Out on the town with: Ingrid | Sharing a meal and a conversation at the Free Cafe

There’s so much to do in Groningen, that you really need a guide to help you uncover the city’s hidden gems. UKrant’s student editors will once again share their cultural agenda with you. What’s their favourite venue and which events are absolutely not to be missed?

Hangout: Free Cafe Groningen

Imagine a place where everybody and anybody can just walk in, sit at a table and enjoy a free meal, accompanied by a bunch of welcoming strangers and the mumbled sound of tons of conversations happening at the same time.

It may seem like a fairy tale, but that’s just how the Free Cafe looks on a Sunday evening. Located at what feels like the edge of Groningen, in what used to be a high school, the Free Cafe is a place you don’t really stumble upon unless you know about it already, or hear of it from a very excited friend, as I did.

Every Wednesday, the cafe is open for takeaway, and every Sunday, it hosts a free vegetarian dinner, with food that would otherwise be thrown away. During the week, volunteers collect the food from the local market at the Vismarkt, from the food bank, or even through donations from local businesses such as bakeries.

For me, it’s all in the conversations you have with strangers while sharing a table and a meal

And then, the magic happens. For the dinner on Sunday at 6 p.m., people gather at the cafe hours before, to cook and be together. Everyone’s welcome, and any hand can be of help, whether it’s for cooking or for cleaning up after dinner.

That’s what I like best about the Free Cafe. It’s not just the free meal, though that comes in handy when you’re a student, but the warm feeling of community you get there. For me, it’s all in the conversations you have with strangers while sharing a table and a meal, or the chitchat that’s inevitable when you wipe down some kitchenware together. 

It’s the slow-paced rhythm I get to enjoy after a week of running around in Groningen, a time to just pause for a bit and soak in all the good energy from the people around me. Though I’ve only known about the Free Cafe only for a short time, I think it’s one of the best-hidden gems in Groningen. And my friends seem to agree. 

Free Cafe Groningen
Travertijnstraat 12
Takeaway on Wednesday between 5.30 and 6.30 p.m.; sit-down dinner on Sunday from 6 p.m.

Where you’ll find me in the coming weeks:

While Oost is usually known as an electronic club, they host a very cozy pub night every Wednesday. We’re talking candle-lit tables, dim lighting, and a bunch of board games, like chess and UNO, to go with the whole ‘social’ atmosphere. For me, nothing’s more relaxing in the middle of the week than sipping on the night’s special cocktail while competitively playing table soccer with my friends. It really gets your batteries charged to face what’s left of the week.

They say laughter is the best medicine. So, hopefully, a comedy night can cure me of the damage done during this exam session. With three of the best comedians in the Netherlands, and an MC (master of ceremonies) to talk the evening away, the Comedy Tunes event is sure to bring a full tank of endorphins back into your life. If their acts are as funny as their experience recommends them to be, then it’s definitely worth a watch.

Does life exist on other distant planets? That’s what the Exoplanets show promises to explore, in an immersive journey far into space. Astronomers from Groningen’s own Kapteyn Astronomical Institute will talk about how to study exoplanets and visualise some of the most extreme examples. I may not know much about astronomy, but I surely enjoy taking a glimpse into space.

Having grown up with ballet as a hobby, I’m always looking for the next dance performance I can watch in Groningen because it just reminds me of my childhood. And I think this one might be a real gem: We, the Eyes is a performance of intuitive dance, in which the survivors of a devastating fire look for ‘true life’, connection with their instincts, and each other. A problem of social life beautifully translated into dance, that’s something I wouldn’t say no to.

I’ve always enjoyed the musical performances at Vera. They really hold up to their name as a centre of underground pop culture in Groningen. And the upcoming concert of the Death Valley Girls surely is a good example. I have to admit I haven’t heard of the scrappy spaced-out psych rock and protopunk genre before, but I’m definitely open to it.

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