We stayed with two friends from Auckland and thanks to them had a sightseeing trip of a quite unusual kind. Having heard about the huge Earthquake 2011 did nothing to prepare us for the sight of a completely levelled city. Years later, the whole inner city still lies shattered, most of the buildings have been demolished, there are vast empty spaces filled with rubble, many of the streets are still closed and look like the quake had just happened two days, and not two years, ago.
Today, small regular earthquakes belong to everyday life in Christchurch. Nobody even gives a second thought when the glasses in the kitchen rattle a bit.
The centre has only a few new or renovated houses and hotels. The space around the cathedral has been cleared and renewed a bit, but nothing can distract from the fenced-off areas, the containers and broken windows around it. The ancient cathedral itself is a sad sight: half of the structure broken off, the rest held up only by iron bars.
The most striking thing in the town is the silence. Christchurch was a bustling city, a tourist magnet, one of the biggest cities in New Zealand. Walking through the centre now, everything is quiet. The odd car is driving by, once in a while you see a tram car making it's way through the few still passable areas. Only few tourists bother to walk along the fences to steel a glance at the destroyed cathedral. Ripped plastic sheets, not holding anything in place anymore, flatter in the wind like tumbleweeds in a western movie.
But then, in between all that destruction, the people of Christchurch gave their town a little bit of its colour back. Along the patchwork roads and between empty spaces, the citizens are beginning to fill in the gaps with paintings on the road and the walls. Green spots are planted everywhere, the fences are decorated with colorful mosaics and collages of random objects found on the road. In one corner, artists have built a “sound garden” with music instruments built from fire-extinguishers, old road signs and the like, for everyone to use. Next to the centre, the striking blue “pallet pavillon” is a nice little oasis to relax, have a coffee or meet.
Apart from the inner city we also walked through a completely abandoned part of the town with our two hosts, where houses where left as they where, some with their whole furniture still inside, walls broken or sacked several meters into the earth, some flooded with mud.
Those are the two sides of Christchurch that left us shocked, stunned and thoughtful: depression, the awareness of how much was lost in that earthquake, the deaths, the destruction. And on the other hand the hope, the beautiful things that can grow of a whole city being rebuilt, the fact that the whole country came to help when it was needed. We watched a documentation that I can really recommend: "When a city falls".
It tells the whole story and gives a very touching impression of how the people here must have felt.