Slow Life Down on The Slowest Roller Coaster in the World
If life is like a roller coaster then no wonder we all feel giddy, excited, terrified and sick from time to time. But does it have to be that way? What if your rollercoaster moved at walking pace? If you didn’t have to do the loop the loop? If you didn’t have to go at the same pace as everyone else? If you could go fast if you wanted, stroll at a leisurely pace or mix it up as you prefer? Well, here’s the thing.. you can. Near Duisburg…
Gritty trumps pretty
Duisburg is more gritty than pretty. Like my life sometimes. Well, the bit you don’t see on Instagram. Duisburg was once the beating heart of Germany’s coal, iron and steel production, a dirty, busy, industrious place. From the Angerpark, in the southern suburb, you can still see steel and coking plants, docking stations, car storage parks, Dusseldorf airport, and the ever present Rhine. But like many European industrial centres this place is much changed. While industry has depleted, much of its physical legacy still remains, scratched on the skyline like a charcoal sketch. And here amongst the grime, artists are at work; changing the landscape, challenging us to stop, think, slow down and reinvent things.
Tiger and Turtle
It was this industrial landscape that inspired the sculpture ‘Tiger and Turtle – Magic Mountain’ by Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth, a swirl of tin, zinc and steel that wraps itself around itself atop an old mining slag heap, now reclaimed by nature. It’s symbolic of the transformation in this place, the metals a reminder of an industrial past still close at hand.
From afar the shiny spirals draw us in promising twists, turns, speed and excitement until, standing beneath the metal rings, I am confronted with 246 steps to climb. The Tiger looks thrilling but the reality is an attempt at loop the loop at at a Turtle’s pace.
A Walking Stroller Coaster
Of course it is impossible. Not just physically but practically, for the loop is closed off. But we are free to explore the sculpture at our own pace. In fact it’s free for anyone to explore, night or day. At night 800 LEDs in the handrails illuminate it like a curly-wurly beacon. By day its steely grey blends with the sky. We enter the structure. We walk, we run, we race each other. We make our own thrills, knowing we will never loop the loop.
Life in the slow lane
I love a good rollercoaster – the speed, the anticipation, the excitement the adrenalin; but there’s none of that here. The promise is disappointed. But there is something else – a slowing down, a feeling of making our own fun, a plodding moment to think about speed and time and life and change and transformation. And whether it is better to slowly make your own thrills or to indulge in the soon forgotten rush of the funfair.
Beneath the sculpture we meet local guide Frank Switala. He tells us the slowest coaster in the world was due to be erected in time for the region’s European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2010, but was, perhaps ironically, a little bit late. And he explains how the 20 metre high ‘stroller coaster’ was designed as a protest against the speed we all live at.
“We are living in a fast time today. Everything is changing so fast and very often people go on courses or to monasteries just to slow down. This is a place you can go and enjoy walking round.”
And so we do.
A sense of perspective
In fact we run. 200m and 249 steps from one end to the other. At speed I can almost imagine myself on The Big One, feeling the strain in my legs as I climb steps to the sky. And the release when they curve back down. There’s no lurching in my stomach though, just a sense of breathlessness and relief when we reach the locked gate at the loop the loop. And great views over Duisburg’s industrial past and present.
The walking stroller coaster sits atop the magic mountain as a wonderful contradiction, an absurd attempt at the reinvention of the roller coaster. A thoroughly modern, precision engineered construction, that only works with human energy. An invitation to appreciate something familiar in an unfamiliar way. To slow life down and experience something that’s normally over in a flash at a Turtle’s pace.
Life at walking pace
Standing beneath the loop the loop, I contemplate the impossible in slow motion. The locked gate and CCTV suggest some may be tempted to try. It’s enough for me to just be reminded to slow down.