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All about being Dutch



What is the pinnacle of ''Dutchness''? I guess that those who know the Netherlands a bit, probably would say something like flowers, mills, cheese or maybe chocolates.

Others would turn to the arts and rather think of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh, just to mention some of our most inspirational painters.

It can also be less positive. A lady who lived in Holland for some time once told me that her main recollection was the stinginess of the Dutch. Let me add immediately, for fairness'' sake, that what some might see as the vice of stinginess is in the eyes of many Dutch rather the virtue of thriftiness and frugality.

Still I would like to suggest that the real pinnacle of Dutchness is rather something that counts as rather unattractive: Mud. Or to be more precise: dredging and draining.

One might ask: Who wants to turn pumping up of mud into the pinnacle of anything? Well, the Dutch could have survived without the flowers and the van Gogh Museum, but they could not have survived without endless dredging and draining.

After all, that is meant by the famous proverb about the Netherlands: God created the world but the Dutch created their own country. It is no secret: a quarter of Holland is below sea level.

One spot, not even that far from the North Sea, is seven meters below sea level, and the lowest point of the European Union. When you are there, it actually feels slightly scary. So without the dredging, the draining and the dikes part of the Netherlands would slowly slowly turn into sea again. Pumping or drowning, that is the choice.

Recently, I read an article about the history of dredging in the Netherlands, and it had the effect that sometimes happens when one delves into a new subject: something that looked for a long time as uninteresting or even dislikeful, mud, suddenly becomes fascinating! Some hundreds of years ago the north-western part of Holland was a collection of islands. Dredging started in the Middle Ages and was originally done with the simplest of tools: buckets and scoop nets.

In the16th century the engineers moved in: a long process of innovation started producing the mud mill and much later steam-driven dredging machines.

Over time large parts of the sea were reclaimed, considerably extending Holland''s habitable land. In the 18th century Dutch dredging engineers were invited to work in countries from Russia to England and Italy.

One person, however, challenged the Dutch claim of creating their own country, and that was nobody less than Napoleon.

When he occupied Holland, he came up with the story that it was France''s rightful property since Holland was in his eyes to a large extent not more than the sludge of the river Maas which starts in France. Quite funny, actually.

Turning to modern times, it becomes clear once more that one cannot kill history.

The Dutch -” and for that matter our Flemish neighbours -” were the first big dredgers and they still are. Apart from countries like the United States which protect their own dredging markets, Dutch companies like Boskalisen Van Oord dominate the international dredging market.

They have undertaken imaginative projects like the Palm Islands and the World in the Emirates but also in many projects in the Sultanate.

The Dutch and muddy water, it is like a catholic marriage, inseparable, and by now, unlike in our past of endless flooding, a rather happy and quite well-known couple. No surprise, therefore, that when hurricane Katrina struck Orleans, the American reaction was quite immediate: let''s phone the Dutch!

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