Route 66 is one of the most famous roads in the world. There are numerous songs about the feeling of life on the American highways, including Aretha Franklin’s song “Freeway to love” or “Get your kicks on Route 66”, which was first heard on Nat King Cole’s record in 1946. “…if you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best…”: the text already hints at the emotions connected with the road. They range from hopes for a better life to dreams of freedom and a simple love of adventure. Frank Castorf’s “Das Rheingold” also takes place at a petrol station and in the “Golden Motel” on Route 66. Exclusively for our members, we have provided the introductory lectures by Sven Friedrich in the members-only section of our website relating to the specific production. In his lecture on “Das Rheingold” he talks about Route 66.
The beginnings of Route 66 go back to the dream of the early 20s of creating a trading route between Chicago and the financially powerful West coast. It was not long before the connecting link right across the country was used by people looking for work in the wealthy West, so that is became a symbol of a new life. “People come onto 66 from tributary waggon tracks and rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight,” is how John Steinbeck describes the highway in his monumental work “The Grapes of Wrath”. During the 2nd World War too, the transcontinental link was an important route for long columns of lorries and military convoys carrying soldiers across the entire country or other soldiers heading home.
In contrast to this, the 50s and 60s were marked by affluence, with good wages paid and more leisure than ever before, when families celebrated their prosperity and modern life. Route 66 now became a symbol of travelling and took on its “typical” appearance: garish billboards and eye-catching neon signs drew attention to petrol stations, fast-food restaurants, motels with swimming pools and small shops, which were arranged at strategically convenient intervals along the highway.
The oil crisis of the 70s brought difficult times for Route 66, and more and more businesses along the road are becoming increasingly dilapidated. Since 1985, Route 66 has no longer been a US highway, but the “Historic Route 66” has been set up in some sections through Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, which attract numerous visitors every year, who come seeking adventure and hoping to experience the magic of the road.