History of Utrecht’s Nobelstraat and the impact of COVID-19 on the bars and restaurants in the area
Situated in the center of Utrecht today, the area of the Nobelstraat contains many bars and cafés for the recreation of its citizens and visitors. Nowadays this is an important and visible function within the streets around the Nobelstraat. For example, in 2019, roughly a quarter of the total companies in the area of the Nobelstraat fell under trade and catering, like cafés, bars and restaurants (Allecijfers, 2021). Furthermore, the neighborhood Nobelstraat is the one of Utrecht’s top neighborhoods regarding the proximity to restaurants and cafés (CBS, 2019).
Now these places are being hit by COVID-19 and the appurtenant measures of the Dutch government to attempt to control this virus. In other words, COVID-19 will threat the image of the area which we recognize nowadays. The current development shows the changeability of different parts of the city and their functions. This brings up the question how the image of the area around the Nobelstraat has changed and will be changing. To answer this question, the history of the area will be explained at first. Second, the experiences during the visit to the area with regard to the COVID-19 measures will be set out.
Shops instead of restaurants
Until the Dutch Reformation, the Nobelstraat area was dominated by the presence of the Janskerk (Pelser, 2017a). The Janskerk, and the surrounding Janskerkhof formed a monastery and a Christian sanctuary. The Nobelstraat was one of the few entrances into the monastery (Pelser, 2017b).
In the 19th century, Louis Bonaparte, a brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and the monarch of the Netherlands in that time, built a palace near the Nobelstraat (Van Egmond, Jaski & Mulder, 2009). Louis Bonaparte rarely used the palace, and after the Napoleonic Wars ended the palace became the library of the university.
The former palace is not the only example of monumental buildings being used by Utrecht University. Drift, a side street of the Nobelstraat, holds seven other building with an academic purpose. Janskerkhof is another example of academic real estate in the area: four more locations of the university are found here (Utrecht University, z.d.).
The impact of COVID-19 on the catering sector
Since the first lockdown in the Netherlands, which started on March 15, 2020, the Netherlands faced – and still faces – a tense period with multiple safety measures. Many sectors had to close their businesses among whom owners of cafés, restaurants, bars and nightclubs of whom the latter will be closed for a whole year in March 2021. The closure of the businesses resulted in an image of empty streets, which left a surrealistic feeling to many. Now, during the second lockdown, measures tend to result more into in many financial problems like depts and bankruptcy (RTL-nieuws, 2021). A bigger inequality between different sectors is one of the effects (CBS, 2021).
A few things stood out during the visit to the Nobelstraat. First, despite the emergence of tensions within communities in the Netherlands (RTL-nieuws, 2021), there were multiple ways of support among the local residents. Image 1.1 shows an example of one of the ways how residents and owners of small businesses showed their mutually support. Second, although a few streets were pretty crowded with people passing through, other streets with many cafés showed the empty image, well known from the first lockdown of spring 2020.