an attraction for British war tourists. The inhabitants, on the other hand, primarily wanted to have their city and their homes back. They wanted to go on with their lives. The British army resisted the reconstruction and the improvised catering that sprang up for the tourists, here and there amidst the rubble. But the inhabitants won the argument. It was decided on reconstruction, which would be as faithful as possible to the pre-war situation. In compensation, the British were allowed to build a gigantic monument, the Menin Gate, bearing the names of the more than 50,000 soldiers that had no known grave.
Today, in the Cloth Hall you can visit the In Flanders Fields Museum; its reconstruction was only completed at the end of the 1960s. This modern and interactive museum presents the story of the war on the West-Flemish front and the post-war reconstruction, with an emphasis on the experiences of the people at the time.
In Flanders Fields Museum
Grote Markt 34
Menenstraat, 8900 Ypres