Monday, June 4, 2012

Germany - Land of the Fairytale

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Ohrdruf and surrounding countryside. Photo credit: Thuringia
60 miles - Friday, August 26

We woke to blue sky with low fog, but the day quickly warmed. We were able to dry everything out, which was very important for moral. It’s when I’m absolutely soaked that I’m miserable. I contemplate whether what we’re doing is worth it. But I’ve discovered that this mode of travel has its extreme highs and lows as we are at the mercy of the elements. Sunshine has a way of smoothing the cobblestones, the traffic snarls, and endless detours that are common in former East Germany.

We were searching for a “yellow road” on our map, marked as a secondary highway, and confirmed our course with a man who was gardening in his front yard. He waved us on and we coasted further out of town. But then the pavement turned to dirt filled with muddy potholes, brimming with yesterday’s rain. We stopped to consider the change. We’d yet to ride on any dirt roads and wondered if it continued like this for 18k to the next town. The tailwind, the soft light, the downhill cruising, plus the lovely verdant farmland stretching towards a forest, beckoned us onward.
Georgenthal and nearby locale. Photo credit: tripwolf

The rough surface continued for three miles, but gradually returned to asphalt. Without noisy traffic, the riding was bliss, the kind that is comforting with your best friend by your side, where the unspoken provides an inner calm. I loved listening to shaking panniers and ticking wheels. Andy studied hawks screaming and soaring overhead. We pedaled through more forest then into a narrow valley folded around a tiny village. I thought about continuing on to purchase baguettes, but the quaint place was magically alluring. Best to stay where it felt right and gobble our food cache.

Sheep bleated and cows mooed like some country serenade as we pedaled slowly by the first farmyard. It was then, with drooling excitement, that we spied the white backerei truck that captivated clucking women clutching wicker baskets filled with baguettes. Goosebumps traveled up my arms. Nearby was a park, with the ubiquitous black domed church sitting all alone surrounded by a golden field of grain like something from a fairytale.

Photo credit:
We placed our loads at the park and eagerly stood in line at the truck. Small villages that cannot support a bakery rely on the backerei vehicle for daily service. We’d seen this before, yet were never able to take advantage of it. It’s also a social hour. The heavy, grey haired women were dressed in blue flowered shifts, revealing thick ankles. We smiled. I wanted to whip out our camera, but held back.

Kwark Kuchen, to die for! Photo credit: Mennonite Girls Can Cook

The ladies squawked in German as Andy and I gladly chose pieces of Kwark Kuchen (the soft cheesy Quark we’d come to love in Netherlands on top of pastry), Apple Kuchen, and Poppyseed Kuchen. We don’t even try to resist sweets anymore. The side of the truck displays wooden rack of various breads with the pastries in glass cabinets. We also chose crusty white rolls – the women near us already claimed the last of the baguettes.

In the whisper of the poplars we ate lunch, our spirits still high from the amazing coincidence. Afterwards we didn’t want to leave. The valley was paradise, the quiet and sunshine soaking and soothing two days of wetness and dreary traveling. But the need for a distant campsite finally made us move. It is the part I dread the most; the sites are few and far between.

Winterstein. Photo credit:

By 6:30 p.m. we entered a town that was marked on the map for camping. The place seemed deserted. Neither were there signs depicting where to go. A sinking feeling bottomed in my stomach. If only we had confirmed the place in the previous town where there had been an information center…if only.

We approached a man sitting on his doorstep. He came to the sidewalk, motioning and explaining where we could stay only 1.5k further. He didn’t understand “campingplatz” the word we learned to guide us to campsites, but at the time I didn’t think anything of it. I was only too happy to know that a place to rest was close by.

We thanked him and went on our way, still scanning for the usual blue and white sign. No luck. At an intersection we stopped, heaved heavy sighs, wondering where we should turn. Just when were about to inquire with another resident, a car horn peeped. The vehicle stopped, driven by the man who had provided directions. We smiled and said hello and he motioned for us to follow him.

And somehow we managed, huffing and puffing, pulling unused stores of energy from burning legs, just to keep up with our guide. But I was thankful because to think that this gentleman went out of his way to help, even with the language barrier, was truly a wondrous gift.

He drove up a hill and slowed beside a zwimbad, the local pool, but continued. We presumed he might lead us to a municipal park, but we then followed him up another hill. Andy and I were gasping for breath by this time, standing in our pedals. Higher and higher we went. The road turned to dirt. We lost sight of the vehicle in the darkening forest, but a few minutes later we crested the hill where the driver halted at a three-story grand home. We never would’ve found this place ourselves. Andy and I were thankful the ordeal was over. I tried to regain composure. We wondered if it was a hostel. We smiled and shook hands with our savior, still trying to catch our breath as our rescuer drove away.

An older woman with weathered face greeted us, explaining there wasn’t any camping, but that for 14.50 marks each we could stay in a bungalow or in the big house. We chose the bungalow. It was a fair price. Glad to be stationary, we cooked in the main house’s kitchen, showered, and relaxed in comfort. It’s utterly amazing how when we start out each morning we never know here we’ll end up. If we learned one thing today, it’s that we’d better confirm accommodation as early as possible.


  1. Even on my lazy camping pootles there are always days when I want to stay in my sleeping bag and wonder why I thought cycling was a good holiday :-) But, there's also the quiet, self reliant calm that goes with it. Experience always tells me there will be something magical round the corner that will make me forget the rain, wind, heat, flies or hills that I'm grumbling in my cups about.

    It's the delicious sense of freedom that comes with touring that I love, even if it's only a few weeks in the same state. It also seems to provide plenty of reminders about the kindness of most folks you meet. Then, of course, there's the bakeries, sigh :-)

  2. Being helped by a stranger when travelling is such a godsend when you are desperate for a place to stay, that is a great travel story.


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