These students live in the Oude RKZ residential community

Oude RKZ residents in Groningen pay €334 a month in rent. That is not much for such a spacious room. What’s more, they get to live in a historic building that also has a café, cinema, concert space and hot tub. Everything is just a stone’s throw away.

Forty years ago, on 3 September 1979, the first group of residents moved into the former Roman-Catholic hospital on Verlengde Hereweg in Groningen’s Helpman quarter.

Squatting was fairly normal back in those days. Housing was considered a right and squatting in vacant buildings was a way for young people to get a roof over their head.

In addition, squatting was a means to prevent speculation. Property owners could not sit back and wait until the moment when their properties would increase in value. Instead, they felt obliged to do something before their property fell into the hands of squatters.

Forty years later, squatting is forbidden, rents and housing prices are soaring and affordable housing is virtually impossible to find. But the Oude RKZ is still around. Although the squatters have become honest tenants, the mentality seems more or less unchanged. Average residents are best described as ‘alternative’ or ‘unconventional’; and why not?

This is my home and it will stay that way for a very long time

Chiara Tammaro’s (22) basement looks out on a large lush garden with an abundance of marijuana and tomato plants. Incense wafts through the room, which has a serene sense of order to it. It is a well-organised space, in stark contrast to the basement corridors through which visitors have to worm themselves to reach Chiara’s abode.

‘This is it’, says the Delfzijl-born Englishwoman, who graduated from Minerva Art Academy just before the summer.

‘I knew it almost immediately when I walked in here two years ago: this is my home and it will stay that way for a very long time. Now I see it as a nice home base for the projects that I have in mind. They will take me everywhere, but this is where I will always return. There’s something in the air here; you don’t often find that much creativity in one living space. Just like me, many other residents went to Minerva.’

Clara Franke (21) from Hamburg, for example, who is studying design at the Gedempte Zuiderdiep.

‘Yeah, you know how it goes, right? I knew someone who lived here and I came to visit. I couldn’t believe my eyes; there’s some kind of giant Jacuzzi in the basement; how often will you find that in student housing? And it’s cheap.’

I couldn’t believe my eyes; there’s some kind of giant Jacuzzi in the basement

But to her, the people at the ORKZ are the most important.

‘Open-mindedness is what it’s all about here; you can do your thing. The other residents are interested; they give you the space you need. So much more is possible here than in a student house.’

‘For sure’, says Laureen Langkamp (28). She is one of the people working on a programme booklet for the 40th anniversary celebration, which will last three days.

‘You have to do something for the building; that is the only requirement put on residents. Making posters, working in the garden, whatever you enjoy doing, and there is always something to do.’

Laureen, who also graduated from the art academy, used to live in the Biotoop in Haren, the other alternative residential community in Groningen.

‘The difference is the solidarity. People in the Biotoop keep to themselves more. That’s fine, of course, but I like this better; this is truly a community.’

You think this is big? This is one of the smaller rooms

Laureen’s room is quite a sensory experience, with plants, books, drawings and two colourful sofas with loads of pillows. It is a veritable urban jungle, with stairs leading up to a DIY in-between floor that scarcely stands, out given the high ceiling. There is a guitar, keyboard and drum kit in the room.

‘The bass is mine; the rest is the band’s. But I like how it looks, a drum kit in the room.’

Laureen can really live it up in this space.

‘You think this is big? This is one of the smaller rooms. Check that out…’ She points to the building on the other side of the garden. ‘The top floor. Just how big is it? That is a freaking loft. For real.’