When I just moved to Groningen, Jeroen Berends took me on a short tour in the city center. Until that moment, I knew Folkingestraat only as a cozy street in the city center, full with cafés and colorful shops. But I didn’t know that this street used the be the home to the Jewish community before WWII, or that the impressive moorish styled building at the middle of the street is actually a synagogue. Nonetheless, the fact that surprised me the most was that along the street there are five hidden symbols, as part of a project called ‘Verbeeld verleden’ (‘Imagined Past’).
I have already written here about the stumbling stones in German cities, that act as a reminder for the Nation’s dark moments. I have also written about the compasses that Stockholm has painted on its metro's platforms, allowing passengers to have more sense of direction about the outside world. But I have never seen so many symbols hidden in a street in such a delicate way. I guess that most of the readers have never been to Groningen, so here is a short tour in Folkingestraat, a street with a rich history and a vibrant present. Bare with me, because there is a mystery at the end of the tour.
The Zodiac (‘Galgal Hamazalot’)
The moon is an important symbol in Judaism. As a memory of the Jewish inhabitants in the street in the beginning of the previous century, the Dutch-Israeli artist Joseph Semah had situated 11 moon along Folkingestraat. Toward the center of the street the moon is getting bigger, and in the center it is full.
Also Here (‘Ook Hier’)
On the side-wall of Folkingestraat 9, in a little façade, the word ‘Removed’ (‘Weggehaald’) is written between brackets. This artwork emphasizes the loss of a community, which will never be back.
A big door is situated at the corner of Folkingestraat and Gedempte Zuiderdiep. At first look it seems like an old wooden door, but closer examination reveals that it is made of bronze, and that it does not have a handle. The past of the street is sealed behind this door, which should not be opened.
The Horse (‘Het voorgesneden paradepaard’)
If you nowadays enter the store at Folkingestraat 23, you will find a charmy antique shop. In the past, however, a horse butcher used to work there. That’s what inspired Marijke Gémessy, a Dutch visual artist, to place a ceramic relief of a part of a horse on the small gap between no. 23 and no. 25.
The Three Pictures (‘Zonder titel’ - ‘Untitled’)
I wish I could end this virtual tour by showing you the three pictures Allie van Altena hung in three different addresses in Folkingestraat. I took a photo of the first two pictures (no. 10 and no. 20). They were black-and-white pictures, with colourful dots painted on them, taken before the second world war. When I looked for the third picture, however, on no. 47, I wasn’t able to find it. I spent a few minutes checking every corner of the building, but the picture wasn’t there. After a while, a nice lady approached to me: “Have you lost something?” she asked. “Yeah, I’m looking for the third picture”, I answered, “but it seems to be gone”. She told me that she lives at folkingestraat, and that she remembers that when they replaced the winery shop with a new ice-cream place, the picture got lost. I found it ironic: not only the community that lived here is gone, but also one of the symbols that were placed in street as a memorial.
Folkingestraat is a cozy and vibrant street, and the hidden signs along it contribute to its charm. But now that I know that something is missing, I keep asking myself: what happened to the picture? It might have been stolen by someone, who took advantage of the mess when the shop was renovated, or maybe it really got lost. I’m not sure if we'll ever find the answer.
(Pictures by Lior Steinberg)