Tilburg is teeming with ghosts. In fact, even the terrace in front of café Havana is haunted. Univers descended into the depths of the city’s darkest secrets by taking a spine-chilling ghost tour.
A haunted tour is one of the best ways to see your city. Tilburg is small and easily explored, so you may feel like you know all there is to know about this little town of ours. With clean streets, cute shops, chilled-out cafés and a yearly fun-fair that illuminates the entire city center with brightly colored lights, Tilburg seems to be a friendly and lively city. But if you know where to look, you can find haunted places scattered all over town.
If anyone knows, it’s a cloaked woman—eyes red, face pale and a flickering lantern in hand—named Anne Timmermans. Together with her ‘earthly assistant’ Erik, she guides clueless mortals around the city’s haunted places. On a cold, clear-skied Friday night, we meet Anne at the cemetery to follow her on a revealing wander across the city center. As it turns out, some very dark secrets are hidden behind closed doors and beneath paved streets.
CEMETERY ’T HEIKE
Filled with rows of grim-looking headstones and statues of sad angels glinting in the moonlight, the cemetery along the Bredaseweg makes any passer-by walk a little faster. What was supposed to be a final resting place for Tilburg’s dead, is in fact one of the most restless places of the city. Here lies Marietje Kessels, the eleven-year-old victim of the most notorious crime the city has ever witnessed. In 1900, Marietje’s body was found severely maimed, raped and murdered in the attic of the Noordhoek church. The killer, pastor George van Zinnicq Bergmann, was never brought to justice. According to the Kessels family, the Catholic church played a significant role in covering up the truth. In a nightmarish twist of events, pastor Van Zinnicq Bergmann was buried right next to Marietje at Catholic cemetery ’t Heike. To this day, the remains of Marietje Kessels and her murderer lie within a five-meter radius from each other.
Tilburg’s city hall is haunted by more than one ghost. It is said that King Willem II, who ordered the construction of the Palace and whose death in 1849 was veiled in mystery, still wanders through the halls. Another mysterious death took place some years later, when the building served as a HBS, a high school intended to prepare boys for higher positions in trade and industry. In 1894, Maria Bes was the first female student to be accepted at the school. Her presence at the school was vigorously protested, in particular by a young, ambitious chaplain named George. Despite years of relentless protests, Maria finally graduated. She moved on to become the country’s first female engineer. But it didn’t end so well for the kind and progressive bishop who had been Maria’s biggest supporter and protector. He was found dead at the school. Curiously, his death didn’t seem to be a shock to young chaplain George—perhaps you know him—van Zinnicq Bergmann.
The Heuvel is the city’s vibrant central square, surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars. But not so long ago, public tortures and hangings took place here. When you’re having a drink on the terrace of café Havana, don’t be surprised if you suddenly hear sounds of creaking rope or distant screams – you’re sitting on the exact spot where the scaffold once stood.
The train tracks in the Spoorzone are haunted by the ghost of a young woman named Joanna. Joanna’s father was in charge of the city’s maintenance shop for locomotives in the 1800s. He was a wealthy man, and he intended to marry his daughter Joanna off to a suitable husband. But Joanna fell in love with one of her father’s workers, a simple man named Hendrik. Desperate and deeply saddened because she could not be with the man she loved, Joanna threw herself in front of a train. Only after her death she learned an ugly truth about Hendrik. Joanna’s sadness turned into anger. To this day, her ghost continues to dwell madly and furiously across the tracks.
Tilburg Ghost Tours take place every Friday and Saturday night, from October until March. The 1,5-hour walk is guided by Anne Timmermans, who will tell you all the terrifying tales that some would rather not know.