The aesthetics of acceptance

By Sophie Pizzimenti

Kimberly Crossley, a friend and co-worker, was working on a project on visibility of transgender people, when we talked about what I called the ‘aesthetics of acceptance’: the idea that when one grows confident and happy with their own identity, in an accepting environment, the person doesn’t only flourish in the inside, but also their outside appearance changes.

It’s a phenomenon I have observed with all of my friends, in their process of understanding and accepting their gender identity. I then decided I wanted to learn about people’s relationship with their appearance, their gender identity, with Groningen and its spaces of acceptance. Joining forces, Kim let me stick around while she was working on her own project, so that I could interview the people she took pictures of.

I asked all of them questions about the same three main topics: their journey in their relationship with their gender identity, their relationship with their appearance and their aesthetics, and the relationship between their identity and the space around them and the city of Groningen. Their answers were all different from one another, and I decided to simply present them to you as they were presented to me.

Thomas Grant

Thomas is a transgender man whose relationship with his gender identity today is “pretty chill”. He says that for him, his identity was never really a question, and that he knew who he was all along. He remembers that when he told his father he wanted to finally transition medically, his father looked at pictures of young Tom and said “yeah, it makes sense.”

What was the most important thing for you in the process of becoming ‘pretty chill’ with your gender identity?

“It differs a lot for everybody, but for me medically transitioning was important… Shortly after I started taking hormones one of my friends was saying that I didn’t change a lot, but that I smiled a lot more. It was those kinds of things that made the biggest difference.”

Concerning his social transition, Tom explains that it was totally unplanned. At 16 in the UK, students change schools, so Tom found himself in a new environment with new people. The teacher went around asking people’s names. “She comes to me and says ‘what’s your name?’ and I went… ‘Tom’.” Tom laughs with a huge smile, remembering this moment when he spontaneously socially transitioned.

What is your relationship with clothes since the transition, both medical and social?

“The first thing I said I was gonna do when I was gonna get top surgery (breast removal) was to wear a white t-shirt.”

Because he was bearing items to constrain his breasts, which could be seen under tight or white clothes, Tom always wore oversized t-shirts. “I really became a master in the art of subterfuge,” he says. “When I came back home (after the top surgery) my dad bought me a white t-shirt and it fit tighter than anything I ever wore before, which is not to say it fit too tight, it just fit properly. The biggest shift in my wardrobe was probably that I started wearing clothes that fit.”

How do you experience Groningen as a space for you?

“As a member of the general population, I have experienced it as being a super safe city,” Tom explains, referring to his masculine appearance, which help him feel less threatened.

“Growing up, I was still socialized largely as female, there was a lot of ‘you can’t go out, it’s dark, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. Because you know, what if a man…’ I still have that kind of hangover, in the sense that I am still very much aware of what’s going on around me.”

“On the flip side, if I am walking on the streets behind a woman more or less the same age, I am aware that I am a 1.95m not small individual walking behind her. So, I cross the street, and I will remove myself from this because I know now, what it is like for women.”

“So for Groningen, personal space of acceptance, yay! General space of acceptance… there is room for improvement.”

Nicholas Sledzin

“I identify as a man, and my gender pronouns are he/him,” Nic says.

Nic walks me through his personal story with his appearance. From being a kid wearing ‘masculine clothes’, to wearing more feminine clothes in middle-school years due to outside pressure. “Most of the time that was tiring and uncomfortable,” he explains.

Then, when he came out as bisexual, and then transgender, he started wearing very masculine clothes, but that also didn’t feel right.

Recalling the period in which he felt like having to dress more feminine, Nic says, half laughing, “conforming to gender roles brings a lot of social acceptance, it’s very easy.”

What were the main issues in this process of externalizing how you felt?

“The biggest one was the fear of regret. I sit here now, and I don’t regret anything I did, but I was very hesitant to make decisions along the way. It was actually only three years ago that I threw away all of the clothes that I didn’t like wearing, that were feminine but in a way that I didn’t like. It was very freeing, but also very scary to let go of them.”

Did you have a moment where you thought ‘yeah this is me’?

“Well, the great thing about figuring out your identity is that you feel that way every day at some point. Of course, there are bad days, but I think figuring out your identity means that over time there are more and more days like that.”

“I feel like when looking at the media, it is very easy to think that being trans is primarily about all the medical stuff. But the truth is, there is so much more going on inside your head, in your own home, way before you even think about any medical transition, if you even think about it.”

How do you experience Groningen as a space for you?

“I am defiantly more comfortable in the Netherlands than I was in Poland, and Groningen feels more diverse. But maybe it’s because I have the chance to interact with people I wouldn’t interact with in Poland.”

Michiel Teeuw

“I am pronoun indifferent, any pronoun is good, he/him, she/her, they/them, I don’t mind. I feel like my gender identity, and my general identity is very fluid. I feel like my body is more of a constant, and my soul is constantly changing, also with the things I am learning. I think it is it very natural to change,” Michiel explains me.

For Michiel, all effort to define and fix one’s identity is forcing a stable and fix shape to something in constant change and mutation. We engage in a very philosophical discussion, where I am taken through ideas of post-modernism and the importance of understanding that there is no such thing as one’s true nature . While in high-school, Michiel started exploring the possibility of gender fluidity. In this process, the clothes and style of Michiel also changed.

What is your relationship with your clothes? Do you feel like your clothes are an expression of yourself?

“Sometimes yes, sometimes I would also experiment with wearing clothes that I feel they don’t fit me.”

“I feel like nothing is neutral, everything has associations and meaning, and so there is no point in dressing neutral or normal, because it still has a meaning, you cannot escape that. So, with everything you wear, people have associations, and I like to play with that association.”

How do you experience Groningen as a space for you?

“After all, in this place I feel very safe during the daytime. Mostly when I wear weird stuff I get stares from people, which I think it’s very funny and amusing. During the nighttime, when there are parties I don’t feel safe at all, people are saying weird stuff to me. There are often older men making remarks about how I dress, and also when I was together with my ex in the streets, people were making remarks about this, which feels very alienating.”

The process of acceptance is not easy, Michiel explains. The more one is confident about their identity and clothes, the more people around them perceive that person positively, which reinforces confidence. However, it is not easy.

“I feel like a lot of confidence, especially if you are a marginalized person, is also in accepting that you’ll have to be alone sometimes, because there are a lot of people that won’t respect you and won’t respect your identity. I think there is also the risk that you can be abandoned, and you’ll have to cut out people that won’t respect you. And I think that if you go for that risk and find a community that really supports you, then everything will be alright.”

Tessa van der Horst

“I identify as non-binary, or queer, and my pronouns are they/them but I am also ok with she/her.” Tessa takes me back to their experience in growing up in rural Friesland, where their unique clothing style made them stood out in the middle of people who “all looked the same.”

“I was very into fashion, but not into the fashion everyone was wearing. I made my own things, and went to alternative shops, always wore way too many necklaces and boots that were too high.”

Tessa made their passion for fashion and making clothes their career. “I wear very feminine clothes, and very pink things and make most of it myself. I am a fiber artist, I am really passionate about creating my own thing and what I like.”

For Tessa, being artistic is a fundamental part of their identity. They remember fighting their clothing style, and especially their attraction for the color pink. Eventually, they found themselves wearing only pink, and felt good about it, so they just continued.

How do you experience Groningen as a space for you?

“Groningen is so much bigger (than Friesland) and so much younger than where I am from, but there are still many things in common. I never really feel like they (the people) see me, but they impose a lot of their things on me, they expect me to be this shy, bubbly person, because of how I look, and then I turn out to be not a woman. I curse a lot, so, I am never what people expect me to be.”

What was the most important thing in your process with your identity and your clothes?

“When I saw Alok on Instagram, I felt like, dressing fem (meaning dressing very feminine) doesn’t say anything about your gender. I do notice that dressing fem and dressing feminine makes it easier for me to be misgendered, everyone just assumes I am a ‘girl’. When I saw Alok, I thought, it doesn’t have anything to do with gender, it’s just fashion, and that you should be whatever the fuck you want.”

Connecting through storytelling

By Sophie Pizzimenti

When I am about to leave the Grand Theatre after breakfast with Christina Mercken, where we talked about the ‘Offstage – World Storytelling Day’ event from the night before, she stops me. “There is one thing I wanted to add,” she says. “You know how comedians often say they create the illusion of connection? Well, with storytelling you actually create the connection”. She then gives me a hug and heads off.

From Amsterdam to Groningen

Christina Mercken is the woman behind Mezrab in the House, a storytelling event inspired by the Mezrab group from Amsterdam. She is a storyteller, spoken word performer and much more. Along with a few other performers, she brought storytelling to Groningen.

Mezrab in the House came to Groningen around a year ago. It hosts free storytelling events once a month, where local storytellers and performers from Amsterdam join together to offer their stories to the audience.

Compared to Amsterdam, where there is a multitude of storytelling events, Mezrab events are something new to Groningen. Christina explains that, as there was no such event in the city before, people had no pre-conceived notion of what stories fit the idea of “storytelling”.

“No one had a box to think in. So, the storytellers that started coming [to Mezrab in the House], started telling science fiction stories and horror stories. You never hear those in Amsterdam. When we brought some storytellers from Groningen [to Amsterdam], the audience was saying ‘what! You can do science fiction? You can do horror?”

Where do stories come from?

All about the connection

After attending a few of their Mezrab events here in Groningen, I fully understand what Christina means when saying storytelling creates a connection. When going to a storytelling evening, one has to be prepared to laugh, cry, and talk with strangers who will feel oddly familiar.

“Story telling is not just telling a story or an anecdote, but it’s really trying to also get the audience along and get them to also feel with you. Not to tell a story to them, but have them join you in your story,” explains Marjon Kamp, host of the latest Mezrab in the House edition. “It’s the connection,” Chistina adds. “I think that’s also why I find it so important what we had with Abhishek’s performance: a circular set-up.”

Abhishek’s performance

Abhishek Thapar is the performer that opened the Mezrab ‘Offstage – World Storytelling Day’ event, a special paid edition organized by Storytrooper and Mezrab in the House. A multisensorial story, starting with Abhishek sharing with the whole audience, a piece of lemon pickle made by his grandfather in the 1990s, taking it out of a big jar, the last object left of his home in India.

After this introduction in the hall of the Grand Theater, everyone walked silently to a room where we were asked to take our shoes and socks off, and led to sit in a semi-circle on a floor covered with grains. There, the multimedia performance of Abhishek takes the audience through his family history, intertwined with the history of the Sikh uprising.

Abhishek with the audience

The room is dark, only a gloomy light is shining over the performer and the audience. The silence is pierced only by Abishek’s voice, and the sound of the seeds on the floor when someone moves. The light allows Abishek, who is sitting just half a meter from the audience, to look us in the eye. There is no physical barrier between performer and audience, and among the audience members.

As Christina explains “in theater, when you are next to each other you are in the dark. You might have a connection with the performer, bur your emotion is a very private thing that you feel. With storytelling, because you see each other, and because there is a light on the audience as well, you see the other person cry, you see the other person laugh, and you are actually sharing their emotions and feelings at the same time.”

“We call it connection, I think it’s love.”

The role of the audience

Marjon and Christina say the importance of storytelling in today’s society is its power to create connections among people. Christina explains how in storytelling events, you see people taking their phones out only to take picture as they are all captivated in the present moment of the story. Christina believes that “you can’t dislike people if you know their story. There is a saying: ‘your enemy is someone whose story you haven’t heard yet’.”

Storytelling, to Christina, is about honesty, and recognizing common feelings, “you [as a storyteller] show yourself, not to show yourself, but to show the audience a mirror.”

Another aspect of storytelling Christina is enthusiastic about, is the possibility of playing with the roles of the audience and the performer. After Abhishek’s performance of the ‘Offstage – World Storytelling Day’, the audience was split into groups.

The audience joins in

The one I was in, walked up a lot of stairs, through the backstage, and technicians’ rooms, to reach a stage. We, the audience, were made to lie on big cushions on the stage, while the performers appeared on the chairs. At the end of the act, we were asked to share our emotions, while silently, the other groups sat on the audience’s chairs, looking at our conversation as if we were performing for them.

The evening continued with storytelling from locals of Groningen for the usual edition of Mezrab in the House. More people joined, who had not been to the paying event, and the room was soon filled with chatters. In between performances, a music duo called Tamanduà, meaning anteater in Portuguese, formed by Beatriz Oliva Teles and Roberta Spigola, were singing in Portuguese and Italian. Despite the language barrier, the music was felt through the audience, creating yet another connection.

The mixture of internationals and Dutch people, young and old, is what is so special about Mezrab in the House. “Groningen is a very international city, you have a lot of international students, and students in general, I think this is the perfect way to connect these people.”

Tamanduà’s performance

When movies bring people together

By Natalie Lange

Movies are more than just pictures on a screen. They bring characters to life, tell stories, and bring people from all walks of life together. When Josué Almansa talks about movies, his face lights up. He passionately sees them as a great tool of learning, since every film brings across a different message.    

“Movies can help us become better people and improve ourselves by creating dialogue,” says Josué Almansa. He notes that while not all movies out there are necessarily good, some do tell important stories or raise important questions.  

Inspired by movie nights organised by Utrecht based organization, L’Abri, Almansa decided to create “Lets movie it.” These monthly movie nights invite all Groningen citizens of any age and nationality to come together, watch movies and discuss their content afterwards.  The events started a year ago in February 2018 and show mainly movies in English or otherwise with English subtitles. 

“After the movie we sit together and share our first impression,” explains Almansa. For him this part of the event is special because everyone interprets each movie differently, and by discussing it new perspectives come to the surface.

The group discussions are not limited to any specific aspect of the movie, it is more about sharing opinions, thoughts and connecting the plot to personal experiences. The discussion is open to all opinions and in Almansa’s eyes, “it is okay to disagree.” Seeing people discuss a film brings him joy even weeks after the event.  

Movies that challenge you

Almansa discovered his passion for analysing movies when he was a teenager. “I had a good philosophy teacher who challenged us to critically analyse a film and identify potential messages,” says Almansa.

“One goal of this project is to learn something that is not included in our academic environment and to gain more life experience through the stories that are told in the movies,” he explains. In his eyes it’s important to create a safe space where people can discuss meaningful topics, such as different worldviews, the role of idols, the purpose of life or forgiveness.

“Good movies are able to connect people and challenge their worldviews,” says Almansa. He enjoys the moments during a movie when everyone shares the same emotions and empathises with characters, such as Prince Albert in The King’s Speech. The Italian movie La Vita È Bella is one of his all-time favourites.

The movies selected for the event are not restricted to a specific genre but should be inclusive and facilitate a meaningful discussion afterwards. “If a movie is extremely specific to one particular culture, I won’t show it because other people can’t connect to it,” says Almansa.

He likes to select movies that are not necessarily popular but stoke discussion such as The Railway Man, The Dark Horse or The Straight Story. “I personally think a good movie deals with important questions of life to which we can, in a sense, relate or which might challenge our worldviews,” says Almansa.

The number of attendees varies and depends on the movie selected. The average movie night has around thirteen attendees, but for the movie Dead Poet’s Society, which was shown in February, around thirty people showed up. Upcoming movie nights are announced via Facebook and an email distribution list.

By showing movies with intriguing characters, moral dilemmas, big ideas and hidden truths, Almansa is daring people to explore and reflect movies on a deeper level.

As Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society puts it: “There’s a time for daring and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.”

Carved out of wood

By Annewil Schippers and Juliane Glahn

Blue, pink, black, small and large – clogs of all colors and sizes decorate the shelves of the Van der Meulen shoe store, located in the small Dutch village of Eenrum, in the north of the province of Groningen. Here, we meet Robert van der Meulen, who has been making the traditional Dutch footwear for over 30 years. He leads us through his workshop, where he turns tree trunks into wearable clogs (called “klompen” in Dutch) nearly every day.

The first thing Robert does when he goes from the front of the store to his adjoined workshop in the back, is to take off his regular shoes and slip into his own pair of black clogs. “Otherwise, you’re permanently vacuuming the store,” he jokes. Wood shavings and dust cover the floor and stick to the shoes of whoever sets foot in the workshop.

Countless wooden shoes are stashed here: they are stacked in small piles on the floor, placed on every table there is, and lined up on the shelves. Robert estimates that he makes “a few thousand” wooden shoes every year.

A piece of history

Though many think of the clog as typically Dutch, the wooden shoe has its origin in the north of France. For centuries, the footwear was popular in countries throughout Europe, such as Norway and Italy. Clogs made their way into the Netherlands in the 16th century and reached their peak of popularity in the early 20th century.

The Van der Meulen Klompenmakerij (clog workshop) is a family business. Four generations have mastered the clog making craft. In 1900, Robert’s great grandfather, Douwe, opened the shop. His son joined the business once he was old enough.

In 1920, he went to Germany and brought back machines that helped produce the shoes. “He was one of the first in this area to have machines,” Robert explains. The use of machines severely sped up the process and reduced the amount of work that had to be done by hand.

Robert himself started making clogs in 1985. Together with his father, who is 79 years old, he still makes the traditional wooden shoe to this day.

In this video, he shows us part of the clog-making process.

A disappearing craft

Wood from the neighborhood, mostly willow, is used for the clogs. “We go through several trunks per week,” he says. Once Robert gets to work, the room is filled with the sound of machines whirring to life, and metal scraping wood. Robert cuts the blocks into the desired size, and (with a bit of help from a machine here and there) forms them into the typical shape. He then polishes them, and adds some carvings. For one pair, he needs roughly 45 minutes. As a finishing touch, he adds different colors. “Red is frequently sold, blue is frequently sold, pink, purple… and even black.”

The wooden shoe might be a stereotype of the Netherlands, but the amount of people making them is quite low. “There are around ten companies that still produce clogs to wear,” Robert says. Others make smaller versions as souvenirs or produce the wooden shoes for museums. The Van der Meulen Klompenmakerij is the only clog workshop in the province of Groningen.

People who still buy clogs wear them for gardening or handiwork. Robert makes shoes in all sizes – for adults, but also for little kids. “These clogs are often given as birth gifts.”

After Robert, who is now 55 years old, the family business might stop: “I don’t think anyone will follow after me,” he says. For now, however, he and his dad continue the craft and do not plan on stopping anytime soon.

What lies beneath Groningen’s surface

By Edward J Szekeres and Gabriele Cruciata

There’s more to Groningen than just Vismarkt and Sunny Beach. Those who live differently, in places we see but don’t notice, are forced to the fringes of society. Fiona is trying to tell their stories.

A stately, brick-walled building looks over Hereweg, in the southern part of Groningen. Dotted with rows of windows neatly arranged under the cover of battered roof tiles, it reminds passers-by of its old age. Quirky motorbikes with oversized trunks hanging over their front wheel, nearly block off the entrance with their haphazard parking.

As you come in, hesitant at first at the sight of darkness lurking behind the front door, a long but narrow corridor opens up right in front of you. The dim light is not enough to conceal the pervasive bleakness of the place. White walls on your right, on your left and above your head. “A countless number of people lost their lives in these corridors. Can you imagine it?” says a deep voice coming from a tall woman with a few sporadic freckles under her eyes. “This used to be a hospital.”

Her name is Fiona van den Bergh (30). She’s touring a group of young international students eager to explore the hidden parts of Groningen. But the former medical institution is not just another stop on a hop-on hop-off tour. It’s also Fiona’s home.

The hospital

Fiona runs the Alternative Groningen Tour, a three hour long cycling excursion around the city with an eccentric twist to it. Instead of climbing up the Martini tower and indulging in spectacular views of the surrounding architecture, Fiona takes her guests to the raw, unpolished backside of the city. Guests, not clients, as the tour is only supported by voluntary donations from participants.

“These are places a tourist would never find. Autonomous communities, squats built from scratch with imagination and street art, are the essence of this tour,” she says.

The former hospital where Fiona lives, has been occupied by squatters for nearly half a decade. It is now home to more than 200 people from all over the world. But most of them do not consider themselves squatters anymore. “We are a unique and close-knit community, but we are living here legally. I have my own apartment in the building that’s officially registered with the municipality,” she explains.

The imposing building Fiona calls home, now has its own bike repair stand, a restaurant that cooks up dishes from recycled food, and a vegetable garden. “We all have a role to play here. Some people cook, others help out with general maintenance or tend to the garden. We all do this for free. As a true commune,” explains Fiona as she walks through the rows of vegetables resting on the cultivated soil.

Nothing above Groningen

Fiona, a history graduate, became fascinated by the underground scene after she had travelled around Europe, only to realise how forgotten this group of people had become. “A world without consumerism makes life all the more interesting. People do things not for money, but for idealistic and moral reasons. It makes everything so much more real. Yet, no one seems to care.”

Non-commercialism is Fiona’s main inspiration. She is convinced that a do-it-yourself lifestyle can help people get out of their misery. She serves up her own experience as the best example. “I didn’t have a job before, so I came up with this tour,” she giggles.

But the monthly cycling journey she’s been taking along with a dozen or so participants for three years now, is more than just an extra means of income. It gives Fiona a sense of personal liberation. “It’s an intimate tour about my life. I can be a history teacher and speak about things that I find important and interesting.”

According to a popular local saying that refers to the city’s position in the very north of the Netherlands, there is nothing above Groningen (er gaat niets boven Groningen). But Fiona is on a mission to expose what lies beneath. During the tour, participants visit several spots of street art and alternative living spaces.

Inevitably, they take a peek into the most private parts of complete strangers’ lives. The tour, Fiona says, is the embodiment of personal trust. ”I am not showing monkeys in the zoo. We’re not just visiting buildings on the tour. We’re visiting people. They are all aware of the non-commercial, educational background of the tour and trust me as well as the participants.”

“I love these people”

Although Fiona’s home has now been officially recognised by the municipality as a living space, other squatters and independent communities were not so lucky.  Squatters in a trailer park in Betonbos, a small forest in the east of Groningen, are facing eviction threats from the municipality. Another community occupying an old glass factory in the city’s industrial area, has already received a note of eviction.

Fiona tried to help the squatters by setting up a petition to delay the ejection. She succeeded. The squatters were allowed to stay in the factory for a couple months longer.  

Her activism has had other positive impacts too. People’s interest in Groningen’s alternative scene is growing, and more and more of them offer to volunteer for the tour. “I have become an offbeat information point for several groups of people. A circus and a feminist reading group recently asked me about squatters in the city,” she says.

Fiona cherishes returning customers who are often long-time residents of Groningen. “It shows that there’s always something to be surprised about and inspired by, in this city. Sometimes I learn more from the participants than they learn from me.”

She talks of the city as if she was singing a lullaby to her child. She points to a coffeeshop where she works part-time. Just behind the squeaky front door, a customer tries to tap his credit card onto the payment terminal. It makes an error sound. He tries again.  Error. And again. Error. On the fifth try, he rolls his eyes and says: “Oh, it’s the wrong card”. A sudden stoned laughed fills the room.

Fiona is smiling. She looks up and whispers: “I love these people”.

“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.

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.”

An International Theatre Festival in the Heart of Groningen

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou

Jonge Harten Theaterfestival, a performance arts festival for young people that brings theatre to the spotlight, is coming back to Groningen for nine days, from the 16th to the 24th of November. The festival will take place in five different locations in the heart of the city.

With a 20-year history, Jonge Harten is an international festival that gives young performers the stage and the opportunity to showcase their art. The wide range of performances and activities that include experimental theatre, live music, movie screenings, discussions and more, attract around 10,000 visitors each year.

At Jonge Harten theatre and art enthusiasts can enjoy a wide selection of theatre, music and art performances in both English and Dutch. “The last few years we’ve been quite Dutch-oriented, but we now see the importance of our international population here in Groningen,” says Marc Maris, the director of Jonge Harten “We wanted to create a balance and make it approachable for both Dutch and non-Dutch audiences.”

The festival is made possible with the help of its team and over 70 volunteers, including internationals. Stefana, an international student with a love for theatre, joined the volunteer team because she “would like to get to know people from this world of theatre, and become more rooted in the theatre culture of the Netherlands.”

This year the themes that are explored through the performances focus on awkwardness and discomfort. “We chose this theme because we believe that the polarization we see in the world right now may be a result of not being able to deal with our own awkwardness and the tension we feel when meeting someone different from us,” says Maris.

The subjects of the performances range from human relationships, intimacy and inequality, to sensual pleasures and the power of silence. Maris notes that he “chose themes that are taboo, performers that look awkward or that have a different kind of look than the dominant notion of beauty.”

During the festival there will also be “awkward after performance talks” where the audience will get to share their experiences.

Every evening a party with a DJ set will take place behind the Grand Theatre and the festival will end with a party on the 24th of November in the Grand Theatre.

The festival aims to bring young people together through art for an affordable price. In addition to single performance tickets, day tickets are also available, with a special discount for people under 30.

For more information, visit

Her Body, His Words

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou, Hannah van der Wurff and Anne de Vries

There, on a bustling street in Brussels, dotted with bars and restaurants packed with people, walk Zoë and her friends. “Wait!” Zoë hears, and she turns around to see a man point at her behind and say, “there’s something falling out of your back pocket.” “What is it,” she urges the man while she reaches for her pockets. Her friends push for her to come along and ignore the man. As he approaches, still pointing at her behind, Zoë spots the man’s friend laughing and before she can connect the dots, the man grabs her ass.

As a reflex, she lashes out at him and yells: “Fuck off!”

“It felt like a violation of my body,” said Zoë (21), a London resident. Besides the fury and adrenaline she felt, she had been angry at herself for trusting the stranger on the street and disregarding her friends’ warning. “Ideally, we should be in a world where I shouldn’t ‘have known’.”

After the eruption of #MeToo one year ago – showing the magnitude of sexual intimidation and harassment – several European cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Paris have introduced legislation in response. The offender can be fined at an average of 190 euros in the Netherlands and up to 750 euros in France. According to a 2018 report by IOS, a statistics bureau, most of this intimidation includes whistling, catcalling, being followed, and physical harassment.

These newly enforced legislations also follow a call by UN Women and their Dutch division for municipalities to start saying #HereToo. This in the name of ‘Safe Streets’, a recent Dutch initiative to counter street intimidation, for the over 80% of women who have experienced sexual intimidation in public.

While Zoë’s example of physical harassment is gripping, it isn’t extraordinary. Many women have different experiences with street intimidation. It happens so often, Zoë said, that she’s “gotten used to it, in a sad way.”

Making her way home alone on a dark recent Tuesday night, Sophie (21), a student in Rotterdam, didn’t expect to bump into anyone in the quiet residential area where she lives. Making her way down the main road her neck hairs stood right up when she heard heavy footsteps that did not match hers. “Maybe it is just a man going home,” she thought, as she strayed off the main road to reassure herself that it was her imagination. He turned the corner with her. In the ten-minute walk that followed, she quickened her pace as the man narrowed the distance between them. Taken over by anger and fear she turned around, looked him in the eye and shouted at him to leave her alone. He bolted.

She tries not to walk home alone anymore.

Two months ago, during her stay in the US, Josien (20), an exchange student in Phoenix, Arizona, was walking around with a cart in a supermarket. She was leaning on it as she scanned the shelves. She was strolling through an aisle full of people, when, all of a sudden, a man in his sixties whistled at her and looked her up and down. She stood still and felt aware of her body. Perplexed she thought: “Are you really doing this?” She debated whether she should say something but decided to walk on.

Speaking to The Stand, neither Josien, Sophie nor Zoë were certain what they’d done to provoke the intimidation, or how they could have avoided it.

But it’s not just these explicit accounts of intimidation that jar these women. ‘The look’ that they receive every day makes you feel “like someone is undressing you with his eyes.” It is a look that makes you feel “objectified”, said Josien. It happens during the most mundane moments of daily life, such as walking home or going to class, and “you’re no longer the woman going from A to B,” but the man has taken charge of your feelings. Josien said, “I hate that that’s possible.”

The few men that agreed to speak to The Stand for this article seemed unaware that grabbing, following and catcalling cause fear.

“In your mind, you’re doing nothing wrong” said Stefano (26), a landscaper, while remembering the times he and his friends catcalled women. Driving in a car, they’d try to capture the attention of women passing by, shouting “pussy”, “mamma mia” or just making a loud noise, before driving away, laughing. It seemed like a game to them without the “intention to be offensive,” according to Stefano. They never thought about what the women felt in that moment. He said: “We always see things from a male point of view.”

Other men in Groningen expressed similar views. Hudayfah (23), a student, told The Stand he finds it hard to see the harm in whistling at a girl, although he can imagine that a girl would feel unsafe when that happens.

“I’m not permanently afraid or something,” Josien says. Each incident lasts only for a moment but it happens so often that it affects her. “You see all of the scenarios in your head.” Which is why she doesn’t engage whenever it happens, as she fears that it might get worse if she does.

Some men have started to pay attention to women’s feelings on the matter too. Stefano said this is what changed his behaviour. His girlfriend made him realize how being catcalled in the street makes girls feel and how it affects them, such as having to change their clothes, posture and behaviour when leaving the house. Now, he no longer finds catcalling funny. However, he can still understand the male perspective. He feels that as long as men don’t bring women down and treat them “like an object,” they can joke around with their friends.

Catcalling and other forms of street intimidation are also a way for men to prove themselves to other men, thinks Stefano. When feeling insecure about themselves, men “try to bring out a kind of bravery, manpower, trying to not treat the woman as an equal but as an instrument, to be equal to other men.”

Both Zoë and Josien can see how male street intimidation can be a result of vulnerability. Whether it’s an inability to communicate sexual attraction to women, or to assert some kind of power and, as Josien says, to feel like “a real haantje” (a classic alpha male).

In the end, Stefano doesn’t think that “people that catcall ever get the girl.”


Stolen Van Gogh Paintings Found “By Chance”

By Gabriele Cruciata

Back in 2016, the Italian police discovered two stolen Van Gogh paintings in a suspected mafia boss’ house. An anonymous source told The Stand that officers weren’t looking for the missing paintings.

On the 7th December 2002 two men climbed a wall of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. They broke in through a window and stole two paintings that hung on a wall on the first floor. Fourteen years later the Italian police found the paintings in Castellammare di Stabia, 25 kilometres away from Naples. “Those paintings were found by chance during an anti-mafia inspection,” tells an anonymous policeman The Stand.

“By chance”, a key expression. “That day we were called to inspect a mafia boss’ villa. We didn’t expect to find those masterpieces at all”, the source said. Raffaele Imperiale, the suspect, had collected Van Gogh’s works for many years. He’s on a trial now. His lawyers are trying to get his sentence reduced because of his collaboration with the police. But our scoop provides information not known to the judges, who are ruling in the Imperiale trial.

One of the stolen paintings is titled View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and it is “one of the first works Van Gogh made without the supervision of his teacher Anton Mauve,” says Axel Rüger, Van Gogh Museum’s Director. The other one, Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884), “was made while the painter was living with his parents, therefore this work is of biographical value as well” he adds.

After the two paintings were returned to Amsterdam two years ago, the museum organised a press conference. On that occasion, Rüger declared: “We can close the door on this particularly painful period in our history. I’ve been looking forward tremendously to the day when we could show these two gems to our public again. That day has come, and they finally have a face and a voice again.”

The Italian policeman told The Stand Imperiale could not have easily sold the paintings on the illegal market. “People who steal artworks are generally excellent thieves, but terrible art critics” he said. “They usually don’t know how important some documents are. Nobody will illegally buy a Van Gogh without the documents stating the painting is original”.