JOHN BERRY’S 2014 BICYCLE TOUR MAY 28TH 2014
INSTALMENT 1: LUND, SWEDEN TO ORANIENBURG, GERMANY
Hello, friends and readers! Right now I am sitting in a Holiday Flat of sorts, Pension Nöske, in the kind of Alice-in-Wonderland situation that I have come to expect in former East Germany. The address is 9 Karl Str., Oranienburg, but it is actually at 15 Dr. Kurt-Scharl-Str, the next street up. The Tourist Office, of course, conflated the two addresses, leaving me fruitlessly ringing the bell of the wrong house and the landlady standing in the street frantically waving her arms to get my attention. The Pension is reached from the official address by a winding route through a well-kept orchard and gardens, with glimpses off the the trashy yards adjacent through the hedges. It is in a tiny residential enclave of a generally industrial area of Oranienburg, and only four blocks from Sachsenhausen railway station, a fact that escaped me as I reserved a room from the tourist office. The infamous concentration camp is just beyond the station, which is on a busy commuter line to Berlin, only 20 miles away. Why did I think that all the concentration camps were miles from any large city, especially Berlin? I walked there in the rain last night to see if I could get a cheap ticket to Berlin for today: there is nothing but a platform, no buildings, no ticket machines, no parking; only a kind of cattle chute on the down-line side (for passengers? Bikes? Arriving prisoners?). According to a notice board, there are plenty of trains to Berlin, but no trains back from Berlin, and no information about fares – perhaps the people who leave this forlorn place are gone and never to return, and so do not need to know the cost. Round the corner is a monument, put up in 2006, that explains the significance of this little halt.
Last night I ate at a nice Chinese Restaurant down the end of the street, hard against the wilderness surrounding the intersection of two canals, but with no view of water. It has been there since 1992, an appendix to a residence, as far from the main road or any other businesses as you can get, yet it has survived and has decent food. Nobody speaks English there.
Oranienburg is, apart from industry, concentration camps, and its slightly unreal atmosphere, the home of a famous renaissance palace, built in1655 by Louise Henriette, wife of the Great Elector, Friedrich I, as her country residence. The palace has an equally famous park and Orangerie. It also has an easy connection to Berlin, where I had hoped to go today, if the rasin will ever stop.
It has taken me four days to pedal here from Swinousjcie, where I landed on Saturday morning after a night from Hell on the ferry from Ystad, Sweden: there was no place to sleep but a restaurant populated by 50% very loud drunks (two fights were broken up during the night) and 50% truckers trying to sleep stretched out on the floor. It rained all night, too!
I tried to find a ferry from Swinousjcie across the wide Stettiner Bucht to the mainland, but they all appeared to have gone defunct since my German map was published. So I ended up doing what I had dreaded: riding round the eastern side of the bay. At first things went well, but then I hit the Autobahn and turned off past a rusting Mississippi-style Riverboat hotel and a German V.3 rocket launching pad on a road that deteriated more and more as it entered the high sand dunes. At Lubin it stopped altogether, and I found that the cycle way on my map was a walking traikl in deep sand, which it is impossible to push, never mind ridem, a loaded Bike Friday through. I tried another way out of Lubin, up a steep hill and through the fields, but I got so much sand on the bike that my rear brake seized up.
Fig. 1: Hania and Beata and Friday at Wolin
Gave that up, had some french fries as the rain restarted, in a forlorn coach-stop beergarden, and tried another way. After encountering sand again and turning back, I encountered three Polish cyclists, who insisted on trying again. They eventually gave up and asked a man chopping wood in his backyard, whereupon there ensued a loud argument which neither neighbor nor detailed map nor GPS could solve. Finally, a woman came by in a car, and settled the issue authoratively – back we would go and up a cobblestone one-laner over the mountain (actually a huge forested sand dune). This was an ordeal for bikes and people, requiring a couple of rest stops, and really putting the Bike Friday and my ability to load it securely to the test. We were supposed to turn right to Wolin within the forest, but one look at the muddy ruts told us know, so eventually we came out on the main road again, where it was fortunately no longer a freeway.
Meanwhile, I had become friendly with my saviours, who were all from Poznan, and they invited me to stay at their campground for the evening. Leszek and Hania are friends, and Beata is married to Jegos: the latter actually do own a half-acre lot on which they have built several summer houses either for their friends or to rent. My only payment would be allowing them to practice English. In Wolin we stopped for supplies, and also tried to visit the “authentic” Viking Village there. This large open-air museum was unfortunately closed, because they were filming there.
The camp ground at Zagorze was beautiful, with frontage on the bay, in which swans were swimming – in the late evening I saw a huge stork on the lot next door. Jegos is an avid kite surfer and threatened to teach me. However, my back was giving me a lot of pain, from pushing the bike over cobblestones, and I could barely walk.
I had a wonderful time with Jegos and Beata, Leszek and Hania: two excellent suppers and a great breakfast on Sunday morning, which was sunny and warm. The trio guided me out to the south, also on a difficult muddy and sandy trail, and off I rode to Sczeczin, which turned out to be a beautiful city, the birthplace of the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, with palaces to match, but I found iut noisy and difficult to deal with on the bike, so I left on Monday morning for Garz and Angermunde, riding through beautiful country, although the last bit was on a main road it was impossible to avoid.
Fig.2: Beata, Leszek and Hania at Zagorze
Yesterday was a fairly easy ride through the end of the hilly country left behind by the last glaciation to Joachimstal, one of the Kaiser’s summer sporting grounds, but a bit disappointing now, and then through flat country amid the increasing wind of the gathering storm to Oranienburg.
Fig.3: Sczeczin and Palace from freeway over the Oder