A quintessential part of being Dutch is being abnormally tall. I’m 5’9”. The Dutch are also blunt, occasionally bordering on confrontational. I actively avoid conflict. What’s a short and sheepish expat to do? I could learn the language, but that’s all kinds of effort. I could buy a bike, but that … no, no that sounds alright.
Buying and riding a bike in Amsterdam is practical. It’s no grand gesture and it sure isn’t anything I can use to wheedle my way into the hearts and minds of the Dutch people. But dammit, I want it to be.
The Dutch obsession with the bicycle (fiets, rijwielen, tweewieler) is profound. Since most of Holland is impossibly flat and the cities are compact, bikes a great way to travel. Pedaling is a lot faster than walking when you need to bring some disgusting licorice candies to grandma and two wheels will beat two feet when there’s a priority on getting to the market before they close at 5pm (markets have bank hours in Amsterdam).
The love fest for bikes is more than simple practicality. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands during World War II, German soldiers confiscated thousands of Dutch bicycles. No longer could you simply bike secret messages to the resistance, now you had to walk. And let’s be honest, walking is the worst. The bikes left in Dutch hands were stolen by German soldiers fleeing the Netherlands when it was apparent that the Nazis were losing. Thieving Nazis led Dutch bicycle usage to dip noticeably during and immediately after WWII.
In cities like London, WWII saw an increase of bicycle usage. The increase was grudging. Heavy petrol rationing and no occupying Nazis were the main drivers of bicycles gaining popularity. The British saw bikes as an irritating necessity forced upon them by war. They had to give up their automobiles, which were becoming popular before the war, in favor of slower, less comfortable bikes that actually require middling effort to pedal. The Dutch, on the other hand, had their bikes stolen. Their beloved fiets were now being used by the Germans. Daily life was disrupted and part of their identity had been lost. I know that seems melodramatic, but there is truth in there somewhere. The British quickly turned their backs/asses on bicycles after WWII and rekindled their relationship with automobiles. The Dutch happily and proudly reverted to cycling.
When Princess Beatrix married Claus von Amsberg on March 10, 1966 there were big-time protests in Amsterdam.
“Super cool story, bro. Now say something relevant or shut up.”
My inner monologue is a dick. The riots happened because Claus was a German who had served in the Hitler Youth. Real or imagined, some Dutch citizens drew a connection to Nazism and decided a riot was in order. A memorable slogan of the protest was “Mijn fiets terug!” (Give me back my bike). It’s not “I like Ike!” but the slogan lasted. In 2006 some Dutch football fans had Nazi helmets made (orange, of course, because accuracy is paramount) and shirts imprinted with “Mijn fiets terug!” The idea was to wear them at the World Cup when the Netherlands played Germany. That serendipity never happened, but the Germans were still pissed. If you find yourself saying “Mijn fiets terug” nowadays there are only a few possible reasons.
1.) You’re an old Dutch person having a flashback.
2.) You’re a young Dutch douche trying to annoy German tourists.
3.) You’re learning Dutch, you think you’re ordering coffee.
4.) A junkie has just stolen your bike.
So, this was only a long-winded and un-riveting introduction to many future long-winded and un-riveting posts about stuff that happens on my bike. A city of bike riding giants that herd like cattle ensures nuggets of excitement and humor. I’ll be here to drain the fun and the funny from both, so please come back and read. Oh, and Liz bought a bike too. She wasn’t an expert at first. She still isn’t.