The last of the Selwerd flats
The end of a vertical neighbourhood
Annemarleen Bosma, former Selwerd II resident, roams the empty student flat one last time. © Photos Reyer Boxem
They pried the final valuable stuff off the wall, drank the last bottles of booze. And now the group of former Selwerd II residents are having a melancholic moment among the remnants of the once infamous flat pub.
‘I’m trying to repress all the good times we had here, guys’, says information science student Wouter Wielhouwer. ‘It’s pretty painful.’ Former law student Eddie (‘Don’t use my last name, please.’) who moved into the flat in 1992, even plans to recreate part of the pub in his garage.
Wouter only lived in the flat for a year; Eddie spent eight years in the building and has since left. Both have a hard time letting go of the place, though. After Selwerd I and III have been renovated, it’s time for Selwerd II. The student flat will get a new layout. The rooms become bigger and be outfitted with their own bathrooms, but the flat pub will disappear.
Fifty years old
The renovation is sorely needed, since the Selwerd flats were built fifty years ago. In 1970, they provided rooms for almost a thousand students. ‘That’s before we even had the ring road’, Rewert Wolthoff recalls. He lived in the flat between 1976 and 1982, when he studied economics. ‘We used that patch of grass over there to sunbathe, and we skated on the pond in winter.’
The flat pub attracted more people than a normal pub
He met his wife Frederique at Selwerd II, when she was studying library science. ‘There was one phone in every hallway’, she says. ‘You had to write down the number of units you’d used and the Nestor, the hallway’s student manager, would collect the money you owed.’
The flat pub, always managed by the residents themselves, was located on the tenth floor back then. ‘The bar was open two nights a week and attracted more people than a normal pub’, says Rewert, laughing.
‘One night, the speakers suddenly stopped working’, says Frederique. ‘We thought we’d maybe turned the music up too much, but when we looked outside the whole neighbourhood was dark. We heard people had started looting the supermarkets, but we just lit some candles and continued partying.’
The flats were renovated once before, during the nineties. The flat pub was moved to the ground floor, which did nothing to minimise its popularity. ‘We sold about a keg a day. Back then, people had time to get drunk’, Eddie grins. Another attractive feature was launched a few years later, in 1996: the Flitsnetwerk, the fastest internet connection in Groningen. ‘We had computers that couldn’t even handle the speed. It might be hard to imagine, but these buildings had prestige back then’, says Eddie.
‘Everyone knew the Selwerd flats’, confirms Annemarleen Bosma, who lived at Selwerd II from 2004 to 2015. ‘They were famous for the drinking, partying, and fast internet. Beer was always available, everywhere. I used to think it was really weird when people said they didn’t want to live in Selwerd II because people who lived there drank all the time, but I kind of get it now.’
Everyone knew the Selwerd flats: they were famous for the drinking, partying, and fast internet
Apart from the regular nights at the pub, it also hosted themed parties, slumber parties, and Christmas galas. ‘At Christmas, we always had special beer on tap, and the residents’ association would donate the first two kegs. The beer was red, so we’d find puddles of red vomit everywhere’, says accountancy and controlling student Remco Brandwacht, who lived in the flat the past five years. ‘The pub committee was responsible for getting anyone who was too far gone back to bed, whether it was their own or not’, says Annemarleen.
Frederique says things were different during the early days. ‘People didn’t drink as much back then. We had a lot going on, but it’s not like everyone was puking all the time.’
The residents at Selwerd II did more than just drink and party: Rewert tells us about footraces, dinner clubs, early morning walks, and Christmas dinners in the hallways. Annemarleen remembers the New Year’s Eve bonfire. ‘People just threw all the stuff they wanted to get rid of into it, from shopping trolleys to couches. Back then it was still allowed. The next morning, we did a New Year’s dive in a blow-up pool in front of the flat.’ Another beloved tradition was Drentsen. ‘That’s rugby with no rules. A muddy field, two teams, and a ball. We pulled no punches. One person sprained his ankle, another cracked a tooth, everyone was bruised… And the hallways were covered in mud afterwards’, says Annemarleen, laughing.
‘A vertical neighbourhood’, Jory Nedersigt calls Selwerd II. He moved into the flat in 2014. ‘One where you could walk out into the street in your socks, ring any doorbell, and be welcomed like a friend’, recalls former architecture student Ad (2006-2016). ‘I also learned about life, because there are so many different people with different ideas… From the far right to anarchists to communists, we had it all.’
The pub stayed open and people kept partying, but over the past few years, enthusiasm for the pub committee and the residents’ association started waning. Remco and Eddie blame the binding study advice, as well as the implementation of study loans, which forced students to graduate on time. Selwerd II also saw an influx of international students, and ‘they work harder and drink less’, says Eddie. A shame, says Annemarleen. ‘This is the time in your life when you should go out and enjoy new things, cultivate a social life.’
But the writing was on the wall: the heydays at Selwerd II were coming to an end. The residents’ association had been fighting with landlord Lefier. ‘The decisions that were best for Lefier as a business didn’t always benefit the residents’, says Jan de Boer (2014-2019), a former history student.
The decisions that were best for Lefier as a business didn’t always benefit the residents
Students would always decorate the communal living rooms themselves. At one point, Lefier decided to paint the walls a ‘hospital colour’ and people were no longer allowed to hang anything. ‘Selwerd I and III look more like an old people’s home than a student flat’, says Annemarleen. ‘In my day, we were allowed to paint the hallways in whatever colour we liked and we had a chinchilla as a pet. And if you spent an evening drinking beer together, you could just leave the crate lying around, clean it up in the morning. But now everything has to be neat all the time.’
Wouter gets where Lefier is coming from: ‘It was an unholy mess around here.’ ‘But it was a fun mess!’ says Remco. ‘It was homey!’ Jorey adds. ‘It smelled like pee, though’, someone else mumbles. ‘Not every hallway did’, answers Remco. But he concurs we should be realistic. ‘From a real estate point of view, the building is done for. Kaput.’