Skating on natural ice in the Netherlands during winter – Durk Jan’s goosebump moment
Durk Jan: “Hello. My name is Durk Jan, I come from the Netherlands. Every ten years, the ice gets very hard in the winter and we can stand on it and we can skate. That’s a very, very special moment. I love it, I really love it. It’s great, it’s great. That’s my goosebump moment: skating with my family.”
Ice skating on natural ice in the Netherlands during winter
It’s no secret the Dutch love to ice skate. Because it usually doesn’t get that extremely cold in the winter, when a winter does come around that it is cold enough for the lakes and rivers to turn into solid ice, people take full advantage and the ice skates come out! The whole community joins in the fun.
Why is ice skating so popular in Holland? There are two essential factors which have played a vital role in the popularity of ice skating amongst the Dutch population: topography and climate. The Netherlands (which means “lowlands”) is one of the flattest countries in the world. Flat land is always susceptible to flooding, and thus in an extreme winter, to large surfaces of ice. The Dutch have been managing the flooding problem for over 1,000 years, first with dams and dikes, and later with canals. You can find canals all over the Netherlands. The most famous canals are in Amsterdam, built in the 17th century. But they can be found in most other cities as well.
The 11 Cities Tour (De elfstedentocht)
The Eleven Cities Tour (de elfstedentocht in Dutch) is a skating tour of around 200 kilometers over natural ice that starts and end in Leeuwarden and passes 11 cities in the Friesland (Fresia) region in the Netherlands. It is organized by the Royal Union of the Fresian Eleven Cities and is also called “The tour of Tours” because of the distance and the heroic character of it.
The tradition started in 1909 and can only be held under strict winter conditions. The ice needs to be 15 centimeters thick, since the event attracts thousands of participants and heavy equipment needs to be mounted on the ice. Since 1909, the tour has only been able to be held 15 times in total. The most recent tour was in 1997, so people are aching for a year where weather conditions would be favorable. This 2020-2021 has the ice almost as thick as it needs to be, but the event might not happen because of the Covid-19 pandemic after all. A very disappointing fact for the Dutch.
The tour participants get a stamp card that need to get stamped in each of the 11 cities along the tour. There are also secret stamp posts to make sure people don’t cheat. When participants have their entire card stamped correctly and they arrive at the end before midnight in Leeuwarden, they receive the Eflstedenkruisje, the official cross symbol. The first 11 men and the first 11 women to arrive get a medal. The male winner of the race receives a silver dish, the Pim Mulier price. The female winner receives a silver bowl and a silver cup.
Sometimes the Dutch need to get creative out of necessity. In 2020 the organizers moved the whole event to Austria, since the weather conditions in the Netherlands would not allow the event to take place there. This way, the tour could still be held, only not through the actual 11 Fresian cities.
Ice Skating in the Netherlands in paintings
That ice skating has been a long-standing tradition in the Netherlands is also shown in many works of Dutch and Belgian painters. There is a beautiful painting by Hendrick Avercamp called “Winter Landscape with Skaters” from 1608 that embodies the tradition wonderfully. It shows ice skaters enjoying a day on a frozen river.
“Winter Landscape” is considered one of Avercamp’s earliest works, he was influenced by the Little Ice Age, particularly the cold winter of 1607-1608 and he was the first of the Dutch painters to specialize in snow and winter scenes. He painted many such paintings, as can be seen in the video below.