Archive for 2014

Bikelele is back!

13 August 2014

Our travels 18 August – 12 September 2014 will take us by bicycle from Frankfurt am Main to Berlin via the Thuringer Wald, Leipzig, Wittenburg, Elbe Radweg, Dresden, Sächsische Schweiz National Park, Oder-Neisse bicycle route and Frankfurt an der Oder.

Getting the Berlin style right

15 August 2014

In my travel researches I came across a most informative book – Berlin Street Style. It gives clear instructions on how one should deport oneself in Berlin. Or at least it states what ‘the Berlin woman’ would do. For example:

  • Pearls are not at all hip in Berlin.
  • Vibrantly coloured blazers do not work at all in Berlin; the ideal colour is grey or dark blue.
  • The Berlin woman would never leave the house in a velour tracksuit.
  • The weekend look of the Berlin woman is rather rustic.
  • The Berlin woman is proud of her paleness.
  • Bracelets should not jingle on the arm too much; this irritates the Berlin woman when she is typing.

I will be removing my pearls when I reach the outskirts of town. Anyone know what the Berlin bloke it meant to do?

A good plan should be followed

19 August 2014

We have arrived in Frankfurt and after a long wait to get out of the airport began the adventure of transporting ourselves and 2 bikes in boxes to our hotel. We started off with the advantage of a trolley but that didn’t last long. Found out that despite our belief that Germany is up to date with everything, they aren’t. You cannot purchase train ticket with credit card and, to make it worse, you have to have the correct change. Anyway Ian solved that problem somehow!

Our skills at each carrying 2 panniers, a musical instrument (ukulele and trumpet) and a large rectangular box down escalators and on and off trains developed quickly. We had a brief ride in First Class by accident but didn’t get into trouble! But the trouble began when we decided to go to a different station from the one intended as trains run there less frequently. This resulted in a 1km approx walk of increasing agony with luggage as described above, instead of a 50m walk – which was part of the original plan – aaaarrrrgggghhh! Not doing that again.

We are in Offenbach, not far from the centre of Frankfurt, an area of Polish and Turkish residents as indicated by the businesses nearby. Our hotel is interesting with lots of art work, a parlour and a courtyard. As we struggled to get the door open we met 2 other guests who look like the hairy bikers except probably not interested in cooking.

Offenbach Hbf – where we should have caught the train!

Offenbach, Frankfurt & Darmstadt

19 August 2014

Today started with bike assembly followed by breakfast – fruhstuck oriental (Turkish) and sussen (sweet). We found the Offenbach market with lots of fruit, flowers, vegetables, sausage, cheese, bread. The egg woman gave us 2 eggs (hardboiled) after we admired her red and yellow dyed ones. We needed to find a bike shop to adjust Ian’s head set and asked a man if he knew of one. He did and gave us detailed instructions in German. We pretended to understand but he decided to escort us on his bike which was very kind. We cycled to Frankfurt through the industrial area, then along the Main to the Kaiserdom and various nearby platzen and the Kleinmarkthalle, an indoor market where we had wurst mit senf und brot (with mustard and bread).

Then to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to go by train to Darmstadt, about 30km to the south, to find Hundertwasser’s Waldspiral. This amazing residential building is in the suburban area of the town, surrounded by ordinary apartment buildings. It is built in an ascending spiral shape with trees and plants growing on top and several onion domes, lots of tiles and ceramic features, stripes and layers, looking completely exotic in an otherwise unremarkable place. There are Hundertwasser buildings in several European countries and one in New zealand which is a public toilet! Hundertwasser moved to NZ in the later part of his life.

There are thousands of bikes in Frankfurt, with good bike lanes and traffic lights, lots of parking rails. There are city bike schemes  with human powered and battery-assisted bikes. Most places that can be covered with graffiti have already received colourful coverage. There is a substantial challenge for everyone here to get through a lot of food each day – there are bakeries everywhere, food stalls, markets, cafes, bistros. We are committed to helping out as much as we can. Smokers are catered for with special smoking areas on train platforms and immediately outside the stations, so you have to walk through a smoke haze as you exit.

I have bought a tiny German-English dictionary to improve my vocabulary and have found out that Offenbach means open stream and Darmstadt means bowel or intestine town. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

Waldspiral, Damstadt

Waldspiral, Damstadt

Into the countryside of Hessen

20 August 2014

Early start, cold morning, first 10km or so on  busy road until we found a radweg (bikepath) along the river Main, then along the Kinzig, a smaller tributary. We have to do our own navigation as the Garmin (GPS) is out of the picture. This is due to an oversight by a member of our party who thought we had all the necessary maps and then found out that we don’t. Getting them is not as easy as you might think, so we are using a combination of Google Maps, a paper map and our powers of observation. Google Maps includes an American woman in Ian’s phone who tells us where to go, but her German pronunciation is so dreadful that we turn her off as much as possible.

We found a bicycle route from Hanau (near Frankfurt) in the direction we needed to go. It is well signposted and we managed to follow it fairly easily with only one accidental deviation that took us up an unnecessary hill. The gradient has been good – flat almost all the way through low lying country in the valley of the Kinzig. Scenery has been varied with unsealed sections through forest, grassy meadows, storks wheeling above, herons feeding in the fields, railways, highways and autobahns alongside, cornfields, an asparagus crop, apple trees, wind farms, a Nordic walking club and lots of people walking and cycling.

Today’s highlights were the towns of Gelnhausen and Salmunster. Gelnhausen is a walled city with an impressive steepled church and narrow streets of half-timbered houses. Salmunster’s church of Sts Peter and Paul has an impressive tower and rococo interior.

We are now in the small town of Flieden where the friendly young hotel proprietor speaks minimal English, provides no wifi and shrugs helplessly when offered a Mastercard! She serves a good German dinner though.

Today’s route

gelnhausen

Gelnhausen

Fulda and the Milseburg tunnel

21 August 2014

You can never go wrong by making ham and cheese rolls from the fruhstuck to take on the road for morning tea – and this is what we did! Riding out of Flieden we admired the humungous slag heap created by a potash mine and adorned with a cross at the top. Our bicycle route then came to a temporary stop due to roadworks and we had to mix it for a couple of scary km with heavy traffic (both size and quantity).

The city of Fulda, previously unknown to us, is impressive. It has a massive Dom with lots of statues, gilt everywhere, gigantic pipe organ, angels and putti (these are what I previously thought were cherubs but now know better) and a skeleton; a schloss; and another huge church, Stadtpfarrkirche St Blasius, with beautiful marble columns.

We have been riding on a rail trail for much of the day, with a long gradual climb to the Milseburg tunnel at about 500m and just over 1km long, well lit for the cycling traffic, and with a cafe at the other end. Easy gradients followed with a long descent and flat riding along the Ulster river. Cycling infrastructure is excellent with signposting good enough to manage with minimal map consultation and almost complete separation from road traffic. The path is mostly sealed or paved with a few short gravel sections.

The weather is sunny but cool. The countryside is beautiful with lots of forested hills, farms and fields, villages every few km each with a massive church. This region is part of the UNESCO Rhön Biosphere Reserve.

An observation: we saw some anti-smoking billboards around Frankfurt, but German towns have lots of cigarette vending machines in suburban streets as well as commercial areas, often decorated with photos of places of scenic beauty.  No plain packaging here!

Today’s route

Spire in markt platz, Fulda

The roads more and less travelled

22 August 2014

We set off from Vacha in the chilly morning and rode along the Werratal bicycle route beside the Werra river to Bad Salzungen, a spa town. After this some route finding experiments led us to take the road less travelled. Many people think that this is what one should do in life, but it is not always the case, especially if you are on a bike in the Thuringer Wald. This road started as a 2 wheel track, then became a rocky track inclining upwards, then grassy and then not really discernible at all. We found the way back to a proper road, but had not learned our lesson, and prompted by Google Maps woman (to whom we now refer as Wanda as she is supposed to be helping us wander around), we took another grassy track that deteriorated and took us into a forest. We retreated and eventually found a sign posted bike path that took us up a long steady climb which we enjoyed more as it was on smooth tarmac! At the top was a large hotel, Waldgaststatte Am Kissel, where we stopped for coffee. As Ian says, the route experiments help to keep the coffees apart which is what you want.

A long steep descent followed into Ruhla – our climb from the other side was much more gradual – then more descending into Wucha. Our destination was Gotha, only another 20km, but this was an elusive place that didn’t seem to get any closer the further we rode. We diligently followed signs but ended up a bit lost when the bike path suddenly evaporated. The thing to do in any such situation is to ask the nearest person, so we did and the next passing cyclist escorted us on to a better route. We were soon alongside the road more travelled – an autobahn.

Gotha kept getting closer and then further away, according to the distances on the bike path sign posts. In the end we made it into town, and a fine impressive place it is with a massive schloss, deep orange Rathaus and many other fine features.

Today’s route

Gotha Rathaus

From Gotha to Goethe

23 August 2014

We both had ‘Frustuck fur Helden’ – that’s breakfast for heroes. It was meaty, cheesy and eggy with NO JAM! New resolution: always get two different breakfasts to ensure variety. I need jam in my breakfast.

There is an election coming up here and campaign posters are everywhere. All the candidates look really eager and trustworthy, except for one named Manfred who had blond hair, blue eyes and very white teeth. They have the Pirate Party here too – this is a progressive party that advocates for internet freedom among other things.

In our rural meanderings of this morning we saw solar farms (there are plenty of these in Germany despite there being less space and less sun than in Australia), wind farms, sunflowers, whistling kites flying overhead and avenues of fruit trees along country roads. I tasted a plum from one of the trees and now know why they invented Pflaumenkuchen!

We are in Ampelmann territory – it’s nice to see this cheery fellow at the traffic lights. So far no Ampelfrau – but she does exist. I will keep looking.

Lunch was in Erfurt, a large city with an overwhelming quantity of historic everything! There is the massive Erfurt Cathedral and the equally massive St Severus Church right beside each other. Visitors are requested to be calm inside and not take photos with lightning. We came across not one but two busking oboists and reckon they are part of a oboe busking gang. There is a huge pedestrianised city centre with trams gliding quietly through, lots of  German tour groups and football hooligans, fortunately in small groups, but already drunk and noisy. It is easy to imagine that in large numbers they would be quite scary. At the railway station there was a heavy police presence with riot gear and dogs, ready for the influx of fans from Dresden. I spoke to one of the polizei and apparently this happens every week in the football season.

We took a short train ride to Weimar where the atmosphere is also historic but lacks the football component. This is the city that was home to Goethe, Schiller, JS Bach, Lizst, Hans Christian Andersen and no doubt many other famous people at various times. Kunstfest Weimar (arts festival) is in full swing at the moment. But we are now leaving culture to the local people and sampling a bit of popular culture on German TV!

Today’s route

Sunflowers near Gotha

Les pauses are important!

24 August 2014

A flexible approach to the program is necessary! Cycling in Germany is not the same as cycling in Australia. There are many pauses needed:

  • Le pause naturel
  • Le pause cartographique
  • Le pause gastronomique
  • Le pause historique

We also had le pause musical a couple of days ago.

Weimar is on the river Ilm and the Ilm Radweg gave us the way ahead. It takes keen observation to stay on even a well marked trail and we managed to deviate several times. Generally we ask for directions which are often given in detail in German. We listen carefully but always take more notice of the hand gestures that point us the right way. Apparently we pass ourselves off as fluent German speakers when all we can really say is ‘entschuldigung bitte’ and the name of the relevant town.

We left the Ilm and met the Saale, a big river that is popular for canoeing and boating. We came across a couple of astonishing salt harvesting places – at first could not figure out at all what they were. They a pretty hard to describe – enormous in scale and involving extracting salt from water through a giant filtration system. One of them had a massive water powered pump made of wood, several hundred metres in length. You can imagine how happy Germans would have been to find a proper salt mine and not have to do all that!

We arrived in Naumburg – another amazing town previously unknown to us. The Naumburger Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul provided a sunny dom platz with cafes and a string quartet playing Mozart.

Then a train ride brought us to Leipzig where we are staying with Warmshowers hosts Swen and Kat and their two little daughters.

Today’s route

The graduation tower at Bad Kosen

Leipzig

25 August 2014

Swen and Kat met while working for Medecins Sans Frontiers in Africa. They have done a lot of bicycle travelling and now include Lucia aged 3 and Eliana aged 6 months! They live in Plagwitz, not far from the centre of Leipzig. After a big loss of population following reunification, Leipzig has grown in size and is now in the middle of a baby boom! It is nearly 25 years since the people of Leipzig led the way to reunified Germany with peaceful demonstrations, and they are now preparing to commemorate this anniversary.

We visited the Museum in der Runden Ecke, with memorabilia and displays from the DDR era. I liked the large size letter-steamer-opening machine. Then a small musical pilgrimage to the Nicholai Kirche where the works of JS Bach were performed during his time in Leipzig. Our experience here was somewhat marred by a bad trumpet player who apparently decided to impose his playing on everyone in the church for no good reason and without authorisation.

We went to Schumann’s house and then to Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a massive monument to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig. This was followed by wurst and senf  (sausage and mustard). Let us warn anyone thinking of having currywurst- don’t have it! It is the ruination of an otherwise good wurst by the addition of curry flavoured gravy. We regretted it and so will you!

An evening walking tour of Plagwitz took us past a Nazi party premises to which there is ample local opposition, expressed with graffiti on the walls.

Plagwitz

The industrial tour

27 August 2014

A cold wet morning. We struggled our way out of Leipzig with Wanda (aka Google Maps woman) both hindering and helping. The trouble with Wanda is that she has no situational awareness. She makes an announcement just at the wrong time, and if you don’t catch it, she doesn’t repeat it.

Thanks to her we got on to a muddy track that led to a locked gate. Then we had to get past an airport, and over a railway line and an autobahn. A bridge helped us out and we were back on quiet country roads although with a longish section of Paris-Roubaix style pave. In Delitzsch we found an excellent bakery where we warmed up and dried out a little.

The next stage took us into a post-industrial landscape where former open-cut coal mines are now lakes. This was the Kohle-Dampfe-Licht (coal-steam-light) Radroute between Delitzsch and Bitterfeld. Wanda then took us on a tour to a chemical plant and a large industrial park. One advantage of this was the Rostbratwurst kiosk that we felt deserved our patronage.

We legged it for Dessau on a long straight-ish path beside a busy road. The reward has been worth it as we are in a pension run by an artistic woman who has mosaics and ceramics everywhere, just down the street from the Meister Hausen, houses designed by Walter Gropius. We have also been to the Bauhaus (where we sang the Tom Lehrer song about Alma Mahler), the Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht statues and the ultra-modern Umwelt Bundesamt (Federal Environment Agency for Germany).

Today’s route

Coal extractor near Bitterfeld

Fahrgarten Johannstadt

27 August 2014

This morning was clear, cold and sunny. We rode 15km before stopping in the small village of Worlitz for coffee and kuchen at the bakery. We joined the Elbe Radweg and soon came to the Elbe itself. The river has a wide floodplain and high flood levees. There were massive floods here in 2013.

There are many cycle routes, some of which double up, so we were also on the Luther Radweg as we approached Lutherstadt Wittenberg. The 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther’s reformation is coming up in 2017 and they are busily cleaning up and restoring things in preparation. There is a lot of Lutheran tourism with groups going around town in pretend trains. A devout looking group with headscarves and guitars appeared about to burst into chorus when the cathedral bells got going and defeated them before they could get started. A man came up to me with a pamphlet and gave me a spiel about Jesus, but when I explained that I couldn’t speak German he gave up immediately.

Wittenberg is also famous for a school that has been Hundertwasserised, so we went to see it. Gropius one day, Hundertwasser the next.

A train ride was needed to get us back on the program, and at the Dresden hbf we once again observed a heavy police presence to keep a relatively small group of football fans in line. Polizei easily outnumbered the football fans – an expensive operation.

Dresden is full of people walking and riding through the city, old and new, and along the Elbe. The temperature is mild, perfect for a beer and a wurst with mustard and potatoes at the Fahrgarten Johannstadt, river flowing by and sun going down.

Today’s route

Fahrgarten Johannstadt, Dresden

The Elbe

28 August 2014

Breakfast at Kaffee Wippler in Loschwitz is recommended. We have been here before. Then on to Laubegast once again to meet Alex, chieftain of Ukulelistan. He decided to cycle with us along the Elbe as far as the Czech border at Hrensko. Alex now cycles everywhere on his large black bike. He had many good suggestions for the next part of our route through the Sachsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland).

The day was sunny and warm; the river had lots of passenger boats, canoeists, rowers, groups of people on inflatable dinghies; hundreds of people were cycling and walking on both sides. There are innumerable cafes, bars and kiosks along the way and plenty of accommodation. Alex took us along the true right bank cycle path.

We stopped in front of the Radfahrer Kirche (cyclists’ church) in Wehlen for a ukulele duet. Further on we took a short cut through the forest to avoid a big meander, although this probably took longer because of walking some rocky and muddy sections.

In Hrensko we paused to drink a Czech beer with Alex before he departed, then cycled on up a narrow valley into the national park. We had expected to find accommodation but it was mostly booked out leaving only overpriced options. So back to Hrensko where it’s cheaper and available.

This is a tourist town on the former German Czech border. It is overrun with cheap goods, clothing, cigarettes and liquor sold in street-side stalls by vendors from Vietnam.

Today’s route

Ukulele duet at Wehlen, Radfahrer Kirche

Sächsonische Schweiz

29 August 2014

Back up the hill for 8am Frustuck at Mezni Louka – a Cesky breakfast with cucumber, tomato and capsicum. We inconspicuously organised lunch as well. Then off along the walking track 6km each way through birch and beech forest to Pravcicka Brana (pr. Pravchitska), a famous rock formation, beloved of Czech and German tourists. According to our map, it was formed a million years ago, and is expected to last only another 10,000 years, so geologically speaking, we were just in time. The Sachsonische Schweiz has sandstone formations everywhere.

Some of our limited Czech vocabulary came back to us, and we exchanged many dobry dens with fellow walkers of all shapes, sizes, ages and states of health.

There are low traffic roads throughout the national park. We took the route suggested by Alex. On the way through we saw a log truck, lots of mossy rock outcrops, hikers and mushroom pickers with their cane baskets. There were a couple of longish steep hills – Alex would be proud of us as we did them by pedals all the way.

A long descent brought us to Varnsdorf, the last Czech town before entering Germany again, then to Zittau. We managed to get through Czech without changing money!

Before dinner we went to the Dreiländer Punkt where the borders of Germany, Czech Republic and Poland meet. You can get to this spot only by walking or riding. It is marked with the flags of the 3 countries and the EU, on the river Neisse which we will be following from tomorrow.

Today’s route: Hrensko >> Mezni Louka >> Jetrichovice >> Na Tokani >> Doubice >> Krasna Lipa >> Varnsdorf >> Zittau

Cyclists welcome

Frühstück in Zittau

30 August 2014

Just so you know the daily challenge we face, this is what is offered for breakfast in our modest hotel:

  • Muesli
  • Cocopops
  • Cornflakes
  • Fruit yoghurt
  • Stewed fruit
  • Soup – suppe mit einlager
  • Wurst with mustard
  • Boiled eggs
  • Egg salad
  • Tomato & cucumber
  • Fish – eg herring
  • Bloodwurst & Liverwurst
  • Steak tartare – large plate of
  • Cheese – about 5 varieties
  • Meat and salami – about 10 varieties
  • White rolls (large mountain of these is provided)
  • Rye bread – 2 varieties
  • Jam & honey
  • Bottomless coffee

The above is consumed with pop songs from the seventies and eighties as the background music.

Blut & Leberwurst

For breakfast!

Fischplatte

Altstadtfest in Gorlitz

30 August 2014

Today we dawdled quite a bit as our destination, Gorlitz, was only about 40km downstream on the Neisse (pr. nicer). On the way out of Zittau we visited Poland for about 5 minutes. Route finding gave us a few minor challenges and we did one unnecessary detour before taking a necessary one due to the radweg being closed in one section. This meant a long steep hill to climb out of the river valley and along a normal road with traffic to Ostritz, a small town with a quiet platz and an excellent konditorei. Breakfast was by this time a dim memory so we stopped to sample the baked goods – I gave them 10/10. A stork circled overhead as we sat there and various cyclists, local and touring, rode by.

We went past another large lake, the Bersdorfer See, formed by open cut coal mining. A thunderstorm then pelted us with rain.

Gorlitz was jumping when we arrived – the annual Altstadtfest is on this weekend, a massive event on both the German and Polish sides of the river. People here know how to cater on a large scale – you can scarcely imagine the mountains of wurst, potatoes, pork knuckles, bread, grilled things and baked things. There is a medieval theme and lots of people were dressed up in costumes. There were bands, street performers, processions, a pretend sword fight and thousands of people everywhere, despite the rain.

We went in search of lodgings out of town and found a likely place that was booked out – but the kind proprietors sent us down the road to a private house that has rooms available. We then returned to take in more festival until dusk. Our friendly host is a maths and physics teacher in Gorlitz – he has promised us pancakes for breakfast!

Today’s route

Altstadtfest Gorlitz

A wet ride to Bad Muskau

31 August 2014

Today we were comprehensively rained upon. Things started out in an unusual way, although with an excellent breakfast that included the promised pancakes and many other excellent things. We were discussing the Altstadtfest with our hosts Manfred and Beate. She showed us a photo of them dressed in medieval costume for a recent birthday party and conceived the idea that we could dress up then and there and have our own photo! So we did and it was very funny.

Manfred spoke to us about Gorlitz and its loss of population after reunification, its current status as a city of old people, and minor local border tensions with Poland.

The Neisse radweg took us through forests, fields, small villages and sometimes along the actual river. Border posts placed along the river on the German and Polish sides make a visual declaration of territory. We often see solar and wind farms – Germany is investing heavily in renewable energy sources. Hunting towers built high off the ground are everywhere in country areas so beware if you are a rabbit or a deer.

The German people love their summer gardens. Colourful flowers are a delight along the way and every available garden plot and plant container is full of geraniums, petunias, sunflowers and azaleas. Vegetable gardens are abundant in every back yard.

Bad Muskau was our stopping place, a town right on the border. It has a fine schloss built by Count Pueckler and set in an enormous park. It has been renovated from a state of ruin over the past 20 years. The Polish side, Leknica, is a border town reminiscent of Hrensko, with cheap cigarettes and clothing for sale in roadside stalls immediately over the bridge.

We had a delicious German dinner in the cosy Muskauer Hof, just down the road from our pension.

Today’s route

Dress ups with Beate

Oder-Neisser – the rivers meet

1 September 2014

Heavy skies and light drizzle but no real rain today. On the radweg we encountered a couple of people from the state tourism department  who were surveying passing cyclists so we gave them a good rap.

In this area villages are less numerous and some have no shop, bakery or hotel. We stopped in Forst, a large-ish town, that has the Ostdeutscher Rosengarten (East German Rose Garden) and a town centre full of bikes. We visited a bike shop to get chain oil and appreciated the smoother ride that followed.

We have seen anti-brown coal posters and banners along the way. There was evidently a human chain a week or so ago in protest against further open cut mining in this area.

Another major town, Gubin, is divided by the river into German and Polish sides. The city was extensively damaged in WW2 and the huge burnt out church on the Polish side is still a ruin although with plans in place for reconstruction. This will be a big job!
We did some ornithology – saw a huge sea eagle flying overhead and many large birds in a distant field that looked like storks.

Our aim was to find a Zimmer Frei – a room in a private house – in Ratzdorf, the small village at the confluence of the Neisse and the Oder. The bike path has many signs advertising this kind of accommodation and we succeeded in locating a perfect place. Our host, Sabine, gave us dinner as Ratzdorf offers little at the best of times and nothing on Monday nights. We were then joined by Peter and Anna from Leipzig who are riding a tandem to the Baltic Sea. We had a great time all together with Peter doing a fair bit of translation to help out as Sabine speaks no English and Anna only a little.

Among other things, we found out that the Michael Jackson Playground in Ratzdorf was the result of money donated in 1997 when MJ heard about the plight of the town, then affected by severe floods. He wanted to assist the kindergarten, but there wasn’t one so they got a playground and sportsground instead.

Apart from the meeting of the rivers and the playground, Ratzdorf has a lovely church built from an old barn, a kegel hall (German bowling), a pegelhaus that shows the river level, the Kreuz der Begegnung (cross of the meeting place), a big fishing club and some huge pumpkins!

Today’s route

Ratzdorf pumpkin

Neuzelle & Eisenhuttenstadt

2 September 2014

Sabine provided freshly stewed strawberries, raspberries and blackberries from her large garden with breakfast. We had a quick spin on Peter and Anna’s tandem before setting off to ride with them about 5 kilometres to the Neuzelle monastery. This was an astonishing place decorated in the most lavish baroque style imaginable with cherubs and putti by the dozen, statues of saints everywhere, marble columns in many colours, the relics of a saint and detailed ceiling paintings of biblical scenes. There is special altar where Mary and baby Jesus are dressed in heavily embroidered garments that are changed three times every year.

We rejoined the radweg via a long grassy farm track and rode into the city of Eisenhuttenstadt for something completely different. This is a modern industrial city designed and built in the socialist era with large steelworks nearby. We admired the public sculptures, mosaics and residential buildings, many of which have fine decorative details.

Riding north beside the Oder we have noticed that villages are further apart and have little active commerce. We are staying in Finkenheerd, a small town with no restaurant open (at least tonight), a bakery long ago closed and not much else happening apart from a steady flow of traffic.

Today’s route

Eisenhuttenstadt

Euroroute R1

3 September 2014

Finding accommodation is a daily lucky dip. Last night in the small town of Finkenheerd we stayed in a kind of cubby house, a little wooden cottage squeezed in between the road and the back of a house. It was clean and comfortable. We had to be satisfied with a cold plate for dinner – and it included excellent smoked fish and potato salad so all was ok.

Finkenheerd has had a major downturn in industry and population over recent decades. It used to have a huge power station and factories, now all gone. At breakfast we spoke with fellow cyclists, a retired Austrian couple and their friend, a German industrialist, who likes to visit the former East Germany to see the effects of socialism and capitalism. He is, of course, very keen on the latter.

Frankfurt an der Oder was a short distance away and we stopped for le pause musical on the garden  island near the city centre. Frankfurt was damaged in WW2 and many displaced people came there following the war. It now has a modern centre with both old and new buildings, trams and plenty of interesting sculptures in the squares and parks.

For much of the way we rode along the path on top of the Oder flood dike. Villages are sparse in this area. We saw other cyclists travelling in both directions but often had the path to ourselves for long stretches. Two old blokes on recumbents were going south as well as a man on rollerblades. Wildflowers alongside the path are white yarrow, yellow tansy, pink clover, pale blue cornflowers and what looks exactly like Salvation Jane – could that be true?

We crossed into Poland to look at the town of Kostrzyn. The remains of the old town can be seen beside the river Warta – just the building foundations and narrow paved streets. The new town has a lovely park – and more charming sculptures.

Back on the bicycle route we stopped at a kiosk for a reviving beer and bockwurst with onion and pickles. That powered us up for the final 20km. We have now left the Oder and are following Euroroute R1 which will take us to Berlin. We are in the small town of Letschin in the state of Brandenburg. There are memorials here to Russian soldiers who died in 1945. The church was destroyed then too except for the red brick steeple that remains. Frederick the Great stands in an arrogant pose overlooking the main street.

Today’s route

Friedrich der Grosse, Letschin