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Dutch comedian, singer, and writer Toon Hermans gave a nod to Maastricht's propensity for the mildest hyperbole when he wrote that
‘Vrijthof square outshines any other square in any other city, but for Maastricht, of course, that is only fitting’.
Right now, you can't argue with that: Maastricht is a sea of lights! Today, however, I am leaving Vrijthof square behind, and taking a walk with my dog around the most vibrant part of Maastricht. The newest part, in fact, which was once a hive of industry and is now mainly a hub for entertainment. Here, the city pulsates, unwinds, and rocks on its foundations when the amps in the Muziekgieterij music venue are turned up full blast.
I set off from the Mosae Forum. Whenever it's cold in Maastricht, you can guarantee it’s even colder here. It is in this wind funnel between the Meuse and Markt square that my walk begins. Fortunately, there are plenty of pubs where you can grab something delicious and warming to take with you. There are also plenty of shops with window displays on which to feast your eyes. I’m a dog owner, and the advantage of having a dog is that you frequently look down. There's lots to see when you do. Here at Mosae Forum, you’ll see the names of each and every Maastricht Carnival Prince etched for posterity into the flagstones.
We soon arrive at Markt square where, each year, we come to exalt the Carnival Prince. It’s also where the crowds cheered ‘Maastricht's own’ Tom Dumoulin when he won the Giro d’Italia. Markt square hosts a market twice a week, which attracts stallholders from the whole of the Euregion. Here, every Friday without fail, my mother would come to pick up fresh cod fillet from the famous fish market. Markt square boasts the most beautiful city hall you’ll ever see. It was my wedding venue. This building was designed and built by the famous architect Pieter Post, whose other crowning glories include Huis ten Bosch. In city hall, the lights never go out. Thanks to 700 super-efficient LED lights, including 23 chandeliers, this magnificent building cast its light over Markt square day and night. On Markt square, you will also see a statue of Jan Pieter Minckeleers, with his burning torch. A native of Maastricht, Minckeleers invented gas light. You could say he literally provided light to Maastricht.
Via the Grote Gracht, I walk with my dog onto Capucijnenstraat. It's a lovely spot, right behind Markt square. At the end of the street is the Brandweerkantine, where Maastricht's hip crowd hangs out. It’s also great if you have young children, as they’re allowed to run around. But don't forget to look up too: often, you’ll see a unique lighting installation on the top of this former fire station. It's a place where artists come to vociferously put the world to rights, or to dissect an exhibition they’ve seen in the Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture. This unassuming-looking exhibition space is in the middle of the same street, and is well worth checking out. It is internationally renowned, plus the food is amazing. In the summer, in the courtyard – with your plate loaded with mezze – it's easy to imagine you're somewhere in southern Europe.
We continue to the Sphinxkwartier, a little piece of Berlin in Maastricht. Its industrial architecture is a legacy of a manufacturing era that is now long gone but, happily, has been visually preserved. One of Maastricht's oldest family businesses, coffee-roasting company Blanche Dael, is located here in the Brikkengebouw. I love coffee - even, I’m ashamed to admit, the insipid variety you can slurp all day. I make it my business to know all the Baristas. So I particularly appreciate the skill of the men and women at Blanche Dael. They're also famous for their tea. Their ‘mestreechterdroam thee’ is the only tea I’ll drink. I think it's called ‘Droam van Mestreech’ (Maastricht Dream) these days. Whatever, the name’s irrelevant, it still tastes just as good.
The biggest building in this part of Maastricht is the Eiffel building, which was here back in 1928. It used to be home to the Sphinx factory, where they made toilet bowls and other sanitary fittings. Sphinx was Maastricht’s most famous company and the biggest local employer. No toilet bowls are made here these days; this distinctive building now houses a hotel and cinema. Maastricht has both style and substance. Maastricht has a historical city centre and tremendous allure. But, here in the Sphinxkwartier, Maastricht becomes a truly global city. You might think I’m exaggerating, but go take a look for yourself. Go into The Student Hotel and head up to the rooftop bar on the top floor. Then tell me Maastricht isn't a global city in the truest sense.
From The Student Hotel, I cross with my dog to ‘t Bassin. The squares of Maastricht are utterly beguiling: Markt, Vrijthof, Onze Lieve Vrouweplein - they're all wonderful places to stroll and people watch. To see and be seen. But what about a square ... of water? This small marina in the heart of the city is surrounded by historic warehouses which now provide the setting for some great restaurants. Here, you can hire a boat and see Maastricht from the water.
I’m saving the best, of course, for last. I’m a man of the arts. And the beating heart of cultural Maastricht lies just behind ‘t Bassin. There’s the ultimate music venue, Muziekgieterij, which is Maastricht's answer to the famous Paradiso in Amsterdam. Plus there's the Filmhuis Lumière, the Netherlands’ best art cinema. Bureau Europa is just around the corner, with its stunning exhibitions on architecture. I take huge pride in my city. It’s the best city in the world, if anyone asks me. I’m biased, I admit, but I think by now you can see why we here in Maastricht would be.
Since 2015, Servé Hermans has been artistic director of the Toneelgroep Maastricht (Maastricht Theatre Group).