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Dutch town builds euro bridges over troubled water

One of the completed bridges in Spijkenisse is a replica of the structure found on the back of the €10 note.

Klaus Boonstra

Amid rising unemployment, stagnant growth and threats of impending economic disaster, there are few laughs to be had in the euro zone these days.

Except perhaps, in Spijkenisse. As the debt crisis rages on, this small city just south of Rotterdam is steadily pursuing a novel goal: to construct each of the seven fictional bridges depicted on euro banknotes.

Is it a tribute to the embattled currency?

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"Not really," said Robin Stam, the artist behind the bridges. "I just thought it would be funny. And it has been, especially with everything going on right now."

It is a little-known bit of trivia that the windows, bridges and other architectural elements emblazoned on Europe's common currency never existed. The European Monetary Institute (the forerunner of the European Central Bank) wanted to avoid any appearance of bias in the currency's design. And so, rather than commissioning banknotes depicting say, the Coliseum, or the Arc de Triomph, the EMI opted for a series of non-existent architectural structures representing the "Ages and Styles of Europe."

In the current economic climate, with debt contagion now threatening the very existence of the common currency, such political correctness has clearly been set aside. Last week, as Mr. Stam hammered away at his life size versions of the euro bridges, Germany and France issued an ultimatum to Greece to drop its plans for a bailout referendum. Later in the week, Italy was urged to "invite" the IMF to verify its progress on austerity targets.

"It's just a big coincidence that all this is happening now," said Mr. Stam, 30. "I came up with this idea a few years ago. But it makes the project more interesting."

As luck would have it, Mr. Stam's desire to bring the euro images to life came at a time when Spijkenisse needed several bridges to span a creek beside an upscale housing development.

"The city council was very enthusiastic," said Sandra Sumaiku, a spokesperson for the city of 72,000 residents. "No one else was doing this. We liked that."

So far, Mr. Stam has worked with Spijkenisse city engineers to complete the "Romanesque" bridge on the €10 bill and the "Renaissance" bridge on the €50 note. The remaining structures, in various styles and colours, including blue and green, should be complete by next year. Though the euro banknotes depict seven bridges in all, Spijkenisse only requires six, so the final bridge will model the €5 note bridge on one side and the €20 note bridge on the other.

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Mr. Stam has taken pains to match the concrete to the exact colour of each bank note -- a reddish colour for the €10 bridge and a brownish-orange for the €50 bridge. Each structure is about 10 metres wide and three metres tall, with most designed for foot traffic only. The whole project will cost about €1-million.

"So far, everyone thinks it's funny and they like it," said Mr. Stam. "But they haven't seen the blue and the green one yet. The green one is a very Roman kind of bridge with big angels on it. It will really stand out."

The opening of the first bridges was celebrated a couple of weeks ago, drawing plenty of media attention to the town. Should the euro zone be torn apart by the crisis now spreading to its largest economies, Ms. Sumaiku reckons the city will forge ahead with the project.

"Of course we don't know what the future will bring, but we would like to finish this."

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