Whenever Dutch football (soccer) teams play German teams, the Dutch fans taunt the Germans with big signs that say “Bring Back Our Bicycles “. The Dutch go to the trouble of writing out these signs in German so that their rivals will get the message.
The Dutch love the joke and think it is a great insult. The only problem is that except for the very old people in the crowd , the Germans have no idea what the Dutch are talking about. The Germans know it is some sort of insult, but exactly what is it?
Well it goes back to the end of World War II. The Germans, of course, had invaded The Netherlands at the very beginning of the war, and it was one of the very last countries liberated by the Allied Forces.
By that point in the war, the German army was completely defeated and the Germans were retreating full speed as the Allied Forces approached. The Germans were using everything they could to get out of the Netherlands. They took trucks, cars, motorcycles and tractors. When no motorized vehicles were left, the remaining German soldiers stole every bicycle in The Netherlands and rode them back to Germany.
These events were 70 years ago, but the Dutch have never forgotten. They never hold up signs asking to bring back the cars or trucks or tractors. It is the bicycles they remember.
The Netherlands is a nation of bicyclists. Children, businessmen, old people and beautiful young women all ride the big sturdy Dutch bicycles. In the pouring rain they ride them to work, steering with one hand and holding an umbrella in the other.
As time goes by and World War II seems more and more distant, the people of Europe will forget many things. But the Dutch will never forget or forgive the theft of their bicycles.