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Even if you’ve never lived in or near Leiden in South Holland, you’ve probably heard of the famous ‘Leidens Ontzet’, which is commemorated every year on 3rd of October. But did you know that the northern Dutch city of Groningen also celebrates the ‘Gronings Ontzet’ on 28th August?
Whilst the Leidens ontzet observes the liberation of Leiden after a siege during the Eighty Years’ War, the Gronings ontzet celebrates another siege that took place some 100 years later and was perpetrated by the bishop of Münster. The bishop, Bernhard vol Galen, felt entitled to areas in and around Groningen that had once belonged to his diocese. He earned the nickname ‘Bommen Berend’ after he began pounding the city with a barrage of bombs on 21st July, 1672. Fortunately the attack which claimed many lives, lasted just a few weeks until August 17th, when field general Carl von Rabenhaupt at last managed to oust the warring bishop.
Confusingly the Gronings ontzet, also known as the ‘Groningens Ontzet’, the ‘Achtentwintigsten’ (the twenty eighth) or ‘Bommen Berend’, isn’t actually celebrated on August 17th, as the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1700, resulting in date changes. If August 28th falls on a Sunday, then the Groningen ontzet is celebrated on August 27th (as was the case in 2005).
And on this day, the entire city of Groningen bursts into life with a variety of festive activities, including a number of concerts, a summer carnival, theatre, a street fair where visitors can purchase a selection of typical Dutch snacks, readings, a colourful parade and numerous competitions. The fun-packed day finally draws to a spectacular close with a lavish fireworks display at the Zuiderhaven.
Interesting fact: Legend has it that Bommen Berend dined on ‘zuurkool met spek’ (sauerkraut with bacon) each and every day of the siege, in the nearby town of Haren. That’s why to this day, Groningers still say “tonight will be war” whenever they enjoy zuurkool met spek!