Opinion | Biff America: New friends, old sins
I’d like to think that gang of attractive young folks instinctively sensed my charisma and that was why they joined me at my table uninvited. Yes, I’d like to think that but more than likely it was because I was an American and they were high.
Amsterdam is a friendly city. I think in part because many vices are legal and people are more relaxed.
In the delusional old days when Colorado’s ski industry’s PR efforts were hemorrhaging money they came up with the ill-conceived concept that to promote the Rocky Mountains they should send a pack of ski-bum miscreants to host press parties around Europe and Great Britain.
Amsterdam was my favorite and not only because of my love of bicycling and Dutch-like complexion.
After working late the night before, I spent the morning visiting the Anne Frank Museum. Like many students of my generation I had read Anne Franke’s diary and was aware of the cruelty inflicted by the German occupiers.
But the book did not prepare me for the emotions the home would evoke. It was easy to imagine a stain of the fear and horror on the walls of that old home. While walking those narrow stairs toward the attic and listening to the tour guide’s description of the events in that home and city I was fighting back tears.
I wept for the Franks ,the Jews, gypsies, gays, clergy and all those who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis. But I also felt near nausea with the knowledge that the murder and suffering was, if not enacted, condoned and ignored by not only zealots, but also regular people — regular people of varying backgrounds and nationalities.
“Indifference is the epitome of evil,” Elie Wiesel.
I walked out grateful that there are monuments and museums that serve to remind us of what is possible when otherwise average people allow others to think for them. History is replete with stories of many creeds being fooled into believing that their problems are caused by a particular race, faith or lifestyle.
Can you blame me that after all that heavy reflection I would want to go and get baked? Luckily, I was in Amsterdam.
I was sitting in one that city’s many cafés alone and reflective. I wished I had someone to talk to. And proving that God has a sense of humor, on bicycles, rolled up a handful of guys and gals who looked to be in their 20s. I don’t speak Dutch so I don’t know if they asked to join me but I do know they did.
My guess was that my jeans, boots and ball cap tagged me as an American and when one gal, who spoke passable English, asked where I was from and I answered Colorado, the crowd went wild; some of them had visited and skied in our state.
It seemed the fact that I was from Colorado was reason enough for them to like me. And after we all enjoyed some of the café’s libations they got up to leave and motioned me to come along.
I had no clue where we were heading, or if the bicycle they gave me to ride was stolen, but off we went. As we rolled along one of them said that we were going to a soccer match between a local team and one from Munich.
The crowd was divided with half wearing the colors of Germany, the other wearing the orange of the Netherlands. The game seemed to be a match between local clubs and the rivalry seemed good natured. There was cheering and chants from both sides and I tried to mimic my new Dutch friends.
It was much later in the game, perhaps fueled by alcohol when things turned more serious. The chants on the Dutch side became longer, sounded less good natured and were unanswered by the opponents. The one word I could make out was “grootvader.”
The collected demeanor of our group was heated as they directed their chants at the opposing side. I sought out the gal who spoke the best English and asked what they were saying.
“Give us back our Grandfather’s bicycles!!”
The Dutch love cycling. Seems that during WWII the occupiers commandeered many bicycles owned by the Dutch. Many Dutch still held those bike thefts against the descendants of the German soldiers. Neither I, nor anyone in my group, or I’m guessing few in the stadium, was alive back then but the anger had outlived the victims. And, it is my guess, that a stolen bicycle was simply a metaphor for more serious sins.
Why I bring this up now is if anyone thinks that the fear, hate and divisiveness our government, media and some of our citizens are causing in our nation and around the globe won’t leave an ugly scar they are naïve. The wounds of the Holocaust, slavery, segregation and Native American genocide have not healed, nor should they. They serve as a reminder of what happens when the bad acts of bad people are met with the silence of the indifferent…….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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