The Return of the Ontgroening

They keep coming #ontgroening #utrecht
For the past two weeks, the noise levels have increased, the amount of singing has grown exponentially, and the strange sights have multiplied. It can mean only one thing. The students are back in town.

Viking Invasion
They move through the streets in large packs in strange costumes. Viking helmets mix with togas mix with tiaras. Matching t-shirts in vivid colours and homemade designs are de rigeur.

Their late-night parties and early morning rituals have prevented or interrupted my sleep numerous nights over the past few weeks, making me long for the quiet of the summer holidays when the city empties of most of its students. Thank goodness for the young men in tails with a glass of tipple in hand, sometimes spotted on their bikes, trying to keep their tails out of the spokes in order to avoid an Isadora Duncan-style demise. They always make me smile.

Urban Blond Grafitti

Foto Vrijdag 2.35 (Ontgroening Explained)

Contrast [Day 236/365]
I’m kind of cheating, since I’ve already posted this photo in another posting, but I really do like it. Plus, I’ve got more information about this whole unusual student tradition.

The other evening we were sitting on the terrace of the Potdeksel, trying to wring out the last bit of gezellig from the too-short terras seizoen, when I saw a well-dressed young man approaching the café’s entrance. Recognizing the morning suit and the red and white ribbon on the lapel, I threw shyness to the wind and decided to ask this lone student just what the hell they’re always doing a few times a year early in the morning. A bit surprised, but happily enough he answered a few of my on-the-spot questions.

They do represent Unitas, one of the student societies here in Utrecht. The early-morning event I’ve witnessed for the past few years is an introduction/initiation for new students. The students in the morning suits — and it’s sherry that they’re drinking, not champagne — are there to essentially keep the new students in line and quiet. That was an easier job on the rainy Thursday morning than on the sunny Saturday morning. As to why the older students dress up so formally, he didn’t really know specifically why they do it, but they are, in fact, the only student association here in Utrecht that does so. The white blankets I saw this year are to neatly gather up the various items that the students will be donating to the association. The students have to provide their own white sheet, and there is a list of items to be donated, including the candles and plates and toilet paper I saw. As they make their way down the street and are eventually allowed to enter in to the back entrance of the association, they deposit their bundled items into boxes during the check-in process.

It turns out that they spend the rest of the day doing various initiation activities, and even camp out — rain or shine — later that evening. That probably explains the number of yoga mats and sleeping bags I’ve seen each year. Supposedly, the students at Unitas are fairly good in their initiation process, not going to the extremes that can cause injury to the initiates. That’s certainly nice to hear.

I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, so I limited my questions, but it was nice to get some confirmation on what I’d figured out over the past three years and to learn a few more details. It was nice of him to take a few minutes and explain it all to the curious buitenlanders.

Initiation Rites

Street View
I was up early this morning and found myself wondering if the annual student invasion of the street was going to be tomorrow or next weekend, since they didn’t seem to be around yet. I’ve been expecting them all week. A little later, I heard some noise and saw someone walking past wearing a morning coat and carrying a walking stick. Aha! I was simply up before they were!

So yes, today was the annual induction/introduction/initiation/something-or-other at one of the student associations. Unitas, perhaps? I still don’t know exactly what they get up to or the reasoning behind this little ritual, but it always amuses me nonetheless. The (new?) students line up along the street with bags and sleeping bags and slowly work their way down the street to the back entrance of one of the associations. They’re watched over by upperclass (?) students — although only male students, even though the ones in line are both genders — and are occasionally given instructions by these well-dressed guardians. Every year they wear morning suits and drink champagne throughout the process. I don’t think all associations are quite so glamorous.
The Guards

There were a few things this year that were either new or that I just hadn’t noticed last year. For one thing, some of the students seemed to be singing the national anthem (multiple verses) throughout part of the morning. Secondly, toward the end of the morning, some of the last ones still to go started pulling out matching white tablecloths/sheets and started going through their bags and putting various items out on the sheet on the ground. It looked a bit like Queen’s Day, the national yardsale day.
Hobos
There didn’t seem to be much rhyme nor reason to what they pulled out, although it did sound like they were given a list of items to put out. The upperclassmen seemed to be reading of cards of certain items. Whether they were contraband or simply a silly game, I have no idea. There seemed to be toilet paper and plastic plates among the items set out, so maybe the association was trying simply to stock up on some necessary items.
Bits and Bobbles
From what I saw last year, similar events are going on around town for various student associations. It’s a bit warm and humid today, but hey, at least it’s not raining. 😉