Crossing the street in the Netherlands or “how transportation changes the manner we live the city”

By Richard Blais

Crossing the street in the Netherlands for the first time is a sort of adventure. You get closer to the road in a shy manner, you prepare to step and cross it, and a bicycle passes. Then a second one and a third and you lose track. You get patient, and when finally the right moment arrives another bicycle passes again, and a second and then a third. It is an endless cycle. Dutch people have the reputation of being born on wheels, and after a semester in Groningen I can testify that this assumption is below reality.

After a year in Bordeaux, a city where cycling became a very common practice, I assumed the situation in Groningen would be extremely similar. A terribly wrong and underestimating assumption, resulting probably of the famous French arrogance. It was when I first arrived in front of the Rijksuniversiteit, the University of Groningen, that I realised my mistake. If we talk of a park for bicycles, the Dutch style consists in long thickets made of bicycle, where gears, chains and handlebars replace the branches. A park found in all circumstances in front of the main building of the university, despite the (usual) rain and wind. A true anecdote: some days, I have spent more time looking for my bike than riding it to university.

Moving around in a Dutch city is to experience a specific setting seemingly designed for bicycles. With the omnipresence of cycling tracks and a – almost – disappearance of any ground elevation, it seems that the Netherlands has been constructed specifically for the two-wheelers. After I rented my bike in this city I noticed how much my daily life has changed for the better and I became an immediate lobbyist for this means of transportation around me arguing against the few unfortunate friends who had not been touched by the holy (dynamo) light. Indeed, there is always a cycling track for the cyclist, either on the side of the road, or on a separated portion. They have their own circulation-lights, and the notions of one-way streets do not apply to the person riding a bike. Reflecting on this, I asked myself the following question: are the cities built around a means of transportation? 

Thinking of it, means of transportation are part of the experience of a city. Modern (Northern) American cities have been conceived in a manner which makes the car essential to daily life. The capital city of Bolivia, La Paz has set a system of urban cable-cars, particularly relevant for a city standing 3,000 meters above sea-level [1]. Moving in a city is part of its experience. The German historian Hartmut Kaelbe, reflecting on common elements which were constituting this elusive European identity we try to grasp in this master have noticed that the scale of the European cities could be a possible element of it, as it is possible to just “walk” in them.

To study the favoured mode of transportation in a city is to study society itself. Looking at the 20th century, and consequently the boom of the urban growth in Western society helps at understanding the societal changes and how they are reflected in the conception of cities. At the beginning of the century, the most adapted manner to have public transportation in the mind of urban-planners is to have a tramway, or even better, an underground metro system for the largest cities in order to save some precious space. This is why by travelling to Portugal or Czech Republic, the tourist may find a tramway network of a certain age, with a charming feeling of authenticity.

And then, the Second World War occurred, and following this tragic event, the rise of car production in the 1950s and 1960s made the tramway an obsolete thing. The average person preferred to public transportation their own automobile which was, as Barthes commented, associated with positive values such as self-liberty. When the individual transportation was triumphing, the collective ones are transforming differently depending on the region of Europe. Mass transit is not in the mind of city-planners in the Mediterranean countries and remained focused on the automobile. On the other hand, countries of the Soviet Bloc kept pushing for this egalitarian common system of urban transport. That is why every student who had the chance to discover the wonderful city of Olomouc (my vision might be biased after a semester there), surely noticed the vintage tramways circulating around the city.

The ambition to keep urban policies primarily focused on the car-usage slowed down at the end of the century for a few reasons. The first one is a saturation of the road network and the disagreements it causes. The car, symbol of freedom, is soon perceived as a constraint, the one of pollution, traffic, and expensive road maintenance. And the oil crisis of the 1970s and the sharp increase of the price of fuel pushes for a new reflection on urban policies.

It is in this specific context that older means of transportation resurfaced in the mind of city-planners. The tramway shifts from its outdated image to a symbol of a modern urban asset. Modern tramways are tied to the goal of having a sustainable society and increase the value of the urban spaces located around their rails. In the Netherlands, the holy-land of the two-wheelers, bicycles only became a norm after the oil shock of 1973. Following the sharp increase of the price of black gold, cities are re-thought to adapt the bicycle to the daily experience of the city, by developing infrastructures to fit the usage of the cyclists through construction of bike parking, cycling tracks etc.

However, sustainable development and the price of fuel are not the only arguments which push for greener means of transportation. A broader range of reasons pushes the inhabitants of city to prefer a certain means of transportation than another. It depends as well on local culture, the attitude of consumers (their own experience, lifestyles), physical constraints, or the manner in which the city is constructed. 

Each city or country has a dedicated manner to move around which is the most adapted to its own context. Movement is part of its local culture and is a reflection of its society. In a similar fashion with museums, landscapes, streets, houses, means of transportation are part of the local city culture. To experience bike-riding in the Netherlands is to take an interest in Dutch culture. The experience of a similar manner to move around locally creates a group of individuals sharing an experience. Codes, habits, conditions – either terrible or excellent – are all elements shared by those who experience daily the city. It is extremely easy to know if someone is a tourist or not in public transportation. Online, Facebook groups and Twitter accounts exist to jokingly criticise means of transportation in some cities. These groups rely on a shared experience of users who posses keys to understand  humour creating an informal community of users. Moving in a city seems to be one of the elements of local urban culture.

However, considering all these information will not prevent you to curse at this continuous flow of Dutch people people on bikes, until you master the delicate art of crossing a street in Netherlands.

Featured picture: David King, Flickr

References

Bolivia: El Teleférico Que Unió Dos Mundos – BBC Mundo. Accessed September 15, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnc6W_6xGT0.

Carré, Jean-René. “Le vélo dans la ville : un révélateur social.” Les cahiers de médiologie 5, no. 1 (1998): 151. https://doi.org/10.3917/cdm.005.0151.

“« Il nous faut nous désintoxiquer de la voiture ».” Le Monde.fr, August 5, 2019. https://www.lemonde.fr/festival/article/2019/08/05/il-nous-faut-bon-gre-mal-gre-nous-desintoxiquer-de-la-voiture_5496579_4415198.html.

“La Nouvelle Citroën, Extrait de ‘Mythologies’ de Roland Barthes.” Accessed September 15, 2019. https://www.desordre.net/textes/bibliotheque/barthes_citroen.htm.

Lois González, Rubén C., Miguel Pazos Otón, and Jean-Pierre Wolff. “Le tramway entre politique de transport et outil de réhabilitation urbanistique dans quelques pays européens : Allemagne, Espagne, France et Suisse.” Annales de géographie 694, no. 6 (2013): 619. https://doi.org/10.3917/ag.694.0619.

VERS UN SOCIETE EUROPEENNE. Une histoire sociale de l’europe 1880-1980 – Hartmut Kaelble. 

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My Third Semester: Internship at European Movement International

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Marc Kendil (2017-2019, DK) started his Euroculture life in Groningen and Strasbourg. He completed his third semester by doing an internship at European Movement International (EMI), the largest pan-European network of pro-European organisations, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, as an EU Affairs Trainee. With his multinational identity and upbringing, he considers himself a child of the EU project. Marc has a background in American Studies with a minor in International Relations, which is rooted in his long-standing interest in North American society, culture and politics.  Wishing to bridge the gap between his upbringing and former studies, he took up MA Euroculture and hopes of pursuing a diplomatic career in the future.
Thanks Marc, for taking the time to share your experience!

1. So, why an internship?

I wanted to do an internship during my third semester for several reasons. A research track did not interest me as I do not want to carry on into the field of academia nor do a PhD. More importantly, I wished to acquire some concrete experiences from a professional perspective during my Master’s in order to increase my chances at finding employment/internships right after graduation. Doing an internship during a MA is also incredibly beneficial to supplement the theoretical.

2. Can you tell us what you were doing at EMI? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at European Movement International”

My Third Semester: Research Track at University of Groningen, the Netherlands (2017-2019)

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Fangjia Chen is from China and has a background in Business English. She has always wanted to study European cultures and live in Europe. After a recommendation from her supervisor, she decided to apply for Euroculture. Fangjia spent her first and second semesters at Strasbourg and Göttingen before following the research track at the Department of International Relations and International Development, University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
Thanks Fangjia for taking the time to share your experience!

1. Why did you decide to do research for your third Euroculture semester?

I decided to do a research semester mainly because of the content of the research track. In Groningen, the research semester is composed of a research internship and research seminars. You can choose a field that you want to work with. I’m really into China-EU relations, and the university found a really great internship job for me at the International Relations (IR) department.

2. What were you doing in your research semester? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at University of Groningen, the Netherlands (2017-2019)”

My Third Semester: Research Track at Osaka University, Japan (2017-2019)

Interviews conducted by Ivana Putri

Elisabeth Stursberg (DE, Strasbourg-Groningen), or also known by her classmates as Lizzie,  studied Cultural History and Theory & Economics during her Bachelor’s. After she took interest in the selection of partner universities and cities Euroculture offers, she started her Euroculture life with the intention to learn more about European history, culture, and politics and the EU in particular, and find out if she could see herself working for the EU or another IO afterwards.
Inès Roy (FR/MA, Udine-Strasbourg) has a background in Languages and International Business. Her decision to study Euroculture stems from her desire to travel and study at the same time. She has always been interested in the concept of cultures and how they are perceived from different standpoints.
Both have returned from their research semester at Osaka University, Japan, and are their final semester at Université de Strasbourg. Thanks Inès and Lizzie, for taking the time to share your experiences!

1. How did you come to the decision of doing a research track at Osaka?

Elisabeth Stursberg (ES): The choice between internship and research track was not too easy, since both sounded like a great option. What influenced my choice most though was the possibility to spend a semester in Japan, a country I had not visited before but was so curious about! I actually don’t think I would have done the research track if I hadn’t been accepted for Osaka. Another reason was that I had already done several internships during my Bachelor’s (it’s pretty common in Germany and often even implicitly, or explicitly, required by employers) and will probably do at least one more after finishing this MA. Time flew by so quickly already in the first semester, and I just liked the idea of studying for another semester as long as I had the chance. Japan as the destination was also a major factor, since I was going to take the research seminar on Integration Processes in East Asia and in Europe during the second semester – so it just seemed like a perfect fit.
Inès Roy (IR): As far as I can remember, I always wanted to go to Japan to see the beautiful landscapes, as well as to see how the ultra-modern and the traditional interact. However, traveling to and living in a country for a few months are two very different experiences. So the possibility to go there was actually another reason for me to apply for Euroculture! As I don’t speak Japanese and wouldn’t be able to find an internship there, I believed this research semester was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

2. What was the research semester like? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at Osaka University, Japan (2017-2019)”

Student Profiles: Nienke Schrover (NL, Groningen-Krakow)

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Nienke Schrover (2017-2019) is from the Netherlands. She has a Bachelor degree in Human Geography at Utrecht University and a minor in International Relations at the University of Amsterdam. She decided to apply for the Euroculture programme because she absolutely loved the experience of studying abroad with other international students, and after participating in an exchange semester at Newcastle University, England, for her Bachelor’s,  she wanted to experience it again.
For her, the Euroculture programme meets her broader interests as it focuses not only on European politics, but also culture/identity, international relations, and so on. Nienke’s Euroculture life started at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and continued at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. She is currently doing an internship at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, Belgium.
Thank you Nienke, for taking the time to answer these questions!

1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?

Oddly enough, the thing I found most difficult to adjust to after starting the program was the fact that people come from such diverse backgrounds. It was quite new for me to see that people had such different levels of knowledge and different perspectives. Since I had lived in the same house for the first 20 years of my life, it was also very new to me to learn about identity and how many of my classmates have family from so many different places. I definitely learned a lot about identities and how to be more open and sensitive to different perspectives. Continue reading “Student Profiles: Nienke Schrover (NL, Groningen-Krakow)”

Student Profiles: Samuel Yosef (IT/ER, Strasbourg-Groningen)

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Samuel Yosef (2017-2019) is half-Italian and half-Eritrean. Before Euroculture, he studied Law at Sapienza – University of Rome. After his Bachelor’s, Sam wanted to do a Master programme in European Studies that combined travel and an opportunity to experience new things outside his hometown Rome. He heard about an Erasmus Mundus Master from a friend who was doing one on Space Studies. After a look at the universities and cities comprising the Euroculture Consortium as well as the possibility to study outside Europe, he decided that Euroculture was a perfect combination of his ideal MA programme.
He studied in the University of Strasbourg, France in the first semester and spent the second semester in the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He just returned to Rome after a research semester abroad in Osaka, Japan, and is getting ready to move again to Strasbourg for the last semester of his studies.
Thank you Sam, for taking the time to answer these questions!

1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?

Bureaucracy and housing. When I first moved to Strasbourg, I didn’t have a place to live–just an Airbnb–and my mother came with me to find a house. I arrived in Strasbourg a week before classes started. I didn’t know how to look for a house because I’ve never had to do it before. With everything being in French it was hard for me to communicate, let alone find something. On top of that, there are a lot of French “regulations” with the housing search that I didn’t know about. For example, most of the housing offers for students require a French guarantor.
In the end, the housing search turned out to be very hard. It was also partly my fault because it was already too late when I started looking, and anywhere, September is a very busy month for students in search of a place to live. Eventually, everything worked out, but at the time, it felt like my major source of “threat” was finding a house. I learned from this, of course–for my fourth semester, I started looking in September to find a place to live from January.

2. What were your expectations of the curriculum and how does it match with the reality at the moment? Continue reading “Student Profiles: Samuel Yosef (IT/ER, Strasbourg-Groningen)”

Euroculture: The Not-So-Cold North!

By Anne-Roos Renkema

The Euroculture universities are full of surprises, as was demonstrated in the last edition of the consortium universities, that govered the hidden gems Olomouc, Krakow and Udine. All of the universities in the consortium have their own beauty, and this time we are travelling a little further north: to Groningen, Göttingen and Uppsala. The more northern universities, especially one particular very northern one, have a very obvious con: the rain, the snow, the ever-present cold. Or, in the Swedish case, the darkness. But do not be fooled by this particular con of the north of Europe, because these cities and universities have their own charm.

There’s nothing beyond Groningen

The Groningen city slogan is the following: “Er gaat niets boven Groningen“, or: “there nothing above and beyond Groningen”. It is a pun, due to its northern, and some might say peripheral, location in The Netherlands. There’s literately very little above and beyond Groningen. However, due to the small size of the Netherlands, you are only an hour and a half away from the West of The Netherlands, with cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. Not that you would need to go, though, because Groningen is a beautiful and cozy city, filled with students and activities. Continue reading “Euroculture: The Not-So-Cold North!”

Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream

By Hanna Schlegel

Being German these days means witnessing the end of the Angela Merkel era. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Angela Merkel, is the CDU voters’ favourite to succeed the German chancellor as head of the Christian Democrats, according to a new poll published last Friday [23.11.2018]. But the disputed Friedrich Merz would be a way better choice from the view of the German centre-left parties.

Angela Merkel, as a result of her Christian Democratic Union’s poor showing in both federal (2017) and regional (2018, Bavaria and Hesse) elections, announced last October that she would neither run again as party chief in December nor seek re-election as chancellor in 2021. This decision not only further destabilizes German politics, with the threat of Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) collapsing in the coming months; the decision also means she will become less influential on the European stage. For the past 13 years, the ‘Queen of Europe’, as she is fittingly being nicknamed, has dominated European affairs and held Europe together. Her departure will have significant consequences for the Europe as a whole, given the position that Germany, being the EU’s country with the largest economy and population, occupies within the EU. A change of power in Germany might very well affect the EU power structure in general.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the race to succeed her as CDU leader will entail a battle over the party’s direction. Three candidates have already announced their intentions of running for the post: Health minister Jens Spahn, the chancellor’s loudest internal critic; Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Merkel; and Friedrich Merz, who is coming back to the political scene after a 10 years break. Continue reading “Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream”

IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!

 

As the Intensive Programme 2018 is about to start, the Euroculturer Magazine decided to offer you a sneak peek into the most intense, challenging and exciting part of the programme’s 1st year. Senka Neuman Stanivukovic, from the Rijksuniversiteit in Groningen, and Karolina Czerska-Shaw, from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, accepted to answer a few questions for us…
Indeed, this year’s IP has been co-organised mainly by these two universities – though as you will discover in this article, an IP is never about just one or even two universities’ teams! So, what does the “backstage” look like?

Let’s first look back a few years ago… Can you tell us how and when the Euroculture adventure started in Krakow?
Karolina Czerska-Shaw: “Yes, I remember it well! It started in 2004, when I came to study at the Jagiellonian in the Euroculture programme. It was then a 1-year MA, and the IP was in February. Luckily that year it was in Udine, which was a relief after the very cold winter in Poland… Our Director of Studies (and now the Dean of our Faculty), Prof. Mach, was the man behind the JU’s ‘entrance’ into the Euroculture team, and the rest is history. Well, sort of.

What about the IP, how many times did Krakow and Groningen co-organised or hosted the event? Any funny stories to share with us?
Karolina: “I’m beginning to lose count… 2008, 2014, 2017, 2018. Am I missing one? As for funny anecdotes, funny during or in retrospect? Hmm, there are certainly some, but my mind is a blur. I’m sure the past students have many of their own. Check Facebook!
Senka Neuman Stanivukovic: “I think twice or even three times, I am not sure?! As for anecdotes and funny stories, the IP has nothing to do with fun or funny, it is only hard work, hard work, very hard hard work!

Just in case we were not panicking enough just yet, thank you for the reminder Senka!
But by the way, could you please introduce yourself and the team behind this year’s IP? Continue reading “IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!”

A Sustainable Future for the EU: Sponsored by Shell?

By: Angela Medendorp

On the 17th of January, a housing corporation in the Dutch province of Groningen will be deciding whether to tear down or completely refurbish close to 400 houses, my own parental home included. This is just the latest in a series of decisions concerning the roughly 150,000 houses whose structure has been compromised in the wake of dozens of unnatural earthquakes that have haunted the area for years. The earthquakes are a direct result of the extraction of gas at Europe’s largest natural gas field in Slochteren by NAM (owned by Shell and Exxon Mobil), which has been putting over €265 billion in the hands of Dutch governments since the 1960s.

It is not completely surprising that the government is reluctant to give up this steady stream of money. While the newest coalition has agreed to dial down the gas extraction a bit further, it is still not at a level which is deemed ‘safe’ by experts in the field. This is, naturally, angering those who are feeling the consequences the most: home owners in Groningen.

On the international level, coverage of the issue is remarkably meagre. While some news outlets have attempted to bring the story to a wider public, the real debate has remained primarily domestic. The EU (more specifically: the DG Energy) has spent most of its time lamenting the decrease of Dutch gas in its Quarterly Reports on European Gas Markets while mentioning the very legitimate cause for it not even once. Continue reading “A Sustainable Future for the EU: Sponsored by Shell?”