The ice is melting and so is a part of Dutch culture

Elfstedentocht Eleven Cities Tour

Davey Meelker

The white snowy landscapes are gone and the ice has melted in the Netherlands, and with that the hope of the revival of a part of Dutch culture has faded away.  It started freezing two weeks ago and, with the prospect of more cold weather, the people soon started to say the magic words: De Elfstedentocht (The Eleven Cities Tour). This ice-skating contest can only be held when the 200 kilometres track consisting out of rivers and lakes are completely frozen. The last time this happened was in 1997 and since then everybody has been hoping for another tour every year and every year they have been disappointed.

It all started hundreds of years ago, when ice-skating was for some the only way to travel during the cold winters in the north of the Netherlands. Finally, the first organised eleven cities tour was organised in 1909.  Since then only fourteen other tours have been organised, but when this happens the whole population is thrilled. The spectators watch around 16.000 people struggling with weather conditions and exhaustion. The most mythical tour was in 1963, on the coldest day of the coldest winter of the century. The temperature was minus 16 at the start and the hard wind and lots of snow made the tour the most extreme ever held. Many contesters lost their toes and only 69 people finished the tour. The future king Willem Alexander (today it was announced that he will replace the current queen on the 30th of April), skated the tour in 1986. He did this in a Marlboro jacket. Where does one see royalty promoting cigarettes at a major sport event these days?

Willem Alexander Marlboro Eleven Cities Tour_BloggersWithoutBorders

Nowadays, television programs go crazy when the temperature drops bellow zero degrees. Like many people on the street they cannot stop talking about this epic tour. Will it be organised or not? It seems that the less the tour is held the more people talk about it. Last year it was a close call. I will never forget when we where in the humid hot jungle of Sumatra when the only television with CNN in town broadcasted about this tour. It was surreal to see all those excited Dutchmen in the cold while were in the hot and very relaxed Indonesia. They were all so stressed! To the disappointment of many, it was not cold enough to organise the tour that year.

So many people get excited almost every winter. So many see the Elfstedentocht as the height of Dutch culture. So many media are caught up in this hype. So many people can talk only about this tour. However, throughout history cultures are subject to change and this is inevitable in this case. Now the world is slowly getting warmer, chances are slim we will ever witness another Eleven Cities Tour. We shouldn’t be afraid or sad. It is al natural. People will invent other events to enjoy and of which they cannot stop talking and call it part of Dutch culture. Till that time I hope that when I put on the television the Elfstedentocht is being discussed every time the forecast shows temperatures below zero. Finally, give us some peace.

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