Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

Utrecht could use a bit of humanism itself

Nicole Immler – foto: Marlot van den Berg

“The gap between Germany & Austria and the Netherlands is wider than you’d think”, says Nicole. “You have to be very explicit and direct to make yourself heard here. I find this difficult; I’m naturally implicit. But I’m learning.”

Nicole Immler lived in Germany until she was eighteen, when she moved to Graz in Austria to train as an interior architect. Having decided she preferred journalism and wanted to write for the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, she promptly took a degree in history and media. But after graduating and actually writing for the newspaper, she found she hated working to deadlines… Nicole wanted to spend more time on the research side. She jumped at the opportunity to work on a research project in England.

She met her Utrecht-born husband in 2005, while working for an organisation claiming the restitution of Jewish assets in Vienna. Her life became a commute between work and love. Nicole moved to Utrecht in 2009 after losing her job during the economic crisis.

Nowadays, the historian is researching the post-colonial memories of generations, and compensation payments made by the Dutch government. Nicole went to Indonesia to interview dozens of women whose husbands were executed during cleansing operations in the war of decolonisation. Photographer Suzanne Liem took photos of the widows. Eight life-size portraits and a fragment from the interview are now on display in the National Military Museum in Soest. Nicole is proud of her exhibits, but remains cautious. “The Netherlands’ colonial past is a touchy subject. All I want to do is start a dialogue. We must keep talking about this period in our history: both sides have been left with scars.”


“I live on Oudegracht”, explains Nicole. “I’ve always been a city person.” The water makes up for the lack of mountains. Nicole is hooked on old stuff and loves all the second-hand shops here; you don’t get those in Austria. “I sometimes call Oudegracht the Recyclegracht.”

She is delighted with the current resurge in recycling; it’s particularly popular among her students. Nicole has been teaching at the University of Humanistic Studies (UvH) for three years. The building on Kromme Nieuwegracht with its courtyard garden is one of her favourite spots. “It’s the only university for humanistic studies in Europe. Utrecht could do more to promote it.” She bikes to work across Domplein, which she thinks looks much better now it’s been repaved. “The yellowy colour of the pavers matches the bricks used for the Dom Church. The square feels warmer, more cheerful.”

If it’s up to her, she’ll stay at the UvH for the foreseeable future. Humanism has aroused her interest and she wants to incorporate it into her work and ultimately into society. “We must learn to separate individuals from groups. Container terms like ‘refugees’ simply aren’t helping.” Nicole would like to see Utrecht take a leaf out of its own book in the form of the unique University of Humanistic Studies. “They recently felled an old tree in front of our house. My neighbour, who’s lived on Oudegracht for fifty years, was devastated. It was painful to see him like that. The question is: when should reason take precedence over emotion? Could a city consult individuals on a more structural basis, so that people like my neighbour can have their say?” Who knows – perhaps Nicole’s students have a future in mediation.

Name: Nicole Immler
Date of birth: 31 July 1972
Place of birth: Germany (South)
Motto: ‘Keep your distance to see things clearly’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

Click here to view the other articles.

Article by Fenna Riethof.