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Dutch public can appreciate mid-winter pranksterism and publicity stunts

Long tradition of capers on New Year’s Eve

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

OLDEBERKOOP, the Netherlands - In northern and eastern regions of the Netherlands, the arrival of the New Year always gets heralded in with a great deal of pranksterism and humorous publicity stunts. Such efforts have a very long tradition in which local pranksters would attempt to capitalize on eccentric or sometime foolish behaviour on the part of fellow townsmen. The one-day open season on individuals, groups or local institutions mostly has an impromptu character. 

In recent decades some groups have organized themselves into New Year's Eve clubs of which a few have become adept at getting publicity. They generally enjoy the support of an appreciative public. In most areas of the country however, New Year's Eve events have become unruly and often involve illegal bonfires of Christmas trees and junked cars.

Groups of young adults meticulously organize heists of monuments, ‘kidnap’ statues, and other heavy duty objects sometimes as much as weeks before only to have them resurface at unlikely places before dawn on New Year’s Day. This year’s January 1st biggest eyebrow-raising news was the so-called arrest of Osama bin Laden, whose Dutch stand-in was paraded before startled onlookers through Oldeberkoop, a centuries-old small town in southeastern Fryslan.

Bin Laden

The Oldeberkoop ‘crew’ gave its spoofs an international flavour this year. In addition to Bin Laden, the group also had procured a six-metre high Statue of Liberty and a wrecked car which had been ‘pinned to the ground by a rocket.’ The caper with the Liberty statue nearly landed its kidnappers in jail when they were stopped by police in Alkmaar, a city north of Amsterdam. The officers handcuffed four of them but let them go after ascertaining that the statue was being hauled away for a ‘legitimate’ New Year’s Eve stunt. The statue’s owner in Heerhugowaard failed to appreciate the humor and unsuccessfully attempted to press charges of theft.


In Drachten, another group spoofed its municipal council which hopes to re-dig a canal that was filled in several decades ago to create parking space and a road. Wheelbarrows and shovels along with the advice to extend the proposed canal further out of town, were placed at a local hotel. For emphasis, heavy-duty excavation equipment had been moved from distant Delfzijl. This effort by the perpetrators nearly went awry when they discovered that the tractor-trailer and its load were too high for the highway overpasses. After a four-hour effort at night along back roads the kidnappers finally arrived at their destination where the following morning townsmen flocked to the site to check out this feat.

Yet another Frisian group successfully kidnapped the 55-kilogram statue of Dutch soccer trainer-coach Rinus Michels from the Zeist headquarters of the Royal Dutch Soccer Alliance (KNVB). The Elsloo group took Michels’ statue to Ooststellingwerf because the KNVB since the national team lost its chance to play in the upcoming world championships, apparently reasoned that the bronze replica of its hero no longer deserved a place of honour at that office. Left untouched were replicas of soccer legends Lenstra, Cruijff and Van Basten.

Bull quarantined

Also victim of a hijacking was the statue of the world famous Dutch bull Sunnyboy which until very recently had a permanent spot near the Heerenveen soccer stadium. It resurfaced in a nearly village - as Siebeboy - as the centre of a quarantine scene, reminiscent of last year’s outbreak of the dreaded hoof-and-mouth disease. A road had been closed off by cattle trucks and tractors, compelling traffic to reroute after having gone through a disinfection procedure: all in an effort to ‘saveguard’ the country’s most famous bull. But why was Sunnyboy renamed? The group’s spokesman explained that the motive could not be published but that the local inhabitants would readily clue in.

Far less high-profile but somewhat sarcastic was the protest against the impending closure of Rabobank’s branch in Sexbierum where customers soon will have to rely on a banking machine. The protest - in rhyme - notes that the branch became too expensive and that its customers soon will walk to the wall. Another group had captured a van and portrayed it as an armoured truck which just had been robbed of its euros by thieves - scare crows dressed as vagabonds - making a getaway on bicycles. The town of Marssum still regrets the closure of its only cafe-bar Moeke Verf, now 54 years ago. A local group opened a Cafe Moeke Verf for one day and throughout filled it to capacity. Organizers collected funds for a kidnap-proof statue for the woman.

With so much attention given to the 12-country currency change-over to the euro, New Year’s Eve this time turned out to be largely a low-key event.