This update is coming to you from a bunker in East Berlin.
Kathryn and Neil have always been of the view that Germany gets an unfairly bad press. We are pleased to report that we stand by this view. Since we arrived in Rostock we’ve been delighted. We thought we might find a Stalinist hell of concrete tower blocks. There is some of this but everything has been spruced up and now they look like pretty desirable places on the whole. Rostock city centre is very fine indeed. You wouldn’t know it was ruined by bombs in WW2. Even the new buildings look like they belong there. We had a very enjoyable day wandering around eating pretzels, looking at the apple market, looking in cake shop windows, drinking coffee and beer and having big dinners in gothic cellar restaurants – can you sense a theme emerging?
Since then we’ve been riding through rural Eastern Germany where the harvest is in and the farmers are busy sowing the winter crops. The route has been well mapped by the German cycling organisations who also provide lists of accommodation. This has led to some interesting overnight stops. At Wesenburg we found ourselves with a little attic flat all to ourselves. It even had a bath tub – our first since we left home! – and Kathryn was pleased to find a hair dryer. The woman who owned it also had a toy museum and a room full of antique radios, gramophones and mechanical pianos. Waren was a perfect little seaside resort with a marina, restaurants and a beautiful old town centre. It was full of day trippers when we arrived but they buzzed off at teatime and we had a lovely evening stroll through the deserted and dimly lit streets.
The riding has been rolling with plenty of little climbs and even some real offroad mountainbike type forest trails which is a little alarming on a heavily laden bike on touring tyres but good fun once we relaxed a bit. (slightly less fun on the back says Kathryn – she’s missing her Santa Cruz!) We have ridden through a National park and much beautiful beech forest which has been at its absolute best in the autumn sun with the leaves all golden yellow and ginger. We’ve been impressed that the Authorities send out little vaccuum cleaning wagons to remove the leaves and pine needles from the cycle paths. How very German.
We found ourselves lodging in a little Penzion about 30 minutes’ train ride North of Berlin and right next to the railway station. It’s been interesting to say the least. We knew we were in for an unusual stay when our hostess showed us around pointing out the light switches as though they were lavish optional extras. Certainly it’s been a new challenge every morning to work out exactly where from the shower head the water is going to spray on this particular occasion – and even which bathroom might be in an operational condition. However, Frau Penzion Birkenweder has really looked after us, doing our laundry and even making us proper pots of English tea which the Germans CANNOT get the hang of for some reason. Ask for cold milk and you get hot, or none at all. No wonder they lost the war.
The German diet still consists mainly of vast slabs of meat and Neil’s vegetarian credentials are in absolute tatters. It began in Rostock when he asked for something typically German and got Schweinhax – a plate turned up bearing a whole pig’s leg, like something Brian Blessed would grasp in his fist and tear at with his teeth whilst laughing uproriously during some Saxon banquet scene.
And what of Berlin? A fascinating place. Not always beautiful but sometimes so and always full of surprises. So much is new here that we doubt anyone who has not visited in the last 20 years would recognise it at all. We had a trip to the top of the Television Tower in the old Soviet sector. It’s over 200 metres from the base to the viewing platform and there’s a revolving restaurant too. We had to queue for about 40 minutes for a ticket for the lift, then go away for an hour until our allotted time for going up, when we had to stand in another queue. Then a mean looking security guard made us leave all our food, drinks and other capitalist western dog goods behind. It was a real communist block experience! But really, it was fantastic and we stayed up there until it got dark and watched the whole city light up below us.
Let’s hope we can get the photos to upload today: : http://photosbyneil.fotoblog.co.uk/c1597216.html
Tomorrow we head out to Potsdam and from there it’s a few days to Dresden and the Czech border.