Bernburg, cycle touring East Germany, cycle touring Elbe, cycle touring Portugal to Germany, cycle touring Saale, Elbe, Havelberg, Jena, Magdeburg, Mueritz, Naumburg, Saale, Thueringen, Thuringen Thuringia, Waren (Mueritz), wild camping Germany
So far in our route through Germany, we have been travelling through what was politically, the West. In 1989, all that changed and it returned to just being geographically, the West of Germany. There are now children who look at you with wide eyed amazement when you tell them that there was, for a while, two Germanys. For quite a number of years, you could point at a bit of road and signs of the former division was obvious. The type of tarmac changed or you could see where things had recently been removed.
Now things are blurring and you have to look at the style of house, the garden areas or how the roads and paths are built. There is a bit of a buffer zone where lifestyles have leaked, but a few k’s further on and it is quite clear that you are in the former East. If you flick between images of there and the ones from 300k further back, the differences are startlingly different. Esther is from the East. I have to thank Gorbachev, and it is him and not Ronald R., for bringing things back together. My own little bit of the ‘ peace dividend ‘, that was talked about so much at the time.
After a productive morning of blog writing, off we go from Kronach, into what is now a rather hot day. We are heading towards the former East and are once more, in navigational hell. We are trying to avoid a fast and narrow main road and the aggressive silver cars ( I often wonder if they produce any other colours of cars here ). There are blue flowers on the banks of the A85 to Ludwigstadt. I will have a stab at them being Hare Bells, otherwise known as the ‘ Scottish Bluebell ‘. Who would have thought they were here.
The bike path, comes and goes, and then for the first time in hundreds of k’s, there is a granny gear climb. To add to the fun, there is a long, traffic light controlled roadwork. I guarantee they have not calculated the lights for heavy and slow moving touring bikes. We are going to be squashed. I go down the side of the traffic and jump the red light. There is a countdown timer that shows that we have 2 minutes start on the traffic. Esther screams, as jumping red lights goes against her mainland European upbringing. I have seen Punks in Helsinki stand at the side of the road in a snowstorm, in temperatures of -20’c, at 11.30 at night, and with no traffic moving for at least 20k in any direction. They may go to bed at night praying that by morning society will have crumbled and for a new world order. But they will, to the last, wait for the green man to flash. We go through on red, the safest thing to do.
We are looking for a wild camp and take a minor road shown on the gps, beyond Probstzella. There is a memorial for the former border at the side of this road, and next to it what must have been the first, or possibly last house in East or West. It is a beautiful house either way. We are now in the area of Thuringer Wald. I would call it lumpy and forested, and undisputedly, a good place for a wild camp. We wait for evening before putting up the tent, in the perfect spot we have spied. It is wonderfully green and lush, in a green way that almost hurts the eyes. It just about tastes green it is so verdant.
We have a crazy notion to camp with just the mosquito net so we can take in our wonderful spot. Last time we did this it triggered the worst lightning storm we ever hope to been in. We had huddled together as bolts hit just meters from us. Now we know that doing this is stupid as it increases your surface contact and area making you a bigger target. We know this because we looked it up, and now you know it because I have told you. You may thank me one day. Here in Germany things looked calmer.
Insects flew and buzzed in every direction. If statistically, the best place to find an insect unrecorded by science, is in your very own back garden, there must be dozens here unnamed. Our little tent sits in the middle of what must be the known universe for them, with the pond at the far an unimaginable horizon. A hundred meters away the worlds of communism came up against capitalism for a while. I thought about it all for a short while, but I had 10 hours of sleep to cram in to a warm night.
It is sunny and hot early. Porridge eaten, we take a small track through the woods. It avoids the main road, but fails to avoid a gap where a bridge is being built. We take advantage of it being a Saturday, and ride through the building work. All a bit dodgy, but we are through and riding in the former East. Wonderful it is as there are almost no bike paths. We are on roads and hurrah for that I say.
It is hilly, but we are enjoying ourselves, and the riding is perfect. We pick up the River Saale at Kaulsdorf. It is a nice little village with a little more flaking paint than of late but we like it a lot. Our route takes us through industrial areas with extravagant runs of piping typical of the East that often had a central boiler system for water heating. Every time we stop to check the map, people want to help. It may be that they are just being nosey, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt. They want to have a bit of a chat, and that is just fine with Esther. I think I may even call them friendlier here.
Agriculture is very much, ‘ more hands on ‘. Micro hay crops are cut by hand or small mower and turned by hand. Vegetable patches look a bit more workman like and economically important. Washing is hung out to dry more, which is how it should be. At the outskirts of the town of Jena there is McDonalds litter and at the next junction, there is our guilty pleasure and only source of free WWW. in Germany.
Now, if you are had photography as a hobby in the seventies or eighties, you will be thinking, ” Jena, that is oddly familiar!”. You will have poured over adverts for expensive lenses by Carl Zeiss and wondered why the ones called Carl Zeiss Jena were less than half the price of the ones without the Jena bit. Like many, the Zeiss family were split, but both kept up the business. Unlike the brewing family of Budweiser, where the Western version is rubbish, here it is the other way around. Carl Zeiss Jena was good but not great. Lets be charitable and call it ‘ great value ‘.
On the way into McDonalds, for the first time in what must be 20 years or more, I come across a ‘ Badger Haired Youth ‘, once made popular, by Kajagoogoo frontman Limahl. It looked ridiculous and is a crime against hairdressing and good taste, as much now as it was in the 80’s. We camp at a great campground in Jena and suggest that you do the same.
Next morning our route continues through beautiful villages. Golmnsdorf is nice and the road goes through forests and tree lined paths. To misquote McDonalds, we are loving it. One thing remains constant, and that is the number of sports facilities. Football pitches and good ones at that, with lots of adverts running along the sides of the pitch for local businesses are in almost every village.
We stop in Bad Kosen, for what is promised to be, ‘ a bit of Grandmother cooking ‘. It is totally eccentric, but serves up exactly the Oma cooking promised. I think she may have even put on the fresh vegetables four hours before serving for authenticity. I could eat this every day. I have a ‘ Dark Beer ‘ as it is not Goulash without it.
Esther wants to see the church at Naumburg and I can not think of a good reason not to go. It is all rather amazing, but I opt for the, sit in the sun option, rather than the €6 walk around a church. We pedal onwards in a hot afternoon. We are now heading away from the signed bike routes that have kept us safe and pressing North. There are Summer Houses and gardens that give people a bit of the outside to relax in. Many have Satellite dishes and are where people pass much of the summer months.
A series of 7% grades get the heart beating. It is a bit of a trial as it is over 20’c and we are on a series of concrete paths that are vibrating everything. The East has a love affair with concrete. Here in half a dozen styles it forms the path.
A field of tall grass is being cut for hay. Six Kites work the fallen crop, looking for casualties of the mowers passage. They did not suffer the persecution of the gamekeeper here and are amazingly plentiful. There are no campgrounds, but hotels are cheap. Cheap they may be, but they are also full with workmen working locally. Plan 2 is to camp wild and we pick up water at a petrol station. It is over 90k since we started and have a difficult few k’s before we spot a vineyard. A good choice.
We are near Seeburg, a little village in what is a mining area. Esther remembers the area from years ago when the place was smoged, by the burning of this local brown coal. Today it is clean and happy enough and has taken to wind turbines with something of a passion. It has been up in the low 30’s today, but we feel strong on the bike, which is a great feeling. 23’c by 9.15 the next morning and we only have 2 cups of tea for breakfast. One of the cups falls over as I watch it and then when we start, there are no shops or bakeries for ages. Bugger!
What there is a lot of is cobbles, Every size of the brutes and in every village we pass through. Some verge on the ‘ just about ridable ‘ and make a hard day worse. In the most unlikely of spots there is a petrol station and we ask for what is on offer. There is coffee and sausages in a bap, in the German fashion, and we are more pleased than you can imagine to have found them.
We rejoin the River Saale at the village of Trebitz, famous for its Highland Cattle. There they are at the start of the village in all their ginger haired glory. They must be the worlds most photogenic form of beef, and I would put a bit of money on the table right now that says there are more here in Germany than Scotland.
It is hot again, very hot, and I have bought carbonated water by mistake. Shaken to critical mass by the cobbles it is a great way to clear the sinuses. Grip the bottle tightly in the lips and pull. Always keen to catch a ferry, we head for the village of Brucke to cross the Saale.
The perfect touring continues, so here is a tip. If you are looking to ride a bike in Germany, then head for the River Saale before others find out. 1.30 and the early afternoon temperatures are now 36’c making it our hottest day. The saving grace is that the hairdryer wind is at our backs blowing like a hairdryer. The last kilometres take us through a nature reserve and to the front gate of a wonderful campground.
We are having food, when a Mercedes Campervan Truck pulls in. It is painted in sandy colours and is the second example of these post apocalypse camper that we have seen in Germany. It is a clear meter to the axle, and needs a sizeable and custom made set of steps to get into the door. Think along the lines of a military or agricultural vehicle, with a caravan dropped on the top with no attempt to make it look as if it belongs there. The owner is dressed in the full traveler fatigues, and has a belt with the sort of pouches made popular by Batman. I remember seeing a very tall guy walking towards me years ago. As he got close I could read the T shirt ‘ Yes I do play basketball ‘. I wonder if the guy here is similarly fed up with being asked if he has been in Africa. I resist the urge to ask.
This is just outside the town of Bernburg, and is just by the side of the River Saale, and is again a recommended spot from us. We get talking to a great couple, and yes some beer was involved. Story goes, she is from a circus family and most of her family are still doing it. Rosie travelled all of her young life, staying in schools just a few days and then moving on. Unlike many of her friends in the business, she managed to learn to read and write. Her and Werner, her husband kept us entertained and would certainly be told to keep quiet in any library. I started to tell them the only interesting fact that I know about a circus family. ” Did you know that the ex prime minister of Britain, one Mr John Major, was born into a circus family. Famously, he hated it, and ran away from the circus to become an accountant “.
Next morning is significant. We buy a 1:500,000 map, not significant in itself, but this one has our route to the end point in Germany. The island of Ruegen, in the Baltic Sea, and home to Oma and Opa. Germany has improved since we passed into the East. It has got a lot less prescriptive and formal and has loosened up a bit. There was a point where I wanted to catch a train and skip it all. I am glad I kept at it. It is so hard to ride across and to strike out on a route. It gets much easier in the East. I would head here straight away if I was you, you will love it.