Friday 7 August 2009

Danke, aber nein danke

Roda JC, the Kerkrade-based football club which plays in the top-flight of the Dutch league, this week issued a statement advising its fans to desist from singing German-language chants at its home matches. The club has been moved to issue the statement following the findings of a survey carried out by Club Positioning Matrix, which reveal that the club has a 'weinig sympathiek Duits imago'. The reason is primarily financial, the club say. Income from television rights is distributed on the basis of a club's positioning in the matrix and Roda come off pretty badly in the rankings, supposedly as a result of this 'German' image. More than anything, the management wants to develop its image as a mainstream 'Dutch' club (thus enhancing its chances of increased revenue) and ditch its regional identity: the insinuation is that a German image is bad for the club.
Traditionally, goals scored by the home club at Parkstad Stadion Limburg are celebrated in the German style, with the tannoy system booming out 'Danke', to be reciprocated by a 'Bitte' from those in the stands. Another favourite chant of the crowd is 'Viva Colonia', a song written by Cologne-based band De Höhner, popular at Carnaval as well as on the terraces in the Rheinland region of Germany (and in Dutch Limburg).
In a country where anti-German sentiment is often simmering just below the surface, perhaps one shouldn't be surprised to see the words 'weinig sympathiek' (less favourable) and 'Duits' (German) used in the same breath. Nevertheless, I find the juxtaposition of words pretty woeful.
Equally lamentable are the attempts by the club management to snuff out regional identity. Sadly, many Limburgers themselves are only too oblivious to the cultural and linguistic roots they share with their neighbours. After all, it is only by a quirk of fate that 'Limburg' became part of the Netherlands. If history had taken a different turn, Limburgers might well have become Germans or Flemings. The 'vernederlandsing' of Limburg has been a slow, gradual process.
Linguistically, the Limburg dialect is Ripuarian in origin, spoken widely in the region to the west of the Rhine. In the south-eastern corner of Limburg, German for a long time competed with Dutch as the Lingua Franca. Up until the 1930's, German was still being used in some churches. In Kerkrade, up until 1911, there was a German language newspaper (see above). In fact, culturally speaking, there's a whole raft of customs and traditions which connect Limburg more closely with the Rheinland than with 'Holland': food architecture, industry (mining), religion, culture (Carnaval, the schutterijen, brass bands, Schlagermusik, etc.)
The Roda management may do its best to stamp out the German chanting, but old habits die hard and thankfully traditional regional affinities persist, if only sometimes in a latent, subliminal form. (Ironically, the name Roda refers to the region known as the Land of Roda which straddles the border between Kerkrade in the Netherlands and Herzogenrath in Germany.)
As the addage goes, you can take the Kerkradenaar out of Kerkrade, but you can't take Kerkrade out of the Kerkradenaar.