It was like swearing in church and it became a goldmine
André Rieu expects to greet his half-millionth fan this summer during the decade of concerts on the Vrijthof, the living room from his hometown of Maastricht. A staggering number, which no one took into consideration when it all started in 2005.
In a three part series, the Limburger Newspaper outlines the growth and impact of the event for the city and the region. Today Part 1: How it all began in the Roda Stadium in Kerkrade - by Stefan Gybels en John Hoofs.
We have greatest artist in the world, on the best square in the world.Jacobs' former colleague John Aarts confirms this. Why it did not work and whether Leers eventually pried things loose is unclear. Entrepreneur Benoit Wesly, friend of Rieu, claims not to know the reason: "They did not want him in Maastricht, that is why he performed in Kerkrade. There was little atmosphere and it appeared cold in that stadium. Afterwards contact was indeed established between Rieu and Leers. But Leers says that if he was the determining factor, he very much underestimated the person Rieu. André states: "The first plan was made for a concert on the St. Pieter, but it ultimately became the Vrijthof. There were difficult conversations with Hotel-Cafe owners around the square, but I do not think that they are sorry now."
Mayor Onno Hoes
Mayor Onno Hoes
That the Vrijthof concerts would become so gigantic, we never would have imagined.Pierre Rieu, son of André who was involved from the start of the Vrijthof concerts, confirms that statement. "It took a lot of effort with all entrepreneurs to convince them that the concerts would be good for everyone. In addition, the closing of the Vrijthof - one of our conditions – was basically not allowed. Gerd Leers finally forced his demand and ensured that concerts could be held. They are forever grateful to him. "There are more people in the city benefitting, since the Rieu concerts proved in more ways than one to be a huge gold mine, which revealed even greater discoveries. You do not need to be dealing with a mathematician to figure out with a wet finger that Rieu, hotel owners, innkeepers, shopkeepers, ticket sellers, tour operators, security firms and other companies realized profits in the tens of millions of Euros due to the the concerts. No one who was present there in 2005 when the first and only concert of that summer took place, could have imagined that.
"What Rieu means to Maastricht, is unprecedented", finds former city councilman Jacobs. He does not only view the financial side of the concerts, but also the quality of what is offered and especially the audiences which Rieu attracts. "A public that belongs to Maastricht, at the level that the city pursues. People in their best dress go to the concerts; fans come from far away, often staying for several days." Antoine Scheerens, the foreman of the Cooperating Hotels Maastricht, had no idea what he could expect in 2005 at one of Rieu’s concerts on the Vrijthof. "We thought about a kind of Preuvenemint. Nice, but especially nice for the people of Maastricht themselves.
That it would turn out so huge, we could never have imagined that. "Yet in the earlier years there was a time when we were playing with fire. On some of the hotel terraces around the Vrijthof there arose, due to overly exuberant alcohol use, a jolly and noisy atmosphere, which disturbed the concerts. To top it off, even a brawl occurred. Gerd Leers: "We came together with entrepreneurs and agreed on a type of behavioral protocol. There were rules to which everyone had to adhere. That is why I had to knock some heads together with the entrepreneurs. "This has to stop," I told them. Otherwise we kill the goose that lays the golden eggs."
There was still a sore point that gradually through the years began to come into play: the yearly tax of the Vrijthof as an event site. Maastricht has been struggling for years with the normal standard for maximum use, which has been adjusted a few times in order to allow more parties and celebrations. Jean Jacobs: "When we decided to roll out the red carpet for André Rieu, we in the city council also agreed to make choices. Other events had to be cancelled from the Vrijthof. We had to choose quality. That had never happened before. Nonetheless: Rieu on the Vrijthof has been the right choice. The man is of world quality. You do not hide him on Square 1992.
"This summer Rieu will give ten concerts on the Vrijthof, a record." Mayor Onno Hoes had to ask the City Council to make an additional concert day available, since the standard of events was again being stretched. A very remarkable state of affairs, found Hoes. "We have the greatest artist in the world on the most beautiful square in the world. No other city has that." Benoit Wesly shares in the annoyance with Hoes: "The mayor almost had to beg the city council for that additional concert, and almost had to get down on his knees to beg André if he would please provide for an additional performance. We are talking here about the Ambassador of the city and here we are whining about an extra concert day. Maastricht does not know what it is holding in its hands. Other cities would spend millions in order to bring in Rieu. When I see all those who receive a city medal, I wonder what the city council will ever give Rieu. Where's that street name? Why is there not a building named Rieu? It is time for the city to do something in return.
©Translation by John