Possibly the most adventurous thing I have done in the Netherlands to date, was journey to the far southern tip of the country to visit Maastricht, the self-titled “Carnaval Capitol of the Netherlands” (Tillburg and Den Bosch claim the same honor). I didn’t think Carnaval was even a thing outside of Venice, Italy (and of course The Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas) and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And come to think of it, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, because that’s essentially the same thing by the time the two weeks of parades are done.
For the week leading up to it though, everyone in my international student dominated classes was buzzing about Maastricht. We didn’t even really talk about the event by name, we just called it “going to Maastricht.”
– “Are you going to Maastricht on Sunday?”
– “Yeah! Are you going with your flat?”
– “Yep. Heard it was crazy.”
– “Us too.”
And that’s how almost all of the international students I know ended up in the same place, at vary degrees of intoxication, on Sunday for Dutch Carnaval.
This place was crazy. It was at once a family-friendly daytime parade through the streets of a lovely Dutch city, and a costumed drinking holiday. Some of the parade consisted of floats that played music and had people from, what I can only describe as the crewe that made it dancing around it. Other parts of the parade consisted of some really motley marching bands of both young and old with varying degrees of talent (and synchronization). Everyone was in costume, but though some people were dressed up to look like something or someone, other people were just dressed crazy, decked out in their crewe’s colors or the colors of the city of Maastricht (more on that later). Consistent throughout the parade however was the presence of alcohol. Though it was mostly beer in small glasses (biertjes) I saw everything from kegs to full bottles of Jaeger on floats that passed by. Every single grown adult had a glass in their hand. The children, who rolled by right along side them, were tucked into the floats or onto wagons and strollers that were decked out for the occasion, safe and sound. It was just so different from the US.
We watched the parade for as long as we could but by the time the third hour rolled around and it didn’t seem like the end was in sight, we bowed out and explored some of the rest of the city.
We found the Maastricht Domtoren, a lot redder and smaller than the one in Utrecht. We also found the real party, in the main square of the city, where all of the floats were ending their journey and continuing their drinking. It was more like a proper carnival, with food stands selling fried food (and herring?) and lots of music and dancing people. All bars in the city were for all intents and purposes boundary-less for the day (good luck getting your glasses and trays back!) and this one place was advertising “20 shots for 12 euros” like they were Chicken McNuggets or something.
However, in the face of all this public alcoholic consumption, no one was on the floor passed out, no one was puking, no one was lifting their shirt for beads (here’s lookin at you, NOLA), everyone was just happy. Everywhere you looked, you could see some combination of Red, Green and Yellow- which are the colors of the Carnaval flag. As tradition dictates, during Carnaval time (Sunday through Tuesday before Ash Wednesday- of course this is a religious thing) the city has a different mayor and a different flag. However, these three colors happen to be symbolic, at least to me, of the “Rasta” cause (i.e. marijuana legalization). Many don’t really understand the Dutch policy on weed, but simply think it’s legal (“The Dutch are so liberal!” only kinda true). In fact, the Netherlands has a “tolerance” policy with regards to coffeeshops, which are allowed to sell weed, though it is not definitively legal to grow a marijuana plant (what did you learn in Dutch class?). However, I thought it was funny that the mischievous alter ego of Maastricht was represented by these three colors. In the parade too, there was a small float (see picture below) with a giant fake rolled joint that appeared to be releasing smoke. Throughout the day, I could smell the lovely (gross) smell of burning pot throughout the city. Perhaps the Netherlands, which is a traditionally liberal country, they still feel like they need to let their hair down. Just some food for thought.
Enjoy the pictures from Maastricht. There’s nothing like it in the U.S