News - June 2, 2016

The Dreijen: Ghost City

Roelof Kleis

The Dreijen has become a ghost city. Abandoned buildings echo an – all but – bygone era. But deserted premises have their charms as well, as photographer Margriet van Vianen shows in her shots of the Dreijen.

Photos Margriet van Vianen


With the departure of the last scientists, the end has come for Wageningen’s other campus. Not that the Dreijen was ever a real campus. Unlike Duivendaal, no one ever lived at the Dreijen. Nor did the intended concentration of research and teaching on the site on the hill every really get off the ground.

The oldest building at the Dreijen, the National Horticulture School (aka the building with the clock), dates back to 1896. The heart of the Dreijen took shape in the 1960s and 70s. The Chemistry Building was completed in 1961. It was followed by the Transitorium (1971), the Mathematics Building (1972) and the Biotechnion (1974). The latter is awaiting demolition. The Chemistry Building will be used for teaching from September.

‘I won’t shed a tear about it’

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He was 20, and straight from vocational technical college, and he actually wanted to go into military service. But Richard van der Vlies (born in Lunteren in 1963) didn’t pass the test. A job centre called Start found him a place at the Agricultural College in Wageningen. ‘Wageningen? I had played football there once or twice.’

He ended up in the workshop on the Dreijen. ‘Mending little things, doing odd jobs. I enjoyed it.’ After four years he landed a permanent post, and a bit later he moved to ‘the TIB’, doing technical maintenance management. ‘I wanted to see more than just the workshop.’ The TIB managed the upkeep of all the university buildings in Wageningen.

Throughout all those years, Van der Vlies cycled between his home in Lunteren and Wageningen. Fifteen kilometres each way, regardless of the weather. ‘I don’t care about that. On the bike ride you can get it all out of your system.’ And of course he sometimes thought about a change of job. ‘In periods when they talked about outsourcing the maintenance work. But I enjoy my work here. No two days are the same and the technical side of the work is right up my street. And I have quite a lot of freedom to organize the work the way I want to.’

For two years now Van der Vlies has been the technical man at the Forum. Feelings about the Dreijen? ‘I shan’t shed a tear if it is flattened. You can grumble all you like but it doesn’t help. And in recent years it was becoming a bit of a dead end.’

Nicer at the Dreijen

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With no exaggeration, you could call Hans Lyklema a diehard. At 85, the emeritus professor of Physical and Colloid Chemistry still cycles to work daily. Until a week and a half ago, that was the Dreijen. He became professor there at 31, in September 1962. He’d been invited a couple of years before that, as a fresh PhD graduate in Utrecht. ‘That’s how it went in those days. You didn’t apply, you were invited.’ But he took a year to ‘ripen’ as guest professor at the University of Southern California. After that, his first job was also his last. He retired officially at the end of 1995.

The Dreijen was a great place to work, says Lyklema. ‘I came from Utrecht, where I had done my Master’s and my PhD. There I worked in a 1902 laboratory.’ He applauds the spacious buildings and facilities that awaited him in Wageningen. ‘The Chemistry Building was modern and very functional. With generous rooms, some of them with vibration-proof tables, a basement with lots of storage space, plenty of parking space and botanical gardens around it. I always enjoyed working there.’

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If it was up to Lyklema, they would have stayed at the Dreijen. ‘Even though the hill got higher and higher as time went by.’ Space is in short supply in Helix. He couldn’t take his archive cupboard along, for example. But he’s not complaining. Even at the Dreijen, ‘the conscience of the chair group’ had to share a room nowadays. He adds with gentle self-deprecation: ‘I am still tolerated.’