“Today the Aldi in Mariaberg reopens”, said my roommate excitedly two weeks ago. “Over are the days of biking to Centre Ceramique”, where she had to fulfil her shopping needs while the Mariaberg location was being renovated.
Because this reopening seemed to be the event of the day, we biked to the Volksplein where the store is located, only to find out we were not the only jubilant ones. It seemed like the entire neighbourhood had come together and was standing in front of the doors of the newly renovated store, chatting away excitedly whilst waiting for the re-opening.
Why is this store so popular? The obvious reasons are the low prices and great offers, of course. But for one lady, who lives closely to the store, it’s also the vicinity that counts: “I’m glad it has re-opened. When it was closed, I used to go to the Brusselse Poort, but I don’t have a car and it’s a bit far for grocery shopping.” Another customer who overhears our conversation adds a different perspective: “Here you meet everybody and get to know the latest news and gossip”, she smiles. Indeed, it seems true, as the store is filled with lively chatter; the long line in front of the now modernised checkout seems like a particularly popular newsflash location.
As much as Mariaberg seems like a small village in view of these social connections maintained by a mere shopping trip, the different groups inhabiting the area still don’t really mix. Despite the many students living in the area, few seem to know any Maastrichtenaren – and vice versa. One student explains that she would not even recognise her neighbours if they stood in the checkout line in front of her, though she does meet a lot of students here: “They don’t necessarily live in the neighbourhood. For Aldi, it’s worth making a little detour.”
“We tend go to different bars, have different jobs and most likely different schedules than normal people”, explains another student, who I meet in the vegetables section. “The only places where we actually interact are at the recycling bins and in the grocery stores, and even here, it’s so limited.”
These observations seem to hit home; as I walk through Aldi, there are no mixed groups – students greet students and Mariabergers chat with Mariabergers. One long-term resident of the neighbourhood and a frequent Aldi shopper thinks he knows the reason for this phenomenon: “Most of us have been around for a long time; we know each other, our children, and our history. The students are here for just a short time and most of them don’t even speak our language, so the interaction is limited and nobody feels it’s actually worth investing anything in being ‘friends’ with each other.” Thus, the only interaction between locals and students seem to be limited to telling each other which aisle the soups are located in and letting each other pass by the checkouts.