Students aim to improve nightlife
The eyes and ears of the night
Groningen, the city that never sleeps
Groningen has no set closing times for pubs and clubs. How was this decided? In the seventies, the city of Groningen decided that pubs could stay open longer if they had live music playing. Pub owners seized the opportunity, and the music world profited off the decision as well. Countless new bands were formed, and some even gained national notoriety. The most well-known Groningen from this artist is Herman Brood.
‘I don’t think a lot of aldermen go out on the town at two in the morning. Our local politicians should focus on it a bit more; it’s an important part of the city of Groningen.’
Signed, Yorick Karseboom. Out on the café Kult terrace – there’s no room inside the pub on this Saturday night – the 23-year-old student is brainstorming away with Pieter Lam (27) and Helena Kollopo (25). The trio is part of the recently established, twelve-person Groningen night council.
Groningen already has a night mayor, who discusses Groningen nightlife and festivals with its regular politicians. This year’s mayor, Merlijn Poolman, felt he could use a few extra sets of eyes and went looking for a diverse group of Groningers. Because, quotes Karseboom: ‘The plans people come up with while drinking beer at night will be worked out in the morning over coffee.’
RUG students Lam, Kollopo, and Karseboom felt the calling. Lam, who’s doing a master in politics, philosophy, and economics, works at Vera and OOST, and is a programmer for Simplon Up. Philosophy student Karseboom organises the festival Rumbling Earth every year and often tends bar. Kollopo, a student of media studies, organises parties under the name of All Shades.
Kollopo explains the night council’s objective: ‘We want the Groningen nightlife to be fun and diverse, as well as safe. We want there to be a sense of community so that Groningers know where to find each other if they need it.’
Lam nods: ‘Our main objective is a night city hall where people can go for information, for example on drugs, but that’s also a safe space in case something bad happens.’ Karseboom: ‘Like when the drugs you took or the drinks you had are having an adverse effect, or if you’ve been sexually harassed and you don’t want to go to the cops right away.’
We want there to be a sense of community at night so that Groningers know to find each other
‘Ideally, we’d also have a first aid post where people can get their drugs tested’, Lam continues. ‘The closest place for that right now is at the Damsterdiep, and the UMCG is only available for drug testing on Thursday afternoon.’
The night council is also working on several campaigns. They recently collaborated with Catcalls of Grunn to organise the Orange the World project, where they bathed the Academy building and city hall in orange lights to raise awareness of violence against women. They’ll also be organising workshops for bar staff so they’ll know how to help victims.
But, Karseboom says, ‘we’re also working on fun stuff’. Together with Lam, he hopes to help out fledgling bands who don’t have any connections yet, or small pub owners who don’t know what booking musicians entails.
Last week, Karseboom and Lam, together with the rest of the night council, attended an international conference on nightlife, in Berlin. Kollopo had to study, so she couldn’t join them. ‘Night mayors from all over the world had come to Berlin’, says Lam. ‘From Tokyo, São Paulo, Sydney, New York.’
‘We got some great insight into how the nightlife works in other cities’, says Karseboom. Lam: ‘In Budapest, for example, the night mayor has to deal with Orbán’s conservative government, which can lead to dilemmas. But overtourism and gentrification in cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona are a problem as well.’
Are these issues plaguing Groningen? Lam says it’s not all that bad just yet. ‘Groningen has such a long history as a student town that we’ve always been invested in diversity.’ Kollopo says this diversity is important: ‘We should try to prevent pubs and clubs only catering to students. People in their late twenties or thirties should feel welcome as well.’ Lam nods: ‘If you want to develop your city, you have to make it attractive to people.’
As the Peperstraat and Poelestraat slowly fill up, we take a tour of the city’s nightlife centre. ‘To be honest, I never come to these streets’, says Karseboom, laughing. ‘I go to places outside of the centre. That’s the nightlife, too: squats, the old hospital, or just my friendly neighbourhood pub.’
As night council we can lobby for policies on issues like laughing gas
Lam points to the property that’s being built on the corner of the Oosterstraat and the Poelestraat: ‘This too, is part of the nightlife’, he explains. ‘The top floor will have luxury apartments. The people who will be living there will definitely complain about the noise. The city is facing a challenge: to make sure the nightlife stays in the city centre in spite of gentrification. Although it’s not a huge problem here yet.’
In front of the Negende Cirkel, a group of guys is messing around with laughing gas balloons. Karseboom laughs: ‘That’s clearly a problem, too. There’s no way that stuff is good for them. We don’t have an institutionalised role yet as a night council, so all we can do is lobby for policy on this issue. Politicians have started to take notice, but it’s been a problem for a while. In cases like this, a night council can give off signals so authorities can take action.’
Lam has reached out to the Groningen politicians: ‘We’d love to have a night out with the mayor and the aldermen.’ All the aldermen? ‘Yes, because nightlife encompasses so many things: health, economy, city development. I think it would be fun for them to go out and have some fun rather than sit behind a desk all day.’
The night is now starting for real. Lam has to go to work at OOST, while the other two make their way to Vera for a night of dancing. They have a final message for students enjoying the nightlife: ‘If you see someone who’s really drunk or in trouble, do something. Just ask if they’re okay. It’s that simple. There might be nothing going on, or you might help someone out.’
Translation by Sarah van Steenderen