Leaving Berlin on Monday morning Natalie, Piotr and I cycled out of the eastern side of Berlin – for me this is the first time I have been into the eastern side of Germany since reunification. It may have been 25 years ago but this is a different experience for me. We pass a deserted amusement part (but the wheel is moving today) and travel through wooded park land out of the city.
Throughout the rest of the day I cycle through pine woods and notice that the soil is sandy rather than earthy. The light is beautiful and I find a place to camp whilst it is still light – I had discussed my need to set up camp in the dark and then get up early so i am not discovered with Piotr and Natalie and was determined not to do this on this evening.
My joyful elation with the day is short lived when I reach Beeskow. I realise that my front right pannier has broken so I head to the local cycle shop to see about repairs or replacement. My german stands up – along with pointing – and I am told there are no replacements but that the next town should have some low riders. In the mean time I securely tape the offending rack and continue on my way satisfied the rack is ok for the moment … how wrong can a person be.
So we all know by now that I am a fraud and an idiot but this cemented it for me … I am cycling down a sandy hill on the off road bit of the radweg and in my joy and exhilaration of the present moment I forget that I am not on a mountain bike and not pannierless – lose control of the bike on the sand, resnap the taped rack and somehow get the rack caught around the spokes of the front wheel …. I cannot figure out how this happened but it did.
I am in the midst of trying to sort this mess out and a woman turns up walking her enormous Great Dane, points me in the direction of the local hotel for somewhere to stay and Tilly and I limp off with the right panner lashed to the top of the back pannier rack.
I am not staying in a hotel so head for the main road and about 5 minutes later am accosted by the other owner of the Great Dane on a bike. He has been told by his girlfriend about the situation and has come after me to see if he can help. We spend some time tightening spokes and checking Tilly over before he advises of a ‘haven’ for canoeists, boaters … and now cyclists … beside the River Spree. Its a communal piece of land so free and only 15minutes away -perfect.
I spend a good night in the ‘haven’ and aim for the nearest town to see if I can get another rack. Initially I intend to take the main road since Tilly is so unbalanced but for some reason end up taking the Spree route which again goes off road. I go past some amazing fishing lakes, some of which have been emptied and appear to be being planted in and the land restored.
I eventually get back to the main road and go through Lubben and Lubbenau. Both of which have no front racks – I am told that Cottbus is the next best place and much bigger so will definately have something. I stay in Lubbenau and meet Annerose and Wolfram, both of whom are retired teachers – they live in their camper, ski during the winter and then summer over at this campsite. The campsite is expensive and I am happy to go on but because they are kind they pay for the night for me and we breakfast together in the morning.
Wolfram takes me on a circuit of the nearby village of Ledy which is entirely serviced by a network of tiny canals. It is really beautiful canoeing in the morning light between the houses and seeing that the post, rubbish and supplies are brought into the village by flat bottomed skiffs called khans.
The village is a tourist hotspot and had lots of riverside hotels and bars but these all still have the same rural look … the village and area has UNESCO or the equivilant of listed status.
When I leave Annerose and Wolfram I spend the rest of the day cycling the roads to the largest city in the area, Cottbus. There, as everywhere I visit, I find amazing architecture, interesting mills and the most beautiful ice cream parlour.
I spend the afternoon unsuccessfully cycling around Cottbus looking for a front rack. None of the shops I visit are forthcoming about other cycle shops despite not being able to assist me and I find more of the shops myself, by good luck. By this time it is very dark and I decide to spend the night in the town and check out the last spotted shops in the morning when they are open … so obviously not finding a campsite I decide to sleep in a very nice looking, wooden carriage in a childrens play park!
When I say sleep I don’t mean sleep, just rest! Initially I was seen by a happy couple on their way back from the bar who were playing on the swings and oblivious to me being there until they climbed into the carriage – later there was a man hanging around outside the carriage, intent unknown and I was unsure if he was even aware that I was inside … however as my heart hammering so hard in my chest I jump up – I am not expecting to do this and surprise myself – and challenge him with a strong ‘was machen sie’! In hindsight I don’t think he was an issue, I scared him with this and he shot off at speed leaving me to rest for the rest of the night … to be up again at 5am!
For the rest of the long day I cycle across varied terrain – woods, farmland, towns and past open spaces, gas pipelines, cooling towers and old mining areas which are now treed and the pits filled to make lakes.
At the end of the day the environment is radically different and I have reached an area that has been even more extensively mined … so much so that one of the villages I pass through has had to be abandoned for health concerns.
I see two women out cycling and ask if there is somewhere to camp nearby … and so I meet Doreen. She invites me to come and camp in her families garden and I have a lovely evening of eating and chatting with her, her husband Mattias and their son Tom. They also have a great Ridgeback called Aijani. Tom is interested by the concept of cycle touring but said it is definitely not for him! Mattias is so kind and sets up an electric cable to the tent for charging me phone and camera. As I go to the tent to settle for the night Mattias and Doreen come out and point out the nightingale singing in the trees next to the tent … its amazing to be out in the beautiful garden, in the warm evening, with these wonderful people, listening to a nightingale singing.
In the morning Doreen shows me the mining works in the area and tells me about the problems with local people needing to move and the sand storms that blow across the area when it is windy. We then cycle together to the Sedlitzer See and I continue on alone towards Dresden and across open, old mined areas which are now filled with pine trees and Sees.
I stop at lunchtime and pick up some wifi in McDonalds – my favourite trick is to sit outside and use it but today I cave in, buy a drink and sit inside to get maximum reception and chat to my brother, Jon, on Viber, for the 1st time this trip. It was great to hear his news and check the family are well! As I leave I notice I have a flat tyre – damn it, instant karma is gonna get you!
As I continue in the direction of Dresden I pass a Jewish memorial which highlights the train route that passed this way and carried many hundreds of thousands of Jews to concentration camps in Poland. Throughout Europe there are reminders of where these atrocities were physically located and the impact of this feels quite different to memorials for individuals … somehow the ground is stained and remains so. Its difficult to explain but my sense of the impact of WWII is different in mainland Europe than in the UK.