“I think and dream in Grunnegs”

By Juliane Glahn and Annewil Schippers

If you’ve ever been offered a “puutje” by the cashier at your local Groningen supermarket or been baffled because someone yelled “moi!” at you, you probably assumed you just misunderstood or that the person had a speech impediment. But, actually, these are perfectly normal words in the Grunnegs dialect, spoken by most people in Groningen. We speak to Marten van Dijken, a true Grunneger, on the dialect’s special celebration day.

The smell of cooked broccoli and boiled potatoes fills the room, while outside it’s raining cats and dogs — or as the Grunnegers would say, “t regent jong katten” – but nonetheless the spirit inside the Groninger Archives is high. Today, the Archives, located on Cascadeplein in the city, jam-packed with people who are desperately trying to dry their trousers, is the set of Dag fan de Grunneger Toal, or Day of the Grunneger Language. Here, enthusiasts of the local language, and artists such as writers and musicians, celebrate, as well as talk about their ties with the language, including Marten van Dijken.

The day is dedicated to the Grunneger dialect, which bears similarities to Dutch, Frisian and West Low German, and is spoken by approximately 65 percent of the population of Groningen. With around 550,000 speakers, it’s one of the Netherlands’ most prevalent dialects. Although it’s not an officially recognised language, it does have its own dictionary which was published by Kornelis ter Laan in 1929 and reissued in 1952.

“I think and dream in Grunnegs,” says Marten van Dijken, who has done translation work for over 40 years. After retiring at 57, he now spends his days translating literary works to Grunnegs. Van Dijken is passionate about translating, because working with language never gets boring, he says. It’s always new, always different. Each book has its own problems and curiosities.

His biggest project perhaps was the translation of the Bible into Grunnegs. Collaborating with 60 others, the translation was finally published in 2008 after years of hard work. “I worked on it from 10 AM to 8 PM. Even when I visited my daughter in Chile, I brought the Bible with me to work on it,” Van Dijken says. The project was funded by the province of Groningen and foundation called Liudgerstichting.


Van Dijken reciting Genesis 1: 1-5 from the Grunneger Bible

But why do we need Grunneger books, when everyone in the Netherlands understands Dutch perfectly fine?

According to Van Dijken, every classic should be translated to Grunnegs, because while Dutch is a language that is taught to Grunnegers, “Grunnegs is the language of the heart.” Van Dijken grew up in Groningen, speaking the dialect with his family. After the translation of the Bible was published, Van Dijken suddenly had people come up to him saying that they had started reading the Bible again. “This is what appeals to me, this is in my language’, they told me.”

However, the translation process is not always smooth sailing. Sometimes, certain idioms, sayings, or cultural contexts are in the way of translating a text literally. Sayings like “it’s raining cats and dogs” can’t be translated word for word, so Van Dijken has to be creative. 

But he never gives up: “Whenever I’m stuck, or when my translation doesn’t satisfy me, I go for a walk. And usually I have a Eureka moment that same day. Eventually, the right translation always comes to me,” he says. Of great help is also Ter Laan’s dictionary. Van Dijken uses it every single day, as well as his own digital dictionary which encompasses over 20,000 Grunneger words.

Although the average age at the annual Day of the Grunneger Language event is somewhat higher than that of our journalists, Van Dijken isn’t worried about the popularity of Grunnegs. He tells us that the dialect is still very much alive among younger Grunnegers, and that it’s even a subject in primary school. Exemplary of this is a new magazine called Wiesneus, that was presented to the public on the same day, and which will be used in primary schools to educate young children about the history of Grunnegs, in Grunnegs.

After the publishing of translations of the Bible, the Children’s Bible and several Dutch comics, amongst others, Van Dijken’s newest work is a translation of Hector Malot’s Sans Famille. This work, titled Allain op Wereld, was translated from both the French original as well as the Dutch translation Alleen op de Wereld (by Gerard Keller, 1880), and will be available in regular bookstores from November 2019.

The smiling face that walked from Lebanon to Groningen

By Gabriele Cruciata

As I sit in a coffeeshop in the south of Groningen, I’m surrounded by four or five people and the smoke they produce. I’m waiting for somebody to appear sooner or later on the other side of the creaking door.

When a man with a white-and-grey curly ponytail shows up at the door, I only need a couple of seconds to realize he’s the man I’ve been looking for. The door opens, he enters the smokers’ land and shakes my hand. “Hi, my friend, how’re you doing?” he asks, and takes a seat.

He grinds his weed, pillowing it on a rolling paper in a tobacco mix. He doesn’t say a word. He lets his fingers run gently on the paper and meet his tongue. He adjusts, takes the lighter, breaths in and out. The smoke surrounds us.

“Do you know what my name means?”, and I wonder why I get fascinated when I’m the one supposed to ask questions here.

“It means smiling face. When I was born, smiling was the very first thing I did,” he laughs.

Growing up in Lebanon

Today Bassaam is 61 years old. He spent the last twenty years in Groningen enjoying the relaxed city rhythms and vibes. But the decades he’s taken off are more like the rest of a warrior than a simple whim.

He breathes in and out, leaving a cloud of weed smoke in the room. “When I met weed for the first time, I was a child, like seven or eight. I was looking for my father in the fields, and saw him from the distance putting some green leaves in a cigarette. ‘It’s to relax,’ he told me when I asked. But I only realized what actually went on that evening years later.”

“I grew up in a small mountain town in Lebanon, a bunch of kilometers from the Syrian border. Dad was a farmer, mum a housewife. They ran away from Palestine in 1948 and stayed in a shelter camp somewhere in Lebanon during the Arab-Israeli war.”

Starting from 1948, a steady stream of Muslim Palestinian refugees moved to Lebanon, tipping the religious balance in the region. By the end of the fifties, the first serious violent episodes between Christians and Muslims were reported.

Yet, in the sixties and seventies, Lebanon was a rich country in the Arab region. Its capital, Beirut, was known as the “Arabic Paris”, the finance center of the Middle-East. Despite its small size, the country was a melting pot of different people representing centuries-old history.

“My life has been normal until I was 15, maybe 16. Then I remember we started to feel like there was something serious going on. It was 1972 or 1973, and it was clear something was about to happen even if we were living in a little town.”

 Two years later, Lebanon was in the middle of a violent civil war.

“Have you ever seen someone dying?”

On 18 January 1976, Bassaam’s life changed forever. “The Christian army entered a shelter camp in Beirut. It was a carnage. Men, women, children. Everybody died, and I was angry as hell.” The episode he refers to is known as the Qarantina massacre, where 1,000 to 1,500 Muslims lost their lives.

“I joined the Muslim forces some years after that slaughter. I was enthusiastic, I wanted to fight for my identity, for my rights. At that time, I thought Israel and the Christian forces were evil, and you know, when you’re young you think you can change the world and you’re even willing to join a fucking war if this is necessary. You may die for your ideas and principles.”

When he talks about the war, he starts trembling on his chair. The smoke rings he creates become blurry.

“Have you ever seen someone dying? I mean, violently. Blood, wounds, broken bones,” he asks me.

No, I haven’t.

“Can you imagine what it is like inside you?”

No, I can’t. How is it like?”

“Well, at first you’re happy. Because you know, you saw your comrade blown-up, you saw the violence, you saw the victim, and you think ‘well, it means I’m right, I have to fight this war ‘cause this is what these beasts do’. You think the hard part is watching them die. No, no, man. The hardest part is yet to come”.

So, what’s the hardest part?” “It’s when you realize you’re doing the same to other people with the weapons you’re holding. It’s the reason why I quit.”

Walking to Europe

When Bassaam left Lebanon, he was 23 or 24. He can’t remember. He decided to follow his brother’s example and go to Europe. As an illegal migrant, he had to walk all the way to Greece, his feet covered with blisters and wounds. “I had an old backpack with me, with some necessary food, water, clothes and a blanket. And a lot of weed,” he laughs.

“That journey is the big thing in my life, more than the war. I had no idea of where I was going. All I knew was that I wanted to save my life.”

During the two months he spent walking with a small group of other refugees, Bassaam used his weed to get some relief and, most importantly, to get memories of his youth back. “I was very young, but already had a long tail of bad experiences behind me. This plant helped me remember the good things I wanted to live for. Laughing with friends, chilling, sharing food. In a certain way, it helped me understand my destination during a journey with no destination.”

Once in Europe, he worked in five different countries and visited 41 nations around the world. He’s been a carpenter, a factory worker, a mechanic and so much more, all in just one lifetime. He looks like he’s about to reach nirvana as he rolls another joint. It’s a ritual where fingers, paper, spittle and a natural plant all converge in one stick able to permeate his lungs.

 “I think I’ll probably have enough of Groningen in some years.”

Where are you planning to go?

“I don’t like planning.”

Is there anything you’ll be looking for?”

“Yes, for sure.”

What?” “Another country with legalized weed.”

A place for Indonesian students to feel like home

By Oscar Cheng-Kai Wu and Yujia Yang

The chill brought by the drizzle and the wind squeezes through every layer of fabric. The weather shows no mercy for those who came to join the annual Indonesian culture festival called “Indonesian Day” that takes place at the Zernike campus. Despite the freezing temperatures, the atmosphere inside is filled with joy and warmth.

“Indonesian Day” is one of the most important events of the Indonesian student association in Groningen. It is held between March and May every year, aiming to create a place that feels like home for Indonesian people in Groningen, and to promote their culture to international people.

“We want to showcase the Indonesian culture that we are proud of, through a varied spectrum of culinary aspects and cultural performances, and to experience some traditional activities like wearing traditional clothes,” says Shania Aurrelle, the chief organizer of the event.

“Indonesia is a huge country with people representing diverse cultures. We try to accommodate as much talent as possible in this event,” she adds.

Discovering the undiscovered culture is the underlying goal of this event. The bazaar and the dinner that come afterwards connect newcomers and entrench family ties and friendships. Shania adds: “Families and Indonesian students from other cities in the Netherlands and from all over Europe come to Groningen to participate.”

“Not only we wish for Indonesian students and residents in Groningen to connect with each other, but we also want to reach out to international friends,” says Shania, who also organized the same event last year. “We are more influential now. Last year, there were not many international people. But this year, I am surprised to have so many international people joining.”

More money, more connections

Another important event that bonds the Indonesian diaspora together is the athletic “Groenscup”, scheduled to take place on April 20th and 21st. The competition accommodates many kinds of sports, such as badminton, football, and table tennis, as well as Esports.

“We can say that ‘Groenscup’ is the biggest sport event for Indonesian students in Europe. Last year, 18 Indonesian student associations across Europe came to Groningen to participate in the games. They even flew in from London and Manchester,” says Risyad Zafran Alghifari, chairman of the Indonesian student association.   

Risyad continues: “We have established ties with other Indonesian associations across Europe through these special events. It is our goal to expand and reach out to more people outside the group.” 

Groningen’s Indonesian student association has grown rapidly in the past few years. It now has around 300 members. “However, we still encounter difficulties, such as conflicting schedules inside our organization and lack of sponsorships,” explains Risyad. “We still manage to pull through it. We hope our university can allocate more funding that will help us expand and connect with more people.”

Risyad thinks that besides the two biggest events every year, there are other smaller activities and events that could benefit from extra funding. “For example, there are other Indonesian organizations in Groningen, not just student associations. So, we want them to cooperate. For example, religious groups could connect with each other by holding a religious festival.”

“All we want is to make Indonesians feel like home in Groningen.”

The Godfather of Tattoos

by William Macmaster

Captain, Bouncer, Mayor of the Red-Light District and the Godfather of Tattoos. This the story of a true living legend.   

Sitting in a class one day, a 9-year-old Willem Meijer tattoos a snake from the top of his right finger, down past the knuckle of his left pinkie using a crown pen. This was the first tattoo the man who was to become The Godfather of tattoos ever got.

More than 60 years later and with “tens of thousands” of tattoos under his belt, this same 9-year-old boy sits before me. Now a monster of a man, tall and bulky, Willem leans back looking at me from a black leather chair in his studio. Visible is this very same serpent. Only slightly faded, the tip of its tongue points toward a butterfly in the centre of his backhand, on the opposite hand, a tiger. Below his rolled-up sleeves, a forearm covered in tattoos lead up behind his jumper and remerge at his collar, where an inked chain loops around his neck. He is a careful, thoughtful man. A serious man, intimidating in presence. A man bristling with stories.

What led him to his work as a tattoo artist, and perhaps his numerous other ventures throughout his life, was the same scant disregard for authorities he demonstrated in that same classroom as a young man. He claims he began tattooing for the simple reason that it was a taboo. “I was in a taboo sphere,” he explained, “The people who got tattoos back then were attractive to me and I loved the idea, so I thought I could make some money from that.”

From age 11, he worked on the streets alone, tattooing his friends, himself and anyone else who could find him.  At the time, there was only a handful of other tattoo artists, none of which would share the secrets of the art and threats of violence to each other were rife in the community. The only way to do it was to teach yourself.  Willem stayed away from the threats though. “I was a big kid” he chuckles, revealing his smile for the first time. A smile that resurfaces more and more as he continues recounting tales and the intimidating persona fades.

From The Streets to the Seas

Willem left school at 14 and headed into his first job as a factory worker. However, this was short-lived, as he accidentally started a fire and had to flee to avoid retribution. He escaped the Netherlands by finding work on a riverboat sailing to Germany.

He worked up the ranks in this trade to the point that he achieved Captain status. As a Captain, he was able to travel the world, out at sea for months at a time, sailing to exotic locations across the world, arriving in distant ports as far from his homeland as Argentina and Pakistan.              

Willem & Friends in the 70s

In each port, he found new canvasses for him to practice his skills on, taking every opportunity he got to improve. “One time in Sri Lanka, in two days I tattooed two arms” he explained. This was how he managed to hone his skills. “The more you do it, the better you get. I met a lot of people and they all wanted different stuff, so it forces you to be an all-rounder.”

The Mayor of The Red Light District

Upon finishing his time at sea, he returned to The Netherlands, turning his hobby into his profession. Opening his first shop in the 1970s. The store was placed on the street adjacent to the Red-Light District of Groningen. He still remains there today, just a few doors down from the original location.

Here he committed himself, alongside tattooing, working as a club bouncer and occasional gardening, to helping the girls working on the street.

The proprietor of 48 windows, he oversaw by far the most and was in charge of the day to day operations of a significant section of the district. 

He dedicated a huge amount of time and effort to this cause, making sure the girls were ok, picking up the rent and creating a cosy and pleasant atmosphere for the girls to work in. He stayed in close contact with the Mayor of Groningen who listened intently to his requests to improve the area.  

Much of the infrastructure you see on the district has come as a result of Willem. The toilets that pop up in the evening, for example, were the brainchild of Willem and he once managed to convince the council to repave the whole street. 

His notoriety with the girls and restless effort convincing the city to improve the street eventually led to many referring to him as the “Mayor of the Red Light District”.

A Remarkable Figure, Quite The Character

For more than 30 years, he worked day and night tattooing people from miles away and helping to ensure the girls on the red-light district lived as comfortably as it was in his power to make them. Until he decided to move to Thailand for 9 months. 

Thailand is a place that remains close to his heart. He tells me he went there “for the girls” and indeed, he met 3 of his 8 previous wives there. It is also where he still spends the rainy Dutch winters each year and another place where he is also a well-known character, even after a 7-year absence.

“He was still such a boss there,” explains fellow tattoo artist and close friend, Jenny, who joined him one year. “Everywhere we went together it was like ‘Hey Willem!’ It was amazing, really special” she laughs. Jenny is a charming lady, full of laughter who translates the conversation between Willem and I.  She is carrying the torch for Willem now in his shop, and he refers to her as “the boss now”.

More than merely a co-worker though, the pair clearly have a strong bond and are birds of a feather in many respects. Even after nearly a decade of working in close proximity, she is still learning about this man and enthusiastically describes his tales with endearing pride. “You can go anywhere with him, and people know him. He is a remarkable figure, I think. Quite the character.”

Willem and Jenny

Willem is clearly a legend among those who know him, as well as being notorious in the tattoo world. Back in 2010 at Amsterdam Tattoo convention, he was invited as a member of the Golden Oldies teams. This is where he claimed his title, after 60 years of tattooing, as The Godfather of Tattoos.

With so many years in the industry and gaining such notoriety in his trade, you would think it would mean a lot to the man. However, in sobering modesty, he simply shrugs, and says “It’s nothing to be proud of. It is what it is”.

These comments are somewhat misleading though, as even after 60 years in the game, making him the longest operating tattoo artist in the Netherlands, his passion remains burning, with no plans to hang up his needle anytime soon. “As long as my hands and my eyes will allow me, I will keep doing it”.  

Despite his opinion, it cannot be denied, he is a true icon who has made his mark on the world his own way. He will live on long as a legend to those who have known him for exactly that reason. At 72, Willem remains as truly one of a dying breed. A member of a generation that can never be illuminated and the living embodiment of an old school spirit which like an old tattoo has faded over time, but will always remain a part of history.

Letter from the Editor

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou

Before moving to Groningen, I’ve lived in the same place for five years and I thought I knew it pretty well, I even called it my home. But when a friend came to visit and asked me to join her on an alternative tour around the city, I realised that there was a whole different world hidden away in its corners that I had never discovered before. Rich history, impressive architecture and a decaying beauty that I never stopped to admire, even though I passed by those same buildings every day.

But a city is not just its buildings or its parks. It’s the people and the stories they have to share. I’ve always believed that every single person has an interesting story to tell. Whether it is the person standing behind you in the queue or sitting next to you on the train. All you have to do is listen.

How many times have you walked past a statue or a church on your way to work and didn’t even look up? Have you ever wondered what the story behind your favourite bookstore is? Who are the people behind the counter?

You may live in the same city for years and think you know it like the back of your hand, but there are always so many things that are yet to be discovered. Hidden corners, overlooked artwork, unique businesses and people with fascinating stories to tell.

We, at The Stand, decided that it’s time you got to know the city you live in.

So for the next week we are going to uncover all of Groningen’s secrets and introduce you to the people that make this city beautiful.

Celebrate with the Indonesian Student Association, learn all about the local dialect of Grunnegs, find out what it takes to have a successful business in this city, and get to know the artists behind your favourite street art.

During this week we will dive deep into the stories of people that make this city great. The people that dedicate their lives to helping others, the people that are just crazy enough to go after their dreams no matter what.

We hope that their stories will inspire you to get to know the person next to you, to stop and admire the beauty of this city, and even to give you the motivation to go after what you really love.

So join us on this trip to the unknown and let’s discover what Groningen really has to offer.