Ode to the Zusterflat


The map of Eindhoven is dotted with huge blocks of student accommodation. Apartment buildings filled from top to bottom with students. At first, you might doubt the wisdom of throwing together so many students under one roof, but it's precisely this mix that gives this kind of housing its appeal.

Each student housing complex is unique. Every apartment building has its own ambiance, an atmosphere that is hard to put into words. Student complexes are where the stories written during our student years are played out. Every student knows them inside out. By an oral tradition that goes beyond city limits. Some complexes stand head and shoulders above the rest, assuming Olympian status in student mythology. Every city has one: Amsterdam's Uilenstede, Utrecht's IBB, Delft's JvB. Eindhoven is no exception. It has the monumental Zusterflat at the start of the Vestdijk.

I first heard of ‘Vestdukistan’ in a rumor; an excellent birthplace for a myth. There was said to be a secret second basement behind the cycle sheds, the scene of raves lasting all weekend, held between the rubble. This basement, it turns out, does exist. From here, you can go further into the depths to where the old match factories stand, reached by an underground maze beneath Eindhoven's city center. The parties are real too, although they are more likely to be held on the roof, where the ‘resident’ DJs keep an audience of more than 300 happy, as well as a group of police officers keen to keep the noise down.

The view from here is magnificent, especially on humid summer evenings. The roof becomes a sea of students stretched out on mattresses, catching the sun, and there are barbecues. Looking out over the surrounding buildings, you can see the panoramic skyline from city hall to Strijp-S. When the sultry heat dissipates, the whole caboodle moves to the basement. On the gallery, after a sleepless night, you can see the sun rise again behind the campus. As the morning ticks by, all the neighbors appear, a mug of coffee in hand. The many couches on the roof call to mind an amphitheater, and from here the swooping, circling woodpeckers are watched, while on the window ledge the inexhaustible deep fryer stands at the ready.

These neighbors are the true heroes of this story. The building is nothing more than a concrete framework. It is colored in by its occupants. You can turn up unannounced at any time and be warmly welcomed. In the middle of the night when you've forgotten your key, you can sleep on the neighbor's couch, no problem, and be woken later with a freshly made breakfast. In the living room, a million memories swarm about the card games, drinks and jocular BS theories. The philosophy that rules this roost can best be summed up with the words ‘It'll all be okay’. This is a place where students with plans well past their expiry date get to go to heaven. I love this building, our ivory anti-squat towers.

Situated as it is in the inner city, this building has to withstand the urban storm; things can get pretty grim. The residents find themselves sharing the hallways with the homeless and junkies who slip in through one of the many alternative entrances, and who sleep behind doors in the stairwell that everyone thought were locked. Now and again, items disappear. On the dot of four in the morning, a weekend wake-up call is provided by shouting Stratum-goers, if not the neighbors across the street at SSRE. It's an honor reserved for students, and acknowledged as such.

But the building is terminal, it is subsiding and past saving. For years now, housing corporation Vestide has wanted to bring its tenancies here to an end. The building has been written off a hundred times and brought back to life 101 times by a constant stream of letters sent to city councilors and alderpersons. To date, these rescue efforts have succeeded. But while the building's occupants won't give up, a new build poses an ever present threat.

If it is ever demolished, God forbid, at least it wrung the most from its last years of life. Memories of the building will not be swept away with the rubble, they will remain intact in the collective memory. The story has been written, and we're already waiting for the film. Then it will be time to pass on the badge of mythic status. Last week the municipal executive announced that the former Philips head office on Boschdijk will temporarily provide 450 student rooms. A promising successor to the Zusterflat perhaps, preparing the stage for the next cycle of stories.

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