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Still Leben Ruhr 2010

Last Sunday, July 18th, I was not expecting anything extraordinary to happen. I woke up, ate breakfast and got dressed. My boyfriend wanted to visit some 'world's longest picnic on the Autobahn' or whatever it was he was talking about excitedly a few weeks ago, so that was on the agenda, as well as getting some more practical work finished for my upcoming auditions and voice program in August. Naturally, my curiousity was peaked when he had mentioned something like this a while ago, but normally highways and picnic tables don't provide my imagination with a feeding frenzy of zany imagines, so, I simply thought, okay, let's see.
Honestly, the idea of this whole project didn't sound all that exciting: the Ruhr area decides to close a major highway on a Sunday in July to open it for pedestrians and picnic tables on the one side and bicyclists and skaters on the other side. Doesn't really bring to mind the next Woodstock or Lallapalooza, does it? Especially since my mind went right to thinking, 'Oh goody! Let's walk on a (probably) crowded highway in the middle of a blisteringly hot day without any purpose besides wanting to look at all the other goons who fell for this community togetherness ploy!'. Needless to say, I was not enthused, but figured I could get through it for one day, if only to add it to the list of my new experiences in Germany.

And that was where my pessimistic train of thought was completely and utterly derailed. Not only did I have a wonderful time walking on a blisteringly hot highway in the middle of a Sunday in July without any real purpose besides watching everyone else doing the same thing as I was, (take a mental breath) but I also found out that the German people as a whole are not as conservative as I had imagined. I mean, considering that this entire thing was put together by neighboring cities in the Ruhr Area and there was very little publicity done about its actual date and time, plus, there were no actual events planned save two or three stages on the highway with musical performance schedules in a stretch of 60 kilometers (which is roughly 37 miles according to Google), there were zillions of people there! And each picnic table that was rented (whether by a company, school, group, or family) was colorfully decorated, interestingly bedecked and filled with smiling people who looked like (and usually were) having tons of fun (even somehow after lugging 5 coolers, a beach umbrella, a colorful tablecloth, papier-mache decorations and their three kids onto the highway from a quite-possibly ridiculous distance)! (Keep in mind readers, the only ways to enter and exit the highways were from the on-ramps that were usually used by cars, which means, a LOT of walking even before you get ON the highway!) There were also tables sponsored by University students who needed taste-test volunteers, or organized for birthday parties with friends and family invited, or reserved by Radio Stations to do live broadcasts of the craziness happening on the highway, and also those rented by companies and organizations to promote their businesses or membership or services. Then, besides the interesting happenings at the tables, there were just normal individuals that wandered through the masses on the highway and sang or played music, walked their dog, pushed their stroller, juggled, or wore fun costumes. There were two strolling groups that merit particular mention: a drum circle (playing djembes) on wheels--they had rigged up a massive bicycle which allowed the first guy to pedal and then the subsequent riders to actually play their djembes while bicycling!--as well as a sort-of monorail of retired bicyclists who had hooked up 30 side-by-side bicycles together and rode around looking like an amusement park train ride.

There was practically everything that one could think of going on that day on the A40 highway, and it was a perfectly apt representation of the culture of the Ruhrarea that sponsored it: multi-dimensional, or 'vielfaeltig', as they'd say in German. And, a side effect which I was not expecting: feeling more of a kinship with the A40 highway. I know, who'd have thought?

So, hope you've enjoyed the pictures, and looking forward to hearing your comments!


  1. I've seen some weird stuff here in the past 3 years, but a highway picnic has to be one of the coolest!! Sounds like you had a great time!

  2. Yea actually I was totally overwhelmed by how many times I thought 'Boy, they'd never do this in America, but it's so awesome- they really should consider it...'
    LOL! I mean, it sounds like it would be a total traffic nightmare in the other parts of the cities, but honestly, I didn't hear anything of the sort on the news that evening, so it must not have been that bad. And, yes, I had a GREAT time! Who would have thought! :)


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