“I try to be the cultural voice of the city, of its day and nightlife.”. “I just follow my heart”, says Groningen’s Nachtburgemeester Chris Garrit, sipping his coffee in the News Cafe. He has literally just returned from his trip to Austin, Texas – a trip “with a mission” to promote the concept of being “Nachtburgemeester”. Having barely slept in the last 11 hours en route Garrit is more than willing to continue spreading the word of what it is to be a Night Mayor. He is excited and abounded with vitality when relating about his work.
What is a “Nachtburgemeester”
The Dutch concept of “Nachtburgemeester” or “Night Mayor” is becoming popular nowadays not only in the Netherlands but in Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, UK, and even US. However, not everyone is aware what this is. Garrit, Groningen’s Night Mayor for the last 4 years, is more than willing to explain what it is. Basically, there is the day world and the night world and “the Night Mayor is in the middle of these two worlds and speaks both languages,” says Garrit. However, sometimes those worlds say the same things but they don’t understand each other, so it’s very important that the Night Mayor can make the connection between them.
While Garrit is not a city official, he works with them setting regulations regarding noise, parties, and complaints by neighbours. He monitors whether those new rules are “against the culture” – he wants to make sure they do not kill the nightlife of the city.
For example, several years ago one of the city counsellors wanted to enforce a new regulation reducing the volume from 85 to 70 decibels on all city events. “But this is drastically softer!” Garrit exclaims with indignation. That would mean the end of many fun activities in Groningen and would affect the economy and culture of the city. In return, Garrit organized a protest at Grotemarkt and a lot of musicians joined him supporting his call for respecting the nightlife in the city. The counsellor initially hated him “but now we are friends” and work together – Garrit smiles.
Garrit recollects one the most bizarre events from his whole experience as Night Mayor. Days before “Project X” the city officials from Haren called him to ask for advice. Garrit immediately started organizing another event in the suburbs of the city in order to detour the thousands of frenzied kids going parting at the centre of the town. Yet, the officials changed their mind at the last minute, canceled the event, and sent the police which lead to everyone going wild. “The kids destroyed a lot, throwing bottles at the police, destroying the supermarket, taking things out of the supermarket, the neighbours were very scared, kids were running into the gardens, kids were crying.”
A tiny part of Garrit’s projects are:
- Night debates with city officials on various topics such as the controversial backdoor policy in coffeeshops where owners are allowed to buy and sell cannabis within the legally tolerated limits but its suppliers are not allowed to grow or import it, or to sell it to the coffeeshop.
- Another debate in which he questions the value of the construction of the cultural centre Groninger Forum with estimated costs of €71 million while “at the same time there are a lot of poor people”.
- Sending a letter to the President of the University of Groningen insisting that the University Library should be open 24/7 so that students have the opportunity to study any time they want.
- Writing a litter to the Groninger Museum’s director that the museum should have longer working hours – “Now there is a David Bowie’s exhibition, and I am sure that if David Bowie was still alive he wouldn’t go to his own exhibition at 10 in the morning! No! He would go later!”.
History of the concept Nachtburgemeester
Interestingly, the concept originates from the Dutch poet and writer Jules Deelder who used to go to his bike mechanic at 5pm – never earlier, and the reason was because he had had a long night the previous night. Garrit laughs: “And then, one day, his mechanic said – oh, you are a real “nachtburgemeester”. Deelder found the word weird and wrote it in his poem book which was later published and the name was born. Garrit explains that presently the concept incorporates dealing with regulations by talking with city officials or police departments during the day and talking about festivals, bands, dj-s, bars, and city culture during the night.
Garrit’s constant drive to help people
Garrit is a musician at heart – he learned to play the guitar at 14 and since then music has always been his passion. He played in the ska band “Jammah Tammah” and the rock & roll band “Gravediggers” and toured Europe until he eventually ended up working in a juvenile prison. Why? “I think it was the danger,” he says, elaborating that it was the danger of being surrounded by murderers and rapists that intrigued him. Garrit, who studied social studies, worked at juvenile prisons for several years being contended with the slow progress of the teenagers he had been working with. His job included doing everything with them – waking them up and making them to go to bed and everything that is in the middle.
Garrit remembers how he helped some of them and they went away but later they would come back to prison. “Something changed in me. Then I asked myself – why should I go to this jail and help a few people here if I can organize festivals and make a few hundred people happy. It’s a different kind of social work,” he says. Then he quit his job.
“I am a musician at heart.” (photo – credit by Julia Kramer)
“I already have a feeling that I did something good for the last four years – out of something small and local I spread the voice internationally.” Garrit was invited to Austin to promote the idea of the concept Night Mayor and it was met with huge interest. Now he has focused on actively promoting this idea by having set up the International Night Ambassadors Federation. “We have a good saying in Dutch that a good idea has more fathers,” – Garrit explains that he cannot call himself “the big guy” who has done everything on his own. He has been working in collaboration with the Night Mayor of Amsterdam and together with all the other “Night Time Champions” (the term for Night Mayor used in London) are organizing the upcoming Night Mayor Summit 2016.
Now, Garrit is looking for a new Groningen’s Nachtburgemeester and he has only two requirements – the person has to live in the city and he/she has to “be the voice of the local culture in Groningen and spread this voice around the world”, as Garrit describes his job with one sentence. But also be prepared for a lot of travelling and not getting paid.
“I am a nightmare with my heart” Garrit proudly puts his hand on the left side of his chest. “I think it’s very important to follow your heart – if you have a good feeling, it’s more important than making money.”
TEXT AND FOTO: Andriana Boyrikova