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The Battle of Gravensteen Castle

One of the more majestic castles in Belgium is The Gravensteen (which in Dutch means the “Castle of the Counts”). It is a medieval castle built in 1180 and located in GhentEast Flanders in Belgium. It was only occupied by anyone other than the owners one time, on November 16, 1949, when 138 students from the University of Ghent took over the castle to protest an increase in the price of beer.

Onlookers filled the streets outside the castle in downtown Ghent.

Here is a description of the day’s events from the University of Ghent website, as translated by Google:

On November 16, 1949, 138 students (including one girl) entrenched themselves in the Gravensteen in Ghent. The battlements are adorned with playful student slogans, while the police and fire brigade are treated to overripe fruit and smoke bombs. The student-like violence can only be contained with the greatest difficulty by the police. The student joke is front-page news in the international press. 

Firemen turned their hoses on the students.

In addition to protesting the new beer tax which caused the price to go up, the students also wanted to abolish the use of white helmets by the police. This helmet was replaced by a blue kepi so that the police officers would be less distinguishable from postmen, among others. I don’t know why that was important to the students, but apparently, it was.

Eventually, the police and fire brigade managed to charge the students, but despite this, the students still essentially won the day. Public opinion was on the side of the students and no students were prosecuted and they essentially got what they asked for. To this day, each year it’s commemorated with a parade and a cantus song; and is considered, by the city of Ghent at least, the greatest student prank in its history.

A caricature of the day’s events from shortly after it took place.

The song they sing every year is entitled, of course, “The Battle of the Gravensteen,” and is based on a poem by Flemish teacher and folk poet Eugeen De Ridder. Belgian composer and organist Armand Preud’homme wrote the music for it. Below are the lyrics:

1. In Ghent, the old city,
there was the Gravensteen
For centuries as forgotten,
Abandoned and alone.
Until suddenly student times,
Lust for fun and laughter,
With trickery to renovate the castle,
Without a blow or a blow.

Sprayers of Flanders!
Ghent roars with pleasure:
“‘t Gravenkasteel occupied by students!”
They’re in it! who gets z’er out.
They fear neither club nor water nor spray!
Besiegers if you want to attack.
Watch out, watch out, watch out, watch out!
Ulenspiegel, Ulenspiegel leads them!

2. ‘t Pandoerheir, sealike, Rolls
ladders by the wall,
And takes with water lances,
The ruin under fire.
But apples like grenades,
Explode on the ground,
And the slimey scraps sow, crushing,
Confusion all around.

3. The Student’s Guild, doggedly
Covered with dust and ashes,
Faded its last apple,
His last sod of grass.
Then their battle was over …
But, through the centuries,
Vlaadren’s laughter will commemorate,
The Battle of ‘t Gravensteen!

The Gravensteen Castle today.
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