Review: AlestormLive in Tilburg

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I have never been to the Netherlands. I have never been to Tilburg. In fact, I didn’t know Tilburg was a city that exists until a few days ago. Nevertheless, I will tell you about Tilburg because I have to and to the extent virtual internet tourism allows. The city is part of this curse that has afflicted me for the past year and a half.

Tilburg is an inland city, about 60 kilometers out from the nearest ocean. It has no significant bodies of water other than a lazy, somewhat nondescript canal running the length of the northern part of the city. Having little in waterways detaches it from much connection to ocean-going piracy.

Indeed, Tilburg doesn’t appear to have much connection to anything. It suffers from the same fate of most cities in not being particularly noteworthy for any reason other than being equidistant from other cities that matter. It is the 6th most populous city in the 12th most populous country in Europe. One of its central draws is a university, which is ranked 13th among universities in the Netherlands. It sells itself as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the Netherlands but lacks the temerity to claim the crown. Once a hub of wool and textile production, those days are long gone, having collapsed after World War II.

Essentially, Tilburg is the equivalent of A Guy in professional sports. It’s the second baseman who bats 7th or 8th in the order, had maybe one decent defensive season that earned him a few all-star votes, and whose career highlight is going three-for-four with two solo home runs in an 8-4 loss at home. The Guy played 9 seasons for God knows why, and you may or may not remember his name. Like A Guy, Tilburg continues on because it is already there, it can, and someone has to play the position in the area.

When confronted with a city like this, I find it interesting to study the wikipediography of its entry, the quirks of perspective and controversy created by crowdsourced articles. The two that stuck out the most were the reign of mayor Cees Becht and the lime tree of De Heuvel square. So that’s what you get.

Cees Becht

Becht started his career as an administrator in the Dutch East Indies in 1937 and worked his way up the bureaucracy to more and more prestigious posts in larger and more important districts. After a succession of Japanese occupations in 1942 followed by Indonesian nationalists requesting that their colonial oppressors kindly vacate the premises, Becht found himself an on-and-off resident of various internment camps and prisons.

Once liberated from his stay in his last internment camp in 1945, Becht remained undeterred by a rather obvious hint that Becht and the Dutch were unwelcome in Indonesia. Becht was appointed mayor of Surabaya in East Java, where he served for approximately two years. His tenure ended when he took a short leave to the Netherlands, Indonesia obtained its independence, and, as the Dutch Wikipedia entry so elegantly puts it, “it was no longer possible to return.”

Thus exiled from overseeing a populous who felt his absence was an improvement, Becht trained his focus on becoming mayor of a spate of cities in his own country, eventually settling into being the mayor of Tilburg in 1957 where he served until 1975. This is where the Tilburg Wikipedia entry comes to a fork in the road. Becht’s mayoral legacy was a matter of perspective. One part of the Wikipedia entry makes a sterile note that Tilburg went through a period of “urban renewal” while another part views this same period as an era of concentrated demolition of some of Tilburg’s most beloved historical buildings and monuments. This earned Becht the nickname “Cees de Sloper,” or, in English, the most metal name of “Cees the Demolisher.”

Becht was a bit disappointed with the state of the city. He wanted to modernize Tilburg, bring back business, and protect the city from annexation by neighboring municipalities (I guess that was a real concern). He didn’t like the defunct textile factories and he didn’t like that the city center was not as accessible to vehicles as he felt it should be. There were some pesky old buildings in the way of his vision so he had them destroyed. Becht called this his “72 Million Plan.”

As an otherwise fawning Becht biography puts it: “In retrospect, there were errors in the 72 million plan.” Becht took aim at the city’s nationally-registered monument town hall, a beloved railway station, several churches (one of which, in the most Tilburg thing ever, was voted 14th most beautiful destroyed church), and even an entire neighborhood, De Koningswei. Naturally, the neighborhood was deemed a “slum” allowing any pearl-clutching, law-abiding person to be glad of its replacement. I was unable to determine what happened to the residents of De Koningswei. Nothing but good things, I’m sure. But no matter. The city arrived in the modern era much to the delight of Becht, who died in 1982 and received a gold medal of honor for his work with the city.

De Heuvel. I have no idea if this is the lime tree, but it is definitely a tree.

Now for the lime tree of De Heuvel square. This caught my interest because the Wikipedia entry includes a short paragraph on the “Modern History” of Tilburg and half of that paragraph is dedicated to discussing this lime tree. While there are competing accounts of the tree, they generally agree that it was an old tree that lived in the middle of Tilburg’s main shopping area. The shopping area sprung from a natural gathering point as it was originally the only place in the city with a water pump. Much cherished, the pump has been memorialized with a non-functioning replica in the square. In true late capitalism fashion, the pump wasn’t created to memorialize the city but was created to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a local corporation. The city paid for it.

Anyway, the tree. Some say it was dead, others say it was healthy, still others say it was sick. When the city decided to remove it, there were large protests to save the tree. Those protests failed.

Eventually, the tree was cut down and removed in 1994. Remains of the tree were fashioned into a new mayor’s gavel and converted into some kind of tableau, though I couldn’t find exactly what that meant. To help assuage some of the protesters, the city tried to cultivate new lime trees from cuttings of the old tree. All of those cuttings died. Where the old lime tree once stood is now a municipal bike storage facility. RIP to a real one, the De Heuvel lime tree of Tilburg, one of the most significant figures in Tilburg’s modern history according to Wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at Tilburg.

Alestorm will release Live in Tilburg on May 28, 2021. I did not listen to it.

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