15 Jun Cycling through Germany, on our way to Berlin
The weather had changed drastically the last few days. It went from rainy and cool to unusually hot and sunny with the temperatures in the 30° C (90°s F). After a couple of failed plans of leaving, waiting for a part from Full Speed Ahead that never came, and another day of procrastinating, we had decided it was time to get going again. After all, we would like to make it up to Norway before it gets freezing up there.
There is nothing like picking the hottest day of the year to start cycle touring again after a 2 week break! We knew there was a bike path leading from home to Bamberg, because we had rode it before; but for some strange reason we managed to lose our path somewhere and ended up carving our own path over a few hills and through several small villages.
Our cycling route through Germany, was going to take us partially along the Ilm River, passing the former inter-German border, through former East Germany, and into Berlin, where we plan on checking out the city for a day or so.
Lucky for us, most of the cycling route was pretty flat, but we still struggled to get in the miles because of the unusual hot weather. On the positive side, the sunny hot weather allowed us to try out our new mosquito net. After asking a farmer whether we could set up camp on his land, we decided not to sweat all night in the tent, but to sleep on our mats under the mosquito-net instead. It worked out fabulously, we had a nice cool breeze cooling us off, we could see the stars, and besides keeping the mosquitoes at bay, it also kept all the slugs off of our sleeping bags and off us.
The following day, we reached the former Iron Curtain. What used to be No-Mans-Land and a death zone, was now a peaceful forest and farm land. Only a cobblestone line in the road and a sign marked the former border that divided the country. Further down the road, there were several more markers and a couple of border towers left as memorials.
The heat was almost unbearable. Also, our route eventually turned into an off road bike path leading through a few wooded areas and up a few hills. We had to take several short rest breaks to cool off. At least, there were a couple of small creeks to help with the cooling off part.
Since the days were growing longer and longer, we decided to find a shady spot during the hottest part of the day and then start riding again in the late afternoon.
After another night of wild camping on a freshly mowed field, we kept cycling through the German country side toward Berlin.
Eventually, we made it into an area, where brine used to get pumped from the earth to collect salt. There were still several old pumping towers and Gradierwerks (Salinas) to see.
Not only was the area known for its coal-mining in the past and salt spas, it’s also a wine region. We found several old wine barrels turned into little garden houses and picnic tables at rest stops.
At times our bike path would change from paved to hard packed dirt path. Occasionally, it would zig-zag wildly along the river or veer way away from the river to lead us past such interesting sites like an old fortress. The detours can be a little bit annoying, knowing that they add several miles of riding compared to staying on the road. Yet, the views were great and not having to deal with traffic and big trucks zinging by made up for the crazy route.
It also gave us a chance to see much more wild life and odd little things like yard ornaments and decorations, which make cycle touring so much more interesting.
In Bad Durrenberg, we took another break to look at the longest remaining Gradierwerk in Europe. The unusual structure is about 12 yards high over 600 yards long and we can see the brine water run down over the many little twigs where the salt and minerals collect. Today it is not used so much to clean brine anymore than it is used to cure breathing difficulties. Because of the brine, the air around the structure is similar to ocean air and people come here for its healing qualities.
We wanted to check out the spa town a little bit longer, but unfortunately, the hostel and other cheap accommodations had been closed, so we decided to keep riding until we came across a small campsite late in the evening where we ended up staying an extra day.
Following our down day and mini hike around the area, we continued making our way towards Berlin.
At the end of the day, we found a sign leading us to another campsite along the river. Supposedly, there are many of these little river camps on the former East German side. They were left-overs from the communist time, when traveling outside the country was forbidden and people had to settle for recreational activities such as kayaking, river-hiking, hiking, and cycling. Today, many of these little campgrounds are still used by long distance kayakers, rowers, and cyclists. They are usually nothing fancy, with just the most basic services…if you are lucky you can even have hot water…but they are very affordable.
Not too long after leaving the campsite, we found our way into Halle. Getting into the town was fairly easy: just follow the bike lane along the main road. After checking out a couple of the sites in the city and treating ourselves to an ice cream while people-watching on the city square it was time to cycle out of the city…which proved to be a much trickier task. Apparently, bikes were not allowed on the main roads and there were no obvious bike lanes or paths leading into the direction we were headed. After running into a few dead ends, due to “no bike” signs, we finally, found a way out of the city. It lead right up and over a pedestrian bridge, which entailed pushing our bikes up and down a couple of steep ramps to avoid the stairs. But we made it!
From here it should only be a little bit further to make it to the next big destination…Berlin.