With International Bike Day around the corner, I am intensively thinking how to celebrate the joy of living in a beautiful green country, full of bicycles. Maybe biking all day is a good idea. Meanwhile, I hereby present you 2 bikes from World War 2.
Few weeks ago, I’ve visited Kunsthal Rotterdam, for a shoes exhibition. In the same day, I saw another interesting exhibition – The Second World War in 100 Objects / De Tweede Wereldoorlog in 100 voorwerpen (still available until 5th of May). The name is pretty explicit and the collection, even if small, is quite fascinating, gathering in one room from glasses, old stuffed teddy bears, coins, sweaters, Anne’s Frank marbles, gas-proof baby buggies…to bicycles. All the objects from the exhibition are covered with a rusted, granulated print of the war and the memories of the sufferance endured, but the bicycles are the symbol of victory. The victory of Dutch people against the war and the gruesome condition of life in that period.
- First bike (Image in the gallery below) is called Steel Steed with Wooden Tires /Stalen Roos met Houten Band (1941-1945) and it has a pretty interesting story. In the period 1940-1945, very few people actually owned a car, so bicycles were a major means of transport. Because imports of rubber were discontinued during the war, bicycle tires quickly became scarce. But this made people inventive: when certain products were unavailable during the war, people came up with substitutes.
An official contest was held in the autumn of 1941 to find an alternative for a rubber bicycle tire. Wood seemed to be one of the most suitable replacements. All over the Netherlands tradesman struggled to come up with something that would work. Two thousand contestants submitted a solution to the problem, such as bicycle tires made from a combination of wood and reused car tires. Several varieties of improvised bicycle tires eventually became available.
- The second bike (Image in the gallery below), named Mimepgraph with Bycicle / Stencilmachine met Fiets (1940-1945) is my hero. This bike represents the liberty of press! In 1940, the Germans abolished freedom of the press. Only information that they sanctioned was allowed in the papers, on the radio and in newsreels. An illegal press arose in reaction to this. The first papers appeared sporadically, but by the end of the war the number of illegal newspapers had increased to 1300.
Creating and distributing these papers was very dangerous work: punishable by death. Even having a single copy in your possession put your life at risk. This bicycle-powered mimeograph machine was used by members of the Amsterdam Resistance to stencil underground newspapers, most likely from late 1944 when the electricity in the city was cut off more and more often.
Don’t forget, on 19th of April, we celebrate the International Bike day!