Maastricht, hardly** any violence

Vive Le Velo – a bike store in the old, renovated fire station, which also hosts a huge exhibition room and a new, fancy restaurant.

The city Maastricht has for many years created images of riots in my head. Panic in the darkness with nervous shouts and the sound of police guns going off. The adolescent brain is not processing impressions and emotions the same way as an adult, so this has probably played its part, since I was 11 years old when the a trapped Danish police force shot 113 times this 18th day in May.

The European Union is a constant source of conflict between the (often more ideology leaning) political left and the more pragmatic, centered parties in Denmark. To a parliament election in Denmark the EU skeptics (today also containing a relevant player on the right, Dansk Folkeparti) are outnumbered by the rest of the political parties, but when asked about only the EU, the Danish population is roughly divided in two.

In 1992 the margins were on the skeptics’ side, when a little more than half the voters said no to further European integration by turning down the Maastricht treaty. A major victory for the skeptics. The rest of the union, though, could only move forward if all members ratified the treaty, which led to a the Edinburgh agreement and a new referendum less than a year later. Where the Danes voted yes. And then hell broke loose.

So Maastricht, which I couldn’t even place on a map, made me think of this mayhem throughout most of my teenage years and early adulthood. With the wonders of the internet and Google image, this has changed a bit the last years, though I’m sure the drama, shouts and panic will always be present, somewhere, in the back of my mind.

Luckily, a few days ago, and roughly 21 years later, I had the chance to change this automated stream of images in my head, when my bicycle led me to this town, by the river Maas, for the first time in my life*.

And what a great little place. Just like the hip and colorful cafés fit perfectly with the medieval city center, the nearly 16.000 students seem to live in perfect harmony with the thick streams of tourists walking the narrow streets. The town has this big village vibe combined with a certain industriousness and creativity, which can only be found in towns with a university and quite a lot of people who chose to stay after graduating. On that note, you don’t have to talk to many post-graduates to find out that quite a few people are planning on moving, maybe to Berlin or Amsterdam, but … you know, so far it just haven’t happened. A creative and safe town, I sensed.

I liked it.

*Full disclosure: Earlier this year, on a dark winter night, I stayed in the local train station for roughly an hour. I only went twenty meters away from the platform to get a (pretty good) kebab, so I don’t count that as a visit.

**After publishing this I felt guilty for not having defined ‘hardly’. The reason being that, though I didn’t experience anything even close to a crime scene, there could be a lot going on underneath the surface. I heard a few stories about assaults, a little research reveals a crime rate among the higher in Holland and as a place with many tourists pickpocketing is ostensibly a common phenomenon. Some believe that the city’s change of drug policy – where non-residents can’t legally buy marihuana – has led to a darker Maastricht with more pushers and dodgy corners of the streets, but this weed topic is so full of different interests, it’s impossible to navigate as a foreigner.

Here I should probably prove my point about creativity and industriousness by showing something else than Vive Le Velo again. But I forgot to take more pictures, and I also want to praise Dirk (second head from left), who owns this place with his friend Chantelle. He gave me shelter, showed me Maastricht night life and fed me breakfast. Chantelle and him are both art graduates and have had this shop for eight months.

If you like retro style bicycles, check out their web site here. Go!