The Beer Is On Fire

DSC05243
Yesterday morning, after taking Pippo out first thing, G told me about a building made only of beer crates that some students were constructing in Zocherpark, in front of the Biton and Unitas student associations. Curious, and wanting some photos, I went with G and Pippo during the afternoon outing to witness the festivities — and the completed structure — for myself.
DSC05267

You see, yesterday began UIT2011, the week-long event that welcomes old and new students to Universiteit Utrecht and the high schools. There are events all over the city, including parties, concerts, tours and much more. The city’s population felt like it doubled yesterday, with packs of young students everywhere you looked, spurred on by the rare and beautiful weather we were having. The student associations near us were hosting their annual introductory parties, with all sorts of seating set up outdoors, beer stands everywhere, decorations, and even a mechanical bull!
Mechanical Bull

Crossroads

Take a Seat

One of the decorations they had set up was an incredibly long building made up of nothing but plastic beer crates, a tarp and some bungee rope. It was certainly the standout decoration in the park, even more impressive than the large inflatable owl that was there last year and making a return performance this year. I wasn’t clear as to what was actually meant to be going on inside the building, but it was interesting to see, nonetheless.
DSC05268

Imagine my surprise this morning when G came in from taking Pippo out and told me that the whole thing had burned down and that a car had been caught in the inferno! It seems that some time around 5 a.m., a passerby saw the flames. By 8:30 a.m. this morning when G saw it, the fire trucks (brandweer) were gone and all that remained was a small corner of the beer-crate structure. Fortunately, none of the actual buildings on the street were damaged, and it doesn’t sound like any people were injured, although there are suspicions of arson. I suspect idiot arson, rather than truly malicious arson. Hopefully! One car did get caught up in the fire and it’s front end is just a husk.
DSC05272

DSC05288

DSC05287

DSC05278

The area was cordoned off and police and what looked like a fire investigator were there looking over the remains and talking to some of the association’s students. Still, a little fire isn’t going to stop the festivities. As the investigation was going on, set-up for the day’s activities continued. The concert scheduled for this evening will also go on as planned. Lucky us.

Hopefully today is drama-free. Yesterday wasn’t exactly a great start to the introduction period, as three students were injured, one quite seriously, in an accident on an open-top double-decker bus. Added in with the fire, and things have been perhaps not gone quite as smoothly as organizers would want. I wish a speedy recovery to the injured students and hope the rest of UIT2011 is fun, informative and most of all, safe!

Welkom bij Utrecht!
Relaxing

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.

The Return of the Rain and the Students

This is what the weather was like yesterday. Bright sunshine, and just a glorious day.
Cafés and Restaurants
This is what the weather is like today. Rain, rain and more rain. And yes, the students were back for more initiation/introduction. Lousy timing!
Solidarity
I woke up to chatter outside the window and after peeking out, I saw a long, wet line of unhappy looking students. Gone was the singing and laughter from Saturday morning when the first batch went through this process. I don’t remember a second round last year, and I don’t know why they did another round this year. I did ponder the idea of actually asking someone about all of this today, but the early hour and the heavy rain didn’t really make me feel all that social.
Morning View
They started off sitting quietly in a row, with all their worldly possession grouped around them. They sat like that for quite a while, perhaps an hour or so. Then there was a sudden movement when they all got up and began digging through their bags.
Line Up
The white sheets returned and were bundled around various possessions, which seemed to also include a pair of white candles, which I saw grasped in the hands of many of the students this morning. They hung around for a while after that, still fussing with odds and ends and still getting rained on solidly. Eventually they began to move off, hopefully to get warm and dry.
Moving On
The upperclassmen didn’t let a little rain stop them from donning their full morning suits and drinking their glasses of champagne. Most had an umbrella to hand, but there was one who went umbrella-less and looked as soaked as the students. A few of his friends took pity on him on occasion and shared their shelter.
(this is my favorite shot)
Contrast [Day 236/365]
Perhaps the kindness inspired him, as the last of the students moved off, one had a little trouble managing all his bags and bits and pieces, so the upperclassman kindly gave him a hand carrying one of his bags. What a nice young man!
A Helping Hand