Photos by Zuzana Ľudviková

Farewell, ghost flat

‘Going back would be standing still’

Photos by Zuzana Ľudviková
Now that the Selwerd flats have all been renovated, it’s time for the student flat at the Van Heemskerckstraat. While the building used to have 229 residents, there are currently only a few left. ‘They’re making the units more independent, which I think is a shame.’
13 March om 12:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 13 March 2024
om 12:00 uur.
March 13 at 12:00 PM.
Last modified on March 13, 2024
at 12:00 PM.
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Door Tim van de Vendel

13 March om 12:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 13 March 2024
om 12:00 uur.
Avatar photo

By Tim van de Vendel

March 13 at 12:00 PM.
Last modified on March 13, 2024
at 12:00 PM.

The car park in front of the building is practically empty, with the exception of a few lost-looking bikes. With its nine storeys, the Van Heemskerckstraat flat towers over the rest of the buildings on the street, but behind the windows, the rooms lie empty and there’s no sign of life. 

Once inside, it’s like the building is haunted. Words have been written in the dust that covers the floor. In the long hallways, doors have been left open, kicked down, or leaning against the wall. Old leather chairs lie on their sides in rooms that were once host to parties and late-night conversations between the building’s residents, most of whom have long since left.

Arie Roerink is one of the last students still living in the flat. He used to live in on of the Selwerd flats, but he had to leave because of the renovations. ‘It was basically the same thing that’s happening now.’ 

The maths student ended up in a room at the Van Heemskerckstraat four years ago. He didn’t have to interview for the room; all he had to do was register. Nevertheless, he ended up becoming great friends with the people in his section.


He was lucky, he thinks. Not all the floors had the same atmosphere, but on the second, where he lived, things were pretty great: ‘We especially got closer during the Covid pandemic.’

People got over it pretty quickly, I was bummed out the most

Because they had less contact with the outside world, the students started talking to each other more often. They also regularly threw parties together with other floors, which attracted students from all over Groningen. ‘The police showed up several times’, Arie says, grinning.

But last year, Lefier announced it would be renovating the flat, which was built in the sixties. They wanted to do it up like they had the Selwerd flats. The current 229 rooms will be turned into 265 units, each with its own shower and toilet. There will be a kitchen and common room for every seven units.

Start of the renovations

Fortunately, the residents weren’t going to just get kicked out of the building. They were each given 740 euros to help pay for the move. They also had a year to vacate their rooms and were given priority status when looking for a new one through ROOM or Woningnet.

But that year is nearly up. The renovations are due to start in less than a month, and the flat has to be completely empty by then. Arie is moving this week, just like the last four residents in his section.

It’s a shame that he has to leave his spot, he says. ‘After the renovations, the units will be much more independent, which I think is a real shame. Sure, the building has its flaws, but I quite liked it here.’ 

Other people weren’t as affected by the news that they had to leave. ‘People got over it pretty quickly’, he recalls. ‘It helped that the compensation was pretty good. I think I was the one that was the most bummed out.’


Econometrics student Michiel Conijn is one of those people who didn’t really mind having to leave his room. ‘It’s not a big deal, but I will miss it. A lot of cool people moved in over the past few years, which made living here pretty great.’

He moved into the top floor of the building in October 2020. There were fourteen people in his section, and he’s made good friends with four of them. 

People are focused on the future, on finding a new place

News of the renovation didn’t come as a surprise, since there had been rumours, but it did take him a long time to find a new room; he didn’t move until last month. ‘We were also going back and forth a lot about whether we wanted to find something together or if we were all going off alone.’

But one of his friends left for a master's degree in Utrecht in the summer, and another left in October. When he noticed that everyone around him was leaving, Michiel finally understood it was time for him to go, too. ‘At one point, there were just six of us in a section made for fourteen. It was getting a little sad’, he says. 

His floor felt empty, there was increasingly less to do in the common room, and there were fewer people living in the rooms. ‘But at least we never had to wait for someone’s laundry to be done’, he says, jokingly.

Less fun

Arie understands the sentiment. ‘At first, things were still pretty fun’, he says. But the place slowly started losing its charm. ‘It just wasn’t as much fun as the previous year’, he says. ‘People were focused on the future, on finding a new place.’

He was on the board of the flat pub, but the place has since closed down and won’t be reopened after the renovations. ‘That’s a real shame, especially the people who’ve been living here for a long time’, he feels. ‘The bar had been around for some thirty years and former residents would come for a drink once a month.’

I can’t think of a single scenario in which I would come back

He’s working on keeping up the bond with his former roommates. Last week, the entire group went on a weekend getaway. Applied physics student Christian Berg joined in, too. After three years at the Van Heemskerckstraat, he moved away in October. ‘The building was just getting so empty. Once summer rolled around, I knew I had to start looking for something else.’

Christian had always wanted to move at least once during his time as a student. That he was now forced to leave felt like a happy coincidence. ‘It’s all just worked out really well.’

His new room, which he got through his study association contacts, is secretly much better than his previous one. ‘I didn’t even have to look that hard’, he says. ‘I just told a couple of friends I had to leave my room and not much later I was invited to an interview.’


Michiel’s new room is also better than the one he had in the flat. It’s larger and he lives with one of his former roommates. Nevertheless, he and the group still get together every Monday. ‘We just hang out and have a few drinks.’

Do the former residents think they’ll be returning after the renovations are done? ‘I can’t think of a single scenario in which I would’, says Michiel. ‘My new room is really nice.’ Arie feels the same way: ‘Going back would feel like the opposite of progress.’

But at least they can all look back fondly on their time in the flat. ‘We really were very close’, says Christian.