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.