30 Sep. 18, Groningen. F. Westerveld
When you plan to visit the Netherlands, as an exchange student or otherwise, you’ll be confronted with water; a lot! Twenty six percent of Holland lies beneath sea-level. This brings not only threats, but also opportunities with it. The Dutchmen learned to manipulate the water and set it to their hands.
Already in 1937, studies conducted by Rijkswaterstaat (Department of Public Works) showed that safety in many parts of the Netherlands could not be guaranteed at times of storms and high sea levels. In 1953 the worst case scenario became reality: in the night of 31 January to 1 February, during the infamous flood called the ‘waternoodsramp’, almost two thousand people drowned.
The importance of interference was clear. Twenty days after the flood, the Delta commission was established and the first step for a water defence line was made. A system of dikes and locks would protect Holland in the future of similar disasters. In 2010 (!) the complete construction of the entire system was completed. The American Society of Civil Engineers proclaimed the Delta works as one of seven world wonders of the modern world.
The Delta Works are not the only example of some fine Dutch water engineering. The largest dike in the Netherlands is the so called ‘Afsluitdijk’ or Enclosure Dam. This 32 kilometre long construction connects the province of Friesland and North-Holland with one another. The dike was completed in 1933 and played a massive role in the minimization of victims during the flood of ’53. On top of the dike is a highway and it is even possible to make it across on bike.
As said before, the water not only brings threats, but also opportunities. The Dutch have sailed the sea since the invention of the boat, and still to this day, love to do so. Because of doing this for ages, traditions were made. Within Holland, the people who probably still feel most connected with the water, are the Frisians. One of the examples of this connection is the so-called ‘skûtsjesilen’ (yea, try to pronounce that right when not from Friesland). A ‘skûtsje’ is a type of sailboat and during the skûtsjesilen, captains and crews from various ships race each other. Most villages in Friesland have their own skûtsje.
In Sneek, a small city in the south-west of the Frisian province, the population established their annual village festival around it. During the first week of August, the regular population of Sneek of thirty thousand inhabitants is supplemented with around three hundred thousand party people. Many famous Dutch artists come and preform and the local festival. There is even a Horror movie made about the SneekWeek.
That being said, most people in Holland don’t often stand still by how much their lives is being influenced by water. Yet, a lot of aspects of daily life in the Netherlands are based around it. We not only protect ourselves from it, we also drink it, eat from it and sail it. As Leonardo Da Vinci said: “water is the driving force of all nature”.