King’s Day? What’s that then? Well, according to the internet, it’s party weekend in Holland, and the centre of entertainment is Amsterdam. Yes, but what’s it all about, I hear you ask? And the answer is, I’m still not sure. I find it weird because the Dutch actually celebrate their royal family. Here in the UK our royal family are viewed with mixed feelings; seen by the under 50’s as tourism necessities sponging off the state, to a much respected institution representing the older establishment and traditions. Oh, yes, and our cousins in the US of A seem to love them, even occasionally marry them, for some inexplicable reason.
Anyway, King’s Day is a national holiday where, in Amsterdam especially, the whole of the city centre is closed to vehicles and public transport, where the canals come alive to barges packed sardine-like with cheering young people, and did I mention the orange? Orange everywhere. Balloons, flowers and painted faces. Bunting, paint and young men attired in smart suits. All in bright orange, I kid you not! While we are on the subject of the colour orange, why did the Dutch adopt it as their national colour and an integral part of their culture?
Simply put, (and it’s very complicated), Orange at the time was a small town in southern France over which the Dutch Republic resided, and William of Nassau-Dillenburg inherited the title William I of Orange and founded the house of Orange-Nassau. In England he was known to us as William the Silent. And orange became the adopted colour of the Dutch. It wasn’t because King Billy had a penchant for marmalade.
The Dutch have celebrated since 1885, and at the moment are actually celebrating King Willem-Alexander. It used to be Queen’s Day. Now it isn’t, so there. Just why they are celebrating him is a mystery to me, but, hey, any excuse for a party, as I see it.
So we ordered our bright orange t-shirts, booked a hotel early in the year, knowing that Amsterdam would be packed, and plumped to stay out of town and a short tram journey away. We arrived Friday and our room overlooked a canal. By 10:00am on the Friday a flotilla of small boats and barges, packed to the gunnels with cheering, shouting teenagers, serenaded with the gentle rhythms of Trap and Hip Hop booming from mega bass speakers became noticeable. This being the home of the Heineken Brewery, drinking from the signature half-litre cans was evident. By lunchtime the young were in a raucous mood, and the small cans and and bellowing young teenagers were a precursor for the two nights of partying to come.
So, was it good? Not sure, really. The entire Friday and Saturday was given over to hundreds of thousands of young people who spent their time drinking copiously and standing in the streets listening to the booms of shouting DJs on their open air stages and the occasional live band. Every few metres there was another ‘famous’ DJ, doing what they do best. And it became increasingly obvious that we were literally wading through the omnipresent half-litre Heineken cans, crushed underfoot by the roaming herds of youth. I couldn’t help but reflect, had such an event happened in the UK in the streets of London, Birmingham or Manchester there would have been stabbings, racial tensions and drugs, and lots of intimidation. Here it just felt safe, and the Dutch were their usual friendly selves.
On the whole it was a pretty subdued affair it seemed to me. Girls nervously doing a few sways and shaking to the beat, and then stopping self-consciously, drunken middle-aged Brit women doing ‘granny dancing’, and drinking heavily. The occasional window was broken and lots of young men shouting and swearing, but apart from that not a lot went on. The ever-present police force seemed to have been demoted to directing lost tourists.
I expected flower-bedecked floats, much more street food, TV, entertainment, fireworks and the like. One thing we can do in the UK is put on a proper party (OK, violence and shootings apart!), and one thing the Dutch don’t seem to know how to do is put on a spectacle. What it was was an orange coloured drinking festival. People were happy and Amsterdam seemed happy, but to me it was a bit of a let down. And anyway I’m too long in the tooth to drink 10 pints of Heineken, stare drunkenly at a live street band – and then stumble home . ‘Partying’ has certainly gone downhill since I was young!
We scraped and waded our way through a sea of green Heineken drinks cans and half-eaten burgers back to our hotel in the early hours of the morning. Was it good? It was an experience I suppose, but thank goodness for the rest of the delights of this city, which I do thoroughly recommend. Amsterdam is a neat, tidy city of diversity, and something for everyone. Can’t wait for my next visit, but personally I’ll give King’s Day a miss next year.
And a bit of culture thrown in for good measure.