After exploring Berlin for a few days, Jan and I were ready to get back on the road. We had a great stay in the German capital, thanks to our friend Dina who kindly let us stay in her apartment while she went to Venice for a conference. Thanks again, Dina!
We had not really sorted out where we would go from Berlin but a visit to a travel book store, aptly named Chatwin’s, after the great travel writer, produced a cycle route map of Berlin and surroundings which helped us get on the road. We enjoyed Berlin. Like many places, it is a city with a conflicted history. The scars from the war and 40 years of communist rule are still there but there is also great renewal. It’s a vibrant place.
On a lovely warm, sunny day we cycled out of Berlin and headed towards Potsdam, a significant city in German history. It was the residence of Prussian kings and the German kaiser until 1918. It was also the site of the Potsdam Conference after World War II where England, the United States and the USSR decided the fate of Nazi Germany after its surrender in 1945. Potsdam is also home to Sanssouci Park and its palaces, Germany’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once through Potsdam we made our way to Wittenberg, another significant city in Germany and world history. This is the place where in 1517 one Martin Luther, a German monk and professor of theology, nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church, disputing the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, as well as the authority of the pope, and thus setting in motion the Protestant Reformation and all the unpleasantness that went along with that for several hundred years. Luther experienced some unpleasantness himself as he was excommunicated by the Catholic Church by Pope Leo X and declared an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
There is a lot of sprucing up going on in Wittenberg. The Cathedral is being restored and cleaned in time for the 500-year anniversary in 2017 of Luther’s act of defiance.
It is a beautiful city along the Elbe River, which is where we picked up a cycle route that looked appealing: the EuroVelo R1 which crosses Germany from east to west. It is a pan-European route stretching 3,500 KM from the west coast of northern France to St. Petersburg, Russia.
It partly follows the Elbe River through Germany and that is the bit we decided to cycle and then headed west as far as Bernburg where we turned our wheels south to follow the Saale River cycle route, one of many routes criss-crossing Germany. Many of the main ones can be found here: http://www.germany.travel/en/leisure-and-recreation/cycling/cycling.html
The routes are well signed and easy to follow. It helps to have a map so that you can do some planning of the days ahead and also find places to stay. We purchased the map of the route at a book store, and along with our GPS and the signs, navigated our way south along the river.
The Saale runs through what was East Germany and its headwaters are close to the Czech border in the highlands near the city of Hof. It runs through the larger cities of Halle and Jena and many other smaller cities and towns.
Halle was the birthplace of George Frideric Handel. An early 18th century composer most famous for his Messaiah. He received his early training in Halle, then Hamburg and Italy, before moving to London where he lived and worked the rest of his life. He is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, producing 40 operas over a 30-year period.
There are many old castles and ruins along the cycle route’s 427-kilometre length, as well as vineyards around Naumburg.
The route travels mostly through farmland and forests and for the most part has a good surface which is easy to ride. Occasionally, there were steep climbs but nothing like we tackled in Norway.
The scenery varied somewhat from river valley to more hilly terrain as we cycled south towards the headwaters.
One thing that we saw more than anything else, though, was corn. They are growing so much corn in Germany. Iowa doesn’t grow this much corn. It is everywhere. Field after field after field of corn.
Where does it all go? They can’t possibly be eating it as it’s pretty rare to see in the grocery store. I imagine it’s all going into processed foods and perhaps made into fuel additives.
For five days we cycled through the heart of Germany and sampled the beer and food along the way.
One of the highlights: Thüringer Rostbratwurst, a fine sausage served on a bun with mustard. It’s a delicious spiced sausage often made with finely minced pork or beef and sometimes veal, and sold at stands in towns everywhere. They’ve been making these for hundreds of years and have perfected the art. They are leaner than most other sausages with a mere 25 % fat content. It makes a great mid-morning snack for a hungry cyclist. Lots of calories but good ones. Kind of like a second breakfast. Yummy.
Besides the corn fields, we cycled through beautiful forests along lovely little roads and paths that only had the odd car pass by.
The cycling is relaxing and for the most part, the route avoids busy roads. Large tractors and farm vehicles were usually the only vehicles on the roads, as well as many other cyclists, especially people who looked to be well into their 60s and 70s, many of them riding their E-bikes helping them along up the slopes. It’s great to see so many active people riding bicycles.
The weather has been kind to us. The days have been warm and improving. Temperatures have been up into the 20s and we have been able to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts. Compared to the terrain in Norway, Germany has been easy, resulting in us doing 100-kilometre days with comparative ease. However, the constant pounding of the pedals without the downhill relief you get in hillier terrain means that at the end of the day the knees do feel the miles.
But the shorter days have meant that our nights in the tent have been getting longer, so nine hours of sleep helps the knees and the rest of the body to recover from the day’s efforts. A couple of beers or a wine in the evening also helps the cause.
My beer adventures continue through Germany as I’m trying different ones every day, preferably local ones in whatever town or region we happen to find ourselves at the end of the day. Jan has developed a taste for Weiß Bier so that is also being sampled at every opportunity.
We have been camping except when we arrived in Ziegenruck and the campsite was closed for the season. We checked out several of the hotels and pensions and finally settled on Pension Wagner. When we asked to see the room, the proprietress gave us a rough “NO! Trust me, it’s all in order.” But we kept asking questions in broken German and she finally showed us the room. Spotless, although it looked like somebody’s basement from the 70s. Then when we asked her about bicycle storage she asked about our trip and was impressed by what we told her and her demeanour changed from brusque to quite friendly. We took the room for 56 euros, including breakfast, and went out for dinner (45 euros) in a local restaurant. An expensive day but the weather had kind of crapped out so it was nice to sleep inside.
The following day we cycled to Hof, and after following the Saale River for five days, we decided to hop a train to Regensburg, about 200 KM south, on the Danube River, which is where the journey continues.