On The Public Highway

In 2010, the Ruhr area was the Cultural Capital of Europe, a title which is given to two European cities each year by the EU. The Ruhr organizers had some brilliant ideas, including having a culture festival on a motorway. The A40, one of Germany´s busiest highways, was chosen, closed for a day, and given over to visitors. Two lanes in one direction were dedicated to cultural groups like bands, small theatre companies, jugglers, clowns, even neighbourhoods partying, and the other two lanes in the opposite direction were handed over to cyclists.

Cyclists from all over Germany were attracted to this event. Trains to and from Dortmund were choc a bloc with bicycles, we were nearly not let on at Herford station, and bikes were literally piled ceiling high. Once in Dortmund we met some friends who are local and who showed us the way.

Still, when we first approached this sign

on our bikes, you can imagine that we were a little apprehensive. However, Police, the Fire Brigade and even civil protection people had been posted everywhere, and we really were safe to cycle on the motorway.

Riding up the interchange, we felt at once that there was a very special atmosphere among the cyclists.

The weather was wonderful, and it seemed everyone joined the fun, even officials and one of Germany´s biggest food store chains which had sent lorries full of drinks and basic snacks. The victuals were sold at normal shop prices which is rare in mass events. In the heat many people were very grateful for a drink.

At first, the going was good. All sorts of bikes were to be seen, even a high wheeler, so of course the faster cyclists had to be very careful.

Soon the road was crammed with cyclists and sadly had to be closed for new arrivals. My son (who BTW took the photos in this post) climbed a bridge twice within, say, an hour to take two snaps of the growing density of the crowd.

First people took breaks in laybys or on the grass right in the middle of interchanges.

Then, some started to climb over the central partition because the throng had become stationary and there was no other way out but to push the bikes along the stalls on the “cultural” half of the motorway. We left at an exit far away from where we had planned to, but the Ruhr being densely populated there were smaller roads everywhere and we made our way back to Dortmund without a problem.

So what had people made to come to the Ruhr from all over? I think many had this feeling of re-conquering the freedom to use the public highway, any public highway, if only for a few hours, that was theirs of rights, and historically seen had been theirs for a long time until the arrival of mass motorization. It also was the idea that maybe cycling on a road which normally is a death zone for any non-motorized traffic might be an adventure that is not soon to be repeated.

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