There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free lunch concert, not only at the opera house in Lyon and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, but also at De Oosterpoort in Groningen.
The musicians in the first photo are Anne-Elise Thouvenin, a French cellist from Nîmes (you can hear her playing her cello if you click on the link), and Rolinka Niers, a Dutch clarinetist.
At the time, they were both finishing up their studies at the Prince Claus Conservatory in Groningen.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of their colleague Romana Porumb, a Romanian violinist who was also doing advanced studies at the Prince Claus Conservatory.
Next: Hoge de A
This is the sort of place where you snap a picture of it first and then look to see what it is.
The name, Hoge der A, is rather mysterious, but it turns out that “A” is the name of the river (sometimes spelled “Aa”), and that Hoge means high.
On the other side of the river there is a street called Lage der A (Lage meaning low), and there is also a church of the A somewhere nearby.
Starting in the 12th century, this was the commercial harbor where wealthy merchants lived and had their warehouses. Some of the picturesque old warehouses still exist (over two hundred of them, supposedly), but most of them are now used as residences.
Next: Northern Maritime Museum
Groningen does not have an opera house, but it does have a modern, state-of-the-art concert hall called De Oosterpoort, which is a major venue for all sorts of music, from classical to rock.
Besides the large concert hall, there are also two smaller auditoriums and a cultural center in the same complex.
The name Oosterpoort does not mean that there used to be a port here, as I naively thought when I first saw the word. What it really means is “East Gate”. In former times there was a large stone gateway on this site, as part of the city walls.
Next: St. Matthew Passion at De Oosterpoort
Since I was in Groningen on Good Friday (not that I had planned it that way), I had my choice of two different performances of the St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), one at the New Church and one at De Oosterpoort.
Actually I could have seen them both, because one was in the afternoon and one in the evening. But I decided one was enough, so I went to the one in the evening at De Oosterpoort. The concert was sold out, but I was second on the waiting list, so as people started coming in I simply loitered around near the cash desk by some beautiful white orchids. Soon two ladies came along with three tickets, since their friend was sick and couldn’t come. So I bought their third ticket from them for € 35, which is what they had paid for it, and had an excellent seat in the middle of the sixth row.
This was the first time I had seen a full performance of the St. Matthew Passion (because as a Sunday School dropout I tend to prefer secular music when I have a choice), but I must say I was very impressed. Bach composed the Passion for a double choir and a double orchestra, and sure enough, the right half of the orchestra was a mirror image of the left, meaning there were oboes on both sides, flutes on both sides, etc.
But the ones on the left got to play all the really brilliant solo parts, so the two orchestras weren’t equally weighted after all.
There were six solo singers: The Evangelist (a tenor), Christus (a baritone) and four others who were simply called Soprano, Contralto, Tenor and Bass. These last four also took on various roles such as Judas (the bass), Peter, Pontius Pilate and various priests and maids. They all had beautiful arias and duets to sing, just as in an opera – all except the Evangelist, who sang the narration as a sort of recitative.
Sometimes the Evangelist had a long paragraph of narration to sing, but sometimes only two to four words, such as “They said” or “Jesus spoke to him”. I think those must have been the hardest parts.
They sang in the original German, but the program booklet had a parallel translation into Dutch so people could follow along. The German pronunciation of the singers was excellent, even though only one of them was German.
I also thought the orchestra was very good. It was the Noord Nederlands Orkest (North Netherlands Orchestra) conducted by Geert-Jan van Beijeren Bergen en Henegouwen.
(For more on Johann Sebastian Bach, please have a look at my tips on his birth house in Eisenach and his statue in Leipzig.)
Next: Lunch concert at De Oosterpoort
The University Museum describes itself as a “Museum of man, nature and science”.
The entrance is somewhat inconspicuous (first photo), in a narrow passageway between two buildings. In the courtyard of one of the traditional university buildings that have built a modern addition (second photo) which serves as the entrance hall and is also used for temporary exhibitions. When I was there they had an interesting exhibit on modern aboriginal art of Australia.
When you go upstairs and into the old building you get to the Geology Hall (third and fourth photos), which has intentionally been preserved as a traditional museum with old-fashioned wooden display cases to emphasize the four-hundred year history of the university.
The older part of the museum also includes the consulting room of Dr. Aletta Jacobs (1854 - 1929), who was the first female student in the Netherlands, the first female physician and the first woman to obtain a doctorate. The room includes her desk (fifth photo) and other personal objects, as well as information on her campaigns to improve the conditions of working class women, her birth control clinic, her involvement in the international Women’s Peace Party and her campaigns to give women the right to vote.
Next: Grafisch Museum
This is the least expensive museum in Groningen, but in my opinion one of the most interesting.
Because of my advanced age I only had to pay € 3.75 for admission in 2012. You younger folks have to pay € 4.75, but that is still a very reasonable price.
The museum has an impressive collection of historical printing presses from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including some that were driven by steam power (second photo). A steam engine turned a large revolving rod that hung from the ceiling, and the force from this revolving rod was transmitted to the machines by means of long transmission belts. (Old mills using water power often used a similar arrangement.)
Typesetting in those days was usually done by hand. The letters were made of lead and the typesetter was a skilled worker who chose one letter at a time from a tray or drawer and placed it in its proper position. But the museum also has some examples of early typesetting machines (fifth photo).
The printed explanations are only in Dutch, but there are also numerous photos and diagrams to help visitors understand how the machines were used.
The Grafisch Museum is not in the city center but is still very easy to reach because it is right behind the central railroad station.
Next: The Groninger Museum
The Tourist Information (which in the Netherlands is always called the VVV) is a rather gaudy little building on Grote Markt. They have numerous publications and souvenirs for sale, but not much to give away. Even a small map of the city, which would be free in most places, cost € 1.95 here. (It was a useful map, however, so I think I got my money’s worth.)
The only thing they gave me for free was a weekly folder of things that were going on in Groningen. In fact they gave me two of them, because I arrived on a Wednesday, and these folders give the theater, cinema and concert listings for the week from Thursday to Wednesday. Of course the theater listings didn’t help me because I understand too little Dutch, but I did find about concerts and such through these listings.
There is one really nice thing about the tourist information, however, and that is that on one side there are lots of wooden steps going up to an observation platform on the roof. Lots of people climb up to take a look (I took the second, third, fourth and fifth photos from up there) and the local teenagers spend hours sitting on the stairs. Since there aren’t any other decent stairs to sit on in Groningen, the building fills a real need, because of course all teenagers like to sit on stairs.
Next: De Pronkjewail
All you loyal readers of my Bruchsal page (thanks again to both of you) will recall that I have a thing about old-timey mechanical musical instruments such as our great-grandparents used to listen to.
So I was glad to see (and hear!) that Groningen has a genuine authentic (and loud!) mechanical street organ called De Pronkjewail. Whenever there is any kind of festival in Groningen, De Pronkjewail is bound to be there.
You can hear it here.
You can see and hear it here. Note the people going past on bicycles in the background.
Next: Annual Flower Market (Bloemenjaarmarkt)
If you happen to be in Groningen on Good Friday (as I just happened to be, but some people plan it that way), by all means go to the Annual Flower Market (Bloemenjaarmarkt) at the Grote Markt in front of the City Hall (Stadhuis).
The center of Groningen is really full on that day. People who live in Groningen come in by bicycle, of course, but people from outlying regions tend to drive in by car, park in one of the parking lots or garages at the edge of town and come in by shuttle bus. So there are big shuttle buses constantly running back and forth. I don’t think anyone had to wait for more than two or three minutes for a bus to come.
I took the first three photos from the roof of the tourist information office.
Like any other self-respecting city in the Netherlands, Groningen has lots of canals and bridges.
The first photo is one that I took from the Hampshire Hotel, not from my room but from the other side, looking northeast at the Oosterhavn and Eemskanaal. (I love the way they spell Oost with two Os and Kanaal with three As.)
The Trompbrug (second photo) is a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Verbindungskanaal. By way of this bridge it was barely five minutes by bicycle from my hotel to the concert hall.
Next: Children in Groningen
When travelling through Groningen, one should hire a canoe and make a trip through the canals, locally known as 'maren'. You can really see how beautiful the countryside of Groningen is when canoeing. The peace and quite you will find here is unique.
Stay at camping site Ekenstein in the village Appingedam, from there it's very nice to do some day trips at the Groningen coast line.
Here you can learn much about seawater, the dikes, and the pumpsystems to keep the inland dry. You can see fish traps , how to get fish from the sea in the inland ( young ales )
Here you can do some boat trips to the islands in the Wadden Sea, we were lucky to see some seals.
Approx. 10 km from city Delfzijl is the new under construction Harbour Eemshaven. From 2011 onwards big 300m long liquidgas boats will dock here to empty the LNG. From here it's divided over western Europe. Big power plants are working already. Bad for the environment I think.
Groningen people are very friendly, they speak english.
The old buildings of the university of Groningen are located right behind the Groote Markt (2 minute walk max) and it is worthwhile to check out the nice buildings when you are in Groningen. See picture.
When I was a student in Groningen, some of my law classes were held in the Martini church. Now I go to the Martini tower in order to enjoy the views of the city. I would recommend going to the top of the tower on a sunny day. No elevator, so you have to suffer a bit and climb the stairs. But it is definately worth it.
1 april - 1 november: 11.00 - 17.00
1 november tot 1 april: 12.00 - 16.00
Adults: Euro 2,80
Kids 0-12 : Euro 1,80
Like every town, Groningen has it's main square, the Grote Markt. There you will find the tourist information office, vendors on the market square, restaurants and pubs. You will also find the Stadhuis (Town Hall), the Waagstraat complex and of course the towering Martinitoren and its adjacent Church.