Lustrum walking route takes you past UG’s history

For its 410th anniversary, the UG has launched a historical walking route through Groningen. Guided by an audio tour or a booklet, the walk explores landmarks of the city centre, from the popular to the lesser known.

The route consists of two different parts, through the western and eastern downtown areas. Both paths take you on a walk of about 4 kilometres, or around an hour and a half, starting and ending at the Academy building. Although separate, they fit seamlessly together.  

While walking, the audio guide offers directions about the route mixed with the stories behind the buildings, monuments and even the streets you pass by. So what’s there to see exactly? 

Ubbo Emmius

No matter which route you take, it all starts at the Ubbo Emmius monument, dedicated to the first rector magnificus of the university. Or as most students might recognize it, the tree next to the Academy building. 

Though it’s much more than that. Planted after an archeological dig, pointing to the historical roots of the UG, its branches are a symbol for the diverse areas of academia; and its crown, looking up, is a hint to the future.

The walk then takes you through the history of the Academy building and the university library, before splitting into two. You may pass these buildings by daily, but who would have known that the Academy’s facade was actually designed to look older than it was, just to give the institution a more serious appearance? Or that the UB is one of the oldest libraries in the Netherlands?

Grote Markt

If you take the eastern path, you pass by the Röling building and walk to the Rode Weeshuis, or the ‘Red Orphanage’, on the way to Grote Markt. Of course, Grote Markt is drenched in history with the Martini tower, the town hall, and even the Vindicat building.

But how about the red-brick building next to Vindicat? The Market Hotel was built just a few years ago, but during the German occupation, this was the location of the headquarters of the Nazi Security Service. The building was destroyed during the liberation of the city. ‘Here stood the home of Nazism, Swastikas and the Security Service’, it reads engraved in Dutch on a small metal plate at the entrance of the hotel.

However, it’s not just historical facts that the ‘podwalk’ provides. Beyond the architects, and all the important figures whose names are forgotten the moment they’re mentioned, the audio tour gives a glimpse into how the past really looked. And even smelled.

Like how the Martinikerkhof was nothing but a car park up until the late 70s. Or how Turfsingel stank of ammonia for a long time in the 17th century, because of the urine used in Groningen’s leather tanneries. 

Nobel prize

It’s also about the people of the time, especially those connected to the university. Passing by the Stadsschouwburg theatre, you learn just how the UG’s first Nobel prize, awarded to Frits Zernike, was announced back in 1953: before an opera show, as the crowd gathered, the rector magnificus jumped on the stage and made the news public. 

From Groningen’s Nobel prize to the chromosome artwork at the UMCG, such details pave the way up to DOT and then back to the Academy building. But the walk doesn’t end there. It’s just the start of the western route, at least for those who still have some stamina left.

The path takes you to the twelve owls on the Harmonie building, a symbol of wisdom, hinting at the Greek goddess Athena. Covered in gold leaf, all birds have different-coloured eyes to represent individual wisdom. 

Aletta Jacobs

With just as many landmarks, the western tour takes the scenic route through Aletta Jacobs’ story. From the statue in Harmonie square to the student room she rented in 1875 from a carpenter at Turftorenstraat, the walk down Groningen’s history lane ends at the mural.  

Titled ‘In het spoor van de Academie’ ( ‘In the footsteps of Academy’), both routes can be downloaded in both English and Dutch from the Op stap met Aletta app, or bought as a booklet at the university store. 

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