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Between Europe's Borders

The Town Where Migrants Saved the Nightlife

Bars and clubs in rural areas in the Netherlands were closing, until young Polish migrant workers arrived – ready to work and party.

by Lisa Lotens; photos by Roos Pierson
05 August 2019, 4:55am

Polish partygoers in The Shuffle in Horst. All photos by Roos Pierson.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK

Europe is a union, but it’s also a messy collection of countries with their own laws, languages, values, drug policies, minimum wages, national liquors and dad jokes. Life can be dramatically different depending on which side of a border you grow up – even within the EU. This first week of August, VICE.com features stories that show how national borders dividing and surrounding Europe affect the lives of the people living near them.

Every weekend for the past two years, 23-year-old Mateusz has been behind the decks at dance club The Shuffle.

The venue, in Horst – a small town in the southern Dutch province of Limburg – is where hundreds of migrant workers from Eastern Europe gather every week to let loose. During the week, about 30,000 people work on fruit farms, in green houses and in warehouses in northern Limburg and a part of Ruhr, a German industrial area close to the Dutch border. On the weekend, they head to the local dance clubs to party.

Over the past few decades, the number of bars and nightclubs in the Netherlands' countryside has dramatically declined. This is mainly down to the changing tastes of young Dutch people – they don't want to spend every weekend at the same place, and choose music festivals or watching Netflix at home over going out locally.

Smaller clubs – commonly referred to as discos – had to reinvent themselves. Especially in Brabant and Limburg, two southern provinces, many discos decided to start catering to the Polish community, with weekly nights for Polish customers.

One Saturday night, photographer Roos Pierson and I make the trek out to The Shuffle, one of those clubs, to see how young Polish people like to party. Beforehand, we meet up with DJ Mateusz and his friends – fellow DJ Aron, who's in his fifties; Magda, 26; Ela, 38; and Ola, 23 – at his home in Hegelsom, a small town not too far from Horst.

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From left to right: Ola, Magda, Mateusz, the author, and Aron.

Mateusz's house has been divided into two separate living areas; he lives upstairs with his girlfriend, Magda, and rents out the downstairs. Aron pulls up a song by Akcent – one of the Poland's biggest pop stars – on the TV. Mateusz tells us they usually play Disco Polo at the club, which is like a Polish play on EDM. But they also spin Dutch dance music, because Mateusz believes it's important to blend the two cultures together.

He grew up in a village near Lublin, in eastern Poland. There, he was a resident club DJ and held a steady job during the week as a truck driver. He moved to Hegelsom two years ago. Why, of all places, did he pick tiny, boring Hegelsom, which only has about a thousand residents? "My aunt already lived and worked here, and made much more money than she did back in Poland," he explains. "I came here for the money."

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The author (right) with her new drinking buddies, Magda and Mateusz.

As Aron hands around some beers, he tells us that migrant workers mostly come from rural areas of southeastern Poland. "On average, they make €400 (£365) to €500 (£455) a month there and often have to work two jobs to make ends meet. When they come here to do similar work in warehouses or on farms, they suddenly make €1,000 (£910) working one job. To them, that's a fortune."

Ela enters with homemade Polish vodka and some traditional chocolate cake. I ask Mateusz what to expect for the rest of the evening. He proudly tells us that Polish people like to hit the dance floor as soon as they get into the club, at 10PM. They especially love ballroom dancing, because they grew up with that. But they also like to fist pump, Mateusz adds, like any other person from any other country in the world. I ask if people do drugs. "No," Aron tells me. "Well, maybe a bit of cocaine."

"The biggest difference from a Dutch club," says Aron, "is that Dutch people stand on the side with a pint in their hand. Poles are usually drunk when they get there, and start raising the roof right away."

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The Shuffle disco in Horst.

At around 9PM we get in the car and head for the club. A poster with an attractive Polish girl that says "Polska Dyskotheka" and the names of tonight’s DJs is tacked to the entrance. Inside, the place looks like the common room at a 90s summer camp, with tiled floors and plastic chairs in a separate smoking area – the sort of place you had your first kiss while Summer Jam 2003 played in the background.

The visual theme of connecting Poland and the Netherlands is everywhere; the flags of both countries are painted on the walls, Polish and Dutch maps are used for decoration and even the plastic chairs are red, white and blue. The staff are mostly Polish.

By now it's 10PM, and the first wave of partygoers are on the dance floor, dancing the foxtrot to Hardwell and a waltz to a pumping EDM remix. The youngest people here are about 18, the oldest are going on 60. Aron and Mateusz are having a great time in the DJ booth.

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DJ Aron behind the decks in The Shuffle.

Hans is the owner of The Shuffle. The 61-year-old still mans the register to sell tickets and drink tokens.

"We started throwing parties for young people in 1995," he explains. "It went well – we'd have up to a thousand of them in here. Around 2005, this kind of party became less and less popular – people didn't show up anymore. I had to come up with something new. I knew the Polish community makes up a large part of the migrant workers and that they want to let loose. Poland has been a part of the European Union since 2004, and starting in 2007 Polish citizens were allowed to work here. So I started throwing Polish parties, with Polish people on staff. That worked well. The main difference between them and Dutch people is that they don't mind going to the same disco every weekend."

I ask what do the non-Polish people in Horst think of these parties. "I don't care what Horst thinks about it," says Hans. "There aren't enough people in Limburg. One in five companies lacks workers. In Southern and Eastern Europe many people struggle to get a job, so they can come and work here. Most Saturday nights there's a great vibe here. Relationships start, people eventually get married, and they have fun."

Some of Mateusz's friends came from Germany tonight to see him play. One of them, 22-year-old Ewa, says that working in Poland is mostly very stressful. The only thing they do is work, because they can't make ends meet otherwise. Dutch people are calmer, she says, because they have enough money to do other things besides working. Isa, 39, who manages a nursery, agrees: "People in Poland are stressed because they're poor. In the Netherlands, people think about the future, while in Poland you only think about today."

I ask Ewa what a party in Poland looks like. "In Poland, there is a lot of vodka," she laughs. "Things are much quieter at this disco." Looking around, I'm left wondering how crazy parties in Poland must get.

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In the smoking area I talk to two Polish guys who have been living in the town of Deurne for the past three months, and work in Eindhoven. "People come from far to party here. Many of them all the way from Germany," says one. "This is one of the few places Polish people get together," says the other. I ask them how they would compare this to a club night in Poland. "It's better here, because I like to smoke weed," says one.

A while later, I see some Dutch people walk in. It turns out they used to work at The Shuffle and are having a little reunion. In the early years, one of the guys tells me, there would be fights from time to time – especially when Turkish men went after the Polish women: "It drove the Polish guys nuts. Security had to use pepper spray to get them out the door." Luckily, that kind of aggression seems to be a thing of the past.

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It’s 2AM and the night is about to end. The last people on the dance floor are drunk and move slowly on the wet tiled floor. DJ Aron and Mateusz are still throwing on record after record with the same energy as earlier in the night. When I try to quickly grab my jacket from behind the DJ booth, I have to get in a seemingly endless queue of people putting in their last song requests before The Shuffle closes.

I thank Aron for a fun night out and he shouts back: "Wait a second, I have to put on another song!" Magda and Ola, who I started my night with, are still jumping up and down. I walk outside and watch as two unsteady partygoers carry a third home.

The Shuffle is just one club in Limburg where migrant workers can party with their own community. And even though this disco hasn't changed since the 90s, the Eastern Europeans in these parts don't mind. With a small part of the extra money they make in the Netherlands, they can go crazy on Saturday night and stew in their own hangovers on Sunday morning, just like their Dutch friends.

Scroll down for a few more of Roos Pierson's party pictures from The Shuffle.

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Ballroom dancing in The Shuffle.
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The Polish and the Dutch flag are painted on the wall in The Shuffle.

Don't miss the next issue of VICE Magazine later this month, dedicated to the global exploration of borders, investigating why we've imbued them with so much power, and what happens when those lines aren’t visible to the naked eye.