Column door Jens den Boer
Like a castle on the hill, at the summit of the Wageningse Berg lies a football stadium fittingly nicknamed the impenetrable fortress ("De Onneembare Vesting”). Today Wageningen is known for its prestigious university and research institutions. But among others, FC Wageningen was known for their incredible 1-6 victory over an undefeated PSV in the quarterfinals of the KNVB Cup, their biggest home defeat yet. With a group of classmates, I had the great honor of visiting the stadium for one of our introductory courses Landscape Perspectives.
In 1992 when their main sponsor was forced to part ways with the club, FC Wageningen was in a tough financial situation. When they were denied financial support by their own municipality, they sadly had to declare bankruptcy. The stadium has been empty since and was awaiting an uncertain future.
During my quick visit, I realized the stadium, prior to its bankruptcy, would have had a very significant impact on the well-being of the citizens of Wageningen and its immediate surroundings. Stadiums as an informal space have always had that unique ability to bring people together of all backgrounds. The sport itself is revered by the poor as much as by the rich. It didn’t matter where you were from because everyone was there to support Wageningen and just have an overall good time with each other.
Famous architect Jan Gehl, therefore, understandably quotes: “A good city is like a good party — people stay longer than necessary because they are enjoying themselves.” The stadium was a place in the city where people came to make new friends, hold conversations, blow off some steam, or whatever else allowed these people to enjoy themselves. In a certain sense, the stadium was a place that kept people in their respective cities. Who would want to leave a place where their favorite team plays, where they made friends and good memories.
In 2010 Boei, an organization specializing in the restoration and repurposing of cultural heritage bought the stadium. Partnering with Future Centre, Boei plans to repurpose the stadium into an innovative and multifunctional complex with expertise in nutrition, movement, and health. Recently Boei reached an agreement with the neighboring Fletcher Hotel allowing the stadium to be used as a training ground for professional teams who stay at the hotel (Boei.nl, n.d.).
Some might say the impenetrable fortress has now become a contradiction to its past nickname. FC Wageningen has fallen and now the stadium is under new management with new teams playing. Could Wageningen ever imagine a future where their castle, their holy ground would be used as a mere training ground by any other team, even their former rivals like Vitesse? Imagine all the Wageningen fans who had to say goodbye to their boyhood club and years of good memories.
But I beg to differ. Today the stadium still has significance to the city of Wageningen, just in a new, different sense. The stadium may have lost its informality due to the ground being repurposed, however, the ground is now a place with scientific expertise in nutrition, movement, and health which are just as detrimental to the well-being of a citizen.
Not all informality has been lost, however. The field and its surroundings are still kept in excellent condition thanks to a handful of volunteers who frequently visit the ground. The volunteers, after their working hours, spend their time in a little remnant of ‘old’ FC Wageningen: The canteen. The canteen still symbolizes what the stadium has always been, a place for the people to come together and just have a good time.
Just like how medieval castles have become part of our cultural heritage, the Impenetrable Fortress to me deserves the same kind of treatment. Standing there like a castle on the hill, telling tales of great victories and insufferable defeats, fall, and rise. That's why after visiting and learning about this ground I am very pleased with Boei and the many volunteers for carrying forth a little different but equally important legacy of this special place.
Boei.nl. (n.d.). Stadion De Wageningse Berg. Retrieved from https://www.boei.nl/projecten/stadion-de-wageningse-berg/