Dutch Language Blog

Grondwet Festival – 200 years Posted by on Mar 30, 2014 in Culture, Dutch Vocabulary, News

Yesterday, it was the Grondwet Festival (The (Dutch) Constitution Festival), because on March 29, it existed exactly 200 years. In 1814, 474 vooraanstaande Nederlanders (prominent Dutch citizens) were invited for the Vergadering der Notabelen (Congress of Notables) where they were to accept the draft for the Grondwet. After singing the Wilhelmusthe Dutch National Anthem, they voted in favor with an overwhelming majority of 448. The day after, Willem-Frederik van Oranje Nassau, who also became the vorst (prince) on that day, swore on the Grondwet.

So now, it is 200 years and one day later. What did the Dutch do to celebrate? Well, quite some things. For example, there was Kermis (a fair), all kinds of reenactments, and – this was the biggest trekpleister (tourist attraction) of the Festival – the opening of many buildings to the public. Included were the Eerste Kamer (Dutch Senate), the Tweede Kamer (Dutch House of Representatives), the Ridderzaal (the Hall of Knights), and most interesting to many the Catshuis, the residence of the Prime Minister, and the Trêveszaal, where the Dutch ministerraad (council of ministers) convenes weekly. These two last ones were such trekpleisters, because they had never been opened to the public before.

The Catshuis

The Catshuis. (Image by Adrem68 at Wikimedia Commons)

The Catshuis was built for Jacob Cats, a vooraanstaande dichter (poet) and politicus (politician) in Den Haag (The Hague), where basically all buildings of national political importance of the Netherlands are situated. It first became known as Huis Sorghvliet, as Cats called it himself, when he started living there in 1652. As it always had been royal property, it later got a public function. In 1963, it became the official residence of the minister-president (Prime Minister, or premier, also used in Dutch, an originally French word). So currently, the Catshuis is the official residence of the Dutch premier Mark Rutte, who got the spotlight on him quite prominently while hosting the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) last week. But unlike the White House in the United States, Mark Rutte does not live in the Catshuis. Only four premiers did that. It was also used for meetings of the ministerraad until 1977, but now it is basically used for small political meetings, which are quite rare. But when it happens, it must be something important. It was used a few months ago when the bezuinigingen (budget cuts) were hotly debated between the political parties VVD, CDA, and PVV. In the end, the PVV dropped out, and it was quite a fuzz… The Catshuis was also the place where the G7 convened during the NSS. And now, just a week later, it was opened to the public. Many people loved it, and were willing to wait in line for more than twee uur (two hours)!


The Trèveszaal

The Trèveszaal, where the Dutch council of ministers convenes. On the left, you can see Prime Minister Rutte (in the middle, with the glasses and the blue tie). (Image by Minister-president Rutte at Flickr.com)

Also open to the public yesterday was the Trèveszaal (Trèves Hall). This hall was built by the Staten-Generaal (The States-General, the parliament of the early Dutch Republic) in 1697 to welcome gezanten (ambassadors) from other countries. Therefore, it was decorated lavishly, and it became a very beautiful hall. The name comes from one of its earliest uses. The hall was built on the place of two rooms, that existed prior to 1697. In the Hollandse Opstand (the Dutch Uprising, or the Eighty Years’ War) there was a bestand (truce) signed between the Dutch and their enemy Spain in 1609. The French word for bestand is trève, and hence its name. Nowadays, it is used by the ministerraad to convene every Tuesday to discuss political matters. Often, this is quite important, and the press really wants to peek inside, to know what is going on. This made the Trèveszaal a sort of mysterious place, where things were decided without the public knowing how exactly. And now, it was open!

Compare it to for example the Situation Room in the White House. Would you like to see that room? Would you wait for it in line for hours just to see it?


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.