A bicycle ride from Berlin to Rome
In May this year the Berlin based artist Susanne Bosch was invited to the Villa Massimo in Rome for a seven-week practice scholarship. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdown in Italy, it initially looks as if it would be a scholarship without physical presence in Italy. As the lockdown was lifted faster than anyone expected, her physical presence in Italy became an option. The artist wanted to be as soon as possible in Rome. But in her case, the movement from Berlin to Rome in the previous style did not seemed adequate for several reasons. She explains and describes her reasons to cycle and tells the experiences she made:
The background and reasons for my cycling from Berlin to Rome:
- It seemed to me that this rapid re-mobility to crisis regions did not make sense at all. I wanted to continue to respect the health and lives of others and myself.
- For months I had only experienced Berlin physically. What was actually happening in the space between the two cities Berlin in the north and Rome in the south.
- I experienced my immobility as liberating in these months since March and I wondered if I should give up this new experience so easily?
- My routine interruption experiences have shown me that I should try and experience new thing.
- Another form of mobility was suggested by my friend and artist colleague Michelle Browne: When the aim is to be more present and attentive for space, others and myself in space, which can only be created by slow movement, then two forms of motion came into question: walking or cycling.
Due to time constraints, I decided to cycle. On 4th July, I should arrive in Rome. On 19th June 2020 I was able to free myself my professional duties in Berlin and started this journey to Rome in 15 stages shortly after lunch.
A lot has happened for me on this journey, which was supposed to interrupt my own routines once again, this time through a format of my own, with a beginning and an end, but one that was unknown to me in its kind.
Definitely none of the things that were brought to me or that I carried as fears happened: no bee flew into my mouth, I didn’t meet any evil male in the forest, no heatwave made me collapse, bad roads in Italy caused neither accident nor resentment. My bike did not break down nor did I have to push it for hours. I didn’t get a sore bottom. There might have been mountains that could have caused me to collapse, but they must have been on the few train routes I put in between.
I was also not interested in anything other than what immediately existed around me: the landscape, the path, the bike and myself in a constant movement. I read a text about cycling as a meditation very late and yes, without having expected it, I was quiet for hours, unspectacular and simply present without effort.
I deliberately met up with people six times during the journey; some I knew, others were arranged conversation partners. These encounters were intense because I was always a guest in the contexts of the others. I noticed that what I would like to know from others, what interests me, cannot be grasped or told quickly, not during a first meeting nor in groups. Nevertheless, there were impressions on many levels about what and how I was told about the pandemic situation-related life and activities. It was a wonderful form of encounter for a passerby like me.
Traveling through or passing-by as a performative act was per se insightful. My functional clothing clearly identified me as such and made me not only visible but also invisible as an individual. In Italy I was recognized by other bike travelers as a like-minded one through an act of greeting – a whole new affiliation with a simultaneous loss of individuality.
I thought a lot about my manageability strategies: the entire route was divided into daily stages; these in stages from pause to pause. In some daily constitutions, I internally negotiated train stations as a possible solution for manageability.
The route was manageable for me with a voice in my ear belonging to an APP that showed me the way, a power bank that ensured that my mobile phone (almost always) worked, an EC card with access to money and thus food and accommodation; functional clothing that protected me well and an incredibly good bike, a masterpiece of engineering. My basic fitness and life experience, which at least gives me the illusion of being able to assess new situations and to cope well, made it certainly also manageable. I also felt deep gratitude several times for all the bridges, tunnels, underpasses, for all the paths that made it possible for those passing through to cross the space so smoothly and without an abrupt interruption.
Covid 19 was becoming more and more present in the south. A bakery in a Franconian village refused to take my water bottle to refill it. In northern Italy, the route sometimes led me through pedestrian shopping street in villages, where everyone was masked on the street. My first accommodation in Italy had only reopened in mid-June; at Villa Lagarina my hostess told me that I was the first cyclist this year and that otherwise the season was already over. In Peschiera di Garda, on the anniversary of St. Peter & Paul, the hotel team whipped a raw egg white into a glass carafe of water, saying that shape emerging the overnight would tell them their fortune in the next 12 months. In the morning I saw the shape looking like a sheep lying on its back with all four legs stretched up.
My Italian conversation partners shared their exhaustion with me. “There is a disaster and we were constantly filling out new forms,” said Luigi from Modena about the lockdown management and regulations. “Our Minister of Education leaves it up to each school director how to proceed from September. That leaves us all in the dark” said Sandra, a teacher. Miriam: “They were able to organize the tourism industry with millions of people moving through space within seven days and they are not able to coordinate the school situation for our kids.”
In Italy and Germany, one can observe that those living in the countryside seem to be much less affected by the restrictions of the pandemic, since everyday life is determined by less human density and more physical space. In the urban moments of my trip, be it Regensburg, Florence or Livorno, another reality could be experienced with the military present, with emptiness where spaces are otherwise populated by people, and a lazy, idle calmness, which I really like as an individual, but knowing that it does not correspond to the nature of neo-liberal tourist contexts.
It is quiet in Italy, also here in Rome, where I arrived on 4th July; but there is a noticeable tension in the air, not only caused by the summer heat.
Cycling through space, moving more slowly, applying my own energy to progress as a performative act got me in the right mental state – away from a completely individual perspective of observation towards a broader sensing of our global transit time.
Mahalla Festival 2020
To cope with the COVID-19 pandemic the Mahalla Festival 2020 took place as a remote festival to overcome self-isolation, demobilization and paralysis.
The Mahalla Festival 2020 was implementing remote tools to keep intercultural communication and creative expression alive even in times of physical distance and to help to cope not only with the pandemic but also to create new forms of interactive communication and understanding between different communities in the world.
The Wandering Tower is the title of a surrealist short story by Sergej Prokofiev from the times of vivid migration movements on the edge of the world wars.
The Festival was quoting the title as a metaphorical frame for Mahalla 2020/2021. The tower of Babel is connected as a motive to the search for the origin of language and the access to the divine.