Professor Gerrit Jansen passes away aged 92

Gerrit Jansen (the one wearing glasses) participating in the carnival on Stadhuisbrug. Photo: Utrechts Archief / N. van Dongen CC BY-NC 4.0

Mister Jansen, that is how he was called at café Van Wegen. He was a modest and friendly regular at the well-known Utrecht establishment in Wijk C, according to current manager Niek Veerman as quoted by newspaper AD/Utrechts Nieuwsblad after the death of the emeritus professor of Sociology of Building & Living.

Fifty years ago, Jansen was already doing fieldwork in the pub on Lange Koestraat. His observations there contributed to a thesis called De Eeuwige Kroeg (The Eternal Pub), covering the economic, cultural and even political role of the brown café. 

Trivial and objectionable
Jansen sowed the seed for his dissertation right after his graduation, when he conducted research for the municipality of Haarlem into the redevelopment of its city centre. He discovered cafés play serve as a "living room". 

In an interview with the newspaper Trouw on the occasion of his retirement in 1994, Jansen mentioned the great interest his research gathered: “It was something new: a scientific study of a subject that until then had been considered trivial and even a little objectionable”.

Jansen focused on everyday subjects in his subsequent work, too. For instance, he wrote the book De Straat: een portret (The Street: A Portrait), a sociological study of the sense of community and neighbourhood celebrations in the Kovelaarstraat in Utrecht.

But he became better known in 1987, with Een roes van vrijheid: kermis in Nederland (A Rush of Freedom: Fairground in the Netherlands), a work for which he immersed himself in Dutch fairs, getting in touch with several fairground families. After Jansen made a proposal to the city council to restore this old city tradition, Utrecht got its famous Piekenkermis on the Maliebaan in 1986.

During Jansen's farewell lecture, to the amazement of those present, a fire breather appeared and filled the Aula of the University Hall with smoke.

The common man/woman
Jansen also encouraged his students to have an eye for the small, seemingly unimportant things that are nevertheless of great importance to people's happiness. In the interview with Trouw, Jansen said he received a telling message from a former student.

“I am glad that you as a sociologist have brought the common man/woman and thus real history to life”, wrote the former student. “Well, that sounds so pompous, but, without praising myself too much, maybe there is some truth to that. That card really moved me”.

Utrecht's hospitality
In 1996, the then U-blad (U-Magazine) talked to Jansen about the large increase in the number of cafés in Utrecht. The city centre had become much more pleasant since the mid-1970s, he found. The growth in the number of students and innovative cafés such as Jan Primus, which started serving special beers on the Jan van Scorelstraat in 1974, had contributed to this. “Before that, you could shoot a cannon at night on the Oudegracht, so to speak, without doing any significant damage.”

At the request of the U-blad, Jansen also made a top 10 of his favourite pubs in Utrecht in 1996. It looked like this (most of them still exist):

1.     Primus
2.     Van Wegen
3.     O’ Leary’s
4.     De Vriendschap
5.     Polman’s Huis
6.     De Postillon
7.     De Zes Vaatjes
8.     Ledig Erf
9.     De Doerak
10.   Dikke Dries

Tags: night life