Blowing the froth off on memories of crayzhee nights past

Thu, Jun 7, 2012, 01:00

EURO 2012 ROADTRIP: DAY 2:The last time I was in Amsterdam, I remembered yesterday, was on the way home from Euro ’88. A group of us were there the famous night Holland beat Germany in the semi-finals: a result that, for the locals, was as big as Ireland’s win over England 10 days earlier.

So the town was en fete, to put it mildly. And having obligingly surrendered our semi-final place to the Dutch, thereby facilitating a famous victory over their old enemy, the Irish were guests of honour at the party.

There was a lot of free beer, although the canny lowlanders are economically-minded even in drink. The system whereby one-third of every Dutch pint is froth – always controversial with Irish football fans – meant the locals were not being nearly as generous as they let on. Even so, it was a crayzhee night, as they say here.

Amsterdam is not quite as excited about the 2012 tournament yet. The temperature-raising effects of Holland’s 6-0 warm-up thrashing of Northern Ireland and the cooling effects of rain have cancelled each other out so far. A bit like ourselves, however, they don’t need much encouragement.

“Ah, the Dutch summer!”, said a man parking his moped at a canal-side bar, whose awning I had borrowed against another shower. “Just like the Irish summer,” I assured him. Whereupon he reacted as if the sun had reappeared.

“How is Dublin these days?” he asked, suddenly cheerful and making the city sound like a legendary party animal he knew from his student days. I told him it was bearing up, all things considered. But he swept my downbeat note aside.

“I just got an invitation to go there – from Jame-son,” he announced, explaining that he was a barman in the premises behind me. So I presumed he was going for some kind of training course? “I think it’s about drinking and having fun,” he corrected. Our reputation dies hard.

As a responsible parent, I’ve been steering clear of bars myself so far. Instead, during an idle hour, I took the family to the Anne Frank house. Not much fun there, unfortunately. But for once, this was a museum that didn’t need to be sold to the kids.

The older ones had covered the story at school and were rapt. They knew the details far better than I did. In fact, as we trooped around the darkened rooms where the family lived in secret, I found myself simultaneously surprised and depressed at how close they had been to escaping the horror, not once but twice.

One of the saddest exhibits is the juxtaposition of wall markings where the Frank children measured their heights at different times, alongside a map of the Normandy landings, complete with colour pins to mark the reported advances of the allies in the summer of 1944.

Liberation was coming, but not before the family was betrayed. And the bad luck repeated itself. Even in Belsen (where she had been transferred from Auschwitz), Anne Frank was only a month away from freedom when she died.

Her story is part of the tangled relationship between Germany and Holland (even more tangled when you remember that the Franks were German by birth, and it was most likely a Dutch person who betrayed them – not all the locals resisted as heroically as those who hid the family).

In any case, leaving the Frank museum, I remembered that our Euro 2012 itinerary would take us to the country of Auschwitz, another place I have somehow never been. Maybe that needs to be on the tour now too.

Happy days these when European national rivalries are mostly about economics and football. Certainly, after the Anne Frank House, I was less inclined to complain about the inconveniences involved in collecting our rental camper van.

Apparently the last such vehicle available in Europe when I booked, it had to be picked up a town just over the Dutch-German border, called Emmerich. But you could get a shuttle from Schiphol, I was told. And from a glance at the map, it also looked like a handy rail trip from Amsterdam, on the main route to Germany.

That was before I discovered that, in keeping with Dutch taxi prices, the shuttle would cost more than some second-hand cars. And then I learned that there was no direct rail or bus link any more. You could get connecting trains, but it would take all day. The most economic compromise was to get a train to Arnhem and a taxi the rest of the way. But after a morning sloshing around the canals of Amsterdam, Arnhem seemed – well – a bridge too far.

So I was tempted to leave the pick-up until Thursday, before the Emmerich people explained that, unfortunately, Thursday was a national holiday in Germany. In common with much of the country, their office would be closed.

I got there just in time yesterday. And surveying the fleet of campers, all booked for imminent collection, I wondered aloud how the company could take a Thursday off in June, on the eve of Euro 2012.

The woman behind the desk half smiled, half grimaced. Thursday would be D-day, minus 24 hours, she implied. The big rush will be Friday, about 3pm. That’s when the invasion of Poland begins in earnest, the woman suggested, although not in those exact words.