Ahh Groningen, the gem of the north. This bustling city at the very tip of the Netherlands, although not so well known outside of the country, is most definitely worth a visit. With its inviting cafes, vibrant cultural scene and beautiful buildings, there’s no doubt that what they say is true: er gaat niets boven Groningen (there’s nothing above Groningen).
As with any city, Groningen is not without its quirks, often hidden in the most unassuming places. Read on to find out about all the weird, wonderful and somewhat bizarre facts you never knew Groningen was hiding.
Three is the magic number
One of this city’s emblems is undoubtedly the Martini Tower. At 97 meters, there was once a law stating that no building could exceed the height of the tour. Nowadays this law is no longer at work meaning the city skyline is certainly growing taller! The tower is also open to visitors — be warned, the black spiral staircase is quite a climb, but the view is oh-so worth it.
Now for the interesting part — did you know that today’s Martini Tower is in fact the 3rd of its name? The 1st, built in the 13th century, was only 30 meters tall and was destroyed by a lightening strike. Another tower was built, this time reaching 45 meters, only to again go up (or rather, down) in flames having been struck by lightening again!
What‘s more the Academie Gebouw, or Academy buliding of the University of Groningen, is also in its 3rd version.
The Aletta Jacobs building
Just across the street from the Academy building you’ll find the Harmonie building, the university’s Arts Faculty building. Here lies a statue of Aletta Jacobs, a RUG student of Medicine and the first woman to study at a Dutch University (in 1871). Her name is certainly well known among students and not always one said happily, however that’s more than likely tied to the fact that our exams take place in Aletta Jacobszaal!
The Calmerhuis building
By and large an overlooked, often forgotten building and not one I think many people could name. And yet the Calmerhuis is almost 770 years old, making it the city’s oldest building. Far from being unused or derelict, the Calmerhuis is still in use as an Open University building.
Today however there’s a lot more on offer — fresh fruit and veg, meat, cheese, bread and all kinds of sweet treats can be purchased. Then there’s the Grote Markt — home to all manner of things. Think funfairs, vintage markets, flower festivals, open air concerts, demonstrations and more. By night the Grote Markt becomes one big bike parking square, just be careful you don’t forget where you’ve left your bike!
Coffee time is golden time
Besides the markets, the people of Groningen also have a soft spot for cafes, and its not hard to tell why. No matter where you go you’re never far from a cup of tea or coffee. The only difficulty is choosing where you want to go!
For me the greatest symbol of Groningen’s passion for a cup of coffee is the Goudkantoor. Built in 1635, the Goudkantoor is adorned with gold and swirling letters spelling out the words Date Caesari quae sunt Caesaris. In English this translates to ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’ and harks back to the building’s original function: it was here that merchants could bring their gold and silver to have it verified as real.
Can you guess what this building is today? Yes, that’s right, it’s a café. And quite a nice one!
The most beautiful Albert Heijn in the Netherlands
The Goudkantor is not the only building to have been given a new lease of life. Standing on the Vismarkt you’ll see the Korenbeurs, a beautiful neoclassical style building. It could be a town hall or theatre or a museum. It’s none of these, it’s something better, much better — it’s an Albert Heijn! Once a grain store, as of July 2000 the Korenbeurs has been home to an Albert Heijn supermarket.
Art – in all manner of shapes, forms and functions…
Its no lie that Groningen is full of creativity and innovation. This can be seen everywhere, in the many museums, galleries, exhibitions or even on the streets. And I’m not just talking about graffiti.
If you take a walk along Kleine der A street you’ll come across a rather strange structure, at least for the untrained eye. What is it you ask? It’s a public urinal made from milk glass and designed by Rem Koolhaas and Erwin Olaf in 1996 as part of a city wide initiative bringing together urban planning, architecture, culture and art. So there you have it, in Groningen art knows no bounds!
Groningen Town Hall
Groningen’s Town hall is another of the city’s beautiful buildings, and its story is no less interesting than its exterior. Inside lies the ‘Golden Book’ within which the city’s most honourable citizens are listed. What’s more, the architect, Jacob Otten Husly, was not commissioned to design this building but rather was the winner of a competition — the prize of which was the chance to design the town hall. A pretty lucky guy, no?
Have you been to Groningen? Did you already visit one of the listed places? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: DutchReview/Supplied
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2019, and was fully updated in December 2020 for your reading pleasure.