Mobility forms our lives and affects our environment. It is a fundamental human need and longing to be on the move and to experience the world. One of the technologies that has made the most distinct impact on our mobility is the car. For better or for worse the car has given us a strong feeling of individual freedom, it has transformed our conception of time and experience of place, our everyday lives, the way we consume and plan our cities. It also comes with a wide range of negative consequences such as pollution, accidents, social and urban segregation, and, more than any other technology, the car has a huge appetite for space. So maybe it’s time to rethink the way we understand mobility and go beyond a society that is primarily organized around the car. But who dares to challenge the individual freedom and change the way we are ‘on the move’?
After the editorial team of the Urbanist Magazine had returned from a conference in Japan arranged by the Asian Spiritual Bicycle Association (ASBA) the magazine’s headquarter in Neukölln was buzzing with ideas of how to make a better world. One of the most interesting aspects was the Holy Grail of Mobility. According to the ASBA’s Scripture of Ultimate Movement the grail possessed powers which could control the stream of mobility worldwide. Since the invention of the wheel the stream of mobility had filled the world with technologies that served the best of humanity – whereas the invention of the internal combustion engine and the car turned out to be a giant step towards total human degradation.
Therefore it was of the utmost importance that the grail was found and its powers were used to get humanity back on the right track. To do so it required a hero who was pure of heart and who possessed the courage and strength to defeat the terrifying road monster which evil forces had put into the world to guard the grail. The question was, where could one find such a great hero? The editorial team of the Urbanist Magazine had no doubt! There were only one who was great enough to fulfil this dangerous task.
The Great Dane was sleeping as calmly as a child when the editorial team dragged him out of bed early in the morning. After a short briefing on the situation, they armed him with a copy of the Scriptures of Ultimate Movement, put him on an old bicycle and send him out on the dangerous quest to hunt down the terrifying road monster and conquer the grail. For about an hour he cycled around the streets of Berlin without having the slightest idea of what to do or what to look for. Then he decided to have a bicycle-beer-break at a Späti and look in the Scriptures of Ultimate Movement. He was at once thrilled by its great knowledge and historical accuracy. It stated:
The precise time and place for the first appearance of the Holy Grail of Mobility is unknown, but through history the grail has appeared and disappeared in relation to man’s growing desire to control his own destiny. Several significant appearances of the grail occurred in the Great Migration Period from 300 to 800 AD – also refereed to as the Völkerwanderung – where its powers was used by Germanic and other barbaric tribes to invade Roman territory and reclaim the Roman Empire’s efficient network of more than 80,000 kilometres of paved highway stretching from Scotland to East Europe to North Africa and present-day Iraq.
He finished another row of beers and then cycled on while thinking about the brave barbaric tribes outmanoeuvring the superior Romans and thereby changing the future of the world. He imagined himself as a fearful warrior holding the grail high in the air, paralysing legion after legion of Roman soldiers so his fellow warriors could liberate the people with ease and give them back their land. Afterwards he was celebrated as a great hero and songs and tales were made about him.
The Individual Solution
He began to feel exhausted, and stopped to rest his legs. While eating enough döner kebab to recover his strength he thought about how the powers of the grail best could be used. There seemed to be as many right solutions as there were people in the world. And no solution would fulfil the need for everybody. Some had to put up with what was best for the common good. The difficult question however, was not who should have the advantage and who should not – the challenge was who should be entrusted the power to make the decision?
One of the brothers who ran the kebab establishment opened the window and greeted loudly a young man and a elderly woman coming out of a car near the pavement where the Great Dane was resting. When the woman passed the Great Dane she first looked at his old bicycle and then at him, saying: Young man, don’t worry so much. Instead, you should do like I told my sons … Get yourself a decent job so you can afford yourself a decent car. It will give you both a good wife and make your mother happy. An old bicycle won’t get you far in life.
Still feeling exhausted and also confused about his quest to find the grail, the Great Dane could only agree. To have one’s own car wasn’t such a bad idea. It not only gave you a clear advantage concerning women and a variety of other purposes such as transportation of goods, protection from bad weather, cruising around with friends, going to the countryside, but it was also great when you was tired or just everyday lazy. On the other hand, cars were expensive. You had to work even more to afford paying of the loan, insurance, fuel, repairs, taxes, parking fees etc. That way the car reduced the individual freedom as it ate up time and money that otherwise could have been used to do other things. For many people it would instead be more efficient to bicycle, use public transportation, or even walk.
The Great Dane felt himself trapped in a great paradox. For how could it then be, that the car had become the most popular means of transportation? In search for an answer, he looked through the Scriptures of Ultimate Movement. It said:
Another important appearance of the grail happened over thousand years later in 1888 at the Black Forest – also known as Schwarzwald, the home of the famous cuckoo clocks – near the town of Pforzheim in south Germany. It was in the exact same area and year where Karl Friedrich Benz made the world’s first long distance automotive journey powered by an internal combustion engine. The true nature of the grail was however overseen and it was put on ordinary display at a local museum until it in 1932 was rediscovered by an amateur archaeologist and automotive enthusiast following the historical route of Karl Friedrich Benz. Later that year, a conspiracy was formed among the world’s major car manufactures and political interests in Europe and the United States to cover up the existences of the grail and abuse its powers to their own advantage. But although many resources were invested in transferring the powers of the grail to mass automotive production, the attempt failed. Instead the grail was remelted and disguised as an ordinary hubcab which was send around the world mounted on a special build car in order to make cars the dominant means of transportation. However, in the chaos of World War II the track of the grail – now referred to as the Holy Hubcap – was lost and since then there has been no official recordings of its whereabouts.
This was indeed not good news for the Great Dane. The so called Holy Hubcap could now be everywhere, it could even be lost. The situation demanded help from somebody who had a higher insight in alternative mobility.
The Political Solution
He found his friend the ex-vegan bicycle builder in a Do-It-Yourself shop where he was busy finding enough building material and tools so he could be ready to receive his coming baby. Beside building cargo bikes the size of small houses his friend considered himself a traffic activist using his cargo bikes as an instrument to discuss traffic, transportation and air pollution in the city. To the Great Dane’s question if he thought that the Holy Hubcap should be used to free the world of all cars, he answered: I’m not into absolute solutions. In the real world there will always be more stuff which needs to come around than even the biggest cargo bike can carry. Cars should be part of the solution, so should a well planned public transport system, and separate car and bicycle traffic. So I believe it is a political question to find the right solution. Only by putting aside individual needs and longings will we be able to make a cleaner and better …
The Great Dane was very excited. He couldn’t wait to help drag the baby out of the womb. He was already on his way out to saddle up his bicycle, when his friend kindly brought to his attention that this was not his task. It was of much greater importance not just for his baby but for all babies in the world that he fulfilled his quest for the Holy Hubcab and got humanity back on the right track. To encourage him, his friend promised that he would tell everything about the birth as soon as they met again – which could even be in the next Great Dane episode. Then they loaded all the tools and building material into a large van and off he went as fast as the engine could go.
Once again the Great Dane was on his own, and he didn’t seem to have come any closer finding the Holy Hubcab or what its powers should be used for. He cycled on through the city feeling discouraged and just wanted to go home. When he passed Brandenburger Tor he looked up at the goddess Victoria sitting all mighty and powerful in her four horse-drawn chariot on top of the gate.
What would she have done? For her it was not a matter of who had the right solution, it was about who had the courage and strength to be victorious. No one should be entrusted the power beforehand and have the exclusive privilege to choose what was right and what what wrong. In her perspective everybody was equal until they had proven otherwise.
The Great Dane stopped his bicycle and bowed with respect for her wisdom. He felt somehow connected to her through a long life of hard struggles to show the world how great and righteous he truly was as a person. She seemed to approve of this, for he felt that she looked back at him, and just as she had inspired the heroes in ancient times she filled the Great Dane with hope and insight into all the marvellous things there would happen if he succeeded in his hunt for the Holy Hubcab. With her blessing he once again opened the Scripture of Ultimate Movement, and read:
Following the global financial downturn in 2007-2008 and the automotive industry crisis in 2008–2010 a significant change in the balance of mobility came to its wakening on a world wide scale. Since, there had been reported an increasing numbers of cases in which hypersensitive cyclists around Europe had become spiritualized by some kind of unknown force. Extensive field studies conducted by high ranking members of ASBA suggest that these encounters most likely happened due to the nearby presence of the Holy Hubcap. Furthermore, when the different encounters were laid out correctly out on the Spiritual Map of Mobility it revealed that the Holy Hubcap for some years had been on its way up through Europe towards Germany, and that it probably soon would reach Berlin.
It seemed that the Great Dane after all was closing in on the grail so his long journey soon would become fruitful. To celebrate his forthcoming triumph he began cycling back and forth through the Brandenburger Tor while he for each round joyfully greeted the goddess Victoria who was still watching him closely from the top of the gate.
The Wheels Keep on Turning
When he took an extra large turn outside the gate a fashionable looking car drove straight in front of him so he fell off his bicycle. There was a slight buzz and the back window of the car rolled down. A middle-aged man in a dark suite stared at him sternly and presented himself as the rightful owner of the great capital of Germany, truly elected by all its common people. He continued: “I can now see it is good that we did not make the mistake of a bicycle-friendly city after the failure of the car-friendly city.”
The Great Dane was still in shock so he didn’t know what to answer. The politician raised his voice and said a little more moderately, but the Great Dane thought that the message remained the same in essence: “My dear fellow citizen, as you know it is important that we stick together. And we can only achieve that if we get going.”
With a wildly ecstatic smile he made a sign to his chauffeur and the car roared as if it wanted to swallow the Great Dane alive. An ominous rumbling went through the Great Danes chest. Could this be the road monster that guarded the grail? And did he really have the strength and courage to defeat it?
The car made a threatening move towards him, then it backed away quickly and send out a cloud of evil-smelling smoke while it drove off. In that same moment he felt the presence of a powerful spiritual force. With great speed he began to cycle down Unter den Linden knowing that the Holy Hubcap at last was within his grasp. The air around him was filled with the dreadful smoke and noise from the road monster accompanied by legions of other cars on the road. It made his lungs hurt, his eye began to water and he felt as the whole world was yelling into his ears. But nothing could distract him. Second by second he closed in on the road monster. He felt like a great hunter going straight for his prey, having only one thing on his mind: To hunt down the road monster and get the Holy Hubcap so he could change the destiny of the world.
He heard an explosion and his bicycle stopped with a flat tire. In the distance he saw the road monster disappearing, and with it, also the spiritual force that shortly had filled him with clarity. Now only the smell and noise from all the other cars filled his head. With his last strength he dragged his damaged bicycle over to the side of the road and sat down under one of the elm trees.
For a while he starred disillusioned at the cars that tirelessly sped past him in a world that kept on turning as usual. Then one of the cars stopped in front of him. It was the Intellectual Street Fighter Girl and the Mysterious Jew Boy. They had heard a used car dealer make a sales speak about the Great Dane’s grief and had now come to take him home.
It was quiet inside the car and a sweet smell came from the Wunder-Baum hanging in the wind shield. It made him feel safe and calm as it kept the chaotic world on a safe distance. He leaned back and began to dream of a future where people would use their individual freedom to choose the best solution for everybody to be on the move and experience the world. But even so, it was tough for him to admit that he failed in his hunt for the grail and getting humanity back on the right track. Too late had he learned that there is a fine line between the hunter and the hunted.
Nevertheless, this should not withhold the more sensible readers to saddle up their bicycles and continue the hunt for the terrifying road monster – one might even be successful in finding the Holy Hubcap of Mobility.
Just Another Alter Ego is a series of articles about a bumpy road trip into an urban utopia: not one still to come, not one that someday may be, but one that already is the hard, thrilling and colourful hyperreality of life in our cities.