Bread and circuses
The Holland House has been a recurring feature of the Olympic Games for some years now.
By Sigrid Deters
It is here that Dutch athletes, relatives and fans meet to celebrate whenever a medal has been won. For the 2008 games, a very special part of Beijing has been transformed into the venue for Dutch celebrations.
One by one, the orange-clad (orange being the colour of the royal house and by extension of the Netherlands) relatives of the women's 4 x 100 swimming freestyle relay team are cleared by security at the Holland House in Beijing. They are elated, as their daughters and sisters have just won the first Dutch gold medal at the 2008 games.
Mao by Andy Warhol
This celebration is taking place at an extraordinary venue: the Agricultural Exhibition Centre. The complex, which comprises 20 buildings, was built in 1956 on the orders of the great Communist helmsman Mao Zedong himself.
Holland House spokesperson Steve Hufton takes great pride in the fact that the Netherlands - a small country - has ended up with such a prime location.
"We are in a strikingly beautiful building with a hall that's at least 13 to 14 metres high. It really makes you go 'Wow!' - it's truly Chinese, in authentic Chinese style, with just a touch of the Netherlands. In fact, we are colouring a tiny part of Beijing Orange".
Holland House at the Agricultural Exhibition Centre
It is actually a bit more than just a touch of Orange. Three buildings covering a total surface area of 10,000 square metres have been converted into an Orange temple. Typically Dutch snacks can be had here, as well as orange clothes, plus coffee and pastries. Then, of course, there's also plenty of beer provided by the main sponsor. Three hundred staff have been flown in to run the establishment, most of them volunteers.
Among them are fifteen bakers - one for each of the twelve Dutch provinces of the Netherlands - plus three master bakers. Nico Bloem explains that their responsibilities include providing freshly baked Dutch bread daily.
"All the ingredients were shipped here in June, including a whole container for flour alone. We figured that all the Dutch athletes and all their guests would certainly want real Dutch bread. Bread is healthy and 'Bread and Circuses' go hand in hand. Which means we're in the right place, don't you think?"
Baker Nico Bloem
Hundreds of Orange fans gathered at the Holland House on Sunday to celebrate the gold medal won by the women's swimming team, with Dutch pop singer Jan Smit there to warm up the crowd. But the team itself will not be officially lauded until next Sunday. Some of the swimmers have races in other categories this week, and will not be allowed to take a dive into any pool of beer until they're over.
However, according to Steve Hufton, this should not put a damper on the party. Steve, who is British, says that partying comes naturally to the Dutch. If medals were awarded for partying, the Netherlands would certainly be among the favourites.
13 August 2008
What are your views on the Olympic Games? Will you be supporting your country or host country? Click here to take part in a survey especially conducted by Expatica and Ruigrok | NetPanel.
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]