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Tracing Slavery: An Interactive Walking Tour in Groningen

*DISCLAIMER: This story is entirely fictional. Any similarities to real life events or people is purely coincidental and not meant to provoke any negative reactions.
Silver Coin from 1683 with the family crests of the 12 rulers of the WIC in Groningen.
In this context one of the stones that trace the Citywalk (Mapping Slavery).
“What the hell, Joris,” Dirk shouts, “You can’t be that stupid!” Joris takes an angry sip of his beer. “Slavery did exist in the Netherlands, man.” Dirk shakes his head in disbelief, why does he always have these arguments with his best friend. “Ever since you followed a course in Minority Representation you have been so sensitive,” Joris exclaims. While he orders another beer, Dirk pulls out his phone, “I’m going to prove your wrong, I’ll look it up for you, asshole.” The waitress arrives with a new round and puts them down on their table. The weather was amazing, which meant the two friends had decided to skip their lecture and do some drinks on the terrace of De Drie Gezusters. “Wow! Have you ever heard of a ‘Traces of Slavery’ Citywalk, Joris?” Joris looks up from his phone, “No? What is it?” He is quite curious as well, despite his desire to prove Dirk wrong. “It’s a tour in Groningen about the hidden past of our Golden Age. Supposedly it highlights main sites on the topic of slavery, black history, and the West Indian Company (WIC). There are special tiles in the shape of old silver coins that set out a path. They have a book apparently...” Joris moves his chair to get a closer look at Dirk’s screen, “For real? I didn’t know those tiles had a meaning?” Dirk enthusiastically opens up the App Store, “They even have an app! I’m going to download it right now! Let’s do this tour, Joris! It looks epic!” Joris starts to smile too. On the one hand, he still does not believe that this tour can be real, but he is secretly excited to do something new today too. “Yeah, sure, let’s go!”

Dirk opens up his app and looks at the interactive map. You can set out your own tour by selecting various sites, but it is also possible to follow a standard route on specific topics such as ‘Surinam Presence’ or ‘Acquiring Wealth’. “There is a site right here,” Joris looks around as his eyes fall upon Hotel de Doelen next to De Drie Gezusters. “See,” said Dirk as he reads from his app, “you’ve probably passed by this place millions of times without paying any attention.” They walk towards the entrance of the hotel and admire the building. “However,” Dirk continues, “somewhat 20 years before the official abolishing of slavery in the Dutch colonies, Dutch abolitionists met there.” Joris still looks unconvinced, “So… they abolished slavery here?” Dirk scrolls down, “Well, you know, newspaper reporters were optimistic about the meetings. But, unfortunately, it was too early to actually push through. It took twenty more years to finally put an end to the practice in 1863.” 

Image result for st anthony huis groningen
St Anthony Gasthuis (Wikipedia)
The next stop is the St Anthony guest house, located on the Rademarkt. For the first time they notice the door opposite the entrance of the police station. In white letters underneath the entrance gate it says ‘St Anthony Gasthuis’. “Have you ever seen this before?” Dirk opens the app and scans the QR code on the wall, while Joris has walked towards the gate and tries to open it. “No, I always cycle past it without paying attention really.. What has happened here? There is not a lot of information on the tourism plaque.” “Well, the app provides a lot! This guesthouse was founded in 1517. It was mostly used to keep people in quarantine.” “What? What kind of people?” “Initially people infected with the Black Plague, in order for them not to infect anyone else. Later, until 1844, to ‘protect’ Groningen’s inhabitants, this guest house was home to the mentally ill. And, wow, on Sundays, Groningers could even come and watch these people against payment.” “Are you serious? I can’t imagine this happened here…” 

Leaving the Gasthuis they turn into the Oosterstraat. “Okay, so even if slavery did exist here in Groningen, it was the exception. Just because some rich families benefited from it does not mean that the common person back then had anything to do with slavery,” Joris says. “That does not justify it though,” Dirk replies. Turning into a small alley they find themselves standing in a courtyard where Dirk spots the next QR Code and reads the text written on the building in front of them. He looks up after a few moments. “Actually, you are wrong! It was obviously not the case that every family was involved in slavery but nonetheless many people benefited from it. See, for instance, this house used to be a tobacco manufacturer, and a shop for colonial goods.” “So what?” Joris replies, “that is how the world economy has always worked. People trade goods with each other.” “But that is the point! You cannot see slavery and the Atlantic trade as a purely economic transition, it was in its nature linked and justified by racism and the idea that some people were superior.”

After visiting a few more sites, the friends walk home. “I have to admit,” Joris says, “I really did not know these things before and today I really saw Groningen in a different light.” Dirk is not sure if Joris really understands it, but he is glad that they could broaden their horizon. “Yeah, I agree. Also those silver coin tiles, those were great and I loved to learn about their history.” “The app also offers a book on this topic, let’s buy it, man. I want to learn more!” 



Henkes, Barbara. "Traces of Slavery City Walk." Guided Tour. Groningen. 6 June, 2018. 


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*DISCLAIMER: This story is entirely fictional. Any similarities to real life events or people is purely coincidental and not meant to provoke any negative reactions.