Thursday, June 25, 2009

On The Road: Hösel and Kreis Mettmann

The weather here has been cooler the past two weeks and we've had plenty of rain too, although mostly the storms don't last very long. When the sun breaks through, you think to yourself, "I should be out enjoying this fine weather." But when it starts raining again, you realize it's just as well that you are working inside where it's dry.

This week we've had several really warm sunny days in a row, so I decided to play hooky today and take my bike out for an extended spin. I've become pretty savvy over the course of a year, learning a lot of tricks for getting around by bike and foot and avoiding traffic. I put that knowledge to work today and began my ride by crossing Gussmanplatz, passing the Krupp Krankenhaus and taking the secret footbridge over the Autobahn. It's a secret I share with five to ten thousand other residents of the Rüttenscheid area, but it took me sometime to find out it was there. Using it allows me to get almost all the way to Stadtwaldplatz without using any high traffic roads. From Stadtwaldplatz I can take Lerchenstrasse down to Werden and then follow the path along the Ruhr as far as I like.

Then I struck out away from the river toward Düsseldorf. Leaving the river means climbing and I went up some very steep hills, but when things flattened out again, I was riding through farm land and competing with horses and tractors for the right of way. The landscape I rode through was sort of surprising. The towns, Hösel, Heilingenhaus, Ratingen, et al., were mostly just names on a map to me until today, but they were an odd mix of rural and suburban, with a higher emphasis on auto travel than I expected. Hösel has a grade crossing where the S-Bahn line to Köln crosses a main street. Two lanes of auto traffic are protected by gate arms that swing down to stop cars, but they are complemented by cute little baby gate arms that swing down for the bike/pedestrian lane. An appropriately quaint little bell chimes while you wait and I had the privilege of seeing the S6 to Köln go by in the company of a mother and her two boys, who were about 3 and 4. I can remember my own fascination with trains at that age (which hasn't faded all that much) and I could sense a similar excitement and tension in these kids too. In the United States today, finding a real train to look at isn't easy. The under ten set in Hösel, on the other hand, has it good.

Eventually I found my way back to the river, this time going downhill on a narrow lane that wouldn't qualify as a sidewalk in Utah, but supported two way traffic here. I hopped on an S-Bahn train at Werden to ride back up the other side and home and had an interesting conversation on the train with a guy who noticed my bike and asked me about it. He's interested in commuting to work on a bike and wanted to know if it were possible to buy one like mine. I told him I bought mine on eBay Deutschland, but also told him that there is a Dutch website,, where sensible Liegeräder are thick on the ground. We talked about the pros and cons of the different bike types and then it was my stop. Just before getting off I encouraged him take a look at the website I mentioned and he said, "Well, unfortunately I don't speak any Dutch." Neither do I," I replied, "But if you look up a few key words, it's not that tough to read a listing for a bike, especially if the pictures are good." "Oh, he said, I thought you were from the Netherlands."

I guess I could choose to be irritated that I can't pass for German, but I love the fact that I'm not recognized as a U. S. North American by many. It may be a moot point right now, but if Palin is back in 2012, I want my cover to be airtight.

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