How the menhir made Groningen even cooler

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In the center of Groningen, surrounded by beautiful brick houses with white gables, the 45-meter high block looks completely unreal. © Deon Prins/Forum Groningen/dpa-tmn

No city in the Netherlands is as young as Groningen. And residents are hardly so happy elsewhere. From 2019 Groningen also shows us how urban planning works. time to visit.

Groningen – The thing looks like a giant Obelix menhir. Even in Manhattan or London, this artificial boulder would attract everyone’s attention, the architecture is so unusual. But in the center of Groningen, surrounded by beautiful small brick houses with white gables, the 45-meter high block looks completely unreal. The people of Groningen seem to be used to it. “Great, isn’t it?” shouts a random cyclist passing by. Yes, that’s great.

Inside it looks like a luxury department store. Escalators lead to dizzying heights. Large windows let in the sun. But nothing is for sale. Maybe it’s a fancy lecture hall? This is evidenced by the arena-like rows of seats on which youths in t-shirts and hoodies are comfortably seated on their laptops. One floor up, workstations at desks provide even more comfort. Here, too, all users are under the age of 25.

Next Level: Well, it looks like a coffee shop, at least it is. But wait, the city library is also located here. You want to try a comfortable swivel chair with wings right away – preferably with an audio book. And then there’s the comic book museum, the restaurant, and the movie theater. The Groninger Forum is perhaps best described as a stacked, horizontal city with various facilities, meeting places and public spaces on different levels.

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Groningen is a trendsetter

The high-tech menhir is something completely new, which is reflected by the fact that many international media reported the opening in 2019. The British newspaper “The Guardian” wrote that this building shows for the first time that central cities no longer need to focus primarily on retail. The success is unmistakable: the 1.3 million visitors targeted in the first year arrived in the first three months.

So Groningen is a trendsetter at the moment, and it’s no accident. The city may be old, but for all its historic buildings, it feels incredibly young, with almost 60,000 of its roughly 200,000 residents being students. This makes Groningen the youngest city in the Netherlands. The median age is 36 years, nationally it is 41 years.

During the lecture period, Groningen seems to be home to only students, especially during the week. Saturdays are a bit different, because then many people from the surrounding area come to shop. In addition, according to an EU study, the inhabitants of Groningen are among the happiest Europeans.

Center in the middle of nothing

The fact that the city seems so alive also has to do with its large catchment area: the nearest big city is unreasonably far away by Dutch standards. You can’t just go somewhere else quickly. To the north of Groningen are potato and sugar beet fields, and finally the sea beyond. Germany is to the east. And in the west and south stretches of abandoned cultivated land.

Forum Groningen
The inside of Forum Groningen looks like a chic department store with escalators leading to dizzying heights. © Forum Groningen/dpa-tmn

Groningen, on the other hand, is vibrant. Strongest around the Grote Markt. Arson by German occupiers and bombing by Canadian liberators in 1945, just before the end of the war, resulted in two of its four sides being destroyed. In contrast to many other German cities, Groningen has consistently eliminated the later sins of post-war construction over the past few decades.

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The new architecture does not historicize, but blends wonderfully into the overall picture. It is also the headquarters of the oldest Dutch student association, Vindicat atque polit, whose law firm can be identified by the motto Mutua Fides (mutual trust).

This is where the old and the new come together

If you walk further away from the market, you will come to another large square behind the town hall, the Vismarkt. There is still a market here most days. The square is dominated by the former grain exchange (Korenbeurs), which now houses a boring shopping center….

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