Monday, July 19, 2010
Every year the city of Nijmegen plays host to the Four Day March, an event which, according to Wikipedia, celebrates the national commitment to physical fitness and the "ability to march". It basically means that, for four days, the city of Nijmegen devolves into a madhouse of pandemonium as buses and trains around Nijmegen are disrupted, spectators clog the streets to cheer, massive quantities of beer end up on the streets, and up to 1 million people descend upon the city to...well, march, or watch people march.
At first I thought it was a bit odd that the walk didn't benefit any particular charity. Indeed, the Four Day March website is entirely bereft of any mention of good deeds, which is a bit odd if you consider that, otherwise, the Netherlands are one of the most generous (percentage-wise) at giving to charity.
But that was before I learned that the Vierdaagse began in 1906 as a way to promote fitness and sport, if you'll pardon the British-ism. The Wikipedia page has a long list of the original founders of the walk--the English is a bit funny, but I think it's because the person who put up the Wiki page did the translation literally. Anyway: it began way back when in 1906 because apparently the Dutch army didn't have any other way to prove its mettle to the world, and continues to this day for much the same reason, black-ops and covert operations aside. And indeed, about 10% of the participants are military--denoted by their 10 kg of dead weight they're required to carry, in case you missed the camo. It's billed as an "International" march, and a surprsing number of participants from different nations turn up, but in a tide of almost 40,000 Dutch people, they can be hard to find.
Frankly, I'm not sure which is more creepy--that you can get 40-50,000 people marching just to march, or the throwback to the day marches in 1984. I mean, I can completely understand torturing yourself for the hell of it (why else does anybody run a marathon?), although four days seems a tad bit excessive and borders, in my mind, on some kind of masochistic fetish. But the history of the Four Day March, from its conception as a test for soldiers to "building solidarity" in the 50s (a common theme back in the day) is disturbingly Orwellian in nature.
Nevertheless, I wish the walkers luck this year. I actually would like to participate in the Vierdaagse. Maybe next year--it should help me squeeze into a wedding dress ;-)