If you think Mardi Gras in New Orleans is wild, try Queensday in Amsterdam. It is on the last day of April that the Dutch all flock to their capital, dress up in their national colors and celebrate the birthday of their beloved Queen Beatrix into the wee hours of the morning.
I vividly remember the first time I came to Amsterdam for Queensday a few years after I moved to the US. I was showing around some American co-workers and we took the train to Amsterdam Central Station.
This classy structure is usually the home of backpackers, hookers and other young hustlers, but that day a red, white and blue posse had taken over. As soon as we stepped out of the train, we were greeted by a vibrant mass of color, sound and smiling faces. A cosmopolitan mix of tourists and locals was moving like cattle through the city’s tiny cobblestone streets outside the railroad station.
Rain or shine, people are enjoying this national holiday step-by-step with kids selling lemon juice on the overcrowded pavements, musicians playing their instruments in Vondelpark and merchants on bicycle-carts cooking up fatty festival food all over the city center.
The Dutch not only take their celebrations into the streets, but also onto the water. Amsterdam is often called the Venice of the North with its many canals. On Queensday, partygoers cruise the city’s waterways on small pedal bikes and festive boats while getting the best views of the city.
During the annual gay pride in August, the canals are the home of thousands of gay men and women on wildly decorated floats.
Queensday is an exception to the Netherlands’ usual modestly. The Dutch rarely show pride in their rich historical heritage and accepting culture – let alone celebrate the birthday of their Queen.
The country’s sober protestant beginnings are often credited for its humility among other European countries.
Amsterdam has always been a safe haven for free spirits. Ever since the seventeenth century, artists, painters, writers, religious scholars and others fled from oppression in other parts of Europe to join the city’s thriving cultural and social community
No wonder that Amsterdam became a city of queers. The Dutch government has not only given gays and lesbians equal civil rights, but has also enabled gays to celebrate their lifestyle in complete freedom.
The Amsterdam city authority has supported its large gay constituency in many different ways. Wheter it is providing gays the freedom to buy their favorite toys at local sex stores, relax at one of the city’s large bath houses, remember their history at the national gay holocaust memorial or providing tax breaks for the flourishing gay business community.
The Reguliersdwarstraat (www.reguliersdwars.nl) is located smack in the middle of the city’s center. On Queensday this is the pink epicenter of Amsterdam. Some of the capital’s hippest bars are located in this narrow, curving street right behind the daily flower market (Remember that tulips and others flowers are one of the Netherlands' top export products).
During the annual celebration, the usual line-up of muscle boys, drag divas, leather hunks, euro-hip youngsters and a handful of lost foreign tourists take the festivities outside clubs like April, Arc, SoHo and Exit. House music is blasting from the windows, while local singers and performance artists sweep the crowd on a small podium in the middle of the street.
Dutch gays adore Queen Beatrix and many dress up like their own version of the royal diva with wild fashion, fierce make up and of course glittery crowns that can be spotted from miles away.
On Queensday in Amsterdam, everybody can be a queen. No matter what you believe in, what color you are or who you sleep with.