Author Jim Hinckley traveled earlier this month’s to European Route 66 Festival near Ofterdingen, Germany, on behalf of the city of Kingman, Arizona, and to represent the Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiative.
He promised a report about his experiences and impressions. You can read it below the fold in full — which I encourage. But here’s a summary of a few things that stood out:
— Route 66 aficionados from Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the Czech Republic discussed forming an international group to help the Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiative.
— Europeans who travel Route 66 thirst for a thoroughly American experience.
— Hinckley chatted with attendees from the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, the Canary Islands and Scotland.
— Hinckley said he discussed Route 66 more than 60 times in various taverns, restaurants, stores and the airport. He said the interest in the Mother Road was “tremendous.” But he noted that despite the interest and the Route 66 shield showing up in advertisements and popular culture, many German know little about Route 66 itself.
— Proceeds from a poker run were donated to the family of Gary Turner, the late owner of the Gay Parita gas station near Halltown, Missouri. Turner’s daughter recently reopened the station after a hiatus of more than a year.
— In addition to Hinckley, American representatives attended from Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois Route 66 Red Carpet Corridor, and the Boots Motel in Carthage, Missouri. Nick Gerlich of Texas also gave a presentation about obscure Route 66 alignments. Hinckley also said many materials from Route 66 towns and businesses were distributed at the festival.
— Hinckley noted the atmosphere was “surreal” because the music and sights made it feel more like a small-town festival in America than in Bavaria. He also said nightly gatherings among Route 66ers felt more like a “family reunion” than a something in an unfamiliar country.
Also, one of the European participants created this video from the festival:
(Image from the festival courtesy of Jim Hinckley)
The recent European Route 66 festival hosted by the German Route 66 Association was an historic event. It also left little doubt that the quest for an authentic, or at least the perception of an authentic American experience is a primary component in the international interest in Route 66.
In addition to the festival, I was privileged by an opportunity to speak at a secondary school, Goethe Gymnasium in Bensheim. The topic of discussion was the American Dream as represented by Route 66. This was arranged courtesy of Melanie Stengele, a teacher that I met in Kingman several years ago.
Dominating Friday afternoon at the festival was a conference discussion about the creation of an international advisory group to work hand in glove with the Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiative. In attendance were representatives from the Dutch, German, Czech, and recently formed Swiss Route 66 associations as well as enthusiasts with an interest of developing an association in their county. Among these was Slyvie Toullec of France, and Swa Frantzen and Nadine Pelican of Belgium.
Swa and Nadine are pioneers in the utilization of the internet to create awareness about Route 66 and to share information. Swa’s Route 66 website dates to the early 1990’s.
Wolfgang and Anja Werz of the German Route 66 Association organized a poker run with proceeds being donated to the family of Gary Turner. Debbie Dee of the Boots Motel accepted the funds on their behalf.
The festival itself had an almost surreal feel. It could easily have been taking place in Cuba, Kingman, or Galena but it was in Bavaria. Recorded music played over event grounds speakers ranged from Hank Williams and Marty Robbins to Lee Greenwood. Bands played classic rock and rockabilly tunes.
Professor Nick Gerlich made a presentation on lost alignments in Texas and New Mexico, and the treasures found along them. I spoke on Route 66 as an authentic American experience.
In addition, I presented a letter from the city of Kingman to Dries and Marion Bessels of the Dutch Route 66 Association. As they were inductees into the Route 66 Walk of Fame last year, the letter was an invitation to serve as grand marshal at this years Best of the West Festival parade. They accepted and will be in attendance.
Kansas and Oklahoma had representation at the festival. Also Debbyjo Carroll Ericksen, co-chairman of the Route 66 Red Carpet Tour in Illinois was in attendance. A wide array of materials from Route 66 communities and businesses was made available at an information table, and at another display in the photo exhibition building.
The photo exhibition included the work of Udo and Ellen Klinkle, and Geri Linda Mertele. Geri was one of the winning photographers in the recent Ramada Kingman Route 66 photo contest.
Willem Bor had a display of his stunning models. Other vendors featured leather goods, jewelry, etc.
I do not have attendance numbers and would be surprised if organizers will have an accurate count. Attached are photos, and a Youtube video link that give an idea as to scope of the event. I spoke with attendees from the UK, Italy, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, the Canary Islands, and Scotland.
As with any Route 66 event, there was a feeling that the festival was a family reunion. Evening dinners and parties were no different than “roadie” gatherings at cafes, diners, and taverns stateside.
Another aspect of the trip that I find interesting was the prevalence of the Route 66 shield in Germany, the interest in the road, but a lack of knowledge. As an example, Condor Airlines, a German company, featured a Route 66 sign on their website.
On more than sixty occasions I had an opportunity to discuss Route 66 in taverns, cafes, stores, and in the airport. There was tremendous interest.
One one occasion, I traded an Arizona Route 66 Association “dollar” for a stein of beer and directions to a hidden little garden cafe. The apple strudel was superb.
Perhaps the most intriguing episode occurred in a Frankfurt restaurant. The lounge waitress had a very heavy accent from New Zealand or Australia, which led to me asking questions.
She was born and raised in New Zealand but her mother was German. The hotel she worked for in New Zealand had an opening in Germany so she took it. As it turned out, her father and a friend were about to set off on a long planned adventure on Route 66 commencing in mid August. So, I provided her with website and contact information along the route, and some promotional items such as a wooden nickel for free coffee at Ramada Kingman.
Simply put, it was a most amazing and insightful trip as well as festival. Wolfgang, Anja, and others who worked on this festival should be congratulated.