Archive for the ‘Europe 2014’ Category

das Ende

11 September 2014

Our last ride through the Tiergarten was to the Hauptbahnhof. The Tiergarten is an immense park with huge forested and open grassy areas. It has many paths that are heavily used by cyclists. It has been a great pleasure to ride here each day.

German train stations are wonderful places – they are full of bakeries and cafes, there are lifts to take you and your bicycle to the correct platform, there is clear information everywhere about arrivals and departures. We positioned ourselves on the part of the platform that should have meant easy embarkation into the bicycle carriage. However, even German systems have their glitches and, due to a last minute change, we had to dash to the other end of the train. Our bikes had specific reservations and had to be placed in the correct rack in the carriage.

Our train sped at over 200 km/hour towards Hannover. Our companion was Stijn, a young mechanical engineer from the Netherlands who had just completed his first bicycle tour on a bright yellow Cannondale, and is planning to do more. We changed trains in Hannover with about an hour to look around – and we teamed up with Lutz who had also travelled with his bike from Berlin. He is a retired English teacher who grew up in Hannover and still lives nearby. Lutz offered to be our guide for 1 hour and took us to see the old city, a church that remains without it roof as a reminder of the damage of WW2, and to the city hall where there are 4 scale models of Hannover, showing its development from medieval times, to the city prior to and post war damage and then the present. There was extensive bombing in the war that wrecked just about everything.

We have had many experiences of spontaneous help and kindness throughout our time in Germany. People take notice of temporary bewilderment, map reading and other signs that indicate you may be lost and do not wait to be asked for help.

Now we are back in Frankfurt, ready to pack up and return home. Our holiday has been wonderful. Tschuss to Germany, the people we have met and to friends old and new!

Our guide, Lutz, in Hannover

Indoor and outdoor culture

9 September 2014

Lietzensee is a small lake in a park about 3km west of our digs, ideal for an early morning excursion. We saw school children doing lollipop man duties – ie stopping traffic to allow children safe crossing to get to school. Fraulein Lietzen is a small cafe, the equivalent of an Adelaide deli only way nicer – 6 varieties of excellent cake, fresh loaves of German bread, backgammon, poetry book, no Coke machine. We had milch kaffee and pretzels with butter and read a poem in German.

Our main plan of the day was to visit the Jewish Museum and we were successful in doing this. There is what seems to be a permanent police presence near the entrance – we have also seen this at a Jewish cultural centre near our hotel. We then found exactly the funky cafe area of Kreuzberg that we failed to find with Wieteke and Kees and had a delicious lunch there (Bergmannstr). The berg (hill) after which Kreuzberg is named was nearby so an ascent to the summit was made – it is not very high but still gives a good view.

The Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things) was next, except that we went right past the Sommerbad Kreuzberg, and decided to have a swim. This is a huge outdoor facility with 2 Olympic size pools, one warm and one cool in temperature, and an enormous recreation pool. Surrounding the pools is a vast park with trees and grass. This is the kind of public asset you can have when there is a big population nearby, none of whom can have their own pool. We had already discovered that nudity in public parks around Berlin is completely fine. Then we found that this extends to getting changed into your togs at the pool – no need to go into the dressing room, just get naked and put them on. The dressing rooms are fairly open anyway and don’t provide complete privacy. The swim was a delightful experience

Without meaning to, we keep going back to places we have been to before. Finally found the Museum d D which was right across the road from the Turkish barber shop of the recent haircut – and it is geschlossen on Tuesdays!  Waaaahh! We should have gone in on Saturday, except that we were then geographically more confused and didn’t know it was there. Ok – plan B – go to the Berlinische Gallery, near Jewish Museum. It is geschlossen until spring while they replace the sprinkler system. The tourism program was then officially abandoned.

Our evening meal was in an Italian restaurant in Charlottenburg, presided over by a maitre d who, in an enthusiastic but insistent way, explained in detail everything about the authentic Sicilian dishes, even to two uninterested Japanese businessmen who only wanted more antipasto and spaghetti, any kind would do.

Colours in Kreuzberg

Colours in Kreuzberg


Getting an overview

8 September 2014

Early morning to Museum Island to see the Dom and Pergamon Museum, external viewing only. On the way back through the Tiergarten we found what appears to be the lion version of The Natural Family, cast in bronze. Mr Lion stands proudly above Mrs Lion who is lying, apparently contentedly, at his feet while two small cubs frolic. Closer inspection reveals that Mrs Lion has been deeply pierced by an arrow, an occurrence that would threaten the well-being of any NF. Anyway, we have been past this spot a few times since and there has been no visible deterioration, so we’d say her condition is serious but stable.

Our travels of the day took us beyond the Berlin Wall Memorial, past monolithic factories of former decades, to Volkspark Humboldthain, a park with a peak that used to be a flak tower. It is covered in graffiti and rather unkempt, but provides good views to the north and west sides of the city. Then back past the Neue Synagogue (Moorish with impressive dome) to the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and a fast ride to the top – 6 metres per second as we told more than once. Berlin looks very fine from on high.

During evening aperitif hour we observed a Berlin woman of mature years and can now confidently state that it is ok to wear small polka dots with tartan and a slightly battered straw hat (fine straw tightly woven), and to ride on a seventies style hybrid bicycle.


The lions

Memorials of not so long ago

7 September 2014

The early morning outing was to the Holocaust Memorial, near the Brandenburg Gate. At 7am on a Sunday morning we were the only visitors. This place has a real visual impact with light and shade on the concrete blocks creating geometric patterns, the contrast of green and slightly autumnal colours of the trees on the western side and the rather jarring row of tourist cafes on the east. On the way back we found, adjacent to the Philharmonie, the newly opened memorial to people who were killed according to Nazi policies because of mental illness or disability.

The group bicycle tour was to the Berlin Wall Memorial – Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer – to the north of the city centre. It is sobering to see and read of the events that occurred here, including the demolition in 1985 of the church that was a symbol of hope for so many people. Even after being here it is difficult to appreciate that all this happened during our own lifetime and came to an end only 25 years ago. This location has excellent illustrations and explanations in both German and English. Across the road there is a tower that gives a view of the area from above, also with much interesting detail about political events and daily life in the GDR era.

Wieteke and Kees had to take an afternoon train to return to the Netherlands. We farewelled them the first time from our hotel, then chased them by bike and U-Bahn to the Hauptbahnhof to return the sponge bag that was left behind. Our time together has been full of hilarious events, not all of which can be published here!

Our evening was spent dining and walking around Savignyplatz where we observed on open air catwalk event with a long queue of highly fashionable young women and men waiting for their turn. We found many interior design shops (we are not doing enough with chandeliers in our house), the uber-cool back-to-the-fifties Smeg showroom, and took a brief look inside the arty Paris Bar.

Holocaust Memorial, Berlin

The group tour

6 September 2014

The first tour of the day was the pre-breakfast tour in which there were 2 participants. We went to the Brandenberg Gate where we witnessed a man in board shorts, flippers and goggles doing the ice bucket challenge while a friend filmed him. This location is impressive in the early morning – no buses or tourist groups, in fact almost no people at all. The frieze above the columns indicates significant troubles with rampant centaurs in the past, all of which had to be quelled by heroic acts of bravery. We have not seen a single centaur and assume that they have now been brought under control.

Our return route took us past a number of outdoor sleeping areas – the underneath of most bridges is occupied in more or less comfort depending on individual resources. We also found the Charlottenburg Tor flea market but resisted buying any crockery.

In the post-breakfast tour, two additional participants joined on sturdy hired bikes. Everything started out well with clear objectives and straightforward navigation to the Charlottenburg Palace, set in huge formal gardens and the sort of place Charlotte ought to have been pretty satisfied with.

Following this our general aim was to reach Kreuzberg but we lacked a suitably specific objective. The group management style took many forms including benign dictatorship, participatory democracy and just-in-time. At one stage unionisation occurred and the workers demanded better conditions (coffee and cake). This was agreed to by management but delivery in a timely manner proved more difficult than anticipated. Some distractions along the way were Trabi World, the Topographie des Terrors – the former site of Gestapo and Nazi headquarters – and Checkpoint Charlie.

We then rode on into Kreuzberg but ended up doing the public transport infrastructure tour (overhead U-Bahn) rather than the gritty arty grungy graffiti bohemian cafe culture tour. Eventually we found a cafe that served coffee and cakes (German and Turkish, both excellent) so the workers were appeased. One member of the team went over the road to embark on a journey of personal transformation (haircut and shave in Turkish barber shop) while the rest of us had to fend off a shop keeper who did the equivalent of wheel clamping our bikes, as we had leaned them against her wall, denying her the opportunity of displaying her cheap poor quality goods on the footpath.

At this stage the group underwent restructuring and two independent divisions were created with an undertaking to revive the partnership later in the day.

Our division had in mind a swim in the Badeschiff, a pool that is floating in the Spree, but Not the Berlin Festival had overtaken the whole area, so instead we crossed the Oberbaum Bridge and found the East Side Gallery, a long section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted by many artists to create a striking and colourful memorial.

Our evening activity was a concert in the Berlin Philharmonie by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. They played Brahms, Rihm (who was present in the audience) and Richard Strauss. People sell large pretzels of different varieties outside the concert hall to the audience to help them get through the program and the trip home – good idea I say!

In the gardens of Schloss Charlottenburg

Berlin by bicycle

5 September 2014

Early morning swim was had and it was good. We were supposed to follow the bike path along the southern side of Muggelsee but ended up on the north side which had a strandbad (sandy swimming beach) with a sign that said ‘Grillen verboten’. Just nearby we encountered the first batch of nudists who looked as though they had been grillen for some time. We think that the Berlin woman would approve of nudity but probably not participate due to the importance of her paleness and the need to get at least some use out of her many outfits.

Riding into Berlin was a pretty intense experience that allowed us to sample many different aspects. We spotted the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) from some way out. Then grunge factor rose sharply as we went through Kreuzberg (graffiti, cafes, wagon camp, Not the Berlin Festival, bits of Berlin Wall). The next part was crammed with tourists – Potsdamer Platz, Holocaust Memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, 17 June Street, Tiergarten with more nudists, the zoo, then on to Kurfurstendam near which we are staying.

Shortly afterwards we were reunited with Wieteke and Kees who have travelled from Groningen to meet us here. Several hours of talking ensued combined with eating and drinking, the night warm and streets full of people.

Today’s route

Berlin Wall

The blokes of Neuhardenberg

4 September 2014

Our host in the Hotel Zum Alten Fritz was a local character, Wolfgang, who is pretty keen on military history. He had many historical photos of the town of Letschin, in war and flood, as well as Frederick the Great memorabilia.

My bike had a problem as the bolt holding the pannier racks on had sheared off, so we set about looking for a bike shop. As we arrived in the town of Neuhardenberg, we found an open door, some bikes on the street  and some old blokes and so we stopped to see if they could help out. They were only too happy to do so, although not in the German tradition of fine engineering. Their approach consisted of power tools – drill and angle grinder (the latter fortunately was not used), nuts, washers and bolts, and enthusiastic application of these to solve the problem. It all worked out ok in the end. We had a similar situation 4 years ago in Hungary where blokes unexpectedly came to the rescue. I say we should have the International Day of Old Blokes – they need more recognition.

After this kartoffelpuffer and kuchen (kase mohle und pflaumstreusel) were needed and these were obtained in Buckow. This town also has a lake, a public chess set and moderately aggressive swans. We swam in another nearby lake – the water was pretty cold at first but the experience was definitely to be recommended.

Die Pyramid is a folly of the 18th century that has recently been restored from a ruin. We visited it as it was on our route but do not especially recommend it. This is because it is plain ugly and even when you climb to the top, which is verboten but we did it anyway, all you can see is trees, trees and more trees in all directions.

We do recommend Peetzsee and intend to test its suitability for swimming in the morning.

Today has been our warmest and sunniest day so far and tomorrow promises to be that same. We are heading for Berlin!

Today’s route

The blokes and the bike!

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

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


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

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

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

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!


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

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

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 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


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.


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

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