Monday, 27 October 2008

Archived Bird Legs

A few years ago I read in a magazine that the city hall archive of Amsterdam has the preserved legs of pigeons in it's archives.

I forgot the article but kept remembering the fact that you can ask to view preserved pigeon legs at the city hall of Amsterdam.

Flashforward to last week: a colleague tells me she has to do an art project which has as subject courier pigeons. The pigeon legs anecodote that slumbered in the back of my mind crawls out of hibernation and a few sentences later she giggles at my story.

Today I spoke with her again and so intrigued by my story she actually went to the archive and got to see the legs. Well why does the city hall archive of Amsterdam contain dried out bird legs?

Apparently during WW2 when Amsterdam was occupied by the Nazi's, pigeon were considered to be possible illegal communication devices used by the Dutch resistance to contact London.
The Nazi's ordained that all pigeons should be kept in cages, be registered with the proper authorities and in no circumstances allowed to fly outside. (Then and now in the Netherlands you have a great deal of people who keep pigeons as pets, we call them 'duivenmelkers' which roughly translates as pigeonmilkers. Don't ask me why... )
The police had a unit called the pigeonbrigade who's task it was to register all the birds.

Eventually the Nazi's got fed up with all the pigeons still flying around and ordered the pigeonbrigade to round them up and exterminate all pigeon life forms in Amsterdam. Here comes the archive bit. Because most birds were registered the Nazi's wanted proof people had their pets killed. So chop went the bird's head, chop went it's leg and the registered bodypart neatly went into the archive.

And because the Dutch have a very hard time throwing anything away once they put it in an archive, till this day if you go to the city hall of Amsterdam and ask them for the bird legs, the reply you'll hear is: "Right this way, sir."

link ( unfortunate only in Dutch)

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