Monday, May 21, 2012

Germany - Order and Crossing the Wall

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48 miles – Monday, August 22

Today’s journey through rolling hills was what I’d envisioned the German countryside to be like. Entire villages cluster the hillsides, all with matching red tile roofs. Houses are multi-story with white stucco crisscrossed woodwork painted dark brown. Cobblestones and brick streets snake through town only to change back to asphalt upon leaving – very picturesque.

We passed through the city of Kassel. There is much industrialization, a Mercedes Benz tower, the smell of hops indicating a brewery. Andy noticed a BMW dealership, not out of the ordinary in Germany, but the showroom vehicle displayed a bike rack and bike. What we consider status cars in the U.S., like Mercedes and BMW, are utilitarian here. Some pull trailers; others are used for tailgate picnics or everyday shopping.

40 miles – Tuesday, August 23

Late morning we walked into town and browsed, bought groceries, and did a couple errands. It would be hard not to notice how much Germans love flowers (blumen), especially red geraniums. Blumen are sold on roadsides or in huge nurseries.  Geraniums overflow window boxes, sometimes from every glass pane on the brown and white homes. It’s rather prim and proper, yet nonetheless appealing.


In a supermarket parking lot an old woman was stooped over two sacks. She gestured, speaking wildly that she needed help. That was easily understood, even with the language barrier. We rushed to her aid, explaining that we didn’t speak German, but would carry her bags. Her eyes sparkled. As she limped along, she said, “mein haus” pointing with her cane. Andy held her arm as she puttered along.  We wondered just how far her house was. In the quiet heat of the morning we spoke a few words, telling her where we were from and how we were traveling. From time to time she nodded and said “Kentucky” and “Texas” though we couldn’t understand enough to tell if she had visited, knew relatives there, or was just mentioning states she had heard of. In a few minutes we reached her front gate - a mere block from the market - and helped her to the door. She beamed and said “danke” (thank you) more times than were necessary. When Andy and I walked away we wondered how the elderly woman managed. She couldn’t carry her own food and little each time. We presumed she enlisted assistance on a regular basis.


We climbed a river valley, ascended small villages each one seemingly more pristine and colorful than the next. The sweet scent of hay filled the afternoon, its aroma like heated barley malt. At the crest of the rise we stopped and photographed an old barn, its timber, brick, and mud-mortar construction showing signs of wear. Many of the buildings are over 200 years old. We can tell by etchings above the doors.

For a while my reverie was focused on the road shoulders, filled with plums looking like purple marbles. Fat snails also hovered on the white line like warts on the pavement. I had been pedaling in this manner, contemplating the snail’s tracks, wondering whether they were starting out on the long journey across the highway or had miraculously survived the haul and were inching the last legs to safety, when the road gradually sloped downhill. I looked up and smiled. It was time for a rewarding downhill coast.

Caught up in the deserved descent, I couldn't understand why Andy pulled off the highway shortly afterwards, braking in mid-stream. A few seconds later goose bumps prickled my torso as a profound realization sank in. I halted too. Only five years before the Berlin Wall came down. In this region this was all that remained of the border with East Germany. A cement marker stood 8ft high; a 12ft mesh black fence had once continued all the across the asphalt, now torn away in spots with gaping holes. The line cut into the forest, disappearing in each direction over distant hills..



We got off the bicycles and walked the two waffle-like cement tracks on the East German side. It went on as far as we could see. This was most likely where jeeps patrolled the border, searching the many who tried to escape to the West. Andy and I talked briefly about the dispute between Germany and the Soviet Union over the East German territory before the Berlin Wall was erected in the 1950’s. After contemplating this historic spot for some time, we eventually pedaled onward.

The division between the former two countries couldn’t be more apparent. Highway quality deteriorated. In the next town new businesses sprang up.  Houses were being repaired. A road was being bull-dozed to bypass the village. Town centers still had cobbled streets, but were in bad shape.  If small stones hadn’t filled in gaping holes, my tires would have certainly gotten stuck, pitching me over the handle bars. It was an odd feeling to be in a country where only 5 years ago we would be refused entrance. Much is going on in building and reparation – and much is still to be done – to bring the countryside up to the German standard. The country has taken on a huge challenge.

8 comments:

  1. Slightly funny story, for me at least:

    Last week I ran into two German bicycle tourists at a bike shop here in Portland. I asked where they're from in Germany and they said near Frankfurt.
    "Ah, isn't that in the north-central part of the country?"
    "No, northwest."
    "Ah, my geography is bad because I learned where things were in school when there was still a West and East."
    "Oh, we were two when the country re-unified."

    I felt very old then!

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    1. LOL! I feel old every time I stop acting like a big kid :P

      Good post,gorgeous pics :)

      The Disabled Cyclist

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    2. I feel old because this trip was so long ago...and there are few pictures because we used slide film. This post uses all our own photos, but I've had to supplement most posts with Internet images.

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  2. What I loved about Germany when I went there about 14 years ago was how organised it is. Trains and buses were really well organised and everything was so tidy and clean in the cities.

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  3. How amazing that you got to see where the wall was once erected. I remember when it came down and watching it on the news. Though at the time - it really had not hit me at how significant it really was.

    Lately I've been dreaming about Passau, Germany and trying to persuade my husband at what a lovely bike tour to take along the Danube path into Austria.

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    1. We rode from Vienna to Budapest, but heard that Passau to Vienna is just as scenic and the bike path goes the whole way. That's definitely the better choice.

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  4. I know I'm going to sound a little silly, but, my idea of the Berlin Wall, fed mainly by the media in childhood always draws on grey, urban images. Even when it came down, the news focused on the city. If I'd thought about it at all I would, of course, have realised it involved the rural landscape as well.

    Seeing the green countryside and the remnants of the wall is somehow more shocking. As though the juxtaposition drives the whole thing home that much more. I'm not surprised you got goosebumps. I have to admit I did just reading your post!

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    1. Yes, BB, it shocked me too. Like you I only heard about the wall in Berlin so it was pretty surprising to find it in the countryside as well. Now I imagine it went the whole length of the country. Weird to think about it.

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