Queen’s Day (1)
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
April 30, unless this falls on a Sunday in which case April 29
If you’re going to pick any European capital for a major 24-hour sleaze, drugs and alcohol binge, it may as well be Amsterdam. And Queen’s Day is the wildest possible time to visit. The queen in question isn’t one of the flamboyant transvestites hanging around Rembrandtplein but Holland’s reigning monarch, Queen Beatrix, whose official birthday is celebrated throughout the country on April 30. The ensuing fiesta is Amsterdam’s Mardi Gras and Oktoberfest all rolled into one – in a city famed for its easy-going, fun-loving population, it still manages to crank the party volume a few notches higher. Queen’s Day is traditionally the one time each year when the police are forbidden to interfere with any activity, no matter how outrageous; and, of course, it’s always a challenge to see where they really draw the line.
Queen’s Day, or “Koninginnedag”, was first celebrated on April 30, 1949, the then-Queen Juliana’s birthday, when it was parked with little more than military parades, bicycle races and the consumption of orange cake slices. It has really only existed in its present, carnival form since 1980, when Queen Juliana abdicated the throne, and her daughter, Beatrix succeeded her. One of her first acts as queen was to declare that in future April 30 would be a national holiday, and that it would be marked by fun, rather than formality.
The Dutch didn’t need any further prompting, and the present monster was unleashed. Beatrix herself was born on January 31, a day sensibly considered too cold for open-air festivities, so the date stayed; now it’s only changed if it falls on a Sunday, when Koninginnedag is celebrated on the Saturday – a sensible way of placating both Dutch churchgoers and allowing extra recovery time. The festivities are held in towns and villages throughout the Netherlands, but none have the scale and energy of Amsterdam. The queen herself visits one or two places throughout the country, but generally stays clear of the full-scale bacchanalia underway in the capital.
The former Queen Juliana finally partied-out at the age of 94, having bequeathed a unique and much appreciated festival to her citizens. Given her mother’s longevity, the present festivities are likely to keep running for some time yet – Queen Beatrix celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 2005, at the age of 67, so Queen’s Day could keep going for another couple of decades, before Prince Willem-Alexander takes over the reins and kicks off King’s Day. Throughout this 24-hour law-free fiesta, the citizens of Amsterdam reclaim the streets, parks, squares id canals of the town from tourists, motorists and officialdom for one glorious party. Despite having carte blanche to descend into anarchy, the laid-back and responsible Dutch are of course very well adjusted to it all. This is a people’s party, and everyone is going to have a good time – guys, girls, gays and grannies.
The evening of April 29, Queen’s Night, is nowadays the wilder of the two nights, with many people carrying on into Queen’s Day itself.
The general strategy is to hit Amsterdam’s packed clubs and bars in evening and lose it with a bunch of pie-eyed clubbers dancing to some of the best beats in Europe. If you aren’t buckled up in the gutter dawn, stagger out for a market- stall breakfast and hit the early morning sound systems.