With great power comes great responsibility

By Yujia Yang

What does it take to lead the Groningen branch of a major international organisation?

Eli Berghuis (20) is the president of Amnesty International Student Group Groningen (AISGG). She joined the group two years ago as a freshman in university. “I have always been very passionate about the protection of human rights”, Eli says. “Although being a part of the Amnesty International organisation is a small way to contribute, I believe it still could make the world a little better.”

Go big or go home

During her first year, she was in the Write for Right committee, which organises one of the annual writing marathons in Groningen on International Human Rights Day. It is one of the traditions set up by Amnesty International to write letters for prisoners of conscience and for those who have been wrongfully detained.

“In Groningen, we write letters to the government to put pressure on them, to say ‘hey, your policies don’t line up with human rights’. It’s still my favourite committee, even though I am not allowed to have a favourite,” states Eli.

After being accepted by the National Student Campaign committee last year, she had an opportunity to work closely with the board here in Groningen. They have created a campaign that opens dialogues about discrimination in universities by collaborating with all 11 of the student boards around the Netherlands.

“After it ended, I wondered what was next for me. I thought ‘go big or go home’. So, I applied for a board member position. The board saw my enthusiasm and determination, not only on raising human rights awareness by doing campaigns, but also by trying to solve funding problems even now, which is very difficult but important.”

What does independence mean?

Amnesty International is independent of political pressures exerted by governments and universities. None of the Amnesty student groups are funded by the organization’s headquarters. They fundraise by hosting small activities and events, like movie nights and the annual collection for charity.

Eli explains that Amnesty International Netherlands (AINL) must make every financial report 100% transparent and public, so that people know where their money is going to. However, with 11 student groups across the Netherlands who organise their own events, it is more difficult to keep track of every single cost.

“As a donator to AINL,” she says, “it is positive in the sense that I know whether my money is used in a good way or not. As a member of AISGG it can be rather annoying.”

She thinks it is a shame that the headquarters don’t support them financially. “They have not realised how much potential the student groups have. They only know that we are independent”, she continues. “We have great ideas, but we are just unable to do it because we do not have money.”

Eli and presidents from other student groups have already taken steps to build up a closer relationship between the groups and the headquarters. However, as a large and international organisation, it is not easy to change overnight.

Make the world better, even a little

Having played a crucial role in AISGG for almost three years, the group has become the biggest part of Eli’s life. “Besides my studies, it’s my main priority,” she laughs. “I am always thinking and talking about it, as well as sharing my passion and unforgettable experiences with everyone.”

After organising and participating in many campaigns and activities across the Netherlands and Europe, she remembers two campaigns that impressed her the most. One is called “kijk niet weg”, which means “don’t look away”. It is about helping the refugee situation in Lesbos, Greece, where the refugee camps are overcrowded. AISGG prompted the Dutch government one month ago to take in 1000 refugees, and are now waiting for a response.

The second campaign concerns discrimination. Eli collaborated on this project with other student boards in the Netherlands. She says that she was surprised by how open-minded people were, but also “shocked” by how much discrimination exists in higher education in the Netherlands.

“Students we helped were not afraid to share their personal stories and opinions with us. For example, an African girl complained about unequal treatment she received from one of her professors because of her skin colour. And this is not an isolated case,” she says.

This anti-racism campaign also ran in Groningen. “Even here,” explains Eli, “discrimination in university is also a problem. It is necessary to pay more attention to it and to take effective measures in improving the situation. We are trying to take some further steps, even if it’s just a little at a time.”

Respect one another

As the president of a group, she has to do more than just organising campaigns. She tries to seek common ground and properly handle differences within the group. Eli says that “it is so common to see that some people just do not stand by the same values as you, even if you are in the same organisation advocating the same thing.”

She takes the refugee campaign as an example, saying that most things went well. But there was one guy who disagreed with it, and thought that the refugees should stay in Lesbos. “I am so passionate about this issue, but people just do not understand.”

Although the conflict did not lead to any yelling, Eli still regards it as one of the greatest things she has learnt as part of Amnesty. “Not everyone sees the world in the same way as me – it sucks but it makes the world more interesting.”

Eli adds, “currently our organisation has roughly 100 members, but only eight to ten are Dutch people. Obviously, we are an international group, so it is more important to us to listen to each other, learn from each other, and respect one another.”

The freedom of art

By Annewil Schippers

(Contributed reporting Dimitra Karapanagiotou)

Chances are you’ve probably seen the artwork below before. The mural, painted onto the wall next to the police station in the centre of Groningen, is one of the pieces that both Klaas Lageweg and the city are known for. What many don’t know, however, is that Lageweg has installed numerous other artworks around the city. We talk to him to discover what else there is, besides the pigeon, and how he identifies himself as an artist.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at Rademarkt, titled “Vervlogen Tijden” (Time Flies)

“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t expecting you, I must’ve mixed up the times!” Klaas Lageweg (40) says, while he lets us into his house. Nevertheless, he welcomes us cordially, and so does Billy, his two-year-old dog that Lageweg adopted off the streets of Spain recently. The house is what you would expect from an artist: filled with CDs, plants, and of course, his own artworks.

Lageweg started his career early, as he always enjoyed drawing as a child. But he never went to art school. Only later on in life, he got into graffiti and realised that making art was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “I was standing naked in front of the mirror when I was 18 and I was thinking what I wanted to do. And I thought about this. ‘This is what I wanna do’. And I did it. So my dream came true.”

Now he makes art that he himself calls “mural art” or “paintings”. His art is known for its bright colours and pixelated details, which Lageweg coined as “realpixelisme”.

Part of what made this dream so appealing to Lageweg was the idea of freedom of expression. For him, making art is a way of living autonomously, of living life his own way. “In my early life I thought I wascrazy, but now I turned it around and think: ‘you are crazy’,” says Lageweg. He follows his own course: “Are you with me? Great! Are you against me? Fuck off!”

That freedom of expression now also comes with literal freedom for him. Lageweg has established himself as an artist, and this way he is able to choose his assignments. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out with customers: “They tell me ‘I don’t want this’, okay, ‘bye bye!’. You have to learn to say ‘no’,” he says.

Freedom to choose is crucial for the art Lageweg makes. Because even though he is known for more manifest works, like the pigeon at Rademarkt, many of his murals are located in places that are hidden. Lageweg likes the obscure, the unknown. He tries to constantly create a feeling of anonymity. And as long as he is satisfied with the artwork and can add it to his collection, it doesn’t really matter if the location is popular or not. “Every place has its own fantasy,” according to Lageweg. Especially if that place is “fucked up” and “spooky”.

Lageweg’s favourite mural in this category is the one he painted onto Fort La Chartreuse in Liège, Belgium. The fort is completely abandoned, but it is a popular Urbex spot, visited by photographers from all over the world, looking for the thrill of sneaking into places that are under tight watch.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at the Colosseum skatepark, titled “Give me the food and let me grow”

But in Groningen, too, Lageweg has left his mark in unexpected places. Take the Colosseum, on the outskirts of the city. The large concrete building, mainly used as a skatepark, is covered in graffiti and mural art, including a colourful bird that Lageweg painted in 2016.

However, nowadays, the artwork is completely covered in ivy. But Lageweg doesn’t really care. In fact, he was aware that the piece would eventually disappear under the ivy, even before he made it. “They were already busy trimming the tree on the wall, but I said ‘No, stop! I want to see it!’ Because I want to put the piece into the environment like it is. So I played with that,” he says.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at Oosterpoort, titled “The Pheasant”.
Looking at this photograph, he said “kids play balls and I spray walls”, quoting another mural artist.

The role of the environment is also why many of his works are centred around birds. But the eye plays a large role in his murals too. “The eye is the soul of everybody, it’s like a diamond. But people hardly pay attention to them,” Lageweg says. Just like the “Pheasant”, one of his murals in the East of Groningen, people pass by the things that really matter, the hidden corners, without stopping to take them in.

“We’re in a rat race,” he says. “School, work, making money. After this interview, you’re probably running off to get back to university in time and write the article. It never stops. The whole system is ready to collapse. So we’re living on the edge with a lot of people on this planet. But could I change it? Maybe, yes. Maybe with my art.”

Lageweg believes art can help us through self-expression and identification. “Maybe we all have ‘it’, but it’s hidden, by society,” he says. “We have to break that wall.”

Through the lens of a Groningen photographer

By Clémence Waller

Joram Krol (39) is a well-known face amongst the marginalized homeless, addicts and prostitute communities of Groningen. He wanders around the city streets with his camera and backpack in search for justthe right shot.

Joram walks towards me with a slow, confident swagger, a discreet backpack casually hanging over his green jacket. His style is his own, unique and matching to his personality. He is covered in intricate, dark tattoos, indicative of his nature as an artist.  They represent images, words and phrases that have different meanings in his life. The afternoon is graced with blazing sunshine and a cool breeze.

Great weather, in his opinion, to take photos. Not so much because of the light, though.  “People tend to be more open to having their picture taken on days like this,” says Joram. He guides me around the city as I take the rare opportunity to see what the day may bring to this photographer.

“I have no typical day. I once had to walk 18 kilometers for just for one photo. We shall just see what happens today. If we meet somebody, that’s great, if we don’t meet somebody, then we don’t,” he says calmly.

Getting up close and personal

His story as a photographer begins at the age of 34, even though he has built roots in Groningen since he was a student.One day, he picked up a camera and started shooting.

He has always been an active person, needing to move, to vibrate. “I have always been an athlete, you know, whatever gets my energy out. Walking two or three hours is a way to vent, it relaxes my mind. So, I put a camera on my back and I just wanted to take pictures.”

Throughout the years his photography style evolved and developed. Inevitably, a particular theme started to recur in his work: photographing those marginalized and ignored by society.

Joram has been patiently taking photos of the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes for over four years.  After documenting around 100 homeless people in Groningen, he has gained some ‘positive notoriety’, as he puts it. 

He vehemently corrects a misconception people have made about him and his work as a photographer. “People think I only take photos of the homeless, that’s not true.  I take photos of interesting people in one moment in time. If it’s not natural, I don’t think it’s interesting.”

Joram walks and scans the streets. He spots Kareem, a homeless man. Kareem is dressed from head to toe in black and khaki. He is a kind faced man with weathered features from his time in the streets. A single white tulip is delicately tucked into his backpack strap.

Joram immediately accosts him and switches to Dutch. Kareem agrees to have his picture taken and Joram leads him to a quiet street with a redbrick wall. I watch as Joram unpacks his kit and starts directing his model.

Nothing else matters in the moment: Joram gets inches away from Kareem’s face. The air is still and silent. Suddenly, Joram shouts “OH STOP, STOP, STOP! Dit is perfect. YES! Dit is it, Kareem”. The camera makes a clicking sound. The shots are taken. Kareem observes the screen curiously. He nods. And then they part company.

“I have a duty”

To the streets, Joram is a watchdog, trying in his own way to help them claim back their face, their name, their identity. “[The subjects of the photographs] really appreciate me giving them a face.  It says, ‘I am a person, I have a name’. I want to give people their name back.”

According to Joram, most homeless people like Kareem are addressed by their name once every three months. “They hear their name four times a year,” he stresses.

He follows a specific mantra that guides his work.  “As a photographer, I feel like I have an obligation to show reality. I want my photos to have a social impact.”

He describes an experience he had with a 19-year-old homeless boy.

“I deliberately posted a photo of this 19-year-old homeless kid in front of a big Christmas tree on Christmas eve. It went viral!  I didn’t make a cent off that picture but I wanted to shove it in people’s faces that ‘Hey, there is this kid out there tonight with no home’.”

The same kid is no longer homeless and has since put on weight and is working through his trauma. When he sees Joram, he smiles and thanks him.

Joram is also smiling. “This means the world to me.”

See you in court

To some institutions, he is that sharp thorn in their side, armed with a camera and a fire in his belly for social change.

“The shelters don’t like me because they think I’m meddling around. I see things they don’t want me to see. The Gemeente wants to sweep things under the carpet and I’m exposing them.”

He finishes with one more anecdote about a prostitute. Joram took a photo of her during a vulnerable moment where she had a psychotic episode. He then posted it on his professional Facebook page. Not long after, the shelter where she lived at contacted him to pull it down.

“I told them ‘I’ll see you in court. Get at me. I am a photographer. I have my values. I took a photo in a public space and she gave her consent even after the episode.’ In the end they couldn’t get me to take it down.”

Today, the woman is in a mental and rehabilitation facility and getting the help she needs. For Joram, that is why he takes his photos. He says that this type of photography has never been done in Groningen. Before him, there weren´t any good photos of those marginalized.

“We live life through an Instagram filter. I wanted to distinguish myself from others. I took photos of people taking crack cocaine, and of prostitutes selling their bodies. It’s raw. It’s never been done before.”

When asked if he has ever been to court, he smiles and shakes his head with impatient glee. “No, I haven’t but I look forward to it. Bring it on!”

Photo credit to Joram Krol

Learn more about his work on Twitter and Facebook

Feel free to bring your own packaging

By Hannah van der Wurff

If you look carefully at the shop windows and doors in Groningen, you see that some display a small green sticker that says, ‘neem gerust je eigen verpakking mee’ (feel free to bring your own packaging). A small group of Groningers have started to circulate these stickers to the environmentally friendly hubs of Groningen. Kelly Opel (27) is one of these people.

After days of grey clouds and rain-drenched cobblestones, the old city centre of Groningen is being bathed in a crisp winter sun again. It is Friday, mid-afternoon, and the pavements and cycling lanes are quiet before the 5 o’clock commute from work and university. The crowd will soon flood the streets, making it close to impossible to carry large grocery bags through the hordes of people.

It is the perfect time for Kelly to pay a zero waste visit to the Vismarkt market. She comes here bi-weekly for her grocery trips.

The aim of the zero waste lifestyle is to create a more environmentally friendly world through less wastage of raw materials, less pollution and less overconsumption. Equipped with multiple canvas bags, glass jars, Tupperware, natural wrappers and reusable egg cartons, Kelly stands out from the normal marketgoer.

Problematic cat litter

Kelly came to the Netherlands as an au pair from Seattle, the United States, a couple of years ago. She settled in Groningen with her northern-Dutch boyfriend whom she met in Amsterdam. They share a home near the Noorderplantsoen and have a cat.

An idyllic household, you may say. But it wasn’t all kittens and sunshine. Kelly and her boyfriend would have to take out their trash multiple times a week because the 21-liter bags were too full of cat litter, food waste and plastic. To some this might sound familiar and unproblematic, but Kelly had to draw a line.

With the image of a plastic-ridden Caribbean beach in the back of her mind, she thought “even though I have never just thrown garbage onto the beach, I’m sure that some of my trash has ended up in the ocean. I’m somewhat responsible.”

Over the last few months, Kelly has made an active effort to reduce the amount of trash bags she has to take out. She landed in the ‘Zero Waste/Less Waste Groningen’ group on Facebook, where its 240 members exchange tips and recommendations on how to reduce waste in terms of garbage, clothing, cosmetics and cleaning products.

‘Moet je zelf weten’

Inspired by this online community, she started frequenting Vismarkt. The market enables zero wasters to buy everything plastic free, fresh and in the exact quantities that you need.

The wholehearted welcome she receives at both the organic green grocers’ stand and the pasta stall from Germany is in stark contrast to the atmosphere in the local supermarket. “Everybody has been really supportive about it,” Kelly says.

She recalls a recent trip to a jewelry store, where she had brought her own bubble wrap and little canvas bags to bundle her purchases together. “When I went back there for a second time, the owner told me that I had inspired her not to order plastic bags or plastic packaging anymore.” She also wanted to encourage people to bring their own like Kelly had done.

Still, there is an element of ‘moet je zelf weten’(everyone their own) to the lifestyle change. Being zero waste takes more time than popping over to the nearest supermarket.

Kelly’s boyfriend, who works for Shell, “likes the convenience” of their local Albert Heijn and Jumbo. Both of them work and are busy, but Kelly dedicates time to go out of her way to visit multiple shops while her partner “comes home with a hall of groceries that are not organic and are covered in plastic.”

“I feel like it’s defeating all the effort that I put into it,” she says.

Worm hotels

Together with the Groninger municipality, Kelly has been trying to introduce a ‘worm hotel’ in her building. But some of her neighbors weren’t too happy about having living compost piles for fruit and vegetable residue close to their homes.

Laurens Stiekema, chair of the municipality’s worm hotel projects, describes how transporting all different kinds of trash with CO2 emitting trucks goes against Groningen’s sustainable policies. Worm hotels and other sustainable grass-roots solutions are good because “transport is no longer necessary and the compost that it produces can be reused immediately.”

Last year, the municipality financed the first three worm hotels in Groningen. It could be a matter of days until they receive the green light to place about five more.

As Kelly makes a beeline for a plastic free piece of cheese in an independent cheese shop, she explains that for her this is not enough.

“I think it’s important that we all do our part, but it is very discouraging to see how small of an impact one person or one family could have, because the damage to the environment is like 70% caused by industries,” she says. “What we really need is for companies and governments to regulate it.”

Come as you are

By Clémence Waller and Oscar Cheng-Kai Wu

Meet Max de Witte (28) and Jantien Kuiper (31). Two Groningen natives who succeeded in their dream of opening one of the coolest hidden gems in the city: De Graan Republiek. This little patch of heaven is unique: they are the only independent literary café of Groningen.

This is home

‘I’m home’.  This is the impression you get when you pass the faded yellow doors of De Graan Republiek. You are greeted by a large table in the center of the small space with mismatched chairs all around it. There are warm terracotta floors, cozy dim lights, shelves filled to the brim with thousands of books. You can hear the soft croon of a jazz song and see generations mix.

Here a student working on her essay, there two older men chatting and playing chess. At the bar, you see Max, laughing loudly with Sior (30) and Frans (73), regular patrons, over pints of beers.  You feel like you have just entered your grandmother’s kitchen or living room.

Jantien and Max

If downstairs is a living room, upstairs is the bedroom. The lights are brighter, there is another large table and the wooden floorboard groan and creak as you walk along it. More books greet you as you enter. This is your study space. For you and for any other stranger who wants a safe refuge from the world. There is even a corner overlooking a window where musicians can meet up and jam together.

“I’ve been coming here since November, when I discovered this place. I study architecture and urban planning so this ‘organized chaos’ is great for me.” Says Mo (31) from Egypt.

From the outside, this bookstore is a discreet nook in the wall, blink and you will miss it: faded and unassuming, this old grain warehouse, and once squatter’s hotspot, is now the scene for a relaxed, literary and music community. With a plethora of artistic, literary and musical events planned all year, there is always something for everybody in this café. If you fancy staying, this café also doubles as an Airbnb.

A woman from the Irish bar next door enters the café and passes that Bring Your Own Food sign with a big plate of bitterballen and nuggets. She offers everyone a bite and walks out. This kind of comfort, easygoing attitude may surprise some, but not the patrons of the bar.

And that is exactly how Jantien and Max want it.

“This is a safe place for everyone to come and talk. Express themselves. This is home.”

Thanks for the memories

This bookworm’s heaven began in 2011 when Jantien’s (now ex) husband Willem, found the property and had a dream of opening a bookstore with a cultural and drinking twist.

“He used to work for a guy, old Casper, who owned a bookstore. The guy was really the Santa Claus of books, big belly white beard. He was a wizard when it came to books. Once he bought a book for two euros and sold it for two hundred because it was a rare, old edition” explains Max enthusiastically.

Willem observed that selling books alone wasn’t enough for a successful business so he came up with the idea of adding drinks and cultural events for an interesting concept. He then enlisted Jantien and Max, a mutual friend, to enter this venture together. “I would never have opened if not for Willem,” says Jantien.

“Sometimes you need to be crazy” adds Max.

De Graan Republiek

Amongst the paper, leather bound overlords, the café ironically focuses on community and events rather than selling the books. “Selling books was not the main point of this place.” The books belong to Jantien, Max and others. With 4000 novels crammed into the walls, patrons can purchase these books, should they wish, or bring their own.

Now, after running for three and a half years, both owners look fondly on the memories created and ones to come.

“I have seen relationships be born in this place, we are now waiting for our first literary café babies hopefully.” Guffauws Max as he grabs himself a cup of coffee.

Enter as strangers, part as friends

Everyone has different reasons for why they came and why they stayed.

“I come here for the music. They play Django Reinhart.” Exclaims Frans. The 73-year-old is dressed in dark clothes, a sky-blue scarf and beanie hat. His pale weathered skin pulls back and he smiles his contagious toothy grin.

Zero percent beer in hand, he explains that he has quit drinking 5 years ago after 45 years of heavy drinking. “That’s why now, I’m in a relaxed bar” he laughs. “I’m an old knackerbut the people here are gentle and quiet. Relax, that’s why I love to come here.”

Inside bookworm territory

This café makes its profit from its bar and Airbnb side, the books are just added value and a way to attract the shy bookworms to their doorstep.

“They help attract those who like to read, they can look here or bring their own books. It’s also the reason why we have one big table, not many small ones, because we want to invite people to talk to each other. When things go wrong, people talk on the internet and no longer to each other, and that’s where the divide begins.”

All about respect

Respect: this is the golden house rule, break it and there’s the door.

“You can derive everything from that simple rule. No weapons, no drug abuse, everything flows from having respect for each other,” explains Jantiene serenely.

Part and parcel of running a bar is the disturbances that may come in the form of unruly guests. “When we opened there was this discussion about the Zwarte Piet and we had a guest come from Amsterdam. I got threats on Facebook from people 500 km away,” says Max with a grimace.

“On that night we had seven to eight skinheads show up in leather vests, and surprisingly they didn’t do anything, they just took up the space. Eventually they got frustrated and left but there was a lot of tension in the room,” he goes on.

But the good ambiance, the friendly atmosphere and the cozy one-on-one bonds that are formed between patrons and owners, help stand up to that sort of behavior.

“The nice thing is that if you feel the need to stand up to someone, the whole bar is behind you. Every other guest, can sense or stand up if you need it.” Jantien shares a look with Max and they both laugh.

“I have been coming here since they opened and I will stay here until I have to join AA,” jokes Sior as he drinks another pint of beer.

It’s more than a brewery; it’s a family

By Anne de Vries

“Here on the left, it used to be toilets,” says Albert-Jan Swierstra (64), “and those windows over there were boarded up for the darkroom.” Swierstra’s animated gestures make me feel like I am there in the past with him. I can see it playing before his eyes, as he explains how he and his son transformed the 20th-century building from a former printing house into the three-story brewery, pub, and restaurant it now is.

After working as a zoo-photographer for 20 years, Swierstra took over the printing house in 1995, looking for a change in his career. He became the fourth occupant of one of the first industrial sites in Groningen, designed by local architect Frans Klein.

But as the 2008 economic crisis drew near, Swierstra saw his revenues slowly decrease. Books were printed abroad, labels were made digitally, advertising was done on the internet. In a successful attempt to get out while he still could, he decided to start his own beer brewery in 2015. After all, he already had the perfect location.

He knew a bit about this business after years of doing the printing work for brewery MAALLUST in Veenhuizen, and together with his brother tinkered about for a year, brewing 20 liters a week, every Monday.

When his youngest son, Martijn, returned from his travels around the world, Swierstra saw a business partner in him. “He wanted to be a barista, but I said, if there’s a barista in you, there sure as well is a brewer in you. And I was right.”

With the addition of Martijn, brewery Martinus was born, a name not only inspired by the youngest son, but also a nod to Groningen that is known as ‘Martinistad’, named after the city’s patron, St. Maarten.

Martijn attended brewing classes in Gent, Belgium, and father and son visited breweries all over Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. During the four months of construction, the men decided to go for the building’s full capacity of 2000 liters a month, starting with three different kinds of beer. Four years later they’ve worked up to a collection of 10 different beers.

“We’re still growing,” adds Swierstra, a proud smile playing on his face. Only local stores buy from them, and they deliver everything themselves. Even the leftover grains go to local farmers to feed cattle, or a baker comes to pick it up. A new box of grains is already waiting at the brewery’s front door.

However, Swierstra wants to keep it small: “Haste makes waste,” he says, “As soon as you want to go national, you need all these parties in between, and you won’t even be left with more than a nickel.” This way, Swierstra thinks, they can put the least amount of effort in advertising. “People will always want a local beer.”

For the limited amount of advertising the brewery has done, it is admirable that they’ve landed the 5th spot on the TripAdvisor top 10 list of things to do in Groningen. The building isn’t the easiest to find at Kostersgang 32, and yet, “people walk straight here from the train station, without even having seen anything of the city.”

Just as I arrived at the building for our appointment, Swierstra drove up in the brewery-van and opened the door for me. A sharp, sour smell hit my nose as soon as I walked in, but the regular guest doesn’t need to worry; as soon as they stop brewing for the second half of the week, the smell disappears.

Swierstra launched into one of the tours he gives visitors on a regular basis, leading me past the kettles, the bottling machine, showing me the bags of grains that feed the machines, and the leftovers that were picked up by the farmer that same day.

He also points out the ceiling, from which hangs a chain that hoists up the barrels of beer for the pub. Swierstra mentions how in the first weeks of construction they had to work in the rain, as the plastic over the hole had come loose. Now, the light that comes from that top window fills up not only the pub on the top floor, but the restaurant in the middle as well.

The kettles on the ground floor may look intimidating to an outsider, but the pub seems like a relaxed place to hang out, and the restaurant looks cozy with old, dark brown tables and rugs on the floor.

Both the restaurant and the pub are full of records and pictures of musicians. For this, Swierstra credits his wife, Henriette Tukkers. While the love of music has spread through the whole family, Henriette has made Martinus a hub for famous musicians. Martinus is one of the main stages for Groningen’s Jazz Podium, as well as the weekly Comedy Night.

Once in a while, Martijn also heads the ‘Martinus Take Over’ they host in pubs around the city. For one evening, the bar only serves Martinus beers, and Martijn takes over the turntables.

Swierstra sits across from me, occasionally glancing at the two phones lying on the table in front of him, as another call comes in. It’s a reservation, and while he’s on the one phone, his son calls on the other, and someone enters the shop downstairs. Right after he hangs up both phones, he heads downstairs and helps the customer.

When he comes back up, he smiles and tells me how he loves the diversity of their clientele. The customer downstairs was a man from a nearby town, dropping by to pick up a gift package for friends in Germany. “And like him, we have so many others coming in. We’ve had 27 international plastic surgeons in here for drinks, and 25 firefighters, and whole bachelor parties dressed as lobsters and ladles.”

There is no one specific Brewery Martinus customer, but they are all served by family. Next to father, mother and son who run the brewery, Swierstra’s other two sons occasionally help out on the weekends. They also hired 13 staff members for the restaurant, and one extra brewer, Kars. Each one of them has come into the business via friends or family, and most of them come from his sons’ Waldorf School group of friends.

Still, Swierstra wouldn’t recommend working with family to everyone. While it’s really fun, he says, it can also have severe drawbacks. One of which is that work never ends. As soon as they get home, they have to debrief the day and prepare for the next one.

Then Swierstra gets up, on his way out the door to pick up his son for the next shift at the tanks.

I walk around a bit to take some pictures in the meantime, and I talk to the brewer, Kars, and another family friend, who’s just hanging around. The latter is a cameraman and tells me about the amount of material he has on the brewery. He would love to use it for promotion. But he’s hesitant, because he thinks they wouldn’t really want to use it; they keep saying they’d like to stay small.

The moment father and son return, Martijn heads over to Kars to go over what still needs to be done for the beer that day. Swierstra gets out one of the bottle caps with the new logo. The old one featured a big ‘M’ that they now removed, “it was just too McDonald’s”, says Martijn.

While Swierstra seems to enjoy discussing business and beer with the guys, with all the extra staff they hired, he is looking forward to taking a step back soon. “My wife tells me to butt out a bit more,” he says, “I just need to learn to let go, trust that they can do a fine job on their own.”

He tells me about his favorite beer. It’s one they brew themselves, with help from a supercomputer that converts characteristics into ingredients. The beer is called ‘nuchter’ or ‘sober’, a typical characteristic of Groningen people. A characteristic I would ascribe to Swierstra, a man who according to himself “has no secrets”, and is always looking for the next opportunity to increase revenues and decrease costs. But, he says, “At some point I’ll just have to be satisfied with what I’ve got.”

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.

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.”