“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
― Hans Christian Andersen
In a single poem, the legendary fairytale master Andersen has managed to embody the spirit of a true AEGEEan for whom travelling is as important as breathing. For this purpose, dozens of international events are held every year, one of the most important and anticipated of which is the Agora. Bringing together more than 500 young people all over Europe, the aim of this general assembly is to discuss important topics regarding the future of AEGEE. But not only – it is also an excellent breeding ground for socialising, learning and partying.
As such, entering the enchanting world of the Agora truly feels like stepping into Hans Christian Andersen’s famous cartoon carriage where simple candle-lighting magically transports you to a land of adventures. If you wish to know what such an experience is like in more detail through the eyes of a first-time attender, hop on the carriage and find out in the following paragraphs!
From Tallinn to Berlin to Enschede
Our journey to the Agora taking place in Enschede started in mid-May, the perfect time of the year when your heart is full of hope and joy, longing for adventures to find you. The latter didn’t let them wait for long. Due to the initial train strike plan in Germany, we needed to reschedule our route, so that instead of taking a train from Berlin to Enschede, we decided to opt for a night bus, all of which was quite last minute. It allowed us, however, to familiarise ourselves with the wonders of Berlin. In the glimmering afternoon air spreading over the metropolis, we got to see Alexanderplatz, Brandenburger Tor and so many other sights, through which marathon runners rushed to the finish line, just like we were making our way to the bus stop to take a ride to the Netherlands.
Berlin welcoming us with lovely cafes, pretzels, marathon runners and, of course, the famous Brandenburger Tor
Upon reaching our destination, we were welcomed by a nighttime Enschede, a tranquil university city renowned for being one of the greenest in the country. At night, however, it was mysteriously enshrouded in darkness as if Maleficent herself tried to hide the city’s famous colour from our sight. Even then, we could instantly sense a marvellously serene and invigorating atmosphere that wrapped us in its soothing nocturnal robe. Its unique presence followed us as we approached the university’s campus, our dwelling place for the upcoming week. Having entered the gym full of hundreds of other participants to take the much needed rest, the excitement of what the week in this fascinating place would have in store for us permeated our minds.
Absorbing knowledge and making decisions in the charming Dutch university atmosphere
The next morning, we were promptly introduced to the wonders of the Agora, starting with incredibly loud music which served as an extremely effective alarm clock. After a practically sleepless night, hearing Käärijä in full volume didn’t exactly make us cha cha cha instantly, but it definitely was an excellent source of energy which prepared us for the upcoming day full of plenaries, prytania and workshops.
All of the latter took place in the University of Twente’s lecture halls. The building itself was surrounded by a campus which hosted all the university facilities, dorms and even a number of cafes and shops. This was in quite a great contrast to Tartu where, despite its irresistible beauty and unique university atmosphere quite similar to that of Enschede, the buildings of different departments are scattered all around the city, so that a humanitarian and chemist might never even meet. In Enschede, however, the campus provides extensive opportunities for socialisation with students from a variety of backgrounds, contributing to forming truly diverse friend groups. Students could be seen talking and studying together at every corner: inside buildings, on lawns by the lake and under many of the luscious trees which inhabited the campus. What made the walk to the lecture halls especially exceptional was exactly this nature aspect – we felt almost as if we were outside of the city, surrounded by trees, bushes and flowers on every side.
The charmingly green campus which surrounded us during our Agora adventure
Having arrived at the university lecture hall and seeing hundreds of other Europeans seated in semi-circle rows, wearing suits and discussing the future of the organisation, it almost felt like stepping into a European Parliament meeting – such appeared to be the level of importance and formality. This inspirational context created a perfect atmosphere for holding most compelling debates between the members of different locals as well as deciding on the future of the organisation.
Despite that, the long days full of discussions and decision-making were rather tiring, which made it necessary to revitalise people with some energy breaks, such as humorous dance intervals or some tasks. It must be said that watching the whole 500-people audience attempting to dance like the green alien on the screen with its peculiar moves was really quite entertaining and definitely served its purpose as an energiser. Equally amusing was the observation of tasks which some locals whose flag or mascot had been stolen needed to perform in order to get their emblems back. For example, there was an instance where one of the Italian locals was obligated to eat pizza with pineapple on it, an action which is a true sacrilege in the eyes of the Italians. Their reactions were truly priceless!
While these greatly populated sessions were held in large lecture halls, workshops provided a more personal atmosphere with fewer people and smaller rooms. This allowed for more opportunities to get to know new people better through in-depth discussions on a variety of topics, such as intersectionality and sustainability, which contributed greatly to our existing knowledge.
Our crew enjoying the Agora experience in Dutch lecture halls
Angry geese, party buses, and other stories
While delegates as the decision-makers were required to be present at plenaries and prytania, visitors had more liberty which paved the way to other interesting events. Having sneaked out of the lecture hall, we decided to explore Enschede. As true Estonians, we were of course most enamoured by the lustrous nature which covered every nook and cranny of this former textile town. So naturally we couldn’t help hugging gigantic trees or napping at the edge of the forest every time an opportunity presented itself.
Our special admiration was drawn by Volkspark which enchanted us with its glimmering river covered in thousands of water lily leaves, and trees whose deeply-bowing branches almost touched the evergreen ground. Despite its people-centred name, the park was definitely ruled by a different species: a self-important pair of geese. As the two birds dressed in pearl white robes stepped on the pavement with greatest confidence, dark eyes shooting threatening glares at everyone, people respectfully (and fearfully) gave them way, letting the two royals pass through. It became evident that Dutch geese are definitely not to be messed with!
Glimpses of the wonderful Volkspark with its magnificent nature and threatening geese
Fortunately, the same could not be said of the Dutch people we met on our way, all of whom were really friendly and open-minded. This made it such a joy to walk around the city with all its cosy cafes, swarming markets, sumptuous houses, rainbow-coloured crosswalks, and streets filled with an impressive number of buoyant bikers.
A view of the adorable Enschede market and aesthetic streets
Although these were more small-group discoveries, we had an array of opportunities to have fun together with our whole Tartu delegation as well as people from other locals. For this purpose, every day ended with a party focusing on a specific theme, such as Hollywood glamour, four elements, or the rainbow. In the evenings the gym was bustling with excited people helping each other pick out their costumes and doing colourful makeup full of cute little hearts and rainbow elements.
While the parties themselves abounded with the greatest merriment, perhaps even more exciting was this preparation process together with advancing the party place side by side with hundreds of other international people. One of the most memorable of such pre-party episodes was the party bus. Tightly packed with tens and tens of exuberant AEGEEans, people went wild with showing off their dance moves while singing some of the most legendary songs at the top of their lungs. In this unity, we were carried to our party place in a true AEGEE way.
A peek into the social scenery of the Agora: preparation for a party, a concert and a network area meeting
For those not too keen on such partying or simply looking for a more quiet night in, the organisers had prepared an alternative programme. This could be, for example, a movie or quiz night. The latter was especially captivating and thought-provoking. First we had to form mixed groups of people who needed to activate all their brain power in a quest to win the quiz battle against other teams. After such a high-spirited competition, the air was filled with greatest joviality, which was a perfect prelude for a more calming activity. Sitting in a circle, all participants shared stories from their past and discussed various topics of great depth. Such an understanding and no-judgement atmosphere united people from an array of different backgrounds and cultures, making it one of the most memorable nights of the whole event.
Equally as interesting was acquainting ourselves with the cuisine around all parts of Europe. The prime means for this was the legendary European Night which is present at most AEGEE events. This one was particularly special, however, in terms of how wide the selection was. From a sip of Dracula’s mysterious drink to a bite of the syrupy stroopwafel, it was a true union of European food and beverage wonders. Apart from the things presented to us during the European Night, we were also fortunate enough to try traditional Dutch street food called kibbeling, a local version of fish and chips. Together with garlic sauce, it’s certainly a treat you need to try while visiting the Netherlands!
European Night with its wide array of snacks and drinks from all around Europe, and Dutch street food
On a turbulent path from Enschede to Berlin
We left Enschede on an early morning when most others were either still sleeping or, alternatively, engaged in a conversation after a sleepless night. Our plan was to take a taxi to reach the bus station from which we could start our journey back to Berlin. Fate had other plans for us, however…
As time passed up to a critical point and taxis were still not available, we decided to change our plans and take bikes instead. This turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime. As we rode on the speed of light through the picturesque Enschede nature, it felt almost like travelling back in time to our childhood memories of the countryside grandma’s cottage where we could tread on solitary village roads surrounded by gentle-eyed cows looking at us curiously. The only difference was that we had to pass this lovely nostalgic sight as if we had unknowingly been cast as the lead actors in the bike version of a Fast and Furious movie.
Even then, we reached the station two minutes late because we couldn’t instantly find the right place. Having circled the facility and finally found the bus station area, we were out of breath and almost hopeless. But then, suddenly, the bus rode before us as a heavenly gift. At that moment, it truly felt like the miraculous discovery of the Holy Grail which would lead us to our destination with its magical powers.
Having finally reached Berlin, we were determined to explore it on a greater scale than we had the chance to do previously. As a result of our wanderings in their legendary yellow trains, we came to the conclusion that Berlin’s urban landscape is so diverse that having seen one part of it doesn’t predict at all what you may discover around the next corner. On one side of the city, you have exquisite buildings like the elegantly columned Reichstag, and on the other, soviet-inspired block buildings which, around the next corner, are followed by unique modern architecture and wild parks in which birds are rocking voluminous 80s hairstyles.
Among so many other interesting things we saw, one of our great favourites were the amusing traffic lights. As the cheerfully upright hand on the pedestrian beg button sign indicates, you need to give it a high five to please the snug straw-hatted Ampelmännchen and coax him into transforming his red crucified form into a cheerfully green walking sign. Being there to constantly accompany us on our way, this little man became so dear to us that we were really sad to part with him.
Exploring Berlin with its wild parks, adorable pedestrian walk signs, railways, and sumptuous buildings
Back at home
Thinking back to the Agora adventure, glimpses of all the wonderful happenings fill our minds with most splendid memories, be they either the long exciting days spent in lecture halls and around Enschede or sleepless nights filled with vibrant parties and spirited discussions. Such are the recollections that we will always remember most fondly and carry in our hearts. Having previously only heard of the splendours of the Agora, I can now confirm with utmost certainty that it is indeed one of the most unique and enriching experiences that you ever gain, something that everyone should participate in at least once in their lifetime.
Article composed by: Carmen Treu