We all know about the Dutch love of cycling, their
wonderful cycle lanes and how everything is carried by bike, from dogs to
DIY. But less known are the deeper
undercurrents in Dutch society tapped into by the humble bicycle.
Did you know that when the Germans were abandoning
the occupied Netherlands in 1944-1945 they stole huge numbers of bikes, to
speed up their getaway? Some 4 million bikes were taken. A Nazi officer
reported later that “no single measure has caused such bitterness in all ranks
of society”. Still today, and particularly on sporting occasions such as major
football matches, the historic Dutch resentment of Germany flares up.
To the Dutch their bicycle is an essential everyday
item, often unglamorous, unlike in Britain where bikes are often expensive and
specifically for sport. After the war with so much destruction in Dutch towns
and cities it was a priority to provide good cycle lanes everywhere. Today,
more than a third of all short journeys in the Netherlands are made by bike,
and it is the only European country with more bicycles than people.
The Dutch memory runs deep, and in 1966 when Princess
Beatrix of the Netherlands married a German prince there was outrage. As the
royal carriage proceeded through Amsterdam people threw their bicycles into the
street in protest.