Bike to Heaven
A 30 year-old man died in Prague on January 12th 2006. It did not make the national news but years later the unveiling of an artistically original memorial in Prague replayed the story, who he was, why he died and what the city did about it. This is the story of the Cyclists Who Died on the Streets of Prague Memorial or what we call Bike to Heaven.
We’ll start the story in January 2006 with a man called Jan Bouchal or “Pup” to his friends. He was deputy editor of the Ekolist magazine, an environmental journalist, an anti-corruption journalist and activist. He was founder of an initiative to reduce traffic to promote walking and to increase the use of bikes plus he was co-founder of the “Safe Routes to School” project. He had to reach the Ekolist office by crossing a particularly dangerous road junction. From 2004 Jan Bouchal himself had taken to calling it the “Crossroads of Death” as to get from one side to the other involved traversing 4 lanes of traffic and two tram lines.
Perversely, it was on this junction at around 7-45pm on the evening of January 6th 2006 he was the victim of a hit and run and his injuries proved fatal. He left a partner and 3 year old son.
The Road Project
His friends immediately wanted to install some kind of memorial to him but this anger at his death grew into an multi-pronged onslaught on the city for them to first redesign the road junction and improve it’s safety for cyclists and pedestrians. The city spent CZK2.7 Million doing this in 2012 and only then was it felt worthy of installing a permanent memorial although for years you’d find a white bike (ghost bike) or white wheel tied to the lamp post, these were removed by the city.
A competition had already been held for a memorial and on the first anniversary of his death on January 12th 2007 the friends of Jan Bouchal announced that out of sixteen options there were four shortlisted memorial designs and the public could choose which they wanted. The winner was actually a famous Czech Sculptor called David Černy and would have been a bronze relief embedded in the road showing a cyclist being knocked off his bike but this was rejected by the city on “safety” grounds. So the second placed design called “Bike to Heaven” by Kristof Kintera was put forward and the city agreed with it.
Public donations raised CZK270,000 for the memorial to Jan Bouchal which had grown to become the memorial for all cyclists who died in the city. As it turned out, that was spent on materials and transport as those involved in the project waived their usual working fees.
Kristof Kintera’s Bike to Heaven design would take an existing 14 metre high street lamp on the road junction where the accident had happened (Kintera called the street lamp the “silent witness”). The street lamp would also include the spinning model of a bike pointing upwards (the actual bike used by Jan Bouchal was considered for this but was used as an inspiration and not for the memorial as it was seen as being too personal). The light assembly at the top spins as well. The whole thing was then “silvered” using palladium so unlike other lamp posts, this one shines in the sun.
For people who were close to “Pup” Bouchal, they don’t see Bike to Heaven as a memorial but as a “sparkling gesture of contemporary art” in his memory. Bike to Heaven was officially unveiled on September 9th 2013.
If you want to see another example of Kristof Kintera’s Modified Street Lamp Art with a “Pointing Upwards” element in Prague then read the post about Memento Mori.