When you peruse the local papers to find something to do at the weekend, are you mystified by the adverts for events? What is a rommelmarkt, vlooienmarkt, kermis or braderie? Where can you find a boot fair or a garage or yard sale? I hope I can shed a little light on the mysteries of Dutch event names and show you where you can buy (or sell) secondhand items. The edges are blurred on many of these concepts, however, and what may be billed as a rommelmarkt in one place may be called a vlooienmarkt in another and some towns get really creative and make up their own original name, not helping anyone to know what sort of event to expect.

Bij de kermis - At the fair
Bij de kermis – At the fair

Feesten, festivals and other festivities.

Sometimes it seems like there isn’t a weekend goes by where there isn’t some sort of festival going on, and sometimes multiple events in the same weekend, especially between April and July. For example, the cherries are coming into season, so Gendt and Bemmel hold a kersenfeest (cherry festival). Early autumn was the traditional time to sell ponies, so both Bemmel and Wijchen hold a pony market (ponymarkt) around that time. There are music festivals galore, the ultimate free festival being the Zomerfeesten in Nijmegen in July. Arnhem is renowned for the Sprookjesfestival, holds Sonsbeek Open musical events in the park in the summer and hosts the World Living Statues festival. There is certainly no reason to be bored!

All the fun of the fair

Kermis (funfair). This refers to the sort of funfair which sets up temporarily for a week or a weekend in a town with rides such as the big wheel, roller-coasters and other fast rides, as well as bumper cars, merry-go-rounds, and side-shows. There may be a special day with reductions for children, and there is often a beer tent or stage with entertainment, whether this be local artists or national stars. Even the smallest village seems to have its annual funfair, even if it’s only a merry-go-round and a few side-shows. In years gone by when people didn’t go away on holiday, this was the biggest event of the year, and was often a local holiday so that people could fully enjoy it all. Many children still save up their pocket money for the fair, and many a romance started at the local dance tent, or whilst strolling around the funfair, swept away by the romance of the lights and the thrill of the rides.

One of the side-shows I’ve only ever seen in the Netherlands is touwtjestrekken, the string pulling game, a great family favourite. The stall is covered in small prizes with some larger ones, too, each attached to a string that disappears into the top of the stall. You choose a string, pull on it and win whichever prize it’s attached to. Children love it because there’s no skill required and you always ‘win’ a prize, however ugly or shoddily made. So it’s an elaborate way of running a lucky dip. I’m not sure if there’s really an equivalent in English, but there must have been once because I found this newspaper article explaining how they avoid giving away the big prizes.

Braderie (fair). This is a local fair, usually with stalls run by local people selling bric-a-brac, homemade cards or art and pottery, some commercial stalls, funfair stalls for the children, maybe a merry-go-round and mini bumper cars. This is your chance to see demonstrations by craftsmen in traditional costume of crafts such as basket-making and clog-making, and there might be some form of entertainment, such as dancing by local folk-dancing or children’s groups, and amateur and semi-professional singers. Tuck into food and drink like hamburgers, hotdogs, saté, doughnuts (oliebollen), popcorn and candyfloss (suikerspin). Many non-trade stalls have a lucky dip for the children, a grabbelton, either free or for a pittance.

Braderies are usually well-attended, and some, such as the annual braderie in Elst, attract visitors from far and wide, and can be very crowded. The fair may well have a special name, such as the Hernense Stratenmarkt or names such as Wijchen op Stelten; literally Wijchen on stilts, a reference to the phrase iets op stelten zetten, which means to turn something upside down or be disorganised. Hence the Dutch name for Fawlty Towers, Hotel op Stelten!

Taptoe (military tattoo). Some villages hold an annual tattoo, where local brass bands can display their talents. Marching bands compete in front of a jury, and there is fierce competition. Most towns and villages have a local fanfare or harmonie with a military-style uniform, and the standard is usually very high. Locally Elst and Wijchen both have an annual tattoo.

Jumble, junk, trade shows and more

Given the Dutch are (according to themselves) very frugal or even stingy (zuinig, gierig, vrekkig, krenterig), a stereotype I had never heard of until they proudly pointed it out to me, it’s hardly surprising that people like to buy and sell things secondhand. Not to mention the recent trend for recycling. But yard sales or garage sales are very few and far between in the Netherlands, so where do you go? Apart from various online sites such as Marktplaats and charity and secondhand shops, there are many events you can visit. A great place to look for them is Meukisleuk.nl, with listings you can search by province or type of event. But what do words like rommelmarkt, vlooienmarkt and beurs mean?

Rommelmarkt (rummage sale). Often held in a community centre, street or open area, this is the Dutch equivalent of a jumble sale, but the proceeds usually go to the individual vendors. Anyone can cheaply rent a stall or ground space to display anything they wish to sell. Rock-bottom prices are asked and given.

Vlooienmarkt (flea market). Very similar to a rommelmarkt, but more often organised by a commercial organiser, and held in a larger venue such as the Jan Massinkhal in Nijmegen or the Olympichal in Wijchen. Renting a stall costs more (around €30) and there is usually an entrance fee. Prices are not necessarily higher, but there are more likely to be professional traders. As these are more widely advertised locally, the crowd is likely to be bigger than for a rommelmarkt.

Vrijmarkt (free market). The most well-known vrijmarkt (free market) is the one held on the king’s birthday, Koningsdag (27 April), when anybody can sell their bric-a-brac at the markets, often organised by the local Oranjevereniging (Orange Club). The term means that anyone is free to sell whatever they wish, although there are now regulations about selling food and drink, so you need to have a license. There is also the well-known Vrijmarkt Cuijk, held every Sunday. Anyone can sell there by renting a stall.

Kofferbakmarkt / Car Boot Sale. This is a very recent phenomenon in the Netherlands. I recently heard that they are held regularly in Boxmeer, Cuijk and Milsbeek. In July and August, there will be car boot sales in Apeldoorn. They are also held once a month in Oss.

Kledingbeurs / speelgoedbeurs (clothing / toy fair). Some places have an organised kledingbeurs where you can bring your unwanted clothes to sell. Some may concentrate on only baby and children’s clothes, or only ladies’ and gents’, or baby’s, children’s and toys. Keep your eye on the adverts in the local paper for announcements. In general, there is a time specified at the beginning when the vendors take in their wares, lay them out and price them up. They are then sold by the organisers, who keep a record of what has been sold. The money raised is either donated to charity, or the vendors turn up later to collect their profits.

Beurs (trade show). Companies and organisations wishing to advertise their wares and reach new customers set up a stall at the beurs. You name it, there’s a show devoted to it:

    • tuinbeurs – garden show
    • PC beurs – computer show
    • reisbeurs – travel show
    • eroticbeurs / Kama Sutra beurs – I’ll leave this to your imagination
    • 9 maanden beurs – with the emphasis on pregnancy and baby products. This is not run in conjunction with the above, but with the
    • Huishoudbeurs – lifestyle, home, decoration, cooking, etc.
    • 50+ beurs – products aimed at older people
    • onderwijsbeurs – show for colleges and training companies to meet prospective students
    • banenbeurs – show where employers meet prospective employees
    • oldtimerbeurs – classic car show
    • AutoRAI – biggest car show in the Netherlands, every 2 years, cancelled in 2013 due to the economic crisis, but back in April 2015
    • HISWA – national boat show
    • boekenbeurs – book fair
    • platen- en CDbeurs – record and CD show

Some of these fairs are nationally organised, and often held in huge exhibition centres such as the RAI in Amsterdam, the Beursgebouw in Eindhoven, Brabanthallen in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, MECC in Maastricht, IJsselhalle in Zwolle and Jaarbeurs in Utrecht.

Verzamelmarkt (collector’s market). A market where collectors of anything from porcelain to military memorabilia go in search of new additions to their collection. There are regular collectors’ fairs in Utrecht.

Postzegelbeurs (stamp fair). Philatelists get together to share their hobby and sell postage stamps. There may also be exhibitions or competitions.

Craft fairs. Look out for fairs with titles such as ‘Artistieke Handen’, ‘Creatieve Handen’, etc. There are also newer, hipper craft and artisan fairs springing up around the place such as the Lindenmarket in Nijmegen.

Ruilbeurs (Swap shop). If your children have been collecting free gifts such as stickers, marbles, ‘wuppies’ or ‘flippos’ from the supermarket, but they’ve still got some missing, fear not! The supermarket sometimes organises a swap shop on the last day of the promotional period, so that children can try to complete their collection. Otherwise, try looking on Marktplaats.

Antiekmarkt (antique market). This is the place to buy genuine antiques. You may get a bargain, but you may be charged more than the object is worth!

Vogelmarkt (bird market). This is a bird show when local pigeon fanciers (so-called duivenmelkers, literally dove milkers) or owners of canaries or other birds meet up to show off their collections.

Expat fairs. The most well-known is the Expatica “i am not a tourist” Fair in October, with the IamExpat Fair starting up in March 2015.

Arnhem – Nijmegen region venues

In Arnhem, the biggest venue for shows and markets used to be the Rijnhal, but this closed at the beginning of June, possibly to be taken over by French sports clothing chain Decathlon. This means that events will be organised in other venues such as the Gelredome, Burger’s Zoo and the Open Air Museum. In Nijmegen, the Jan Massinkhal is the traditional place for shows and markets, but it now has competition from the Honigfabriek. Wijchen has the Olympichal and there are all sorts of local sports halls and community centres for smaller events in the region.

New initiatives

There are even more new initiatives starting up locally and it’s difficult to keep up. I’ll have to try and write another post with more details about events, markets and shows in Gelderland, but that’s more than enough for one blog post. For example, I know that there are farmer’s markets, but they’re not necessarily called that. There’s one on the Kelfkensbos in Nijmegen on Saturday morning and part of the market in Arnhem is dedicated to organic food. More research is required. Watch this space!