Unitas has a home again

After ten years of no fixed abode in Wageningen, youth club Unitas has its own building again.
Photo Guy Ackermans

The members are relieved. ‘If you suddenly decide you want to have a disco this evening, you can do that again. Unitas is easy-going like that.’

‘Long hair, where you can’t tell from behind whether it’s a man or a woman. And beards. That’s the Unitas image.’ Joram Verhoeven (21) is a fourth-year member of Unitas and on this Monday evening one of the few clean shaven men in ‘H31’. The building in the Heerenstraat, right in the centre of Wageningen, that for years housed cafe ’t Gat and party cafe Luca has just become Unitas’ new home.

Men – most indeed with long hair and a beard – and women are sitting at the bar chatting on this club evening. Laughter rings out and glasses are raised. At a table in the corner someone is setting up the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Old rock music is blaring through the speakers, interspersed with Rammstein’s new single. Someone else is wandering around with a bowl of cherry tomatoes.

‘They’re left over from supper,’ says first-year member Jodie Boogerd (18). ‘Because our kitchen isn’t ready yet, we usually eat at Vreemde Streken cafe, but this evening we ate outside on our own terrace.’ Besides putting in the kitchen, there’s a long list of jobs that need doing before their new home is ready. Serious renovation work needs to be done and permits applied for so that a decade on open parties can be held in their own home base again.

Go with the flow

Despite the fact that the work isn’t finished, there’s already a feeling of having their own building, says chairman Thijs Stegmann. ‘We’ve got a real meeting place again.’ Somewhere members can organize spontaneous activities, which is typical of the youth club. ‘Unitas members are often pretty laid back, they tend to go with the flow. In the period that we had no building of our own everything had to be organized more tightly: is that cafe available on that date? Now we finally have our own place again, members can just turn up with an idea and get on with it on the spot. If you suddenly decide you want to organize a disco this evening, you can do that again. Unitas is easy-going like that.’

It’s that laid back approach that prompted Jodie Boogerd to become a member last summer. ‘I can’t stand the forced jollity of most student associations and I noticed that Unitas was different. Nothing is compulsory, but if you feel like good company you can find it. People are approachable and you can be yourself here.’

Pop venue

In its heyday, when Unitas still had its own building on the Generaal Foulkesweg, the club was an important music venue. ‘We had a real niche in Wageningen,’ says Stegmann. Now they’re hoping that the new building will see a revival of the old times. ‘Once the permits have been sorted out we want to start booking bands again.’

All in all, the new building represents ‘an enormous resurgence of hope,’ says the chair. ‘It gives us the base we’ve missed for ten years. All the time we had no roof over our heads we were in survival mode. Now we have a building again, Unitas can once more be the cornerstone of Wageningen that it always was.’

‘The Wageningse Studentenbond (WSB, the Wageningen Student Union), the predecessor of Unitas, was founded in 1907,’ recounts Unitas chairman Thijs Stegmann. ‘It was the first student association not to have any initiation rites and where everyone was welcome, regardless of religious beliefs. The WSB merged with the Wageningsch Studenten Corps when they also got rid of initiation in 1921. Just under a decade later, however, initiation rituals were reintroduced and in response, in 1935, the students with WSB ideals founded another association: Unitas. Its first home was a villa on the Generaal Foulkesweg. In the 1960s the villa was demolished to make way for a new building, which is where Unitas became a noted pop music venue. But at the start of the new century the club ran into financial difficulties. In 2009 we gave up the building to save the association. Since then we’ve been looking for a new place and after nearly ten years of having no base we finally found one: Heerenstraat 31, right in the centre of Wageningen.’

When Nirvana got turned down and other urban legends

  • Nirvana in Wageningen: it almost happened. Two years before their breakthrough album Nevermind was released, the legendary band Nirvana asked if they could play at Unitas, but the treasurer wasn’t prepared to fork out 500 guilders.
  • The Unitas tipple is Schelvispekel, a bitters drink. The club claims to be the biggest consumer in the world after the British royal family.
  • Stiekem Gedanst, a number by the Wagening nederpopband Toontje Lager, was a big hit in the Netherlands in 1983. Rumour has it that it’s about a girl at a Unitas party.
  • In the noughties a rumour circulated that Unitas held an orgy every Friday evening. A new member was so disappointed when he learned that there was no truth to the rumour that he resigned his membership.

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