Canal ice helps Dutch rediscover national identity
NIEUWERKERK AAN DEN IJSSEL, Netherlands: For the first time in 12 years, the Netherlands' canals froze this month, bringing the Dutch, who like their tulips in neat rows, a heady mix of pandemonium and euphoria.
Hundreds of thousands of skaters, their cheeks as red as apples in the freezing temperatures, took to the ice, and hospital wards were filled with dozens of people with fractured arms, sprained ankles and broken legs.
Train engineers were ordered to go slowly to avoid hitting skaters who clambered across railway tracks to get from one frozen canal to another. Even the minister of defense, an avid skater, fell and broke his wrist. His ministry announced that the national defense remained in safe hands, even if one of them was in a cast.
In the 19th century, when Hans Brinker, the hero of the novel in which he tries to win a pair of silver skates, coasted along Holland's ice, the canals froze almost every year. But water pollution and climate change have made this so rare that today a boy of 15, Brinker's age, may never have seen a frozen canal, or at least remember one. Until, that is, this year.
"For us, it's in our genes," said Gus Gustafsson, 68, a retired insurance executive, explaining why he and his wife had rushed out to buy new skates and take to the ice under a cloudless blue sky. "It was like a frenzy that came over people, including lots of kids, like my granddaughter, who is 5." With thousands of others, they skated northeast toward the cheese capital, Gouda, then toward Utrecht.