Manhattan goes orange

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By the end of this week, every New Yorker should know that Amsterdam and the Netherlands played a pivotal role in founding their city. A major theatre festival and a Dutch royal visit are designed to help. The festivities around New York’s 400th anniversary are approaching their climax.

At 9:15 on Tuesday morning, New York will be rocked by a number of gun salutes. Afterwards, an impressive armada of Dutch ships will sail along the southern tip of Manhattan including naval vessels and historical sailing ships.

Four hundred years ago, Captain Henry Hudson sailed the Halve Maan (Half Moon) to this little island, then inhabited by Native Americans. In the decades that followed, the Netherlands set up the colony of New Amsterdam.

Cultural present
The Dutch armada marks the beginning of a busy week. Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Princess Maxima are travelling to New York. They will visit a major theatre festival on Governor’s Island, a islet off Manhattan’s southern tip. The festival is a cultural present from the Netherlands to New Yorkers.

Dutch Theatre Institute Co-ordinator, Henk Scholten says “We’re staging a festival with about 35 to 50 performances a day, involving about 200 people. There’s serious theatre performed by groups such as De Veenfabriek and Toneelgroep Amsterdam, but there are also open-air shows. Then, there are also fun things like Jacob and the performing cow. We hope New Yorkers will find the combination of all sorts of theatre, lots of open-air, informal stuff, with eating and drinking, something new.”

The New Amsterdam Pavilion will be unveiled in Battery Park where the Staten Island ferry docks. It’s in Pierre Minuit Plaza, named after the Belgian man who, on behalf of the Dutch settlers, negotiated with the Native Americans on the sale of Manhattan.

Some people in Belgium think the Netherlands overestimates its role in the affair. American Russell Shorto has written a book on the history of New York. He says the Netherlands is entitled to blow its own trumpet.

“Of course, there were other colonies, the English for example, but it’s a simple fact that New York was founded by the Dutch. In the 16th century many European refugees came to Manhattan via the Netherlands. You found the mixed population and the Dutch tolerant atmosphere, especially that of Amsterdam, in the US. When the English took Manhattan, they held on to the Dutch system because it worked well. And also to the Dutch way of trading, with free trade and shares, was maintained in New York. These are Dutch roots."

The organisers of the New Island Festival are expecting thousands of visitors, says Henk Scholten.

"Governor's Island is a popular New York attraction: in actual fact it is a park you can get to by ferry in 8 minutes for free. Part of the visitors come especially for the festival, but of course some people will accidentally stumble upon it. Therefore a large number of the performances are free."

Any New Yorkers who don’t go to the festival won’t be able to steer clear of the Netherlands, because on Tuesday the Empire State Building will be bathed in orange light.