How Napoleon saved drunks in Amsterdam from drowning

Louis Napoleon, the first Dutch king and guardian angel of the drunks in Holland.

Louis Napoleon, the first Dutch king and guardian angel of the drunks in Holland.

The Dutch capital Amsterdam today counts as one of the biggest party cities in the world. With a large variety of pubs and night clubs, as well as easy access to all kinds of drugs and legal prostitution the city is a modern Sodom and Gomorra. And of course accidents can easily happen in such a setting. With it’s many canals it’s quite easy to hit the water and drown. We found that out first hand, without the drowning that is. That the number of victims is close tot zero nowadays is all thanks to Napoleon. Not the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, but his younger brother Louis Napoleon Bonaparte who became the first king of Holland in 1806. In the 4 years he ruled over Holland he had quite an impact on the country, most importantly he made it safer for the smashed and the hammered.

In 1806 emperor Napoleon decides that the Netherlands need to be united in a strong country, because of their strategic position close to his main enemy England. He orders his brother to take the throne as the first Dutch king. Louis Napoleon at first is not enthousiastic at all to move to the cold and wet lands in the north. But after he is convinced, he takes his job very seriously. He learns the Dutch language and history, changes his name Louis to the Dutch equivalent Lodewijk and shows he cares for his new country. When he first arrives the people laugh at him cause he introduces himself as their rabbit (“konijn van ‘Olland“) instead of their king (“koning van Holland“), but soon enough he shows his good sides and becomes a highly loved monarch.

Just before Louis became their king, Dutch people for the first time took on last names. Before that time they were just named Jan son of Piet, but emperor Napoleon introduces hereditary family names. Since a lot of people think these names are just for as long as the French rule in Holland and they don´t take it too serious. That´s why today there are still people in Holland with last names like Naaktgeboren (born in the nude), Poepjes (shits), Konterman (butt-man) or Koopziek (shopaholic). Louis Napoleon takes the civilization of Holland a step further and introduces numbers on houses. He also establishes a central regime that finally unites the different provinces and one code of law for all areas.

The handrails next to the canals still come in handy. Especially on national holidays like Kingsday.

The handrails next to the canals still come in handy. Especially on national holidays like Kingsday.

But most importantly the first king of Holland wants to protect the many drunks that fill the streets. In those times Dutch people stuff themselves with as much jenever and beer as they can and this leads to accidents quite often. Especially in Amsterdam, where many canals cross the city, many drunks end up drowning. Caring king Lodewijk orders his men to hang ropes alongside the water and later this is being replaced by steel handrails. These typical fences still come in handy in modern day Amsterdam. For it’s original use to protect the party people from drowning, or just to support the ones who need to vomit. As Wouter, a habitant of Amsterdam, describes it: “They still come in handy once a month”.

Lodewijk Napoleon’s reign over Holland lasted only 4 years. According to his brother he didn’t keep the interests of France in mind as he developed his country. In 1810 the emperor made his brother resign. Still on behalf of all the party animals that ever visited the Dutch capital we believe a small thank you is in order. Cheers to Lodewijk Napoleon Bonaparte.

Micky Bumbar

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8 thoughts on “How Napoleon saved drunks in Amsterdam from drowning

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    • Well, utter nonsense is a bit harsh I would say. However you are right that there were already bridges with iron hand rails from the 17th and 18th century. Probably just not everywhere, since the number of drowning drunks was still bothering Louis Napoleon.


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