Sunday, 14 September 2014

Open Monumentendag: a day of National Heritage

I'm slowly realising that even for a small country, the Netherlands is quite big on celebrating things nationally. What's brilliant is that the entire country gets behind these things, so it feels like a jolly great party! This weekend is Open Monumentendag, or 'Open Monuments Day'. This year's theme, celebrating 200 years of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and 300 years since the Treaty of Utrecht (lots of history that I won't be going into, but basically this year is all about anniversary's...), is 'Power and Glory'. And as I've learned, small nation or not, there is a lot of history and past glory to be explored.

After a week of feeling poorly, having caught a cold from my lovely students, getting out and exploring was probably a good idea. Pulling on my favourite pair of bluejeans and my Chacos, which have taken me over four continents and always remind me that there are more paths to travel, I was ready to step away from "cough-cough" and into "tourist mode". What I found most fantastic about this national event was that I got to poke around all of Groningen's old buildings, being utterly nosy for free!

Carillon at the top of the tower
First stop was the Martinitoren. I've been wanting to climb the tower of this famous church since I moved here, and now I finally was doing it! One dizzying climb of 260 steps later, I was being gloriously deafened by the bells, inspecting the inside of the clock, gazing out over my wonderful city, and watching a man play the carillon. He gave us some history of it too - can you believe there have been people playing tunes from that tower since 1525?? Wonderful! He played us some Bach, and you could really see what a workout it was. The largest bell he has to sound with his foot is just under 8000 kilos(!). It is all no doubt mechanized, but he did have to stamp a bit. What a sound! I had the time of my life, but was more than pleased to get down to solid ground again.

Groningen's Grote Markt
With the city echoing with the sound of bells, my next stop was the University Museum. I pass it each day on my way to work and have been meaning to go in; again, now I had no excuses! It was filled with mostly portraits of rather dour faced Dutchmen, who all had something to do with the Uni. The rest were artefacts and jars filled with ghastly specimens. Floating bits of bodies, bizzare deformities studied by scientists, preserved know, the sorts of things you can't "un-see".  It is interesting of course, but I couldn't help but feel glad that someone else can deal with those sorts of things.

Academie Building
I moved on to something more cheerful: The Academie Building, the main building of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (affectionately shortened to RUG). The RUG has many beautiful buildings from its 400 year history (did I mention this was an anniversary year?) but the Academie building is truly gorgeous. It was a reminder, if I needed one, of how lucky I am. I have the great privilege to give lessons there! This is also where I saw King Willem-Alexander a few months ago.

Great Hall in Academie Building
The room where I give lessons!

Ducking away from grandeur, I went to visit a tiny church called the Doopsgezinde Kerk. It is also known for the Mennonites, and has an interesting history as a radical reformed group from the Protestant branch. It all goes back to the 16th Century, but you can look it up yourself as this isn't really meant to be a history lesson, fascinating though it may be. Afterwards, I went across the road to have a look at maps, which is always fun. In Het Calmershuis they had all sorts of books filled with pages of maps. As a seafaring nation, the Dutch were responsible for "filling in the map" as it were, and it was interesting to see some of that history displayed.

Pump from 1729
Many of these places had free drinks and hapjes (snacks), so I wasn't becoming the least bit faint on this exploration. Which means I still had energy to drop by the Armhuiszittend Convent which was started in the 15th century for the poor who needed somewhere to live (basically). There is a beautifully restored pump from 1729 in the garden. It is located just beneath the majestic Aa-Kerk. I had a wander through this church, but prefer the Martini Kerk for inside beauty. They are much the same in regards to simplicity (nothing like the grand cathedrals of Europe, all gilded in gold), but their histories are quite different. The Aa Kerk started out as a Catholic church, and there is still evidence of this in the frescos on the ceiling.

Tiled hearth with painting
I also passed through the Stadhuis (City hall) and lastly, the Provinciehuis (Province House) which is a beautiful building. There are many wonderful tiled hearths and paintings from important Dutch artists. It is incredible that there are so many treasures hidden away in these buildings that the public aren't aware of.

This open day was a great chance to get to know my new city. Not only was it great being nosy, but I learned a lot as well. I feel a lot closer to Groningen now, having seen it from all different aspects. Now when I hear the Martinitoren sound out the hours  I will think of the man up in the tower, stomping out the tunes for the city below to enjoy.