Germany: German - German Border
Updated: Sep 18, 2018
Tuesday 15th May,
Brunzow to Barth, 67 miles
Today was a good example of why cycling in Germany is very, German.
It’s perfect. Smooth cycle lanes, moving from village to village through fields and forest. If you cycle on the road cars give you an exceptionally wide berth, as if there is a million Euro fine if they so much as make you wobble.
And the miles go by as I follow coastal villages, so very different from those of Poland. The houses and gardens are clinically precise. I’m cycling through the old East Germany. It appears to have made a full recovery, an assimilation. And I cycle, following signposts from village to village each one telling me that I am leaving and how far to the next one.
In the afternoon I stop in the town of Stralsund, it’s beautiful and I take some time to look around the medieval city, which is an UNESCO site.
I reach the northern most point of this part of the German coast coast and carry into the evening.
To liven things up, to break the order, I camp openly, near a cycle path, a disused railway and a vast marsh full of wildlife. I cook and eat under a pale blue sky.
No one questions me.
Wednesday, 16th May 2018,
Barth to Rostock, 69 miles
The chatty Owls of Latvia, or the grunting Boar of Poland, or Lithuanian’s ‘Big Bird’ where mere bumps in the night compared with the Beast of Barth Marsh.
The sound of the Beast came at speed along a small dyke near my tent. It’s sound was Haund mixed with Banshee. It was moving fast, but I couldn’t determine whether it was flying or running. I was expecting it to tear through my canvas and devour me and take my soul to a darker place. But as soon as it came it went, disappearing over the marsh to the sea.
In a buoyant mood, having not find myself damned for eternity, I continued with Eurovelo13.
I was in the Western Pomeranian Bodden National Park and my guide said that it’s various moorlands, reeds, flood plains and forests are home to 700 plants and 220 bird species - including the Sea Eagle. Could that have been the Beast of Barth Marsh?
It’s the most popular national park in Germany and I can understand why historical artists chose these landscapes to paint. The miles slipped by as I gobbled up picturesque villages on cycle routes as flat as my hand. The horrors of the Baltic States and their occupations seemed many miles away.
Here there was little evidence of Germany’s Cold War history. At mile 3,000 I stopped for a celebration ice cream. The towns were becoming more affluent and the wind proof beach basket chairs looked very inviting.
As the Baltic narrowed between Germany and Denmark the towers appeared. More ‘developed’ for observation than their Estonian and Latvian brothers, these towers were built for one purpose: to stop the population for the GDR escaping to the West.
By one means or another, over 40,000 people escaped to the West during the period '45 to '90. To begin with there was relatively free passage but as time went by the fences and controls became more elaborate.
174 of the 40,000 who chose The Baltic as means of escape were killed, thousands were caught and imprisoned. One story of a man, Mario Wächtler, who in his wet suit in the dead of night dodging tower search lights and sea patrols swam for 19 hours where after 25 miles he was picked up by a Danish passenger ferry the ‘Peter Pan’ to the applause of the passengers as crew members revived him from his encounter with hyperthermia. A lucky one, and the last, this was the 2nd September 1989.
Annoyingly I had seen a ferry earlier in the day at Warnemünde whilst waiting for a harbour ferry crossing. The vessel had a big picture of Peter Pan on the side and it looked a little dated. I didn’t take a picture as it went by.
Thursday, 17th May 2018
Rostock to Lubec, 72 miles
Looking out to sea, the Baltic Sea. I have had this body of water with me for over a month, on my right shoulder. From the first glimpse, a frozen bay in Finland at the start of the Salpa line. A fast flowing River Neva in St Petersburg full of ice sheets feeding the sea. Frozen blues and greys and whites, like their tricolour flag, over the Estonian nuclear coast. Nights on the shores of Latvia and the unconquered Curonian Spit in Latvia. Poland and an unforgettable Gdańsk and now finally about to turn left along the German-German border south. Not to see the sea for another 2,500 to 3,000 miles.
The Baltic has unknowingly become a part of my life. I will always think of it with fondness. What it meant for the journey had and the journey to come.
That night I settle outside the town of Lubeck just off the road. The town, Schonberg was the main disposal point for most of Europe's contaminated waste. The GDR had a great source of income by burying at the tenth of the price all types of green goo. Today the residents have a 50% higher chance of contracting cancer than their German counterparts and in Lubec the neighbouring city, its advised not to drink the water.
Friday,18th May, 2018
Lubec to Bleckede, 91 miles
The scenery, topography and wind change completely. The land is flat and the divide between East and West heads south. The weather is a little grey too and by mid morning I'm peering through a closed museum window of my first Border museum. I am excited: I am now on the line that divided post war Germany. It opens at 1400, its now 0800. I took some pictures.
A little later in the day I found myself on a border patrol road. GDR border patrol guards would have travelled these concrete paths in Trabants and on motorbikes with the sole aim of capturing those trying to escape to the West. Roads like these would feature heavily over the coming days and I was to learn how villages, families, businesses and ways of life were torn apart by mines, machine guns activated by sensors, high voltage fences, dog runs, and trigger happy murderers.
In the town of Schlogsdorf I came by a museum and it was open.
I continued to follow border patrol paths for many miles heading south to the town of Lauenburg. Tired, I stopped at a small village called Kneese Dorfe at a farm house run by three ladies in their fifties. Their Chili Sin Carne was out of this world and the attentive service Siren like, it was hard to leave as each one came into serve me and try out their English on this lone traveler. The whole area, in contrast to where I started that morning, was nature reserve. The GDR border created a 3km wide stretch of 'biosphere' running some 1,400 km.
Released after an hour I continued to head south where off the trail, and a little lost, I was brought to a stop by a lady with the most striking beauty. She held her finger to her lips and with her other hand encouraged me to stop. The trail ran by a meadow of tall grass and the afternoon sun gave the setting a golden warmth. Clumsily Mrs Fairweather decided to skid, the lady gave me a stern look and encouraged me to look into the field. We stood in silence watching fox cubs play with each other as insects danced above and their heads, a timid one would hide between the vixen's legs occasional popping out to our delight. Perfect, nothing was said and I carried on.
The journey along the Elbe began. The Elbe was a natural geographical border and as the GDR's grip tightened after the war border controls increased with ferocity to prevent escape across the water to the West. I took a ferry to 'the West' just after eight into the town of Bleckdale, it was a two-minute journey and at a euro-a-minute it probably didn't represent great value.
In the town I stopped at a Curry House. It was run down and as I entered six loud, drunk locals filled the cafe bar with roars of laughter and rowdiness. I sat in the corner and charged my phone and picked a balti from the menu. They guys were playing dice and feeding the slot machine and drinking. I ate and went to the counter to settle up. 'You're English?" said the man in chef's 'whites' "I'm from Heathrow."
Despite the lateness I stayed and chatted with this man who had given up his job as a car park attendant at Heathrow and moved his family to this town on the Elbe to and set up this bar. The men continued to drink and fill the machine and roll their dice and this man told his story and I realised that despite having to put up with 'the regulars' that they probably provided a good living, even if it was seven days a week often until one in the morning.
It was nine by the time I left and I was leaving it a little late to camp but there was a campsite up the road at the top of a steep hill and when just after nine I arrived, the reception was closed. I found a little spot, pitched up and wrote up the day in my diary.
Saturday, 19th May, 2018
Bleckdale to Arendsee, 75 miles
The reception was closed when I left and I headed down the hill that I had found so tiring to climb the night before at great speed.
At the bottom of the hill I made a quick right turn and maintaining the momentum cycled for five miles until I reached Neu Darchau a small town, where I picked up some yogurt and bananas before making the first crossing of the Elbe that day.
It was just me and one car and we set off into the grey morning for our one minute journey back across the river.
The rest of the day would be spent following the Elbe, mainly along dyke paths. Some times on top of the dyke and sometimes beside it. As the morning moved on the clouds began to lift and the countryside came to life.
The shades of green of the meadows and forests that hug the meandering river dominate the view from the dyke as I pedal along the narrow, sometimes bumpy, block paved path on top of the dyke. With my lofty position I see red clay roofed villages with dark church steeples appear on the bends of the river with names like Hitzacker and Ruterburg. Some I pass through and some I pass by on the other side of the river. One would have been West and another East just three decades ago.
I stop for ice cream in a square at Dömitz. I’m the only one there and the lady in her late forties chats away to me as we both enjoy the early afternoon sunshine.
Dömitz had a railway bridge, destroyed in the war and never repaired. I’m keen to see it and head over the river, this time by a newly constructed bridge to get a better look. The suspension bridge is at least 200 metres long but the railway bridge a mile or so along would have been longer, maybe half a kilometre but the bombed section was never replaced and the GDR demolished the remaining East German part. Stunted, it looks both magnificent shooting out into the river and pathetic, I carry on.
The afternoon passes and I cross the river again at Vietze and look at another watch tower. This one has a staircase that visitors can go up. A lady comes and chats, but the language barrier is too great. I’m hungry now and cycle on hoping to grab something to eat in Schnackenburg a small town with a museum. Along the way though I bonk, that feeling when I’m not too sure if I’m floating or in a state of panic. I stop by some dyke steps and devour bananas, chocolate and some sweets I find at the bottom of my panier. I drink a litre of water and watch the Royal Wedding on my phone.
I cross the river again and pass through Schnackenburg, stopping briefly at the museum. I am thinking about having an early day with a proper shower and head on to a campsite fifteen or so miles away. I say goodbye to the Elbe.
The camp site is rotten, I carry on.
After a while and with my early day becoming a showerless early evening I find myself back on border patrol paths and in the protected green belt. I stop at a meadow, but it doesn’t feel right, I try another spot and cycle on some more. I can’t understand why I have been so hesitant. And then I see a bench and a track that ends in scrub. There is no car noise, no dogs barking, and I check down the track to find several memorial stones on a recently strimmed grass square.
I cook first in the late afternoon sunshine looking over meadows and wood. I just want to check that there’s no one about. After an hour a car passes and then reverses back. I hear the whine of the reverse gear and wait for my questioning.
A petite lady with long brown hair, floppy hat and John Lennon glasses climbs out of her beat up VW and asks for directions. We chat a while and I return to my pasta, now comfortable that no-one comes here.
After a leisurely dinner I cycle down the path to the stones and by sunset I’m ready. I go to sleep, listening to the sounds of nature.
Sunday, 20th May 2018
Arundsee to Wolfsberg, 77 miles
Simply a beautiful and straightforward day.
I woke up and was on the bike by nine into perfect sunshine with the wind behind me. Sunday brought church bells peeling from village to village as I followed border tracks heading south.
And that was how the day was spent, perfectly, with occasional hellos and where are you goings.
For elevenses I stopped at a town’s bakery.
There are two members of staff behind the counter: a young blonde girl who is free and a rather round lady who is serving another customer. I ask the young girl if there is anything gluten free. She looks at me blankly and I type into my phone “Do you have anything gluten free?” Google translates, I show her the screen and she shakes her head.
I ask for a hot chocolate. She doesn’t understand. I type into my phone again and show her the screen. She looks confused and then turns bright red, looks at her colleague and turns redder and looks as if she just wants to quit. I look at my phone, I’ve typed “May I have a large, hot chic please.”
After apologising I take my drink and sit in the street.
In the evening I approached the town of Wolfsburg. Home of Volkswagen’s “bug’ and also a possible source of new shoes. As my cycling shoes approach 10,000 miles of use no amount of super glue will hold them together and with 2,500 miles to go. Its risky not to replace them before I leave Germany and Wolfsburg is the last major town that I will pass by.
Arriving late at the town’s busy campsite I know that the day’s adventures are not quite over. The campsite owner, a lady in her sixties, greets me with contempt as another cash paying punter arrives.
“Scheisse,” She mutters as she looks at her computer screen shaking her head.
I pay 10 Euros, show my passport and follow her on her bike past campervans and caravans. We pass a shipping container which has been converted into toilets and right behind the container she points to a patch of dusty ground.
“Scheisse,” I mutter as I pitch my tent.
Of course, being by the toilet at a busy municipal campsite does mean a lot of people coming and going. I just hoped that, through the night, no one popped into my tent for a scheisse.
Monday, 21st May, 2018
Wolfsburg to Hornburg, 64 miles
Up early, I headed over to the VW factory to look at their two twenty story glass buildings for new cars awaiting collection. The idea being as a proud owner of a VW you could come and watch a robot lift collect your car from one of the storage spots. A bit of a gimmick with a high percentage of empty spots from my view point.
The town too was empty and the supermarkets were shut also. My special trip to Wolfsburg had coincided with the second Monday of Whitsun and of course for Bumble it was closed.
There was a train running though back to the point that I had detoured from the ICT which gave me a great view of the VW factory.
The station that I got off at was quiet and the day took me along more border patrol paths, and museum piece guard towers and fences. In the late afternoon I arrived at the Marienborn Memorial. With an hour to closing and free entry I entered this large compound which was once a border crossing point.
The main traffic flow ran into Berlin. If, like me, you thought that the East West divide ran down the middle of Germany right through Berlin you’re about to have a ‘bullet’ moment.
Berlin is geographically set way in the East of the country and was divided between the Allies into four sections: USA, Russia, UK and France. This, ultimately, created East and West Berlin which was a model, if you like, for the whole country. The German - German divide is much further to the West.
The border crossing point allowed the passing of Western traffic into Berlin. It also became a smuggling route and the 1,000 GDR employees processing 35 million people during the years '85 to '89 had a hell of a time looking for contraband and escapees.
In one of the portacabin offices there was a recreation of a cavity search, in another a cabinet of contraband goods: chocolate, cigarettes, a Sony Walkman and wait - a Depeche Mode cassette tape.
I remember Michal the campsite owner from Poland talking about a band called Depeche Mode. I hadn’t heard of them but I remembered my promise to Michal to listen to them on Spotify. I plugged in and switched on their greatest hits and continued with my tour.
There were interrogation rooms, car stripping rooms and vehicle inspection pits, but by the time I had discovered that People were People, that I should Reach out and Touch Faith and get my own Personal Jesus it was time to mount Mrs F and get the funk on.
The villages and country-side began to take on a different feel. Gentle hills and breezes brought field of wind farms and entered Hornburg, my first German Gingerbread village.
I camped on the other side of the town late in the evening and looked upon distant hills and The Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountain range.