Lifestyle & Culture

King’s Day 2016: Holland’s best party is wet and wild

So, I’m standing with Michael from Scotland and Esther from Holland in front of  St. Catherina Church, looking down Stratumseind, the bar street in Eindhoven, at the densest crowd I’ve ever seen. Ever. Never seen a crowd like this in New York. In Istanbul. In Paris.

Never seen this many people squeezed into the center of a city.

“Imagine,” says Esther, “if the weather was good!”

It’s raining, and maybe 43 degrees. King’s Day 2016 has turned out to be the wet and cold … the coldest since the 1980s, according to the people I talked with. No problem. You’ll be relieved to know you can still drink beer and dance in the freezing rain.


A two-fisted drinker … though one fist is holding a soft drink.

And there are at least 100,000 people doing just that in the center of Eindhoven celebrating King’s Day, the biggest holiday in the Netherlands. This is ostensibly the day to celebrate King Willem-Alexander’s 49th birthday. What it really is is a fabulous excuse to indulge in what the Dutch do better than anyone else … drinking, dancing and partying.

Why do they do it better?

What’s remarkable about King’s Day, and Holland itself, is that so many people can drink and party that hard and nothing happens except fun. No fights. No confrontations. No stupidity. (Think of it as the reverse Donald Trump rally.)

My friend and colleague Albrecht Stahmer was in Amsterdam yesterday from Singapore.

Here are his observations:

(I)t’s all deferential. Crime was largely absent and strangers talked to strangers as copious amounts of beer were turned into urine. The Kentucky Derby may be decadent and depraved, but Hunter S. Thompson would have had plenty to write about had he ever attended a King’s Day celebration. Imagine closing down the central business district in (our hometown of) Louisville, covering the entire area with a Chow Wagon and letting people walk around with drinks in their hands. Then throw in a flea market to boot. That was what downtown Amsterdam was like yesterday.

Make no mistake … King’s Day is a serious drinking event. There are even special festival urinals so you never have to put down your beer and walk inside. You can just pee while you dance, and trust me … people (mostly young) do.

IMG_0499So, maybe half the city population at least passed through Eindhoven’s downtown for King’s Day. I saw exactly one woman down, and it could have been because of the heat inside a too-small events space where kids were packed in, dancing to trance music.

In the course of the day, I met a lot of kids who’d come from nearby cities, including Tilburg, Kaatsheuvel and Den Bosch. The reason, they said, is because Eindhoven puts on a hell of a party. I counted at least three outdoor venues including a giant stage in the main square, as well as two indoor concerts, each offering a different genre including trance, electronic and rock.

While Eindhoven is compact, it isn’t nearly as claustrophobic as Amsterdam. Esther’s friend Hannah told me she was at King’s Day in Amsterdam last year, “and it was so crowded my friend and I got lifted off our feet and carried by the crowd!”

A number of Dutch media outlets reported that support for the monarchy is dropping, and at its lowest level since 2008. Albrecht’s take is, King’s Day is not so much a celebration of the king’s birthday but rather a celebration of everything that makes the Dutch proud to be Dutch:

While more conservative cultures are pontificating the threat against family values, the Dutch are the people your parents warned you about: love who you want to love without being judged, get drunk in public, pee on the street, get high, partake of the world’s oldest profession and wear outrageously bright shades of orange.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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