Tilburg is a city with a social face. This is where Jantje Beton was founded (1968) and where the Grote Club Actie Foundation (1972) has its roots. For years, Festival Mundial was staged here and the annual funfair (lasting a week and a half) appeals to a wide audience.

In the 1960s, when Tilburg was anxiously looking for opportunities to revive the economy after the textile industry had collapsed, many historic buildings were demolished to create space. What came in their place did little for Tilburg’s reputation. However, that time is long gone; today all kinds of areas have been and are being developed with respect and sympathy for the past. And Tilburg would not be Tilburg if it failed to cater to all population groups in those endeavours.

Photo: Marc Bolsius

Tilburg’s reputation as a ‘wool city’ and ‘workers’ city’ is now outdated.

Inclusive city

Tilburg is an agglomeration of several farming villages, known as ‘herdgangen’ in Dutch. The former villages are still recognisable today in the names of older neighbourhoods in the city; i.e. Oerle, Korvel and Broekhoven. The concentration of sheep farming in the area helped Tilburg become the main wool city in Brabant by 1600. At the end of the nineteenth century, the textile industry fuelled strong growth in Tilburg; in 1871, there were no less than 125 wool mills in the city.

But Tilburg’s reputation as a ‘wool city’ and ‘workers’ city’ is now outdated. Today, Tilburg is a city with a university and higher and intermediate vocational education establishments, companies such as Tesla, several online agencies and creative businesses, and an extensive logistics sector (Tilburg-Waalwijk is the current number one logistics hotspot in the Netherlands). Even so, Tilburg still strives to be a city for everyone. The municipality’s budget plan specifically states that ‘Tilburg aspires to be an inclusive city. A city where people are given the opportunity of using their talents as much as possible; regardless of age, disability, country of birth and employability.’

Piushaven

Time to zoom in. If anyone has seen the Piushaven area change with their own eyes, it is Mery Schel. She has worked for the municipality of Tilburg for forty years(!), since 2003 as a hostess in the visitors' centre located directly on the Wilhelminakanaal (1923). ‘I used to find it quite eerie here,’ she says. ‘The ships were moored at the quayside, deep in the canal and it was very dark.’ How different it is today. ‘Over the years, this area has improved in leaps and bounds, like the rest of Tilburg. Piushaven has become a busy area where people live, work and have fun. And they all enjoy the water.’ There are many shops, restaurants and bars on both sides of the canal. The eye-catcher is Stadsbrouwerij 013, designed in 1935 in the Amsterdam School style by Jos Schijvens, a versatile architect born and bred in Tilburg, and nicknamed ‘the Amsterdam boat' - because it does indeed have that shape.

Dwaalgebied

Sometimes a name reveals the essence of a place. This is true of the Dwaalgebied on the west side of the centre of Tilburg (‘dwalen’ means to wander, roam, explore in Dutch). A delightful neighbourhood, where you go where your fancy takes you. Small businesses in particular have set up here, creating a friendly, easy-going atmosphere on the streets. You hear laughter coming from one of the buildings. When you take a peek to investigate, you see eight women cooking next to each other, all wearing blue aprons. One of the women seems to be giving instructions: she must be Maud because this is cookery studio Bij Maud.

Butcher's shop Leo Lejeune has traded here since 1906, you can buy toys from ‘Het zingende nijlpaard’ (which translates as the singing hippopotamus) and you can enjoy performances in De Nieuwe Vorst theatre. Some façades are decorated with fascinatingly apt street poetry (like 'Blnde vlek’, a poem about a blind spot: ‘What untold possibilities you can see in these words! It says what it says and yet it dosn't’ - including the deliberate spelling mistakes!). While wandering, do not forget to stop occasionally and admire the many stately mansions from bygone times that line the streets.

And who can resist the temptation of sitting down at one of the tables outside city café De Spaarbank (a historic building dating back to 1910) or Steck 013? You can spend hours here because there is so much to see; five busy streets converge on this little square, so watch out when crossing from one side to the other! Two students, Nicole and Veerle, have created their own outside bar by arranging some chairs on the pavement. One is studying HR, the other Nursing - after all, Tilburg is also a student city. Nicole calls the people of Tilburg ‘incredibly friendly’ and Veerle describes Tilburg as a village: ‘You know all the other students. And half of them don’t even have a bike because everything is pretty much on your doorstep here.’ Nicole: ‘Living in Tilburg is not expensive and going out is also a lot cheaper than the Randstad.’

LocHal

The pursuit of inclusiveness is perfectly expressed by the LocHal building. Since its opening at the beginning of 2019, this building (in the Spoorzone area, where many new buildings will be built in the coming years) has attracted visitors from Tilburg and far beyond. It has already won many awards, including that for 'most beautiful building in the world’ at the World Architecture Festival. It is an 18 metre-high structure where locomotives used to be repaired and which now houses the city library. The crane that was used to lift the locomotives (‘working load: 16,000 kg’) has retained its prominent place.

‘A library where you have to be quiet is a thing of the past’, says director Peter Kok. ‘The library of today is a place where all kinds of organisations have offices and share spaces.’ There are almost no walls here, only curtains measuring 15 metres high by 45 metres wide (made by the local TextielMuseum). The library (finalist in the ‘Best Library in the World 2019’ competition) opens at eight o'clock because the night shelter closes at that time and homeless people can come here to recharge their phones, read the newspapers and drink coffee. The Fuck Up Meetings (where people share the story of the biggest failure in their lives) are very popular among 20 to 30 year olds. ‘Students and school pupils study at the desks, professors and grandparents with their grandchildren also like to come here’, says Kok. ‘We are the city's living room and study. Everyone feels at home here.’ Which is exactly what they want in Tilburg.

Facts and figures

  • Number of inhabitants in 2019: 217,000.
  • Nickname: ‘Wool City’, name during Carnival: ‘Kruikenstad’ (the people of Tilburg used to store their urine in pitchers because the textile industry used the urine to wash wool, hence the name that is sometimes used to refer to the people of Tilburg: ‘kruikenzeikers’, which translates roughly as ‘users of pisspots’).
  • City rights since: 1809.
  • Keywords: social x experimental = creation.
  • Main eye-catcher: Westpoint, Sky Mirror (work of art by Anish Kapoor), LocHal.
  • Famous sons and daughters of Tilburg: Leo Alkemade (cabaret artist), Kenny B (singer), Steven Brunswijk (cabaret artist), Peerke Donders (priest), Roy Donders (stylist), Marc-Marie Huijbregts (cabaret artist), Henk Krol (politician), Guus and Marc Meeuwis (singer and his brother) and Jochen Otten (comedian).

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Article last updated on: February 20th, 2020.

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