Photographer:Fotograaf: Daniel van Hauten
Sint-Pietersberg, Het Rondeel, De Ossekop. All locations in Maastricht where dance parties have been held for hundreds of international students over the past few months. Time and again, the police end them prematurely, claiming that safety was an issue or neighbours complained about the noise. “Students want something that the city doesn’t offer, something other than the Alla or the Meta. Harsh measures are counterproductive,” says one of the students involved.
Saturday evening, 6 June 2009. Vincent Wille-Baumkauff is holding a party in the back garden of his student house. He is a German student at University College. “There is only one house on the Sint-Pietersberg, just behind Chalet Bergrust and that is where I live with a few other students. Our nearest neighbours live half a kilometre away.” The party has been going since Friday evening; DJs are playing music and instead of the approximately ninety invited friends, there are maybe four times as many people. “Word got around,” says Eugen Kuglitsch, an Austrian master's student of Marketing from School of Business and Economics, who helped organise the party.
Then the police appear. “There were at least twenty policemen and they had dogs with them,” Wille-Baumkauff remembers. “I do not have a problem with the fact that they ended the party, in a way I understand that, but the way in which they did was completely wrong. We asked if they could make their announcement in English, as most of those present were international students, but they just went on in Dutch. Well, and then they wonder why nobody understood what was going on.” Kuglitsch: “They were arrogant, they insulted people, and they were much too rough.”
“You feel like a real criminal,” says Thomas Theelen, German third-year student of Molecular Life Sciences, who attended the party. Dutch-English UCM student Joel Beresford was arrested. “I was there with my girlfriend and a friend from America.” Because a policewoman was “irritating and aggressive” to his girlfriend, Beresford approached the policewoman. “I calmly asked her for her name and service number, so that I could lodge a complaint the following day at the police station. She refused and if I ignored her order to get out of the way, she would arrest me.” Beresford stayed where he was and was subsequently handcuffed. “I spent eight hours in a cell.”
In November last year, it happened again, in a building on Het Rondeel, close to the Cabergerweg. A party with some four hundred guests was cut short by the police at half past one at night. And recently the police themselves issued a statement about their ending a “noisy party in a squatted building”, the former De Ossekop hotel on the Boschstraat. There were about three hundred students present, mainly English- and German-speaking students. “I arrived just before midnight and I saw a huge crowd coming out. I knew enough,” said Kuglitsch.
Wille-Baumkauff outlines the problem: “There are no other options beside the Alla and the Meta. The city does offer something, but many students want alternatives.” And this does not just apply to German students. “It is a mix of Germans, Dutch and other nationalities. Even students who are members of associations who want something different every now and again, come to the parties. Another point: opening hours should be extended. Most people only start going out at two o’clock.” What bothers Wille-Baumkauff and Kuglitsch most, is the behaviour of the police. “It looks as if a task force has been set up since the party on the Sint-Pietersberg, to take hard action, to shut down every party before it has finished, and to do so with a lot of aggression and a great display of power.”
“Student parties are indeed an item for us,” says the police spokesman. “When safety is an issue or in case of a disturbance, whether it is a legal or an illegal party, we have to take action.” The police also admits that they use force. “This is the logical consequence of previous experiences. If sending two officers somewhere turns out to be ineffective, we send more.”
“I understand that people want to party, but there are rules,” says Rik Voogt, case manager for events for the Maastricht city council. "Nobody needs to apply for a permit for a small birthday party in a student house. It helps if you inform the neighbours of the possibility of some disturbance.” It is a different matter when it concerns an organised party for more than fifty people and where alcohol is being sold, he continues. “Then regulations apply, such as the need to have a liquor licence. For some locations, additional conditions may be set, for example, hiring stand-by firemen or security staff.”
Wille-Baumkauff has approached the city council a few times of late, among others for a permit for a party in the Nightlife on the Kesselskade and in the former steakhouse on the Ezelmarkt. Both times, he met with a refusal. “In the Nightlife, fire safety was substandard, and in the case of the steakhouse, the city claimed that parties were not allowed there. It gives you the feeling that they do not want to co-operate.” Voogt: “We can only allow a up to 675 people in the Nightlife, which is the maximum for which safety can be guaranteed. When the organisers expect more than two thousand people, we cannot issue a permit. The same applies to the steakhouse. That location is not suitable for such a large group. The authorities want to be pro-active and co-operative, but a compact city like Maastricht cannot cater for everything. It's okay to say you want to organise something in an empty building in the Beatrixhaven, but there may be problems; the building must be suitable and structurally sound.”
Wille-Baumkauff strongly feels that “the problem is being ignored. The city council and university keep saying that everything should be done to keep students here after they have graduated, but the present approach is counterproductive.” The solution? “Illegal parties are not the solution, nor is ending parties. Maybe we need a platform where all parties involved can have their say. Communication is important.” The university is one of those parties. After the Sint-Pietersberg incident, Wille-Baumkauff had to report to the director of Student Services. “The police had passed on my name, both to the UM and to my landlord. The latter I understand, after all it is his land. But I think it is ridiculous that the UM is being held responsible indirectly for something I do in my own backyard as a student.”
André Postema, vice president of the UM Executive Board: “Responsibility for student parties lies with the students, regardless of the question whether the university subsidises them or not. We do, however, form an academic community together, a community that has the responsibility to deal with its social environment in the proper way. So when the need is there, we will address the issue.”
Wille-Baumkauff fears the worst if the UM fulfils its plans to grow: “Where will all the students go? To the Alla and the Meta?”