Friday, 18 April 2014

Easter in Groningen

You may be thinking, "What? A post about Easter already? It's only Good Friday!" I know, I know, but so much has happened already! Yesterday, Groningen was host to a HUGE spectacle called The Passion. Every year on Witte Donderdag (Literally, White Thursday, or what is known as Maundy Thursday - the day before Good Friday, when the Last Supper was meant to have taken place...) this huge musical event is staged in a city in the Netherlands. This year, as luck would have, it was taking place about five minutes from my front door!

The stage set at the Vismarkt. Security tight too.
The Passion is put on by all the different Christian organisations within the Netherlands. It is national event. You might be thinking, how do they make "The Passion" into a musical event? At first it seems almost blasphemous - pop music intertwined with the story of Jesus' last days? However, it is done very well.

The story, set in modern times, was filmed in and around Groningen. What was so cleverly done about it was that while the singers sang in the clips on the big screens, the music was being played live on the massive stage in the Vismarkt. There were also live performances on stage. Famous Dutch singers (Jesus being played by Jan from 3JS, no less!) were singing popular Dutch songs that even I knew. Songs that are regularly played on the radio.

Setting up the big screen in the Grote Markt
There was also a enormous white cross that was carried from the Oosterport, through the Grote Markt (where I was), to the Vismarkt. The local news company had a team of reporters in amongst the crowd and walking along with the cross interviewing people. A reporter stopped two ladies at one point asking about why they had come, if they were enjoying it, etc. They were mother and daughter; the daughter said she didn't believe, but wanted to come along to see what it was all about with her mother, who did believe. To learn why it was important to her mother. I thought that was splendid.

Last night it poured with rain (even with a brolly I became quite damp), and yet the paper reported this morning that 20,000 people attended The Passion, with 12,000 people alone in the Vismarkt. (De Telegraaf said it was a "sea of umbrellas", which I think is quite apt). While it was certainly a religious event, it didn't feel overly so to me. It actually felt more like a summer concert. There were all sorts of people there, of all ages. The atmosphere was lively, people sang along, and everyone just enjoyed it. It was a positive vibe, very moving if you allowed yourself to become wrapped up in the spectacle, and overall a wonderful experience. 

Right at the end it stopped raining. Grote Markt screening
I don't know why I'm so astonished. I suppose, 20,000 people out in the rain (and according to another newspaper, 3.2 million people watching at home) is something you don't see every day. I am so pleased I was able to go and see it for myself. What an experience!

Afterwards, as I followed the crowds away from the Markt, I walked past the Martinikerk and wandered in. Churches are fantastic for just wandering in - art galleries too. There was a sort of an "after event" with free tea and coffee, stalls with information about programmes going on in Groningen, volunteer programmes, and even a quiet room with an organ playing. You could light a candle there. It was very lovely. Along the back wall of the church was art work to do with the Crucifixion, which was interesting. All in all, a most pleasant evening. 

Today, we seem to be playing host to bus loads of Germans. (Along the canal by my house, there were eight buses...I am not entirely sure why they've all come.) [Don't mention the war!] It was rather odd when walking into town to see cafes advertising 'Kaffee und kuchen'. The parking garage even had a German flag on a sign that said "German parking" ... I suppose, being near the border, Groningen is a holiday destination?

The gorgeous Martinikerk
Well, anyway, I was heading to the Martinikerk to enjoy a spot of singing for Good Friday. Even though the entrance was free, I ought to have picked up a ticket beforehand. I explained to the lady manning the door that I didn't have a ticket (in my best Dutch). She said something back and I looked at her blankly before asking politely if she wouldn't mind repeating herself. She said, "Oh, sorry, I thought you were German."

Now, I know I've got a funny accent, but really. I've been called many things, but German is not one of them. I didn't mind in the least, but was instead doing my best not to laugh. She asked if I was alone and was I here to listen to the music? Yes on both accounts. She shoved me inside without further ado. So, blagged my way out of that one!

It was a lovely, peaceful concert. The inside of the Martinikerk is beautiful. Simple, yet elegant. Hearing the organ going at full tilt was spectacular as well. What a wonderful start to the Easter weekend! The rain from yesterday is gone, leaving Groningen looking bright and clean. I hope it is just as lovely where you are. Happy Easter!

(If you would like to see the enormity of the crowds and hear some of the songs, have a look here).