15-21 juli 2023nijmegen

Our history

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A dive into history! A look back at how it all started and what developments the Vierdaagsefeesten went through.

How it all began

The 1969 Four Day March­es were com­plete­ly over­shad­owed by the his­tor­i­cal lunar mis­sion Apol­lo II, which launched on the Wednes­day of the Four Day March­es from Cape Kennedy. On 20 July 1969 Neil Arm­strong became the first man to walk on the moon and spoke the well-known words one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind.’ 

The oppo­site could have been said of the 53rd edi­tion of the Four Day March­es. The steps tak­en by the 15,000 walk­ers of the time went pret­ty much unno­ticed. Walk­ers want­ed to be back ear­ly to watch the TV broad­cast. And there was noth­ing going on in the Nijmegen city cen­tre to make it inter­est­ing for them to stay. 

The days that fol­lowed were even worse. On Fri­day after­noon, the day of the fin­ish, the shops closed their doors ear­ly and the Nijmegen city cen­tre was as emp­ty as on a Sun­day after­noon. It was the last sum­mer before the intro­duc­tion of the Sum­mer Fes­ti­val. The last sum­mer with­out what is now known as the Vier­daagse­feesten. It was Nico Gri­jpink who drew atten­tion to this right after the 1969 Four Day March­es. Things had to change, he argued, or Nijmegen might lose the Four Day March­es, which would migrate to anoth­er city. The respons­es he got were very encour­ag­ing. On 15 Sep­tem­ber 1969, the first meet­ing of the organ­i­sa­tion com­mit­tee took place. 

At the sec­ond meet­ing, on 26 Jan­u­ary, the organ­is­ers already had an exten­sive, albeit pro­vi­sion­al, pro­gramme for 1970. But Gri­jpink want­ed to involve the entire Nijmegen city cen­tre. In April 1970 he sent out a pas­sion­ate appeal to the city cen­tre busi­ness own­ers: We must save Nijmegen, or the Four Day March­es will soon become a thing of the past.’ This led on 14 April 1970 to a his­tor­i­cal meet­ing at the Cen­trum cin­e­ma. A PR agency hired for the pur­pose came up with the idea of attach­ing a guilder coin to the invi­ta­tion sent out to all Nijmegen shop own­ers with the words: This is your first prof­it’. Gri­jpink thought it too much of a good thing, and reduced the amount to one quarter. 

The meet­ing drew a big crowd, and the fes­ti­val was born. After that new peo­ple appeared along­side Nico Gri­jpink: Ger­ard van Gronin­gen, John Bertine, Charles de Mori, Ger Leen­ders, Her­man Ber­tels, Piet Bru­ins, and Frans Grootaarts. Giants on whose shoul­ders we stand today as we con­tin­ue to help devel­op the fes­ti­val. A fes­ti­val that can nev­er again be imag­ined any­where oth­er than in Nijmegen,’ Gri­jpink was quot­ed say­ing in that year. 

Dear peo­ple, this year we cel­e­brate the Festival’s 50th edi­tion. I’m delight­ed with this oppor­tu­ni­ty to share with you the sto­ry of how this fes­ti­val was born, right now, at the start of our jubilee year. Many of you already know the sto­ry, yet it can’t be told often enough. And what res­onates in it for me is the fact that Nico Gri­jpink saw it as an essen­tial con­di­tion that we do it all togeth­er. Some­thing that is as true today as it was then. 

Fore­word by Wal­ter Hamers, Board Pres­i­dent of Sticht­ing Vier­daagse­feesten, held at the Ambas­sadors’ Club on 12 Feb­ru­ary 2019.


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The 1970s

From its ear­ly days in 1970 the fes­ti­val went through a huge growth spurt. With incred­i­ble effort a bud­get of 25,000 guilders was col­lect­ed in 1970 to organ­ise the first edi­tion of what was known at the time as the Sum­mer Fes­ti­val’: 5,000 guilders from the Event Com­mit­tee and 20,000 guilders from 500 shop own­ers who each con­tributed 40 guilders. Restau­rant and café own­ers, who were also invit­ed to con­tribute, didn’t donate a cent. To ensure some extra music the Four Day March­es march­ing bands had to be bribed’ with 25 guilders to make an addi­tion­al round of the city after the finish.’ 

The Four Day March­es Board was enthu­si­as­tic and some form col­lab­o­ra­tion was sought with the KNBLO (Roy­al Dutch League for Phys­i­cal Edu­ca­tion). The Four Day March­es route was even adjust­ed and since then, the walk­ing route of the sec­ond day takes the walk­ers right through the cen­tre of Nijmegen. In order to get the mil­i­tary walk­ers from Heumen­so­ord to the city, free shut­tle bus­es ran all week, and thou­sands of Nijmegen cit­i­zens took to the streets in large numbers.

A sur­vey con­duct­ed dur­ing the fes­ti­val revealed that the Sum­mer Fes­ti­val’ had gen­er­at­ed 20%-60% sur­plus prof­it. In short, the fes­ti­val was a great suc­cess and deserved to be repeated. 

1971 saw the intro­duc­tion of the De Waal in Flames’ fire­works dis­play, which con­tin­ues to be inex­tri­ca­bly linked to the fes­ti­val to this day. After some exper­i­men­ta­tion, the fes­ti­val found its cur­rent for­mat in 1973, with a Sat­ur­day open­ing cer­e­mo­ny and a Fri­day evening clos­ing cer­e­mo­ny. Plein’44 and the Grote Markt were the main venues in those ear­ly days. 

For the music pro­gramme the organ­is­ers drew on the mass of pop­u­lar hit parade artists that flood­ed the Nether­lands in those years. From Rob de Nijs to Her­man Brood, and from Cor­rie Kon­ings to the Dizzy Man’s Band. The con­certs of the Zan­geres zon­der Naam (Singer with­out a name), who was asked to come back for six con­sec­u­tive years, were espe­cial­ly legendary. 

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The 1980s

In the 1980s the Sum­mer Fes­ti­val grew into a strong, colour­ful spec­ta­cle that some­times attract­ed as many as 800,000 par­ty-goers. The Nijmegen Munic­i­pal­i­ty was charged with issu­ing per­mits for ter­races and kiosks and mak­ing sure that the rules were respect­ed. This helped clar­i­fy what was avail­able where, an impor­tant ele­ment in the safe­ty of the steadi­ly grow­ing crowds who found their way to the festival. 

In the mid-1980s, the author­i­ties strength­ened their enforce­ment and mon­i­tor­ing efforts. Where the rules were ignored, yel­low and red cards were issued. These organ­i­sa­tion­al changes in the 1980s went com­plete­ly unno­ticed by the pub­lic, who con­tin­ued to enjoy all that was on offer. The fes­ti­val was here to stay and the music pro­gramme was absolute­ly phenomenal. 

In 1985 the Valkhof was added to the list of fes­ti­val venues. The park, with its alter­na­tive pro­gramme, was intend­ed as a rest­ing point in the bus­tle and rev­el­ry of the city cen­tre. It was an overnight suc­cess. The alter­na­tive pro­gramme and unique atmos­phere added a spe­cial ele­ment to the festivities. 

In the mean­time, the grow­ing vis­i­tor num­bers were a cause for con­cern. When would the fes­ti­val reach full capac­i­ty, and how could pub­lic order and safe­ty be safe­guard­ed? In 1989, on the festival’s 20th edi­tion, with a bud­get that for the first time exceed­ed 1 mil­lion guilders, the fes­ti­val organ­is­ers nev­er­the­less expressed the hope that the Fes­ti­val would con­tin­ue to attract as many vis­i­tors as possible. 

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The 1990s

In 1992, the Nijmegen Munic­i­pal­i­ty con­duct­ed a large-scale sur­vey among the fes­ti­val audi­ence. A short sum­ma­ry: a total of 800,000 vis­i­tors came to Nijmegen to attend the fes­ti­val. At least 80,000 of the 125,000 Nijmegen cit­i­zens aged 15 and old­er vis­it­ed the fes­ti­val one or more times, 22% of the vis­i­tors came from with­in the region, 32% from oth­er parts of the Nether­lands, and 6% from abroad (most­ly the Ger­man bor­der area). 

The sur­vey also helped refute the fre­quent­ly heard com­plaint that the Four Day March­es walk­ers were unable to take part in the fes­ti­val. Approx­i­mate­ly 60%-70% of the walk­ers did attend the fes­tiv­i­ties, usu­al­ly on Sun­day, Mon­day and Fri­day. The prof­its exceed­ed 20 mil­lion guilders. 85% of the vis­i­tors said they attend­ed the fes­tiv­i­ties because of the great atmos­phere in the city. The fes­ti­val was giv­en an aver­age rat­ing of 7.8.

By the mid-1990s the Vier­daagse­feesten had grown into a mas­sive, enthralling and most impor­tant­ly free music fes­ti­val spread across the entire city. The Gevel­con­cert, which moved from its orig­i­nal loca­tion in the Molen­straat to the Grote Markt, fea­tured appear­ances by dweilorkesten’ (tra­di­tion­al Dutch Car­ni­val orches­tras) and grew into a huge hit. 

In 1993, the Kun­st in de Kerk’ (Art in the Church) project was launched in the St. Stevenskerk, with the inten­tion of cre­at­ing an oasis of calm in the midst of the busy fes­ti­val. Young Dutch artists were invit­ed to exhib­it their work and one famous artist was asked to cre­ate an art­work inspired by Nijmegen: the Nijmegen engraving. 

In 1998 the name Zomer­feesten’ (Sum­mer Fes­ti­val) was changed to Vier­daagse­feesten to strength­en and clar­i­fy the link with the Vier­daagse (Four Day Marches).

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The 21st century

Con­vivi­al­i­ty, crowds and pro­fes­sion­al­ism were the key­words of the Vier­daagse­feesten in the Noughties. Where­as at first the Vier­daagse­feesten had been pri­mar­i­ly sup­port­ed and organ­ised by Nijmegen busi­ness own­ers, by 2000, the fes­ti­val had grown too big for them. In par­tic­u­lar the safe­ty mea­sures and required refur­bish­ing of the city’ meant the fes­ti­val had become increas­ing­ly more expen­sive. A shift towards the out­side’ was need­ed to attract spon­sors and oth­er financers.

In the sec­ond large-scale pub­lic sur­vey, held dur­ing the2001 Vier­daagse­feesten, vis­i­tors gave the fes­ti­val the same rank­ing as in 1992: 7.8. Most respon­dents list­ed the atmos­phere as their most impor­tant rea­son for attend­ing the fes­ti­val, and 75% of vis­i­tors were hap­py with the music pro­gramme. The Waal in Flames’ and the Gevel­con­cert con­tin­ued to attract large crowds and the vis­i­tors rep­re­sent­ed all age groups. 42% of vis­i­tors came from else­where in the Nether­lands’, 38% from Nijmegen and sur­round­ings, 15% from the wider region, and 5% from abroad. 

In 2001, the Vier­daagse­feesten attract­ed 1 mil­lion vis­i­tors, mak­ing it for the fifth con­sec­u­tive year the best attend­ed event in the Nether­lands. The fes­ti­val offered more than 100 per­for­mances by artists such as Venice, Volu­mia, Twar­res, Jody Bernal, Milk Inc and Di-rect. More than 250 cafés and restau­rants joint­ly put out 20,000 ter­race chairs. 

In 2003, Frank Boei­jen per­formed at the open­ing night in the St. Stevenskerk and gave an addi­tion­al con­cert lat­er that night on the Waalka­de. DJ Tiesto was to be the great­est attrac­tion of the Vier­daagse­feesten on the Matrixx podi­um under the Waal­brug, but the Nijmegen Munic­i­pal­i­ty unfor­tu­nate­ly had to can­celled his per­for­mance for safe­ty reasons. 

2005 was a suc­cess­ful year with 150 ter­races and 30 music podi­ums in the Nijmegen city cen­tre. The festival’s suc­cess was also appar­ent from the fact that a large num­ber of vis­i­tors came to the exhi­bi­tion in the church and more than 60,000 vis­i­tors enjoyed the fire­works and music dis­play on the Waalkade. 

In 2006 the Four Day March­es had to be can­celled due to a heat wave, which result­ed in a very spe­cial year for the fes­ti­val. All podi­ums in the city observed a one-minute silence, as a pre­lude to a more sub­dued and respect­ful fes­ti­val edition. 

While the2007 Vier­daagse­feesten organ­is­ers ran around deal­ing with toi­let prob­lems, stands that had to be ade­quate­ly fire-proofed, squares that were near­ly reach­ing full capac­i­ty, pro­gramme changes, the weath­er, and many oth­er things, the vis­it­ing crowds focused on enjoy­ing them­selves. On Fri­day, the Waalka­de was turned into a one-way traf­fic sys­tem for the first-time – which great­ly helped reduce con­ges­tion on the quay. 

The 2008 Vier­daagse­feesten ranked first in the Top 100 Event Mon­i­tor. Big fes­ti­val artists made an appear­ance, includ­ing Room Eleven, Nick & Simon, Ste­vie Ann, Claw Boys Claw, Moke, Alain Clarke, Mem­phis Mani­acs, Voic­st, Bosshoss, CCC Inc, Leaf, Van Velzen, Beef, Mark Fog­go, Don Dia­blo and Gabriel Rios. The week was con­clud­ed with a roar­ing con­cert by rock band Normaal. 

The good weath­er, the great diver­si­ty of music and the­atre per­for­mances, the qual­i­ty improve­ments on the pre­ced­ing years and the increas­ing diver­si­ty among vis­i­tors all con­spired to make 2010 a top year. More than 1.4 mil­lion vis­i­tors saw more than 2100 artists per­form on the 30 fes­ti­val podi­ums, while 325 addi­tion­al trains were put on to trans­port the visitors.

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The 2010s

Sticht­ing Vier­daagse­feesten shift­ed its role from organ­is­er to direc­tor. Instead of vol­un­teers, the fes­ti­val was now in the hands of pro­fes­sion­als, and instead of act­ing from a posi­tion of author­i­ty, the organ­i­sa­tion focused on col­lab­o­ra­tion and broad­ly sup­port­ed deci­sions. Steer­ing groups were cre­at­ed, con­sist­ing of cit­i­zens, vis­i­tors and busi­ness own­ers, allow­ing us to gath­er exter­nal input. Behind the scenes, we worked on fur­ther pro­mot­ing sus­tain­abil­i­ty and innovation. 

Accord­ing to vis­i­tors, the top 5 activ­i­ties of the 2011 Vier­daagse­feesten were: the Waalka­de, Matrixx, the Waal in Flames, the St. Stevenskerk, and the open­ing pro­ces­sion. To spread the crowds through­out the city cen­tre the fes­ti­val pro­gramme was broad and pop­u­lar artists were spread over the 28 dif­fer­ent podi­ums. It was a great suc­cess in crowd management. 

Inno­va­tions that were intro­duced in 2012 includ­ed PET glass­es, the Vier­daagse­feesten loy­al­ty pass, the­atre on the Waalka­de, the Keep the fes­ti­val free; buy your beer at the bar’ cam­paign, the cre­ation of per­ma­nent water taps, and a more exten­sive children’s programme. 

Prof­its in the city cen­tre increased by €6 mil­lion in 2013, up to a total of €38 mil­lion. When asked what they enjoyed most about the Vier­daagse­feesten, vis­i­tors most fre­quent­ly answered the atmos­phere’ (69%). 15% of respon­dents list­ed oth­er aspects, includ­ing the diverse activ­i­ties’, the fact that it lasts a week and is free of charge’, the peo­ple’, the music’ and the Vier­daagse­feesten reunion feeling.’ 

2014 was an excep­tion­al year: with the FIFA World Cup in the lead­ing role, com­bined with trop­i­cal tem­per­a­tures, and on Thurs­day evening the crash of the MH17. The one-minute silence on Fri­day was impres­sive­ly respect­ful, as was whole crowds singing along to You’ll Nev­er Walk Alone’. It was a week in which we came to under­stand that the fes­ti­val was not only about hav­ing fun, but also about being togeth­er and shar­ing our expe­ri­ences and emotions. 

In 2015 the Vier­daagse­feesten were rat­ed 8.6. 32% of the vis­i­tors came from the wider region and 44% from Nijmegen. 25% came from the rest of the Nether­lands and abroad. This meant many peo­ple post­poned going on hol­i­day until after the Vier­daagse­feesten. The 3% of vis­i­tors who came from abroad still rep­re­sent­ed an impres­sive 45,000 people. 

The sur­vey also showed that 62% of vis­i­tors came back to Nijmegen for a return vis­it. This meant that through­out the year, 870,000 peo­ple returned for anoth­er vis­it because they were inspired dur­ing the Vier­daagse­feesten. 24% of fes­ti­val vis­i­tors stayed with fam­i­ly, friends, in a hotel or on a camp­ing site dur­ing the Vier­daagse­feesten. Clear­ly, Nijmegen was found to be a very hos­pitable city! 

2016 marked the 100th edi­tion of the Nijmegen Four Day March­es. This meant an even big­ger par­ty and more activ­i­ties in Nijmegen, bap­tised for the occa­sion the Sum­mer Cap­i­tal of Hol­land’. 1,508,500 vis­i­tors came to the Nijmegen city cen­tre. Spread over an area of 22,000 m2, 4500 artists gave more than 1040 per­for­mances. The brand-new city island on the oth­er side of the Waal was used for the first time by the­atre fes­ti­val Op t Eiland.

In 2017 it became appar­ent that the city could han­dle many more vis­i­tors still. In part thanks to the extend­ed day­time pro­gramme, the Vier­daagse­feesten attract­ed a record num­ber of 1,525,000 vis­i­tors. The bus­tle did not affect the atmos­phere: the Vier­daagse­feesten were still rat­ed 8.5 on aver­age, with 58% of vis­i­tors real­ly enjoy­ing the atmos­phere, and 40% being sat­is­fied. 96% of vis­i­tors indi­cat­ed that they often or always felt safe while attend­ing the events. 

Vis­i­tor num­bers con­tin­ued to grow in 2018. For the first time in the festival’s 49 years, the mag­i­cal thresh­old of 1.6 mil­lion vis­i­tors was crossed. The aver­age age of vis­i­tors was 29. Few­er and few­er peo­ple came to the city by car: 37% came by bike and 25% by train. A trend ful­ly in line with Nijmegen’s green and sus­tain­able ambi­tions, and its 2018 title of Euro­pean Green Capital’. 

In 2019 the Vier­daagse­feesten cel­e­brat­ed their 50th anniver­sary. Among the 1,625,000 vis­i­tors, the most pop­u­lar venues were Matrixx at the Park and Matrixx Live on the Quay, with per­for­mances by famous artists. Thanks to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of 25% addi­tion­al bin bags and an aware­ness cam­paign, the streets remained sur­pris­ing­ly clean. With ide­al tem­per­a­tures between 20oC and 24oC Nijmegen busi­ness own­ers could count on mak­ing a seri­ous prof­it: an impor­tant pre-con­di­tion for keep­ing the Vier­daagse­feesten free of charge.

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2020

After an unin­ter­rupt­ed 50-year stint, the 2020 Vier­daagse­feesten were can­celled because of the coro­n­avirus. But Nijmegen was by no means desert­ed: while respect­ing the 1.5 metre dis­tanc­ing mea­sures, the ter­races still man­aged to be full all week. There were also many sur­pris­ing ini­tia­tives, from small-scale per­for­mances at indoor loca­tions to cre­ative trea­sure hunts through the city. For those who remained at home, a sev­en-part pro­gramme was broad­cast, enti­tled Vier­daagse­feesten with Omroep Gelder­land.