The Dutch are not, as a rule, a particularly patriotic people- no one bothers to fly a flag unless it’s one of a handful of days even on official government buildings, and in fact it turns out when I wanted to buy a Dutch flag it took me several stores to fulfill this quest and even then I only found one in a tourist shop. The exception to all of this though is every year on April 30, when the country catches oranjegekoorts, orange fever, and goes crazy in a giant street party to celebrate the Queen’s birthday in an event known as Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag– rolls right off the tongue doesn’t it?).
Now the first thing you have to know about Koninginnedag is the Dutch are technically not celebrating the current Queen Beatrix’s birthday, as hers is in January and that’s a lousy time for a street party, and instead they just hold it on the previous Queen Juliana’s birthday (unless of course it’s a Sunday which would be a holiday anyway, in which case it moves to the Saturday). There is some speculation that the date might move when her son, Willem-Alexander, ascends to the throne as his birthdate April 27, but by this point everyone seems rather used to April 30 and more importantly the Nassau line is apparently in a pact with the devil to ensure there’s good weather every year on the last day of April-
If you don’t believe me on the pact part, the weather this spring has been bad even for Dutch standards- constantly around 15C (60F) degrees max, and cloudy with patches of rain- yet on the night before the sky abruptly cleared and we were treated to temperatures that wouldn’t have been out of place in July. Then the next day it was cloudy and crappy again.
Anyway, the second thing you need to know about Queen’s Day is that this is a very Dutch holiday, and there is nothing more the Dutch like than buying and selling stuff. So as a result for one day a year sales do not have a value added tax and the country turns into some sort of libertarian paradise where everyone starts hawking their wares on the street-
Now because it’s an experiment in free-market capitalism most things that are being sold are utter crap by people trying to make a bit of money on stuff they don’t really want to have anyway. Everyone parts with a few Euro anyway, though, either to the cute kids in the Vondelpark children’s market or in a drunken misconception that a Vertical Limit VHS tape is awesome and you just have to have it!
Not one to pass up such a business opportunity, my brother decided to test out his salesman skills and bought a shopping cart full of beer to sell to the various passerby in front of my apartment. (Note: alcohol is one of the few things you’re not supposed to sell on Queen’s Day as you still need a permit to do so, but in practice several policemen walked by while we were selling it and never said a thing.) Because my apartment is on the first floor this involved selling beer from a bucket tied to a rope, where the beer was placed in the bucket once the money was handed over. We didn’t start until later in the afternoon as we spent the earlier hours exploring the revelry in the city, but soon after we started we had quite the steady stream of customers.
For those curious, in the end we netted 100 Euro, 2 muffins, two packs of Smarties, a bowl of popcorn, one egg, and one bread roll. (Some of those random ones were bartered for beer, but a lot were from a little girl next door who became excited to discover we’d put candy in the bucket in exchange for boring things she found in the kitchen. What a deal!) So all in all we did quite well for our first try on the vrijmarkt, and felt very proud and Dutch about our accomplishment.
The next day, of course, we woke up to drizzle, the city looked like some sort of apocalypse had swept through, and the entire nation was suffering through what is known to many as National Hangover Day. But all in all Queen’s Day was seriously a lot of fun, and I know I’m looking forward to next year!
“To the health of the Nassau line- in one hand a sword and in the other, a glass!”