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“Munich of the Netherlands”

“Munich of the Netherlands”

Photographer:Fotograaf: 1963 Berghmans Club (exhibition Mieljaar, Maastricht 1955-2015, Centre Céramique)

Mini-conference about ‘border city Maastricht’ 1815-2015

MAASTRICHT. Maastricht was once a fortified town. Left to depend on itself and inward looking. The city didn’t become any more open even when the walls were pulled down at the end of the nineteenth century. It did not have the grandeur of a provincial capital, some concluded during a mini conference in Centre Céramique last Sunday.

There was once a curate in Maastricht, called Jan Hendrik Wijnen. At the end of the 19th century, he complained in the local Maastricht newspaper about child labour at the earthenware factory owned by Petrus Regout. Wijnen knew what he was talking about; he worked in the parish of Matthias close to the factory and the labourers’ houses on the Boschstraatkwartier. Although it was prohibited by law in the Netherlands to allow children younger than twelve to work, Regout didn’t pay much attention to that.
Curate Wijnen made a complaint: he thought it was ridiculous that Regout did not need to observe the law. It was a remarkable move by Wijnen, because who would even think of openly criticising the great industrialist Regout who provided employment in the provincial capital? It came at a great cost to him. The people demanded that Wijnen write an open letter saying that his criticism was not meant like that. And so he did.
A few years later, Wijnen again expressed himself in a local brochure. He repeated his criticism of Regout. And once more there was an uproar. Wijnen had to leave the city.

Special status
Jos Perry, a historian at Maastricht University, in his lively rendering of the story above, merely wants to say: Maastricht may not have been a fortified town since 1867 and may have had the ambition of looking towards the outside world, but it didn’t. Legislation coming from The Hague did not apply to the people of Maastricht. “Maastricht claimed a special status,” says Perry. “The number of ‘mixed’ marriages dropped, people married with their ‘own folk’. Regout’s earthenware went all over the world, but the rest of the world did not exist to the citizens of Maastricht.”
The fact that Maastricht was not very ‘drawn’ towards The Hague, was already clear earlier in history, claims Lita Wiggers, director of the Regional Historical Centre Limburg, in her speech. Belgium rebelled against the Dutch King in 1830, because the Belgians wanted independence. And almost all of Limburg wanted to join the Belgians, even those from Maastricht. But there was a provincial commander, Dibbets, in Maastricht who forced the population to follow him and so keep the city for the Netherlands. Subsequently Maastricht was looked upon with suspicion by the rest of the Netherlands, and vice versa.

Berghmans Club
Its later catholic character, from 1890 to 1940, made Maastricht “a fort” again, says Perry. “Maastricht was a miniature Rome. Catholic emancipation brought limitations with it. You learned to read but you were not allowed to choose your own books. You could go to the cinema, but the film was censored first by the catholic film censorship. You could vote but only for the number one on the list of the catholic party. You could continue with your studies, but the path was predetermined.” There was great respect for bishops and other clergymen, says Perry.
But from the nineteen-sixties onwards, Catholics lost more and more authority. There were mixed classes in schools, a youth culture emerged, radio and then television made its appearance, there was a new generation of artists. The Berghmans Club on the Bredestraat was a notorious youth club. In the sixties, it was even in the top three of alternative youth centres in the Netherlands. Perry: “Maastricht seemed to have become a Dutch city.”

Eighth medical faculty
The nineteen-sixties were playful and light-hearted years, says Joop van den Berg, emeritus professor at the UM. But it also had a reverse side: the classic labour-intensive industry moved away, there were more offices, more cars. The city grew, degradation was lurking.  “Nevertheless, the eighties unexpectedly brought recovery.” Maastricht, like Den Bosch, Zwolle, Groningen and Arnhem, managed to manifest itself as medium-sized city, Van den Berg feels, with all its museums, music facilities and building density.
The greatest gift, in his eyes, was the arrival of the eighth Dutch medical faculty. In 1974, the first medical students started here, just over two years before the official founding of ‘Rijksuniversiteit Limburg’. The cabinet at the time decided to agree to the creation of a new medical study programme to offer the province of Limburg new chances, as compensation for the closure of the coal mines.
Van den Berg feels that Maastricht benefited “disproportionately” from important political decisions made in The Hague. Hence his statement: “Spoilt city. It would have been much more obvious if Geleen, Heerlen and Brunssum had been compensated, because they suffered most after the pit closures.” The top conference of 1991, which resulted in the Maastricht Treaty, is also of “far-reaching importance” for the name awareness of the city, certainly on an international level.
He refers to Maastricht as “the Munich of the Netherlands, an opulent city”. Van den Berg thinks that the time for pampering has gone. “The city no longer needs to hold up its hand for national support”. The city is left to its own devices, its own entrepreneurship, and its own administration power. The city needs to look at its weaknesses and strong points, and has obligations to the euregion, but also to the other two areas in Limburg: Heerlen and Sittard. “And even though we are officially not the cultural capital of Europe, we must ensure that we are materially.”

The Kingdom of the Netherlands has existed for 200 years (in 1815, Willem I declared the ‘Koninkrijk der Nederlanden’). This has been celebrated for the past two years throughout the Netherlands. The celebrations will be brought to a close on Saturday, 26 September, with a national event in Amsterdam. Maastricht had its own introductory event in Centre Céramique last Sunday, a mini-conference about ‘border city Maastricht’.

 
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