Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day

Today is another holiday here in Germany. I thought I finally knew them all: Christihimmelfahrt, Buß und Bettag, Reformationtag... But they snuck one in on me again: Maifeiertag. Not too long ago, Germany still had very strict laws about store opening and closing hours. Stores closed around 5 or 6 p.m. on weekdays, Saturdays at 2 p.m. Sundays and holidays stores were closed, period. Several times during my first year in Germany, I learned of a three day weekend just hours after the stores had already closed on a Saturday. It made for some pretty lean mealtimes on those Monday holiday evenings.

Now, stores can stay open until 10 p.m., Saturdays as well as weekdays, and every few months there's a special "open" Sunday when stores are allowed to do business. So, I don't face the specter of starvation on the long weekends, but the truth is, I like to work. Time off is OK, but two days off every five is a good rhythm for me. The extra holiday mostly makes me feel bored. But the weather was fabulous again today and I enjoyed my time off with my new bike.

The pick up in Eltville last weekend went smoothly. I saw a good deal of Mainz on Saturday before the pick up and made a quick stop in Koblenz on the way home. There is a very high level of standardization in Germany, and towns can often look very similar to one another on first glance. A closer look however reveals subtle but specific differences. Mainz is a beautiful city and walking around there you realize how much it isn't like Bonn or Köln. I think the turning point between North and South might be Remagen, but don't quote me on this.

My new bike is a keeper. My first ride down Rüttenscheiderstr. on Sunday evening, coming home from the Bahnhof was a little rocky. The chain seemed very noisy and the seat was too close to the pedals. The tires were soft and the bike just didn't seem all that lively. Plus, the three speed hub didn't seem to be shifting at all. I rode it to the studio on Monday morning and started making some adjustments. I lengthened the boom so my legs weren't cramped and while doing that, noticed that the chain wasn't correctly routed over the idlers. Getting it on the right path got rid of the noise immediately. I oiled the hub, adjusted the shift cable, and had it shifting with some reliability in just a few minutes. After pumping up the tires I took it for a spin and was pleasantly surprised. The bike handles well. It's stable and easily maneuverable at very low speeds. On the other hand, it can really fly on a straight away and I can load it up with plenty of cargo when necessary. A great all around transportation bike.

So this morning I was on one of the many bike paths around Essen, weaving in and out of groups of Nordic walkers, three year olds on push bikes, ninety three year olds in wheel chairs, and people celebrating May Day with a traditional Bollerwagon with a case or two of cold beer in it. I can't put up with the crowd density for very long, but an outing on the bike paths of Germany is a cultural experience that's fun in limited doses. Mostly I think of myself as invisible, a spectator watching the crazy parade of people going by. But this morning I heard as one little boy pointed me and my new recumbent out to his younger sister. "Guck mal!" he said as I went by, "Sehr witzig!" so now I'm part of the show, and apparently a part that is well worth noticing.


Em said...

It IS a show-worthy bike.
Join the parade I guess

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.