Register Monday | July 22 | 2019

Five Ring Circus: Nothing Rhymes with Orange—Except Heineken

Photo by Iva Gruden

"Dank u wel,” says the tall, blond screener. I’ve just passed through security tighter than an Israeli airport and penetrated the massive, Popsicle-orange compound known as the Holland Heineken House. It’s located in the Richmond “Ozone,” about twenty minutes from downtown at the end of the ultra-modern rapid-transit Canada Line.

The buzz about town is that the Heineken House is the place to be. It has been a fixture at the last ten Olympic Games, and is by far the largest, busiest and rowdiest national pavilion. While Dutch passport-holders are fast-tracked inside, for everyone else, the wait can be upwards of two hours. On nights when medal winners are brought in for an extra medal ceremony and after party, non-Dutch have been turned away at the door.

On the evening I’m there, however, the party seems somewhat muted. After six days of competition, the medal wall is looking a little bare, with only one adorning it—Sven Kramer’s Gold in Men’s 5,000m Long Track Speed Skating. Indeed, the speed skating is the Netherlands’ national sport, and the Dutch are powerhouses. Their skaters have since earned a silver and bronze.

The Heineken House is a large operation, and one that the Dutch back home are well aware of. “Everyone knows about it. Heineken tries to facilitate a home place for the Dutch and for foreigners so we can all have a good time,” a spokesperson tells me.

Inside, the main hall is flanked by two bars, serving—what else—Heineken. (A spokesperson estimates that they will serve 320,000 beers over the course of the Games.) Visitors can dine on traditional Dutch food such as broodjes (sandwiches) and stamppot zuurkool met worst en spek (potato-sauerkraut “hotchpotch” with sausage—served in a paper cone).

Almost 200 people help staff the House, most of them volunteers and all of them imported from the Netherlands. Radio 538, a Dutch Top 40 station, broadcasts live from here, and students from the Journalism School of Utrecht publish daily newsletters in both English and Dutch.
Those decked out in orange apparel (which includes boas and inflatable plastic crowns) outnumber everyone else. A large group is clad in orange T-shirts reading “Stefan Go! Stefan Great!” Michiel de Boer tells me they’re rooting for Stefan Groothuis, who trains at the Deventer Ijs Club, where de Boer is a coach.

Ton, an older gentleman who has lived in Vancouver for the last 30 years, is happy to be surrounded by his compatriots. I ask him which country he’s rooting for, his birthplace or his adopted country. “Both,” he says evasively. And if it’s Canada versus the Netherlands in the final? “Let the best one win.”

RELATED VIDEO: Virtual Tour of Heineken House