Rebel Rebel – A diamond in the rough

By Rebekah Daunt

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.

The voice of Groningen

By Valerie Scholz

It’s a stormy Saturday night in the small village of Loppersum, located just a short train ride north from Groningen. The man sitting across from me is balancing his coffee cup on the armrest of his leather sofa. He is looking at me with a mixture of friendly amusement and an edge of indifference. This is not his first interview; he knows the drill. “I’ve been asked practically everything”, he says with a little sigh. No wonder. Moti Rymarczuk (64) is Groningen’s most famous street musician. His voice is known as the city’s unofficial anthem.

Our musician

“Locals call me onze muzikant”, he says proudly, “our musician”. He laughs his husky laugh, “I am a property to them”. This man is as much part of the city of Groningen as the canals that frame it, or the maze of streets that compose it.

Street musicians are usually nomads, never staying in one place for long. But Moti’s voice has meant home to generations of Stadjers. Over the past 40 years, Moti has been a constant in the city. During that time, he has stepped into thousands of strangers’ lives, listened to their stories and sang their songs. “It is nice to know that somehow you mean quite a lot to some people”, he says.

This isn’t how it’s always been, though. The people of Groningen were distant at first, he tells me. But with a little patience and a whole lot of rock ’n’ roll, he sang his way straight into their hearts. Moti knows how unique his standing is with this city and its inhabitants, but he doesn’t boast. “I stayed the way I am; they liked the way I am, it fitted”, he smiles.

From the USSR to Groningen

“Our musician” came to Groningen as a foreigner. Born in the former USSR, Moti’s parents immigrated to Israel when he was only 2 years old. Having spent most of his childhood and teenage years there, he calls Israel his second home.

After high school and his time in the army, he shouldered his guitar case and set out to play music all around the world.

But how did he end up in the Netherlands? “It was just a normal story”, he claims modestly. Falling in love, creating a family and getting divorced again. His two grown-up sons are his anchor nowadays, keeping the musical globetrotter in a sleepy town in the northern Netherlands.

“I will probably be buried in this village, there is a nice cute graveyard here”, he winks.

Photo credit Moti Rymarczuk

A life filled with music

“I played music all the time”, Moti remembers. In fact, he has never worked another job. “Why should I?”, he grins and shakes his head, his curly white mane dancing around his impish grin. “This job suits me like a glove”.

His first instrument was his voice, the second an accordion. When his love for rock ’n’ roll was sparked, he picked up a guitar for the first time. “Before I knew how to play, I was pretending” he laughs and jams on an imaginary instrument on his lap. “You know, with a broomstick”, he added. “But in my mind, I was already a star anyways”, he says, grinning.

The language of music

Music has accompanied Moti throughout his entire life. But to him, music doesn’t mean so much. “It’s not the music. It’s what I get through with the music”. “The emotions that you trigger in other people are truly beautiful”, Moti explains.

It doesn’t matter where in the world one is; music is understood everywhere. “With it, we manage to shake the cold out of the people”, he tells me about his street musician colleagues. Whether he played for Norwegians, Japanese, Chinese or Italians, “they end up all the same: screaming and shouting!”

In his youth, Moti preferred a roaring crowd. But things change. Nowadays it is often the youngest audience members that touch the Rock ‘n’ Roller at his core. Children are brutally honest and while they probably don’t pick up on the song itself, they pick up on so much more. “If they stand in front of me, dance and tell me they like my music – That is something else, where can you get such a thing?”, Moti gushes.

One time, he tells me, he was playing in front of the HEMA in Groningen. A father and his little daughter stood close by, watching him. Suddenly the girl started walking towards Moti, “she came closer, closer, closer…and I didn’t know what to do”, he remembers. She walked up to him and kissed him, then returned to her father. “I was crying afterwards, big time”, his smile glows as he indulges in the memory. “These are the sort of moments…”, he pauses, “I call myself lucky for this”.

The magic of the streets

In street music, the artist has a relationship with the audience that a musician on stage can never establish.

Being on stage in front of an anonymous cheering mass can make you think you’ve made it to the top “but basically it’s fuck all, it’s nothing”, Moti says. “You are living in your bubble and that’s it”.

On the street it’s different. There is a special connection to every face in the audience. “Maybe I am living in my bubble too”, he laughs, “but my bubble is shared with the bubbles of other people!”

Once the connection is established, these people are more open than in any other situation. They tell Moti their stories, cry about lost loved ones and celebrate their victories. He smiles proudly, “that’s the magic of the street”.

Playing by his own rules

Moti has always done things his way. “I may know the rules, but I tend to ignore them”, he says and smirks. “Some places I can get away with that and some places I do not”. Clashes with the authorities, arrests, court cases – he’s been through it all. “At the end of the day, what can they do to me,” he laughs sheepishly, “what, kill me? – I don’t think so”.

Of course, the job is sometimes frustrating, but it is his passion and he knows that doing a job that you love makes it a whole lot easier.

Either way, one thing is clear, says Moti: “I will continue playing music until the end.”

A story of loss

By Annewil Schippers and Juliane Glahn

The synagogue in Groningen, located on the Folkingestraat, is one of the few noticeable landmarks that hint at the street’s connection to the Jewish community. But there are also several smaller artworks that commemorate the losses the community suffered during the Second World War. One of these artworks is Portaal by sculptor Gert Sennema, a shut door with no handle, which symbolizes a story that cannot be told.

As part of the project Verbeeld Verleden (which translates into “images of the past”) commissioned by the municipality of Groningen and the Jewish community, five artworks were installed in the Folkingestraat, more than 20 years ago, in 1997.

“They had the idea of making artworks as a remembrance of the history of the Folkingestraat,” says Sennema. The street was the center of the Jewish community in Groningen. Due to the war, most of the community disappeared – only few returned.

In this video, Sennema explains how he created that piece that now almost blends in with the wall of the building, which now houses a café.

Gert Sennema was born in Grijpskerk, a village in the province of Groningen, in 1962. After briefly following classes to become a drawing and sculpting teacher, he eventually switched to studying sculpting at Academie Minerva, an art school in Groningen, and graduated in 1989. He’s been creating art almost nonstop since.

Hidden artwork

After being asked to design a piece for Verbeeld Verleden, he started thinking of an idea. While doing that, he took the logistics of the street into consideration, aware that a large piece would obstruct the narrow path. “I like art that tells the story in relation to the space in which it is made,” Sennema explains.

Rather than creating a large monument, he kept the door simple and barely noticeable. “I made a small stone step before the door, and that’s my pedestal you could say. It’s the only thing to get attention for the door,” Sennema says.

Hiding the artwork is part of Sennema’s intention in telling the story. Much like the window next to the door – blocked by bricks – the door is not something that can be opened. “A window where you can’t see through is interesting as a metaphor for inaccessibility,” he says, adding “I wanted it to be a secret story.”

Everyday, countless people cross through the street that connects the main train station and city center. Sennema doesn’t expect many passengers to notice the door. He sees it as part of what his artwork represents.

“I wanted to tell the story of a loss of a people, a loss of space, a loss of story. That’s the consequence.”