Being an international on King’s Day comes with its own sort of magic. It is also one of the most important life experiences you will have in your early 20’s while staying here. Much like carnivals, people freely roam the streets in good –albeit slightly tipsy– humour. The energy levels seem to spiral as the sun makes its way across the horizon. On normal days, we rarely go out and spend all day on the streets with each other, especially in such large numbers.
“…you can be sure of the fact that this city was the first one to spell out freedom”
But there is one key difference between King’s Day and other street celebrations: the context that this day carries with it. Amsterdam has been one of the largest and most important ports in the Netherlands for centuries, and thus has always seen a lot of diversity. It has been a hub for exiled writers and artists from all over Europe. Even when they had nowhere else to go, they could come to Amsterdam. It was also the place where many groups, including the LGBT+ community and sex workers, first got a legitimate place in society. Though one can argue that there is more to history than the rosy version we hear about, you can be sure of the fact that this city was the first one to spell out freedom. And even though a lot has changed over the past decades, you can still feel it in the air. The existence of a monarchy, the country’s liberal politics mixed with decades of having a strong welfare state, and a large number of youth social movements during the late 20th century (see Provo’s, for example), have defined the spirit of Amsterdam: which is now engrained in every brick and tile of this city. If you’re an international person, Amsterdam is one of the best places to be on most days, but especially on King’s Day.
In all honesty, I’ve never seen a Dutch person, let alone an international, shed tears of joy because the King is one year older, but that’s just my personal experience. The celebration of King’s Day in the rest of the country will proudly contest to that statement, as the original purpose of this day and the royal family remain in spotlight almost everywhere else. Flea markets, greeting the King, and long parades in his honour constitute for a large part of how this day is celebrated in other parts of the Netherlands.
“…as you hop from boat to boat and from party to party […] you might realise that people are more focused on the momentary fun, rather than the day’s true purpose”
Amsterdam on the other hand, aside from having a large population of expats and exchange students, sees a major influx of tourists around this time, every year. This creates a very different vibe in the city centre, where the day is celebrated in a very different manner. One might say it revolves more around partying than anything else. Of course, there are still many things that keep the celebration focused on the main theme of the King’s birthday. The generous number of flea market spaces, the numerous people sporting orange in their outfits, the theme parties around the city, and the Dutch songs being shouted from the traditional brown pubs.
However, as you hop from boat to boat and from party to party, surrounded by an intoxicated ecstasy, you might realise that people are more focused on the momentary fun, rather than the day’s true purpose. King’s Day in Amsterdam has managed to become a celebration of life, due to its diversity, and being the largest tourist attraction at the same time. Of course, this also entails the negative sides that come with binge drinking and irresponsible drug use. Even if this often taints the unique experience that this day offers, what we as non-natives have to realise, is that we participate in this for a certain reason. We are in it for the experience –the carefreeness and happiness that escalate as the day goes by. And even though street parties make it seem like time has stopped and nothing counts, we as internationals have to remember to respect the city and the people in it, so that this day can still remain something that everyone looks forward to.
Nevena Vračar is a Bachelor student of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. Her columns focus on studying abroad.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Amsterdammer.