At the edge of Suikerlaan, overlooking a giant red-brick chimney and the graffiti covered walls of Voormalige Suikerfabriek, stand a number of detached shipping containers assembled around a courtyard full of picnic tables, hammocks and a pit fire. This is Rebel Rebel, Groningen’s first container hostel, providing eco-friendly accommodation for travellers.
Here, amongst the dust, rubble and debris of a former sugar factory, one kilometre outside the city centre, was where two women in their late twenties had a vision to invest their time, energy and savings and turn their dream into reality.
This story follows Anika Postma (30) and Anna Liefers (29); two hard working and inspiring Dutch girls who planned, designed and built Rebel Rebel together from the ground up.
The green dream
In 2015 Anna and Anika won a competition at Suikerlaan. The prize was the use of a shipping container for a twelve month period. “I always had a dream to start a hostel, and we really liked the location,” says Anna, a former bar manager from Groningen. Suikerlaan is popular amongst locals and internationals alike. The quirky grounds are also home to nightclub Paradigm, cultural venue EM2 and the newly built student housing containers.
“If we had not won that competition I wonder if we would have ended up here,” questions Anika. The two girls pause and think for a moment. “We probably would have ended up here anyway, there were lots available here for rent so it was an attractive spot,” says Anna reassuringly.
The girls who have been friends for many years, funded the project by combining their own savings with support from a crowd funding campaign. This gave them a total budget of approximately €50,000 to complete their mission. “We saved €10,000 between ourselves and the crowd fund provided the rest,” says Anika.
“We quit our jobs during the building process and did everything ourselves because there wasn’t enough money to hire additional help,” explains Anna, leaning on the hostel’s unique dining room table, which has been fashioned from an old wooden door.
A project of this size does not come without its challenges. The self-starters tackled the plumbing and wired the entire hostel for electricity. “We hadn’t planned to do this part ourselves, but help fell through. It took a long time, luckily we had an expert to guide us as we did not have experience with this before,” says Anna.
The dormitories, bathrooms, kitchen and living area were crafted from second hand materials, which adds to the hostel’s rustic appeal. The girls kept their eyes open and were as resourceful as possible. The kitchen cabinets were taken from another unit and refitted to a container. The sofa in the lounge area was built using wooden pallets and decorated with colourful cushions.
An eco-friendly business
Every space at Rebel Rebel is a feast for the eyes and oozing in creatively; old reading chairs, vintage lamps and recycled fabrics adorn every corner. Every piece of furniture has been given a new lease of life.
“We were super excited about opening, and so happy to have done everything ourselves,” says Anika. She left her job in online marketing when the workload increased.
The girls started building in summer 2016 and the positioning of the containers was based on the advice of an architect. “We positioned them in a way that would maximise the sunlight. Looking back, I forget how stressful this all was, but now that we are discussing it, I remember,” giggles Anika.
“We were not always confident but we overcame a lot of obstacles. We were determined to reach our goal and to finish the hostel, quitting never crossed our minds,” says Anna. The hostel took over a year to build and the girls opened their doors for business in February 2017.
Anika and Anna have always been conscious about the environment and wanted the hostel to be as sustainable as possible. The site boasts its own herb and vegetable garden and has been cleverly designed to save water. Gallons of water are saved during the busy months due to the hostels unique plumbing system and the water from the showers is pumped and reused to flush the toilets.
“It was clear from the start that this was something important that we needed to do,” says Anna, reflecting on their eco-friendly business model.
Plans for expansion
Maintaining the hostel is a year round responsibility for the team and the girls play an active role in the day-to-day running of Rebel Rebel. The hostel closes its doors during the winter months when the tourist season quietens down. The co-owners use the break to redecorate and develop new ideas for the next season.
This year, there are big plans for expansion. Two more containers have been added to the site and the hostel will soon feature a city beach next to the canal complete with boats and deckchairs.
The hostel’s interior is also an expression of the owner’s creative flair. The hostel doors are works of art –each one with a different animation which have been designed and painted by local artists. The mismatched furniture in the kitchen and living room provide a retro feel with pastel blues and pinks running throughout. Each of the hostel’s three dormitories has its own theme; from the Space Odyssey Dorm to the Jungle Dorm to fabulously pink Girls Dorm.
A place to call home
Many students from RUG and Hanze took advantage of the hostel while seeking accommodation in Groningen at the beginning of the academic year. Rebel Rebel offers bed and breakfast from as little as €20. For many students who were struggling to find accommodation during the housing crisis, the hostel provided a safe and affordable solution.
“We had 20 students with us on a permanent basis last year,” says Anna “and 27 the year before” finishes Anika.
The University provided a hotel boat and tents for international students who were struggling to find accommodation last September. But for many, the hotel boat proved to be too expensive and the tents made certain students feel unsafe.
“I couldn’t find a place to live in Groningen for a month,” said Spanish student Christina Llera (19) who stayed at the hostel from September to October 2018.
“This is my first hostel experience and my mum thought this would be a safe place for me to stay. I did not want to stay in the tents, I did not feel comfortable with that idea,” she said.
The hostel was a place of refuge for Christina during this time. She was frustrated by the lack of housing options within the city. She met many students at Rebel Rebel in a similar situation.
“I really liked the ambience at the hostel. There was a nice vibe and it was always clean. I met some amazing people and we kind of formed a student community within the hostel while we were waiting for solutions. It was really special,” said Christina.
A formula for success
Rebel Rebel recently marked its two year anniversary and celebrated with a week of activities ranging from lip-syncing performances to a shuffleboard competition.
The girls also provide a range of alternative workshops and classes to keep their guests entertained. They have previously hosted yoga classes, tie-dye workshops, escape room tours, live music events and even hot-tub parties on site.
Guests of Rebel Rebel praise the hostel for its unpretentiousness and for its friendly ambience, yet the pleasant atmosphere at Rebel Rebel is due to a number of distinctive factors. “The location and set up makes this place unique, but the vibe here is natural, something intangible,” says Anna.
“This is just our idea of a hostel. The classes that we organise are things we like to do ourselves. So we bring these ideas to the hostel so that we can all join in and have fun together,” finishes Anika.
Despite their success and their plans for expansion, these two girls are admirably humble when describing what they have achieved. “We are just staying true to ourselves,” concludes Anna.