By Phoebe Dodds
As most people living in the Netherlands will know, King’s Day is celebrated on April 27th, unlike Queen’s Day in previous years, which took place on April 30th. Unfortunately for the thousands of foreign tourists who fl ock to Amsterdam every year to witness this unique celebration, some guidebooks have not quite caught up. Those published when King’s Day was Queen’s Day encourage tourists to come to Amsterdam on the last day of April, meaning that thousands of visitors who follow this advice are left disappointed.
For the non-Dutch who do manage to fi nd themselves in Amsterdam during King’s Day, the experience can be somewhat overwhelming. The idea of a day celebrating a monarch is not unique to The Netherlands; this year, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom celebrates her 90th birthday. Official celebrations will be taking place throughout April, May and June, and the climax is a 90-minute ceremony featuring 900 horses and tells the story of the Queen’s reign through theatre and dance. The difference in the way the countries celebrate their King or Queen is refl ected in the general attitudes towards the monarchy in each country: in the United Kingdom, the royal family is surrounded by bodyguards during every public outing. In The Netherlands, on the other hand, monarchs have been known to use their bicycles as a mode of transport.
King’s Day has been dubbed in international guidebooks as the world’s biggest street party, and whether or not this is true statistically-speaking, what makes it so unique is the eccentricity of the Dutch population. In Amsterdam this year, this eccentricity was showcased to its fullest. In a bid to earn some money from drunk tourists and passers-by, Amsterdammers’ schemes have become more extreme and quirky by the year. As usual, the canals were lined with people offering the use of their toilet for a small fee, those selling bric-a-brac including a single old ski boot and used underwear, and children asking 10 cents to perform a dance. In a move somewhere between shameless and entrepreneurial, some had bought packs of frozen Febo-style food, and were heating and selling the krokets and frikandellen for 3 per piece. All this seemed relatively tame compared to the antics at the Haarlemmerstraat end of the canals. A 6ft blond Dutchman dressed head to toe in an orange suit complete with wig had set up a shelving unit with plates and bowls balanced on it, and was charging passers-by to throw a tennis ball and smash the crockery. To add to the bizarre atmosphere, the man had chosen to station himself at the edge of a children’s playground, meaning that the playground was now covered with shards of broken crockery. Despite the slightly unorthodox rules, the game proved popular, especially at the end of the day when the streets were fi lled with drunk tourists unable to walk in a straight line.
The day’s mixed weather managed to include both sunshine in the morning and hail in the afternoon, and so the streets were emptier than usual, and the mood was slightly less jovial than in previous years. Even so, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the man on the Raadhuisstraat who had decided to earn money on King’s Day by allowing tourists to throw eggs at him for the price of 1, wearing only goggles for protection. If the scene were not surreal enough already, rather than wearing anything waterproof, or at the very least something warm and comfortable, the man was wearing a denim shirt and jeans, both soaked through with egg yolk.
All in all, King’s Day is a unique and special celebration which those who are aware of it struggle to explain to friends in other countries. Nothing could demonstrate The Netherlands’ laidback ambience so perfectly, and the celebration is something that most expats who live here have come to love and embrace. While the United Kingdom might be putting on flawless performances involving thousands of musicians and dancers in honour of their Queen’s birthday, King’s Day in The Netherlands is a suitably wacky celebration for a country renowned worldwide for its relaxed attitudes and atmosphere. Hopefully foreign tourists will stop relying on their guidebooks published before the Queen’s abdication and fi nd out the real date of King’s Day so that they can experience the fun of Amsterdam in a sea of orange in years to come.