Monday, February 28, 2011

The Messe in Essen

It was yet another rainy weekend in Düsseldorf so rather than sit at home and mope about yet another lost cycling day I took the train to Essen, 30 minutes away, to visit the leisure trade show at the Messe (as the exhibition centres are called here). I just followed the crowd on the subway leaving the main station and got there quite easily. As usual, it was raining.

Just as I entered the building, I saw a cyclist in an old-style Continental wool jersey, sitting astride a high-wheeler. He rolled off into the parking area for a few circuits and when he came back I took some photos. He was impressed with my high-wheeler sweatshirt and we chatted for a bit about the bike, which was not an antique but was a reproduction. He told me to look out for the bike shop in Hall 6 where some other old bikes were on display. I saw these subsequently: a pair of Opels, one, unrestored, from 1906 and the other, with balloon tires, dating to 1934 and looking brand new.

The show was called the “Messe für Fahrrad, Freizeit & Zubehör,” or the “Show for Bicycles, Leisure and Accessories.” It was a somewhat peculiar mix as it was actually three shows in one. A large part of the show was dedicated to travel and camping, one part to cycling and a slightly smaller bit to fishing. I entered first into one section of the camping area but quickly moved on to the “travel” area, which featured a lot of stands representing different parts of Germany, often divided into entertaining subsections. “Oh, you must want to go to East Münsterland–we just represent West Central Münsterland!”

I was so excited by all the bicycle travel possibilities that I stopped a booth presenting the products of the Landhaus-Brauerei Borchert in Lünne, in Emsland, which is Lower Saxony and is bordered to the west by the Netherlands. The Brauerei offered its own Braun Bier, but I could not pass up the opportunity to try a little shot of Bier-Liköre, which is made with beer and honey, although it tasted more of honey, I think. I decided to keep walking but would return for some of their beer later. If you go to the brewery/beer garden you can participate in a "Bierathlon," which includes shooting a crossbow, kicking a soccer ball into a hole in a wall and doing something like horseshoe throwing. Two drinks are also included for your 10 Euro participation fee.

There were a lot of interesting stands, including those promoting spas (which are extremely popular in Germany and very nice after a bike ride). The emphasis appeared to be more on Northern Germany, although the South was represented by Franconia (the northern part of Bavaria) and the Allgäu, east of Lake Constance. I collected brochures that were specifically for cycling but also got general brochures about attractions in each area. I chatted with the Roman legionnaire at the Xanten stand, and a lady was very keen that I go to visit the gardens of Schloss Dyck, which is only a short distance from where I went riding on the indoor track a week ago. It was a good opportunity to get brochures about the Ruhr and Nordrhein-Westfalen, which has an excellent cycling map. There were a lot of stands devoted to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on the Baltic and even a large area devoted to the exhibition’s 2011 “partner country,” Sri Lanka.

I did not go to all 650 stands but limited myself to the ones that seemed to value bike touring. Some of the gimmicks were great: there was a bicycle driven game that required you to knock the top hats off of the rotating puppets, and this attracted a big crowd. At the stand devoted to nudism in Germany, everyone was fully dressed, however. The brochures suggested that nudism (Freikorperkultur) is stuck a bit in the past as the camps pictured, with their little caravans and volleyball courts, looked a bit forlorn and down-market, particularly compared to the flashy “wellness” spas, where you could get equally naked in the sauna if you wanted. Having suffered from what seems to be a near-continuous six months of rain and darkness here in Germany, I can understand why people would suddenly go crazy at the first sign of sun and throw away their inhibitions.

After collecting several hundred pounds of brochures, I staggered into Hall 6, which along with Halls 8 and 9, made up the cycling area. Nordrhein-Westfalen had a very good stand and I picked up some useful cycling information about the province there. But the majority of stands were selling bicycles or parts and were very popular. Brands, like Specialized or Trek, were represented by local retailers, while probably the largest stand of all belonged to Rose Versand, Germany’s largest mail-order bicycle retailer and publisher of a great door-stop of an annual catalogue. The current one is 960 pages and there is not much that you cannot get from Rose.

Their bicycles have quite a good reputation in Germany, close to the standards of arch-rival Canyon, which is in Koblenz. Rose is in the Nordrhein-Westfalen town of Bocholt and they have what must be one of the world’s flagship bike shops there, Bike Town, with 6,000 m² of floor space (around 65,000 square feet). Rose had an area for set aside for touring/commuting bikes, another for mountain bikes and yet another for electric bikes. The electric bike boom is clearly continuing as lots of people were trying out the bikes and there is even a magazine devoted to them. Several of the travel booths featured tours with electric bikes available.

The other test area was devoted to recumbents and people seemed to be having a great time zooming around in what looked like rolling armchairs but this enthusiasm has never translated into real world popularity. I was very taken with a red Leitra Velomobile, a fairing-covered all-weather recumbent that even had an iPod sound system in it. The latest model, the Avancee, was developed by an Austrian firm that took over the Danish design a few years ago. On Friday I was walking to an appointment at the Landtag when I was passed by a white Leitra, which was not only silent but surprisingly fast, as it zipped by on the bike path. The current model goes for 7,250 Euros, which is probably not such a bad deal considering how limited the demand must be and you are getting a lot more vehicle than you would with a racing bike at a comparable price. Racing bikes were notable, unlike at Eurobike in September, for their absence at this show. Rose had a few, as did Specialized and Trek, but the vast majority of bikes on display were meant for shopping or local travel.




By now my feet were aching and I stopped for a while to watch some trials riders do their thing. They ride bikes that have not saddles or seatposts, so they are standing while they do their stunts. And impressive they were as they jumped around on one wheel, hopping over a volunteer on the ground, who must have found it pretty terrifying.

I made my way back to the beer stand and had a nice Braun Bier and chatted with the young woman pouring beers. She was puzzled by my accent and thought my German was very good and did not sound like that of a typical English speaker. On the other hand she was diplomatic not to say it does not sound like a typical German speaker either...

Dragging my pile of brochures, I made my way back to the subway and then to the train station. The trains run quite often and I was back in Düsseldorf in mid-afternoon. It was a good day in spite of the sore feet and now I have enough travel brochures to plan cycling trips for my next three and a half years in Germany (provided that it stops raining).

1 comment:

Lily on the Road said...

Thank you for taking me along with you to Essen. I love reading about all of your travels and I always learn something new.

Thanks for the photo's too!