Maastricht – Re-imagining a city divided in two


The other day, my roommate and I were contemplating where to go to purchase a washing detergent. The decision was between Kruidvat on Wycker Brugstraat and Hema in the inner city center. While both are about the same distance from our apartment, going to Hema just feels like more of an effort. Why could that be? The only obvious difference in reaching the two stores is that for entering the inner city, we need to cross the Maas.

Even in cities as small and concise as Maastricht, there can be environmental factors keeping the city divided. In our case here, it is quite clearly the Maas. The *big*, dirty river, running right through the middle of it all. (Or what is now considered the middle at least…) Rumour has it that if you fall in, you will come out with three arms. I remember very vividly the day I saw two rats fighting for leftover food on its shore. More than a place in itself, it also represents a big barrier for people who want to get from one end of the city to the other. All the bridges crossing it come with their specific issues for your bike, such as making you either trip or take exasperatingly small steps, lifting a part of it up at any whim or having steep hills on both ends. What happens is the creation of two microcosms that in itself offer the student resident all they need. There is shopping, bars, cheap food, and coffeeshops on both sides of the Maas. Also, friend groups tend to flock together after a while. Basically, if you do not happen to study in Randwyck while living in Vilapark or going to SBE while living on Bloemenweg, there is no reason to ever cross. Especially because after living in Maastricht for a while, everything that is further than five minutes walking just feels so faaaar. Having lived on both, in Wyck and on Emmaplein, I was able to examine the phenomenon quite literally from both sides. The people I lived with in my first year, made sure I knew of the alleged superior status of living in Wyck, even though our alley was dirty and someone got shot in front of it. There seemed to be a sense of pride in living somewhere between the Maas and the train station. I always wonder if my constant hesitation to cross the bridges, stems back from that time. After a short stint on Hertogsingel, I did move back there so maybe they had a point after all.

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I started my journey into how people experience the city by asking my friend (Berivan), who grew up in this lovely town. After laughing at my odd article proposal for a while, she did acknowledge that she did not have any friends on the other side of the Maas while growing up. More than a rivalry between individual neighbourhoods, for her it was the extra time crossing the bridge that kept her on the inner city side. Further, she stated that “because there are all these other neighbourhoods - which in the past never used to be actually part of Maastricht, but only part of the agglomeration, have become part of Maastricht, people from this side of the bridge [inner city] where we are now, they think that people from there are different. They call it like a little village.” So let us consider Maastricht’s history for a bit.

“After the Napoleonic era, the great powers united the region with the new Kingdom of the Netherlands, of which Belgium was also part. The first King, William I, gave the region the name of Limburg. After Belgium gained its independence, Limburg was split and divided between the two countries in 1839. For centuries, Limburg's strategic location made it a much- coveted region among Europe's major powers. Romans, Spaniards, Prussians, Austrians and French have all ruled Limburg as lord and master.” from: Maastricht Region

Basically, Maastricht was a Roman settlement in a strategically good place (not that you’d notice any of that with the infrastructure situation as it is today) so a lot of people were keen to get a slice. Big in the age of Industrialization, it used to be a city of trading, most importantly ceramics, paper and glass, which you do notice today. On the way to Muziekgiterij, you’ll see the big Sphinx building on Boschstraat as a remnant of that time. Wyck, indeed, used to be a settlement in itself, complete with own city wall. The little forts on the water front are rests of that wall. My superficial Google Search did not come up with an exact date when the area was annexed, but it must have been at one point in the 1700-1800s. So enough of that for now.

10 Maatricht, ca. 1590 10 Maastricht, ca. 1700

Another friend (Méabh) of mine claimed that while going to Wyck did not feel like much, having to cross the train tracks really feels like entering another city (or crossing the bridge in our scenario). So while inner city residents feel like they can claim the fancy parts of Wyck they do not want to put up with the parts behind the train station or Randwyck for that matter. Interesting. Sociology students amongst the Kichaka readership might be familiar with the idea of mental maps. They first came about in the 1970s in the are of urban sociology and relate space to factors, such as place of residence, mobility, and socio-economic status. While as so often, being a controversial notion, what is suggested is that they are strongly influenced by individual’s perceptions of such things as distance and the environmental quality of their surroundings. Interestingly, another friend that I talked to, seemed to have something just like that for the case of Maastricht. I am giving you the full transcript for entertainment reasons.

Friend 1: So, I have this mental map of my box, where I go. So there is the Mac, that’s one limit, and then you walk to the SBE from the Mac, that’s another limit, and then it sort of incorporates UCM because UCM is after the SBE and then… Friend 2: Which Mac/Mecc do you mean? Friend 1: The Mac! And then it’s Rechtstraat. In some rare cases I might go one street above Rechtstraat but that’s quite rare and then it’s basically the Markt, there is the nice salad bar where I get my juice, that is my circle… box… area, where I go. What was the thing we always said? You should never cross the Brooklyn bridge, aka you should never go to Emmaplein or even worse, above Emmaplein. Friend 2: Oh, I live above Emmaplein!

Concluding remarks I was assured by a Finnish friend that the city of Turku in Finland has the same problem. A river divides the city and the bridge crossing over it, is a big mental divide for all inhabitants. It would be interesting to hear of more examples. Are there cities with the same or similar problems? Is it not just rivers, but parks, highways or train tracks that divide cities? If you know of anything, let me know!

In case you’re wondering, my roommate and I ended up staying at home.

Also, if you feel like I’m doing a shitty job at journalism, considering that I only talk to my friends, tough luck.