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Those Lovely Dutch Monday Air Raid Sirens Posted by on Jun 7, 2010 in Dutch Language

If you have never been in the Netherlands on the first Monday of any given month, you have managed to miss out on a real treat.  I can remember my first Monday of the month like it was yesterday.  I had been in the Netherlands for about a week and a half, it was a lovely summer day, birds in the sky, sun shining, and me enjoying my new city by sleeping in late and enjoying a cup of coffee.  Ahhh…what a day.

And then, there it was.  The noise that shook my walls and rattled my brain because I am lucky enough to live between three loudspeakers.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a quick listen here:

Terrible isn’t it?  Well, poor newly-arrived me had no idea what on earth was going on.  Should I jump under the table?  Should I run around screaming?  Was the apocalypse upon me?  I ran outside to verify the level of chaos, and what did I see?  People just going about their business as though nothing was happening.  Children playing in the park.  Flocks of disrupted but otherwise unharmed birds circling overhead.  No chaos.  No destruction.  But for the ear-splitting sound, barely any disturbance at all.  Now, I had heard that Amsterdam was a relaxed city, but this seemed like a bit TOO relaxed to me.  Would you be relaxed with this in the background?

After a quick phone call I discover that, indeed, this is completely normal, if and ONLY if it is precisely 12 noon on the first Monday of the month.  But that begs the question, doesn’t it?  What happens if there actually is an emergency at precisely 12 noon on the first Monday of the month?  What happens then?!

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  1. Candy Love:

    Indeed, I have, on occasion, been in amsterdam during such an occasion, altho i lived in Haarlem. I worked at AMC and would take my sack lunch out to eat in the gardens…..it made me love Holland even more……my life in Holland was the best experience of my live……..thus far
    thank you for your articles…….it is as though i have a friend writing letters to me……..

    • sarah:

      @Candy Love Hi Candy,

      Thanks so much for your warm comments. Very glad to hear you enjoyed your stay here. I’m debating moving from Amsterdam to Haarlem, I think it’s such a lovely little city.



  2. Florian:

    So you have this thing also in the Netherlands, I didn’t know it, thanks for this information. You really learn something about dutch & the Netherlands in this blog! – I thought it was a rare phenomen associated with the Swiss paranoia. In Switzerland we’re also having these alarms a few times in a year, and there even are special alarm signals for everything, from floods to an atomic war.

    • sarah:

      @Florian Ha ha, you’re welcome Florian. I do find it a touch…paranoid, although perhaps it’s just nostalgic at this point. Honestly, if they sirens were to go off to signal a real emergency, I don’t think anyone would know what to do anyway. 😀

  3. Candy Love:

    HI Sarah (my daughters name is Sarah)…..i can not tell you just how much l loved living in Haarlem…..every 2 years they take over the entire center and put flowers in a tapestry…..it is something to behold……and it is only a short ride via train to amsterdam, if you need something or want to go into town for something…..but Haarlem has all one could ever need or want……they even have their own anne frank type home……owned by corrie tenboom, she was the first clock maker in all of holland (maybe ever…) during WWII (i am a big WWII history nut) Corrie ran the underground. they were protestant, the father was a preacher, as was the brother. corrie and her sister helped run the clock maker shop (less than a block from the town square). they bricked up Corries bedroom wall, and hid some jewish families from the germans until someone turned them in. the entire family was killed but for Corrie, and were sent to Auschwicz…….such an awesome story…please go there and take the tour…..(if history does interest you) sorry i get so excited about holland…….nostalgic…..I lived in schalkwijk and had such a neat buurvrowe. she and her husband were living in rotterdam during the bombing WWII. they lost everything. they rode from rotterdam to bloomendal via bicycle!!!! she was so exciting to talk to!
    sorry, i get carried away, so glad to talk to you Sarah!

  4. Hanna:

    Chuckle – actually once a year every Dutch household gets (or should get) a sheet of instructions what to do when those sirens go off for real. You’re supposed to tune in to the local radio or tv station, or check the internet. (The latter, however, quickly gets an overload of visitors and shuts down.) And – depending on the emergency – you’re to close windows and doors.
    Two years ago they accidently pushed the button for all the sirens in Friesland to go off in stead of just the ‘affected’ area when there was a fire in a cheese factory and one of the big gas tanks on the premises threatened to blow sky high.

    Anyway, those monthly sirens are just to test if they still work and as you’ve noticed, they usually do /grin. And like most Dutch I either ignore them, or check if my watch is fast.

  5. holms:

    As far as I remember if sirens sounds more then 2minutes then we have problems ;D btw I googled your site because I haven’t heard sirens for maybe.. like half year already.

  6. Annique:

    What happens when there’s actually something wrong at test time? I don’t know actually, but I suppose someone will shout into a microphone broadcasting: THIS IS NOT A TEST, ****ING PANIC NOW!

  7. Jay:

    My ‘first time’ was in Nieuwmarkt last September. I was riding my bike when I heard the air raid sirens. At first couldn’t believe it! Was it for real? Something like “Oh man I just got to this city, can’t believe we’re doomed already!” but I assumed everything was ok when I saw people standing with their beers on the surrounding cafes. Since then I enjoy the test and I usually try to find any tourist listening to it with terror! heheh. Nice blog! I just stumbled upon googling for all this story of the air raid sirens 🙂

  8. Daniel Rio Tinto:

    If it is real, it just plays non stop with no interruptions. This type of siren has to be test played frequently as to avoid that it gets stuck (it’s some sort of ventilator that sorts the air through a small cavity that makes the noise) or that it accumulates dirty or other objects inside.

    In the Fire Department where I used to work, there was a siren for major emergencies and it was played every sunday midday for this purpose. For about one year there was a local determination that made impossible to test play it (it was only to be played in case of actual need), and during this period there was a bird nest in it, which had to be removed and the siren didn’t worked as expected when it was needed.

  9. Anomynous:

    Ok, I’m still confused. I don’t think i’ve ever received the letter of what to do…and what does it mean? Is there (some how) a tsunami coming in from the coast? (I live in the hague) It really confuses me, and I do worry sometimes what to do if it rings on a Tuesday or something…please reply! 🙁

  10. Floris:

    Dear Anomynous,

    Do to the geographical position of Ireland and Great Britten in relationship to the Netherlands any tsunami coming from the Atlantic will most likely be stopped before reaching the Dutch coast. The Atlantic ocean is the most likely place for a tsunami to come from. However in the geographical history of Europe tsunami’s have occurred extremely rare.

    In case of a normal flood (which do happen relatively frequently in the Netherlands. The Dutch government will be warning you with other means.

    And if necessary, start an evacuation. Every Dutch city and safety region has already prepared a scenario for this. In this the Dutch government is well prepared and efficient.

    For example in February 1995 due to a flood warning at least 200,000 people were evacuated from the central river delta region just in case, even though the flood never happened.

    Mind you big parts of the Hague are build on the dunes so there above sea level.

    If the sirens sound any other day, just go in doors and turn on the radio and wait. Most likely just a big fire with possible toxic fumes has happened.

    I hope this helps.

    To answer Sarah’s question if something happens at 12:00 o’clock first Monday of the month the sirens will sound more then 1 minute which is the normal test period. And you know there is trouble.

    Best regards,

  11. Sheldon:

    Hello…this is my first visit to Holland and the first Monday of the month. Just heard this alarm that sounded so full of mystery and foreboding. Here I was walking toward a shop and stopped in sheer panic. I didn’t know what it was…what to do..where to go. Then I realized everybody just going about their daily lives as normal, so I figured I’d do the same. I did ask my hosts about it when I got back home, but although they knew what it was, they didn’t know what action to take should it happen out of schedule. So, I decided to do some research, coming across your blog made me chuckle and reminded me of my experience. Thank you.

  12. Judy:

    Thank you for writing this! I just heard the alarm going off in Rotterdam. I was scared/confused.. now I know what to expect every month.

  13. Jess:

    The first video looks typical of Maastricht, where I have lived. The first time I heard them, I had no idea what was happening and my neighbors were outside acting like they didn’t hear it. I had to ask them what was happening. I do not speak Dutch very well and when they said “air raid sirens” all I understood was “air raid”. I had to call my Dutch friend to make sure it was just a routine test.

  14. Jeremy:

    Thanks for the post! It saved me some serious distress. Been in the Netherlands for a week now and the sirens went off while i was sipping coffee at home. Had similar doubts about whether the “end” had come and whether I need to hide… :). Googled and found your soothing post. Thanks!



  15. Esther:

    I found the Dutch ones to be timid and not frightening compared to the British ones which have that bone-chilling sound you just can’t forget.

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