Back to Maastricht of the 1300s
Maastricht |Have you ever felt like being in a beautiful safe space? A little part of the world where you can come and just talk with people without being judged or corrected. Where you look around and see, just outside your cocoon, a wonderful surrounding. And you realize that this cocoon is also part of the beauty. This was what it felt like to be in the Europe Dome in the Dominicanen Boekhandel in Maastricht. Here a report from Mirte van Hout about the day here.
The Dominicanen Boekhandel used to be a Dominican church but is currently inhabited by novels, cook books and biographies. Where Christians once came together to worship God, people are now scurrying through piles of books to find the story or history they want to be engaged in. The massive pillars of the church are towering over bookshelves and interested customers. On the ceiling, the remains of a painting are still visible, as if they try to tell their own story. Moreover, there is a place to sit down and enjoy your new acquisition: a little café is perched on the former altar and invites everyone for a cup of tea of coffee.
Just in front of this little café, we found a place for our Europe Dome. Even though it was not our first in-door event, it was for sure our first event inside a (former) church! I enjoyed building the Dome here a lot, as I could keep looking around and be amazed by my surroundings.
The build-up right in front of the altar
This is interesting since I’m from the States. I guess whenever I think of Europe, I think of connection. Just so many different cultures and backgrounds, languages, histories all coming together. Especially with the EU, without the borders. Just kind of being very fluid and being in a really cool place in that way.Participant under the Dome
The build-up went fast and smooth, thanks to our two great helpers: Mine Stemkens and André van Rooyen, who would also be moderating the second talk. More about their project later! They were happy and helpful volunteers, two characteristics that make cooperating more pleasant. Meanwhile, I had a hard time to stop taking pictures of the dome and church.
After the build-up, we took a step back and admired the result. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but I can tell you that we were very content with the result. From the café, where people had an excellent view on the Europe Dome and its construction, people had already been curiously looking over the edge of their glasses or cups of coffee. Some people came by, stayed for a short talk and promised to come back later. I had heard these promises before during our tour and was not really convinced that people would actually return. Still, we kept inviting people with a welcoming smile on our faces – I have to say that the free coffee we were offered by the café was very motivating in this regard.
At some point before the talks, a girl with a voice recorder came strolling down the nave of the church. She smiled brightly when she saw us and the Europe Dome and explained us that she was from The Expat Radio Show Maastricht. She had been invited by the owner of the bookshop De Dominicanen and wanted to write an article about our project. Of course, we were very enthusiastic about her proposal and took some time to do an interview with her. Even though she only spoke English, she decided to stay for the first Dutch spoken Dome Talk. (By the way: you can find the link to her article in our publications section!)
When the first talk was about to begin, several people had curiously wandered into the Dome and had taken their places on our little carton chairs. Not surprisingly, the bookshop appeared to be an appealing place for people with an interest in discussions and politics. The discussion evolved around the question: ‘Europe – what connects us and what drives us apart’. At first, the participants in our dome seemed to be very much on the same page and agreed that it was ‘love’ that connects us in Europe. This idealistic view of Europe was somewhat destroyed when another participant walked in and declared that he ‘did not believe in Europe anymore’. I smiled and enjoyed seeing how this statement made a real discussion come about. It is often the case that people under the Europe Dome seem to agree with each other, which allows for a smooth discussion and a lot of happy faces. This is of course very pleasant, but when people don’t agree, there is more firework in the talks.
Our 5 stops in the Netherlands
It requires people to challenge one another and re-evaluate their own opinion. This is what I saw happening while people started to agree and disagree about Europe and whether there is a possible way forward. The discussion drifted off towards other topics, such as racism and slavery and the extended meaning and the extensive – almost universal – existence of both. I enjoyed the talk a lot, due to its interesting dynamic and would advise everyone reading this to look at the video of our talk on YouTube.
During the break, there was some time to observe the church itself and especially the books it is harbouring. I have to admit that the magic ambiance of the church enchanted me as well. I was soon standing in line to buy a book myself. The rest of our break, we were sitting inside the dome together and had something like an indoor picnic, with some lovely provisions from Albert Heijn – a Dutch supermarket around the corner.
André (right) and Mine (2nd from the right)
After I had finished my lunch, I walked outside the dome and started promoting again. An elderly couple was very interested and after I explained the project, they looked at each other and said: ‘Yeah, we can come in for a few minutes’. Having said that, they entered the Europe Dome. This required a little flexibility from our side, as we would start the next Dome Talk in only 15 minutes. As such, once the couple had taken their places, everyone quickly stuffed away their lunch and joined the circle. The couple seemed a little surprised about how our ‘family picnic’ had been wildly disrupted for their sake. And as such, the second Dome Talk started.
The Dome filled itself slowly again: a friend of Anne came by and three people who we had talked to earlier came back! This was a very positive surprise. For this Dome Talk, I did not do the moderation, as this was in the hands of André Rojer and Mine Stemkens.
They form the foundation of Maastricht in Dialoog, which engages people in positive dialogues. This is a different art of conversation, in which people should not directly react to each other and discuss. Instead, the positive dialogue allows for listening and learning, by giving everyone a longer moment to talk, during which the other participants are not to react or judge. The conversations are guided by a moderator who can ask participants questions in response to the stories they tell. This is usually to clarify someone’s words – for the audience but also for the participants themselves.
In such open dialogues, people feel more freely to express themselves and to dive deeper and more personally into specific issues. The theme of this positive dialogue was power. André and Mine would ask questions about this topic and everyone would have a chance to reply elaborately. For example, one of the questions was: ‘What is a positive experience you have had with power personally?’
Tired from all the Dome Talks I had had before, I did not join this discussion. Instead, I wandered around the church, talked with some interested people about the project and invited them inside. Moreover, I took out the camera and photographed our now even more photogenetic dome from every possible corner. You can see the results in the picture section and on our Flickr page.
Our 4 stops in Belgium
Participants under the Dome
The people inside the Dome seemed to enjoy the positive dialogue a lot and even after the discussion was officially over – the camera battery had already given up – people had stayed to talk further. I plugged in a new battery to record even these last thoughts.
After all participants had left, we started to dismantle the Dome. It went quite slowly; we were tired from the past days. But once everything was in the car, we decided to still enjoy our last evening. Anne, who had studied here before, knew a restaurant where the best onion soup of Maastricht was served – or so she said. And indeed, the soup was an amazing end of our day in Maastricht and of our first part of the tour.