A taste of Moldova in Groningen

By Edward J Szekeres

Ever wondered what’s it like to run a business in Groningen? “Hard but rewarding,” says owner of Tucano Coffee.

When you come in, it feels like you stepped in the Amazon rainforest. Leafy plants, wooden statues and flamboyantly coloured paintings of wildlife greet the customers of Tucano Coffee, an ethno-styled café co-owned by Moldovan fiancés Diana Scorpan (19) and Sergiu Braga (30).

“Groningen is buzzing with business potential thanks to its vibrant and active student community. It just needed a place where likeminded people could come together,” Diana explains her business idea.

Elegantly dressed and radiating confidence, Diana proudly scans the half full coffee shop with her vivid eyes. It´s early afternoon and the warm light inside Tucano is a great lure for rain-soaked people out on the street. The sound of a coffee machine pouring fresh cappuccino in a patchwork cup, cuts through Diana´s words. “Trust me, this place is going to fill up in no time.”

Pioneers of the west

The city´s very own coffee jungle is just a few metres down the road from the Harmonie building on Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat. But its origins trace all the way back to an inconspicuous country in the Balkans.

The Tucano brand was born in Moldova in 2011. Its founder and CEO, Ruslan Cojocaru, became fascinated by the indigenous Tucano culture while travelling around the tropical forests of South America.

The Tucanos are a native tribe from Brazil and Colombia. Emblems of their lifestyle take prime position in all 32 Tucano coffee shops dispersed around eight countries of the world, including Romania, Kyrgyzstan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Diana and Sergiu´s café, the first of the Tucano franchise in Western Europe, is no exception. Before opening their coffee shop in October last year, the ambitious couple embellished the commodious premises with wooden furniture and natural, wholesome décor. Wicker chairs surrounding walnut coloured patio tables, rest under the constant gaze of tribal figurines. The design became an instant hit with Groningen´s hip, eco-friendly student community.

“We have a very loyal customer base. Most of the people that come here are familiar faces,” says Diana.

She thinks this loyalty is sparked by the famed Moldovan hospitality that her business is trying to stay faithful to. Diana greets every incoming customer with a bright, warm smile. Waiters nonchalantly stroll around the cosy room as the sweet scent of steaming coffee and freshly baked cheesecakes slowly lingers behind their backs. The hum of casual conversation bounces off the tall walls.

“Everybody is welcome here. Dutch, international, young or old, all our customers are part of the Tucano family.”

Photo credit Tucano Coffee

Love, peace, coffee

Meri Cools (24), a journalism student, is one of the returning clients. “I really like the place. It´s very laid-back and easy-going, almost like a hipster hub. Oh, and their coffee is great!”

Diana´s coffee shop imports all its coffee beans from Moldova, where they are dried and processed. Despite the long journey, the freshness of the beans upon arrival is guaranteed. After all, Tucano Coffee has a reputation to uphold. “Our coffee recently scored 87 points out of 100 in the prestigious Coffee Review evaluation, which is the world´s leading coffee guide.”

On average, only a few hundred coffees score this high or above, from the thousands of cups of joe tasted every year.        

But serving good coffee is one thing. Distinguishing your café from the dozens, if not hundreds of others in the city, is another. “What makes us different from our competition is our intimate and very personal care for our customers. We don´t just serve them, but we gradually get to know them. We talk, laugh and sometimes even cry together,” describes Diana, revealing her coffee shop´s competitive edge.

Love, peace, coffee is the brand´s stamp and philosophy. But the symbolic motto is not just a lofty ideal. It shines through Tucano´s day-to-day operation.

“When you go to Starbucks, yes, you can get quite good coffee, but it´s very busy, loud and you don´t want to stay there too long. In Tucano, you get both the chill, comfy vibes and good coffee,” says Meri, the faithful customer.

“This doesn’t taste like Coca-Cola”

Still a teenager and a second-year student of international relations at the RUG, one would expect Diana to spend her days floundering with her studies in the library, only to fritter the evening away in the pub. Instead, she works in her café day-in, day-out, either as a bustling waitress or a composed manager. “I´m here at least eight hours a day. I do most of my studies in here as well. It´s practically a full-time job.”

Her duties mostly revolve around ensuring each clog in the Tucano machine fits perfectly and works according to plan. Only rarely does she have to defuse tense situations evoked by customer complaints. “A lady once complained about the Coke she ordered. She said it didn´t taste like Coca-Cola. I couldn´t help her much in that instance,” she says with a smirk. “But most customers are very friendly and excited about Tucano´s exotic look.” 

While Diana´s entrepreneurship has taken its toll on her studies, she remains defiant in the face of a momentous challenge. “I failed some of my courses, but I just keep going. Doing business is much bigger than just studying. I know it will be worth it in the end.”

Photo credit Tucano Coffee

C’est la Révolution!

By Clémence Waller

Monique Lafay (71), can’t remember what she was doing when policemen barged into her neighbor’s apartment. She remembers the shouts, muffled sounds of struggles and facing angry policemen, as she discovered they were arresting her student neighbors for assembling Molotov cocktails in their bedroom. What she did not realise was that she was suspected of doing the same.

She recalls her 21-year-old self, a law student at the Université Claude Bernard in Lyon, being petrified. As the two policemen glared, barked at and questioned her, she quickly assured them she had nothing to do with the student riots, and insisted the police talk to her neighbors and the family of the little boy she babysat that lived downstairs. Satisfied with her alibi, they left with the two students and shoved them in the back of the police van, while Monique was left alone.

Violence, suspicion and even deaths. «C’est la chienlit!» It is chaos/shit in the bed!  Never have there been more fitting words to describe the turmoil of the French student population of 1968. This nationwide student protest was inspired by student revolts throughout Europe and the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement to protest the Vietnam war.  These protests were sparked by a sense of “asphyxiation” and the classic French ‘ras-le-bol’ with the bourgeoisie, strangling social constrictions and the ruling elite.

The protests started peacefully; streets deafened by the roars of thousands during marches, colorful signs hoisted up high, displaying slogans against gender segregation in schools, job insecurity and finally the blockading of Parisian Universities, Nanterre and La Sorbonne.

But egged on by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, “Danny the Red”, a young student revolutionary, the student protests took on a more violent and political turn.

Chaos in the streets

On May 2nd 1968, the police were dispatched to violently bring an end to this blockade, injuring hundreds of Parisian students. Outrage bled throughout the nation as various other universities were held hostage by students, including Lyon, where Monique was studying. By May 24th, the workers and the unions had joined the fray.

However, the spark for reform roared into the uncontrollable wildfire that would ensue a paralyzed country, riots, paranoia, looting and even deaths.

Students rioting, police brutality, charred bins smoking, makeshift barricades, sirens blaring: this is what Lyon looked like from May to June 1968. Monique had a front row seat to the unfolding events as she was part of the minority of students who did not protest.

After seven years in convent school, she recalls the shock she felt when seeing her generation stand-up against the ruling class. “I did not have the revolutionary mentality,” she laughs sarcastically. These memories bring up a strange sensation within her, one of bemusement but also criticism. “The protests started out fine, then quickly degenerated into a mess,” she recalls as other groups tagged onto the student movement and started vandalizing public buildings and institutions.

“What shocked me the most was finding out that people had been killed on Lafayette Bridge,” she exclaims. She refers to the bloody night of the 24th of May 1968, where René Lacroix, police commissioner, was killed by a runaway truck on the infamous Lyon Bridge amidst another violent altercation between youth and police. This incident resulted in the first death of the May 1968 protests, as well as 42 injuries and over 200 arrests.

A nation held hostage

“I loathed masses and protests then and I still do today. I also didn’t feel especially oppressed nor did my family have the money to waste on me having to redo a year because I was protesting.”

Monique recalls her annoyance when she was unable to work during the summer due to having to study for her exams, which had been postponed to September. For the rest of France, the events in Paris on May 10th-11th 1968 led to a nationwide strike in solidarity with the students. Shopkeepers no longer had any food to sell, nor was there any petrol being dispensed at the gas stations. Trains, factories and post offices also went on strike. “The country was completely paralyzed.”  

She quickly added that despite not taking part in the protests, it brought about some positive changes. “In my view, women won the most out of those protests. There was a liberation of speech, a de-stigmatization of women taking the pill for example. There was less bitterness, more freedom and fraternization. More women went into the workplace and asked for divorces.”

The youth sent out the message that they would not just be seen, they would be heard and that message was received loud and clear. “Even today, the government still fears students,” Monique smiles cheekily.


 

1968, The Year of Raging Reforms

By Valerie Scholz

1968, a turbulent year of worldwide student protests. In German metropolises, demonstrations are almost on the daily agenda. Pharmaceutics student Klaus Scholz is on his way from Karlsruhe to Berlin, making use of his short Easter holiday for an obligatory family visit. But this is not the sole purpose of his trip. He has come to raise his voice.

The trees lining the West-Berliner Ku’damm sway in the evening breeze. However, the wind does not carry the familiar fresh scent of spring, instead, a burnt stench is in the air. Thousands of tromping footsteps and monotonously aggressive chanting “Gestern Dutschke, morgen wir!” drowns out all other noise and rings in Klaus’ ears.

West-Berlin 1968: loud, bold and rebellious. The age of subordination and courteousness lies in the past. The gap between youth and the elderly is widening. Daringly short skirts, extravagant outfits, and deafening rock music on one side, incomprehension and conservative ideologies on the other. Young West-Berliners don’t want to fit in. They want to provoke.

Provocation for Change

German students sparked an anti-authoritarian movement all over the country, condemning any type of control, whether of familial, educational or political nature. Protests began as a response to war, grievances and injustices around the world. Students fought for a free society and a reform of the archaic system.

“The protests were meant for provocation”. New forms of demonstrating were established, “Go-ins” or “Sit-ins” included the siege of public spaces. Hand-drawn banners often declared entertaining statements instead of political slogans.

“Part of the Movement”

Klaus’ first contact with the movement occurred in the sleepy town of Karlsruhe. One day, students gathered in front of his institute. They argued and chanted phrases: “Unter den Talaren – Muff von 1000 Jahren”, referring to the still deeply enrooted fascism in institutions and the previous generation’s way of life.  

“We were demanding a self-purification”, Klaus says with a sparkle in his eyes. “Things that had been kept secret for years finally came up”. The students believed that the country ought to be cleansed of former national socialist partisans and mentality. “We were there to tidy up!”

“It felt so good to be part of something, to be part of the movement”, Klaus remembers. At each side of the city’s main road Kaiserstraße, the virtuous citizens of Karlsruhe gasped at the procession of hundreds of marching students. Some linking arms, others holding painted banners, where crooked letters formed phrases like “THE OLD NAZIS HAVE TO GO!”.

The “Revolution’s” Crash-Landing

However, protests were not peaceful everywhere. “It escalated more and more”, Klaus’ voice darkens. What started off with enthusiasm and optimism, ended in a civil-war-like situation.

Only a few days before Klaus’ trip to Berlin, the attempted assassination of Rudi Dutschke by a Hitler-sympathizer appalled Germany’s student population. Dutschke was a leading figure of the Socialist German Student Union (SDS) and stood for the student movement.

Following the assassination of peacefully protesting student Benno Ohnesorg in 1967 by a West-Berliner policeman, the attack on yet another student fueled an uncontrollable rage and desire for revenge amongst the protestors. Instead of de-escalation, police forces fought rage with violence.

Klaus gasped at the scene in front of him. The West-Berliner Ku’damm resembled a battlefield. On one side troops of policemen wearing ankle-length dark coats, their grimacing faces half covered by helmets, fists clenched around their truncheons, desperately attempting to stop the raging students. Opposing them, burning torches, raised fists and blind hatred.

The water cannons behind the police defence line spurt water that hits the front lines of protesters with the force of bricks.

Klaus had set out to Berlin with faith and pride but left with disappointment and bewilderment. “You always ran after the mass as a student”. However, witnessing the violence on both sides of the conflict in the streets of Berlin, Klaus distanced himself: “It had gone too far, I never wanted this.”

The Wake-Up Call

Despite condemning the violence, Klaus is confident that the 1968 student movement has positively affected Germany politically, socially and culturally.  

Although the riots did not bring a grand revolution, they were a “wake-up call”. They caused a break with the authoritarian past and allowed the society to move forward with increasingly more personal and sexual freedom.

“When I was young, I always focused on the easygoing sides of life: sports and nice girls”, Klaus smirked. The events of 1968 woke him up too and perhaps marked his first step from the “blindly naive young man” to the reflecting adult of today.

“You have to go out there and do something” in order for change to occur. Today as a pensioner and author, Klaus has found literature to be his voice of revolution. In his novels he holds a mirror up to society, seeking to facilitate progress. Just like 50 years ago.


Feature image shows Klaus Scholz (left) and fellow students in midst of an animated discussion

Hundreds of Students Still Homeless in Groningen

By Rebekah Daunt

In September 2018, the Democratische Academie Groningen (DAG), a critical student movement which strives for the profound democratization of the University of Groningen, calculated that 500 international students were still without homes in the first week of the academic year.

“The city of Groningen cannot handle the number of students attending university, the housing market is not ready for this.” said Koen Marée (24) a spokesperson for the DAG.

According to law, Dutch universities are under no obligation to provide housing for students, but The RUG encourages students to start searching for accommodation as early as April each year.

However, despite beginning their research in good time, many students found it extremely difficult to secure accommodation from overseas. “I arrived in Groningen last Thursday, but I have been searching for a room since mid-June” said Camélia Barbachi (20), an International Business and Management student.

Like so many others, Miss Barbachi has spent months contacting agencies and independent landlords advertising rooms on Facebook without success. “I really hope to find accommodation soon, otherwise… well, I don’t want to think about what might happen” said Miss Barbachi.

There are approximately 50,000 students studying at the University of Groningen and Hanze University combined. According to the briefing notes from the University Council meeting on the 28th of June 2018, the University of Groningen (RUG) will continue to raise the head count with an average of 800 students per year resulting in a grand total of 35,000 students by 2025.

RUG’s competitive ratings have been evaluated across a set of impressive standards. According to the World University Ranking website, these standards include teaching, research, international outlook and reputation.

Reporting for UKRANT magazine, Gijs Altena outlines how an increase in the number of international students at RUG will benefit the university’s growth, financial position, and higher education rankings.

Marée, who is also a Freelance journalist for Dagblad van het Noorden, believes that the housing crisis is due to overpopulation and bad planning.

UKRANT magazine has specified that the DAG, along with a number of other student organisations have been trying to raise awareness of the great need for student housing and the unbridled growth the university is experiencing.

The DAG Couch Surfing Initiative connected 130 students to a couch or a spare bed in the first week of September. This initiative strives to provide safe and homely temporary solutions for students without the price tag.

This is not the first time there has been a housing crisis in Groningen. Hundreds of students also struggled to find accommodation in 2017.

This year the university assured students that new rooms would be made available and uploaded to the new housing module, At Home in Groningen, in due course.

However, this initiate was not launched until July, and by the middle of August, when students were arriving in Groningen, only 320 rooms had been listed.

The Suikerlaan Container Project is another university led initiative. These purposely built containers were made available to students a batch at a time. Students had permission to reserve these containers upon signing a contract, agreeing to a rental fee of 500 euro per month. These containers have yet to be completed.

A Delayed start in the Suikerlaan Student Container Project means that students who have already paid their deposit and first month’s rent, must find alternative accommodation until the 15th of October 2018.

“I am lucky to have finally secured a container” said Karl, a German Erasmus Student dining at the Feel Good cafe in Groningen this afternoon. “This container will not be ready until mid October, so in the meantime I am grateful to be sleeping on my friend’s couch”.

Jorien Bakker, a spokesperson for the university, acknowledges the overwhelming demand for student housing but believes that the university warned international students in good time.

“Efforts made by the DAG are making the situation better” concluded Marée, “I never want to see a student sleeping on the street but this is not our responsibility”.


 

International Student House Target of a Series of Break-ins

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou

 

Over the past few weeks, a series of break-ins and robberies in the international student house in Vondellaan, a street in the south of Groningen, was reported, raising concerns and spreading fear among the residents.

On a Tuesday night, Mireia Antolin Estefania, an exchange student from Spain, went to the kitchen for a glass of milk, only to find her laptop, mobile phone and money missing when she returned to her room. “My door was open and the lights were on,” she says with her voice breaking, barely holding back the tears. “When I saw that all my things were gone I immediately called the police, but they couldn’t do much.”

Her room is cold and there is no mattress on the bed. “I don’t sleep here anymore. I sleep in my friend’s room. I don’t feel safe,” she says.

The incident alarmed the students and made them particularly careful, but locking their door was not enough as David Pauly, a student from Germany, soon found out. On a Saturday night, a little after midnight, David was asleep in his room when he heard a noise coming from his window. “At first I thought it was one of my friends calling me to join them in the basement so I didn’t react” he says, “but then someone broke and opened the window.”

The intruder fled without stealing anything or causing any harm once he saw that David was in the room, but the incident raised questions among the residents concerning the security of the building.

According to the contract between the tenants and the landlord, the latter is supposed to provide a safe environment and constant supervision. Most students noted that the owner of the building is usually impossible to reach. “I’ve been trying to contact him for a week” says Mireia, “he didn’t care about me, he didn’t ask if I’m ok or what happened. When I complained about the lack of security, he said that I am lucky to have a room at all.”

With the housing crisis in Groningen leaving over 300 students homeless by the beginning of the academic year, it is no wonder that many students find it hard to demand better living conditions once they finally find accommodation.

In fact, in Vondellaan, half of the building is still under construction, the internet connection is weak and the security of the building non-existent. “It’s still better than sleeping in tents,” notes David, “but the landlord is earning a lot of money through us, he should be able to do something”.