On the relay track: A meeting with Ger Kockelkorn, cultural analyst and former “accidental politician” in Limburg
May 25, 2009 1 Comment
“On the relay track” is a new series on Crossroads introducing local and regional personalities who have made their mark in the landscape of Limburg or who are still involved in developing the region. Each guest is asked to recommend the following personality to be featured on the series and to pass on the relay baton with a specific question. The series launches with a meeting with Ger Kockelkorn, cultural analyst and former “accidental politician” in Limburg.
Locally known as a former member of the Limburg Provincial Executive and the former Mayor of the town of Meerssen, five kilometers to the north of Maastricht, Ger Kockelkorn is as busy as he used to be. Despite his retirement from politics in 2005, Kockelkorn is still involved in various cultural activities: he is the president of the Association of Limburg Castles (Stichting Limburgse Kastelen) and the Federation of Museums in Limburg (Federatie van Musea in Limburg), a regular panel member on a Sunday radio show called “De Stemming” on the regional channel L1 and the caretaker of the Synagogue in Meerssen, a beautiful restored monument which now functions as a centre for exhibitions and cultural activities. Achievements are a plenty, but Ger Kockelkorn is a modest man. He’d rather spend time researching how foreign newcomers perceive the various Limburgish dialects than step into the spotlight and take credit for his accomplishments as “an accidental politician”.
Ger Kockerkorn, photo by Gina Vodegel
Kockelkorn’s career in politics spanned about three decades of his life, a career that wasn’t planned or intended at all. With a Master’s degree in Mathematics and Physics he seemed destined for a future in the world of theory and abstract thought, involving facts, figures, numbers and perhaps an occasional exercise as a teacher. But he defied statistics for he turned out to be a mathematician with a soft spot for languages, history and culture, passions that were equally matched when he met his wife Anneke Hanssen, a ceramic sculptor.
Ger Kockelkorn joined the Dutch Labour party PvdA at an early age and practiced his communication skills with enthusiasm. He was first elected to the Provincial Council (Provinciale Staten), and from there moved on to the Provincial Executive (Generale Staten) as an executive councilor for Transport, Public Works and Water Management. “They must have taken my technical background into account when they appointed me for this particular post,” Kockelkorn reminisces with a smile. After serving his term, he returned to the Provincial council and became increasingly involved in regional cultural affairs. “My affection for culture and arts grew stronger because of my wife. I have always had a keen interest in anything creative, but no talent whatsoever myself. My fondness for the written and spoken word may perhaps come closest to my form of contribution.”
The cultural development of Limburg
Ger Kockelkorn remembers his second term at the Provincial Council, starting in 1987, as a very dynamic period. This time he was in charge of Culture, serving under the Queen’s Commissioner Sjeng Kremers. Limburg was going through deep changes as a result of the closure of the mines and started investing in the development of new infrastructures. In Kockelkorn’s view, one of Kremers’ successes in the cultural spectrum was to establish three museums in the southern province: the Museum of Limburg in Venlo, the Industrion in Parkstad and the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht, a decision which could be considered daring and not in accordance with the nature of Limburg and its population.
Former Queen’s Commissioner for Limburg Dr Johan Kremers, also known as Sjeng Kremers
“The people in Limburg are essentially very focused on their own local activities,” says Kockelkorn, “not even regional, but per city or per village. You can find many amateur musical ensembles and theater companies existing and competing within a radius of just a few kilometers.”
According to Kockelkorn, the general professional infrastructure in Limburg became more solid under the guidance of Sjeng Kremers and cultural life gradually developed, with Maastricht expanding into more international levels.
Maastricht, European Capital of Culture in 2018?
For Ger Kockelkorn, who is often presented as a cultural analyst, it is a subject he has already thought about: “The city should certainly try and proceed, even though there are various questions to ask in the process of pursuing this ambition.”
In his opinion, Maastricht needs to consider whether a project of this kind is worth the huge sums of money it will require spending, or whether it had best not let this ambition determine the city’s cultural identity. Does the city have sufficient means to carry out a task like this? And it’s also important to look at the bigger picture.
Maastricht Cultural Capital of Europe, Photographers: Maike Drinhausen & Youri Houkes via Flickr
Kockelkorn sees the involvement of the city’s international organizations and scientific and educational institutes as essential. This leads him to reflect on the situation of the growing expatriate community in Maastricht, which also has specific needs and expectations. Are there sufficient cultural activities that meet their wishes and demand, are schools equipped to receive their children, does Maastricht offer enough opportunities for expats to communicate and meet in appropriate facilities?
Kockelkorn: “It’s imperative to keep this in mind. The establishment of an institute like the EIPA or a congress centre like the MECC, the growth of Maastricht University and better housing for the various faculties, it took time and a lot of hard work to reach these high standard intellectual levels.”
Kockelkorn however also argues that the sense of identity of those born and raised in Maastricht should not be underestimated. “The candidacy for European cultural capital should also include events and activities appealing to these residents,” he warns, “or else the city will risk criticism and rejection because everything would be focused on a small group or “an elite” that dominates and perhaps challenges the authenticity of Maastricht culture.”
Maastricht Past and Present, photo by Lightmash via Flickr
Ger Kockelkorn was involved in the founding of the European Center for Journalism and is well aware of the various aspects and issues that go with exploring new territory. “If Maastricht doesn’t stray from realism, there’s a lot that can work for the city. It’s a city of monuments and history, it’s marketed as a place for leisure and shopping and it’s a city hosting knowledge, education and expertise in various disciplines. If these assets are used wisely, a lot can be achieved. If there is anything I’d like to see established in Maastricht, it is a genuine History Museum.”
A Continental European
Now that he is retired, Kockelkorn has more time to look deeper into his own identity and background, in their relationship to the history of the Netherlands, Limburg and Europe. Kockelkorn: “I consider myself a continental European who is very much in favor of the European Union. After World War II, our continent has managed to reach a certain degree of civilization, but it’s a pity that youth culture nowadays seems so gripped by American influences.”
The town of Meerssen is a member of the Douzelage, a town twinning association made up of 12 towns from 12 different member states of the European Union.
Some of his ancestors came from Germany, which explains his interest in German culture. “What often surprises me, is how there is still so much anti-German sentiment while German culture is present among us every day. Just listen to Radio 4, the Dutch classical station. It’s filled with wonderful music of Bach, Beethoven, Händel. All German composers,” he smiles. Some of his favorite countries are France, Italy and Germany, although he’s also traveled to China and the United States. But long distance trips are no longer on his list of things to do, because he’d rather focus on Europe now and research the philosophical and cultural-historical identity of a “fascinating” continent.
By Gina Vodegel
Gina Vodegel (45), freelance writer/journalist
Editor MVV Business Magazine, MVV Gazet