Updated: Sep 18, 2018
Tuesday, 22nd May, 2018
Hornburg to Dudestadt, 57 miles
It was a cool beautiful sunny morning when I set off in the direction of The Harz. I wasn’t too sure what to expect and I was nervous about my ability. The guide referred to a difficult climb along a gravel track with an option to climb The Brocken.
At the side of the road was a memorial to the Iron Curtain. Looking like a monolith from Space Odyssey this 8 tonne lump of steel was one of ten, some fallen and forgotten. The 90s must have been big business for the historic moment industry.
Before setting off into the National Park, I stopped for a breakfast of Skyr and Fruit outside a supermarket in the idyllic foothill town of Ilsenburg. I could postpone no longer and I began the ascent into the hills. It was tough. Gravity is not Mrs Fairweather’s friend and her ability to make the sun shine on me wasn’t appreciated as my leg muscles screamed and beads of sweat burst on my forehead and ran rivulets of sun cream into my eyes.
I didn’t stop pedalling though, even when two dedicated Octoberfesters overtook me on their eBikes. I was rewarded at the top with self satisfaction and views worthy of the word epic.
With every climb is the reward of a decent and this one took me into the town of Elend which had the claim to fame of having Germany’s smallest wooden church. It also has a security-conscious old lady who runs the corner shop. She watched my every move as I selected my favourite Magnum, mumbling to herself as I dug out a double raspberry. There is also big witch theme in the area too. The Brocken is a homing beacon for them.
Every descent has an assent and the day undulated along the edge of The Harz and then Mrs F did something amazing. She went down this hill from the town of Zorge to Unterzorge at 40 miles per hour. For my continental friends reading, this is close to the speed of light in Kms.
I rewarded myself with a mango.
The signage system had also changed. It made it very hard to navigate and I spent a lot of time getting lost, cursing the guide and the guy who thought that font 8, Times New Roman was a good idea for bicycle sign posts.
With high and lows of the day behind me, I was shattered and it was all I could do to grab service station food and find a camp at a quiet spot just outside Dudestadt.
Wednesday, 23rd May 2018
Dudestadt to Wahlhausen, 56 miles
The ride down into Dudestadt would have been simple had I not gotten lost around Zwinge.
But once there I was welcomed by a dream German town and had a mid morning ice cream and sought out a statue depicting the reunification of Germany. After a big hunt I found it behind a burger van preparing for the weekly market. Still instagrammable.
Later in the day I was rewarded for my efforts with the Border Museum of Border Museums at Eichsfeld. It ticked all the boxes -
* It was open * It had already been renovated * It had English notes
And if such a things as a museum recording the history of war, genocide and the removal of peoples liberties can be enjoyable then this would get a five star rating on Trip Advisor. A good deal of time passed as the global and local stages between 1930 and modern day were dramatised with interactive exhibits, detailed recollections and more polystyrene border guards. One of whom said ‘Passport’ as you passed a sensor.
Outside the museum up a hill was a border post, border fence a mine field and dog runs.
The hills of the past two days and the heat had taken their toll and I was glad to find myself riding alongside the river Werra along flat paths. There was a familiar smell of seaweed in the air as I rode along and later I read that the salt content of the river from the nearby mines renders it dead and gives it the title of the most polluted river in Europe. Cycling along though, you wouldn’t have thought it. I stopped at a campsite and karma set in when the owner presented me with a rather large 35 Euro bill for dinner and a pitch. I had no soap for a shower so I used a few squirts from the washbasin dispenser just to balance the books.
Thursday, 24th May 2018 Wahlhausen to Phillippstal, 75miles
I followed the River Werra all day crossing bridges and riding through small villages.
It was a little damp and dreary and for the last hour a huge mountain loomed on the horizon. As it neared I read about the local potash industry and sadly how its overuse as a fertiliser has caused dead spots in my old friend The Baltic.
After marvelling at this off white mountain, I found a pitch by the side of a river. A couple, father and daughter, stopped by. They were following the border route for a few days in the other direction. We chatted about what lay ahead and they said that I wasn’t far from Point Alpha, one of the highlights of the trip.
I couldn’t wait.
Friday, 25th May, 2018 Phillippstal to Unterharles, 55 miles
The pitch hadn’t been a bad one. The railway line, which I hadn’t noticed when I set up, although near had only a couple of freight trains through the night. They had been slow and in a way quiet in their passing. The river had given me comfort but it was a little exposed and I was up and on the road by seven.
Then I realised that I didn’t know the lyrics to ‘Come on Eileen’ the 1982 hit by Dexys Midnight Runners. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t heard it but it is played at many functions and has a folk country vibe. If you’re like me, you kind of hate it. Being dragged up to the dance floor, doing the slow clapping bits and joining in the ‘Come on Eileen’ bits too ra oo rah.
The progresss was good too. The route was gently undulating and I wasn’t even looking at the map.
By half eight I realised that I had gone past the turning for Point Alpha. Point Alpha looked over the town of Geisa which was in the Fulda Gap. An area where NATO thought that if the Warsaw Pact countries attacked this would be where it would happen. It stationed 200 US troops and as the decades passed became increasingly fortified.
I took the back way to Point Alpha and found myself pushing Mrs F up a border patrol vehicle path through a morning summer meadow. It was a very steep climb and the path wasn’t rideable. The border paths are generally made of concrete slabs with 18 rectangular holes about the size of a box of cooking matches on its side. All other paths have had these holes filled with compact dirt but on the path to Point Alpha the holes were open and the bike’s tyres kept sticking in the gaps.
It took a good hour to do this during which time I listened to and sung along with, Come On Eileen,16 times. With the lyrics open on my iPhone.
By halfpast eight, sounding just like Kevin Rowland, I had pushed Mrs F and her bags up a couple of hundred metres of hillside and was rewarded with a view of the misty valley and had first dibs at the border fence.
The museum didn’t open until nine and I was just about to cycle on when the curator arrived. With little English she pretended to be in a rush and waddled around the gated entrance with a big bunch of keys. She opened the main gate and beckoned me through, miming that she would open up the buildings within the compound whilst I climbed up the tower.
From the top of the tower I could see the lady moving from US army hut to hut. In a feigned form of panic. There was a turning circle around a flag pole flying the Stars and Strips (as the plaque mis-spelt). The pole was supported by two pieces of wood as it was not touching German soil. Visitors, not Occupiers. We met by the pole and wiping non existent sweat from her brow gestures that the museum was open before heading to the kiosk at the gate. I hadn’t paid my six euros, she had let me in for free, winner.
I’m not too sure if Point Alpha was worth the push up the hill, of course it was symbolically, but the exhibits were a bit crap. I was supposed to have had an electronic chip to hold next to US guards on duty who would tell me about life at Point Alpha but my hurried entry deprived me of this benefit. There were a few jeeps and tanks and a closed cafe. One cabin had some good exhibits but were more war related, they only served to show how boring life at Point Alpha, for over forty years, must have been.
On my way out the curator collared me for the entry fee but all was not lost as I had entry to the Half House, which was a good compliment to Point Alpha and repeated the story in a similar way to that of Eichfeld Border Museum.
The ride into the valley of Geisa didn’t prepare me for the climb into northern Bavaria. For all of my moaning about The Harz I found myself climbing with determination up a long steep climb, which I managed. At the top, after nearly 500 metres I stopped to rest beside a spring which emptied into a trough marked Wasser Trinken. I just assumed that ‘Klien’ meant ‘free’.
Bavaria was kicking in. It was full on half wooden buildings, village greens and Bier Gartens and loads of troughs with free water. Summer meadows, hills, empty paths the works and I had great weather and couldn’t have been happier!
I put a shout out to Ute my friend from Nuremberg that I would be in the area within a couple of days and that I would let her know when I was nearby.
I stopped for the night in an awkward spot though, by the side of the road where I cooked up and settled down quite late into the evening.
To get you going:
Come on Eileen Oh, I swear (what he means) At this moment you mean everything You in that dress My thoughts I confess Verge on dirty Oh, come on Eileen
Saturday, 26th May 2018 Unterharles to Graddstadt, 56 miles
Despite being near the road and in an awkward position I had slept right through. The tent was soaked with condensation and it was hard to fit into its pack when folded. It was noticeably heavier.
My body was tired and although the riding was easier and the Bavarian countryside more gentle with its hills, I found the going tough.
Progress though, psychologically, was easier with each Bavarian village being only a few kilometres from each other and the signage had greatly improved. There was less reliance on the increasingly conflicting bicycle signs against the guide.
The temperatures were in the high twenties by one o’clock and I took the time to dry out the tent in a recently mown hay field by the side of the road. The tent was dry by the time I had eaten a mango and I was back on the road.
Today the route was sticking to roads, well tarmacked, with gentle risings and small hills. My legs were just suffering and the heat was really having an effect. I could only ride at a slow pace and for an hour at a time. I took on a lot of water and was lucky to come across a spring. I checked the guide. The spring fed The Franconian Saale and was drinkable. I filled up all of my bottles.
Despite my regular rest and my body’s desire to stop I pushed on. Every patch of shaded grass or public bench beckoned me to spend some time. I pushed on. Slowly the miles for the day built up.
At a village called Bad Colberg, the route passed by a cafe where people say ‘Hi’. It’s garden tables are covered with piles of cakes and coffee cups and beer glasses. My head had been spinning for a while and I had gone into Mary Poppins mode on the bike. I stopped. But instead of joining the other patrons on the patio I sat in the cool inside with a large coke and a massive bowl of strawberries and ice cream.
At mile fifty, and seven o’clock, I saw a spot to camp. It was lovely, open and in the evening sunshine. It was just far away enough from the road. I pushed on though for another hour. It was a real fight to carry on, but I’m glad I did, along a single tracked path I found a wonderful spot to camp, on the edge of the wood over looking a shallow valley of meadows and fields. I cooked as I watched the moon rise before turning in for the night.
Sunday, 27th May, 2018 Grattstat to Spechtsbraun, 55 miles
Waking up in one of the best spots so far in Germany I took my time in this small oasis to have some breakfast and take in the wild flowers, birds of prey and morning sun.
It had been some time since I had promised to meet up ‘in a couple of days’ with Ute. The direct route to Nuremberg was about 150 miles, but my progress was so slow that I had to cancel a side line trip to her home town, washing machine, pc and shower.
What it did do was demonstrate how windy and hilly the border was and the trail is. To speed things up I stopped taking pictures of barbed wire and border posts.
As a result I found myself high in the hills on the The Rennsteig a network of pathways used by prehistoric man to commute between villages. I met a man wild camping.
He was walking the ‘R’ for a couple of weeks, and left him to his thoughts and stopped a mile or so further on for my own wild night.
Monday, 28th May, 2018 Ludwigsstadt 🇩🇪 to Tri Point Border Czech Republic 🇨🇿
Off I set into a cool morning and followed the ‘R’. I didn’t do this deliberately as I knew that I was following Eurovelo13.
As I have said the guide and roadside signs wouldn’t always compliment each other. In fact cycle touring in Germany is very popular and space for the route signs is in fierce competition. Routes follow nature trails by species and historical routes by dynasty and era. The Eurovelo13 competes with other Eurovelo routes as well as the German-German route and the Greenbelt route. From time to time (most of it) Eurovelo13 is absent.
Following the ‘R’ route led me away from the ICT, and in the heat of the mid morning I was away from the route by a few miles and on my way to Hof. I headed into town and in the clammy afternoon looked for a hotel. But with prices in the low 70 euros, It was beer festival time and on a Monday. Hof was grim.
There were more police in this town than in the whole of the Germany that I had passed through. People lay in the street dressed in Lederhosen and chimney sweep outfits. Girls staggered around the streets in national dress clearly enjoying themselves. But without a beer inside me, in the oppressive heat, and without lodgings I headed to that last outpost known to man in desperate need: McDonalds.
Two cold milkshakes and a good two hours use of their power socket, basking in the AC gave me enough time to let the sun and outside temperature drop a little.
Rested, I carried on. In the cool evening air I headed to the Czech Republic some ten miles away from Hof. The Tri-Point Border is where East and West Germany meet the Czech Republic.
As the sun set I arrived at a glade in a cool valley. There was a small wooden footbridge and some border posts. Through the overgrown and unkempt passage there was a most welcoming picnic spot. A simple table and shelter with a litter bin. The contrast to the ordered neighbour was significant. There was a Eurovelo13 sign too and that’s where I cooked and camped.
The site was shabby but unassuming in its innocence. With optimism for the new country I said, “Goodnight Czech Republic 🇨🇿 .”