From beer to water, Netherlands gets first king in a century

Mon Jan 28, 2013 2:00pm EST
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By Anthony Deutsch

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - In a country where a third of the land is below sea level, a head of state familiar with the complexities of keeping nearly 17 million people dry can be a good thing.

So it's not entirely a coincidence that Willem-Alexander, who will take up the throne on April 30, as head of the House of Orange-Nassau and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has been immersed in the business of water management and conservation for much of his life.

Willem-Alexander, 45, will assume his new duties after the abdication of his mother, Queen Beatrix, who turns 75 on Thursday, after living the life of a somewhat flashy heir-apparent.

The last time the Netherlands had a king, more than a century ago, was when Willem-Alexander's great-great grandfather William III held the throne. William III died in 1890, the same year that Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh shot and killed himself. Since then, queens have ruled the Netherlands.

Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand, known as "Alex" to his friends and dubbed "Prince Pils" by the tabloids because of his taste for beer, has carefully built up a reputation as an expert in water management and sits on several international committees.

His marriage to a commoner, whose father was a civilian minister in Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976-1983, at first raised eyebrows.

But Maxima Zorrigueta, an attractive blonde with a down-to-earth smile, won over the hearts of the Dutch, quickly learning their language. Last year she took a dip in one of Amsterdam's canals to show people how clean they have become.

Water is no trivial matter in the Netherlands, where dikes and sea barriers hold back the North Sea and a complex system of pumps and canals keeps the land dry enough for people to live in and for its farmers to produce tulips and cheese worth billions of euros.   Continued...

Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander is seen giving the thumbs-up to a pastry shop as he and Crown Princess Maxima (rear) walk through "New Amsterdam Village," in New York on this September 13, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Chip East/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: ROYALS POLITICS)