Everything has come together around the Plein in The Hague in recent days. On the west side, the House of Representatives debated the emergency law and the corona crisis. In the center, near the statue of William of Orange, protesters protested against the corona measures, and more or less normal life continued on the terraces of the cafes on the east and south sides. Coronaproof, with handgel and remote tables.
But on Wednesday evening there were dozens of people hopping on the covered terrace of café Luden, at a distance of one and a half centimeters rather than one and a half meters from each other. The visitors hug each other, take selfies, sing aloud to the music and dance on tables. It was the last hours and minutes that the cafes were allowed to be open, before a forced closure of at least four weeks.
The images of the terrace, shot just after half past nine by BBC reporter Anna Holligan, immediately provoked outrage. A second video from the covered patio, posted to Instagram at just before 10 a.m. by a visitor, shows the same thing: visitors standing, singing and dancing. That account is no longer public.
In the parliamentary debate, PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher refers to the rushing young people. They show “we still have a long way to go,” he says. Mayor Jan van Zanen of The Hague calls the party behavior “completely irresponsible”.
Twelve hours later, John Prins, owner of café-restaurant Luden, puts on “the robe of penance”. “If I had woken up this morning and seen those images of someone else, I would have thought ‘what an idiot’ too.”
According to him, Wednesday evening felt like “New Years Eve”, “there was drinking left and right”. He should have “actually turned out the exciting music right away.” But Prins also says: “I am not a police officer.” Of turning the visitors away, he says: “There were still twenty tables or so that had to settle.” He did, however, say at 9.30 am that the last round had arrived and turned off the music five minutes later.
According to Prins, the images are “a snapshot”. “In ten minutes” it got out of hand. “Otherwise there would have been action?” According to him, the covered part of the terrace was empty by ten o’clock.
In a statement, the mayor wrote that the party was “stopped” at ten o’clock. According to his spokesperson, action has been taken. After a report of noise pollution due to the loud music, a long telephone conversation with the owner is said to have taken place. “Primary is the intention that the entrepreneur maintains itself.” When the nuisance continued, enforcers and officers entered and found that the corona rules were not being complied with.
The loud music was noticed by bystanders earlier in the week, but it is not a violation of the corona rules, the spokesperson said. Another video from the visitor, posted at twenty past six, shows how everyone is still sitting around tables under the tarp – in accordance with the corona rules – but singing along to the music. In the video from BBC reporter Holligan, the DJ can be heard asking – in vain – to be seated. A video of Telegraph-journalist Alexander Bakker, posted at a quarter to nine, shows dancing people.
According to Luden’s neighbors, the owners of café Millers, Wednesday evening was an exception. They don’t want their name in the paper. The restaurants and cafes are usually frequented by young officials, politicians and day-trippers during the day. They don’t exist now.
They say that it has been restless for several days because of the demonstrations against the emergency law. These had not been announced and after a time of tolerance, the police sent the demonstrators away. The catering men complain that those demonstrators went on the terraces. One of them tells how on Monday staff were harassed because she was wearing a mask. John Prins only says that on his terrace on Wednesday “there was not what is normally there” and talks about a lot of youth.
No official warning
The catering men also say that in recent months enforcers have continuously visited to see how the cafes around the Square adhered to the corona rules and that no abuses were found. The municipality says that Luden has been addressed before about enforcing the rules, although that was not an official warning and there were “no signals of this magnitude”.
It is being investigated which steps can be taken against the owner and the visitors. In previous similar cases, the mayor closed cafes for a period of two weeks – now the catering industry is closed for four weeks anyway.