BREDA, Netherlands — Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Orange is the color of insanity.”
This week his compatriots are proving the painter right. The Netherlands is going orange mad and just about the whole country is draped in the color of the Dutch royal house ahead of Sunday’s World Cup final against Spain.
In this southern city, bikes, bars and baker’s shops were all in orange.
“We are having a lot of success with these,” declares Conny van Haaren as she shows off a plate of cream-filed pastry balls coated with bright orange icing and decorated with the red-white-and-blue national flag.
“Tomorrow as people get ready for the match, it’s going to go crazy,” she predicted outside the family’s 100-year-old pastry shop and tea room.
Around the corner in the Paradise Coffee House, the haze of marijuana smoke fails to hide walls covered with dozens of orange balloons and the flat screen TV where local dope smokers can watch the game on Sunday.
“This has been great for business,” said Nick Rijtover, the cafe's manager. “The place always fills up when there’s a match and there’s a great atmosphere. It's not just us, it’s been good for all the city’s restaurants and cafes.”
Rijtover’s only complaint: the law prevents cafes that legally sell cannabis from selling alcohol too, so beer loving fans won’t be able to watch the final in his place.
The Netherlands, like their Spanish opponents, have never won the World Cup. But, unlike the Spanish, the Dutch have twice come close.
In the 1970s the Dutch revolutionized the game with a style they called “total football.” Led by midfield supremo Johan Cruyff, they produced what many believe to be Europe’s greatest ever team. They reached the final of two consecutive World Cups, but twice fell at the final hurdle: to Argentina in 1978 and, most painfully, to Germany in 1974.
Those defeats have haunted Dutch soccer since and the prospect of finally laying those ghosts to rest with a win over Spain goes a long way to explain the fervor, and the tension, ahead of the final.
Campaigners are calling for Tuesday to be declared a national holiday if they win so fans can welcome the team back from South Africa. Police in Amsterdam are already bracing for crowds that could exceed the estimated one million that filled the capital’s streets in 1988 when the Netherlands won soccer’s European Championship. Theaters and summer music festivals are rescheduling performances to avoid clashing with Sunday’s game.
“It’s the first time in our history that we do that,” Erwin Van Lambaart, whose production company is bringing forward performances of "Mamma Mia" in Rotterdam and "Mary Poppins" in Scheveningen.
“It’s a huge logistical undertaking, but we’ve waited 32 years for this and our public, and our employees, want to enjoy the final,” he told the daily De Volkskrant newspaper.
Despite being two of Europe’s major soccer powers, Spain and the Netherlands have never before met in the World Cup. They did however go head-to-head twice in this city in the 17th century during the 80-year Dutch War of Independence from Spanish rule.
Back then, Spain won the first leg taking Breda after an 11-month siege, but the Dutch regrouped 12 years later to reclaim the city on their way to breaking free from the Spanish empire. Strangely, the grand entrance to City Hall is decorated with a copy of Spanish artist Diego Valázquez’s giant painting of the Dutch defeat in that first battle.
“That was a couple of hundred years ago, and it won’t happen again,” said City Hall worker Mars Voss. “On Sunday it will be crazy here, crazy and very orange. I usually put jugs of water on the table for weekly town council meetings, but this week I served orangeade. It went down very well.”
Outside on the cobbled streets of the main square, cafes were basking in weather that was more Andalusia than Amsterdam as a heat-wave pushed temperatures up to the high 90s.
On almost every street, orange pennants fluttered over the heads of shoppers and every bar was decked in orange, flying the national flag and competing with each other with ads for cheap beer during the final. The De Bommel bar was a bit more original, hanging a selection of orange objects across its street that included wigs, dresses a bra and some vuvuzelas.
“Because of the heat we’ve not had so many customers today, but generally this stuff has really been selling,” said Linda Gardeslen, pointing out the display of orange T-shirts, socks, tulip-shaped candles, raincoats and flip-flops on sale in the city tourist office.
“It’s been one big party, every match all the bars and all the streets have been full and the atmosphere’s great,” said Marie van den Bems, an 18-year-old student. “When we win it will go wild.”
And if they lose? “That’s not going to happen,” she said.
Opinions are a little more mixed at the Sol y Sombra tapas bar.
“It will be Holland of course,” said owner Egbert Fransen. Not surprisingly, waiter Manuel Moya sees it differently, “I’m going for Spain."
Both agreed however that whatever the score, there’s going to be quite a fiesta.