Heading south again

From where we live, on the southern edge of Berlin, it’s always tempting to head south when motorcycling, as it avoids going through the city. Berlin may only have a population of 3.7 million, but with an area of nearly 900 km2, it takes a fair bit of time to cross, especially when traffic is heavy. My wife Angela and I had a four-day weekend due to Ascension Day, and decided to head out overnight to see what we could find. And…we headed south, of course!

We were able to travel fairly light, as we were only planning to be underway for two days and wanted to stay in a hotel or B&B. Angela has a really nice 50-liter Cargobag from SW-Motech that she can quickly strap on to her passenger seat. It requires no rack and sits very solidly due to four attachment points. As racks for her bike are not inexpensive, this was a good solution for carrying her gear on the Kawasaki.

We stuck to small roads and quickly left the city behind us. Without any particular destination in mind, we slowly wound our way through southern Brandenburg into northern Saxony, past thousands of wind turbines and fields full of grain and poppies.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when riding past this Harvestor feed storage silo. Made by the American company CST, they are extremely common in Indiana, where I lived years ago while going to college. From what I’ve heard, they are generally strongly disliked by many farmers, who refer to them as “blue tombstones” because they cost so much to buy and maintain. The story is that a lot of farmers have gone bankrupt because of spending too much money on them. Looks like the eastern German farmers may be the next ones to sing these tales of woe.

At the end of the afternoon we ended up in the small town of Belgern, which lies directly on the western bank of the Elbe River. We quickly found a place to stay and went for an early dinner at place next to the Elberadweg (Elbe Bicycle Path), which runs along here and is a very popular way to get from the North Sea to the mountains of the Czech Republic, a total distance of 1270 kms. Quite full during the day, after dinner we were the only ones using it and walked along it enjoying the river as it quickly flowed past.

The town was very quiet except for the many cyclists who were staying overnight. There were a number of beautiful old buildings, including the Rathaus (City Hall), which had been restored and has one of the few remaining Roland statues in Saxony. The ungainly looking, 6-meter-tall knight in armor with a raised sword was once the symbol of the town’s rights as a city according to the Saxon Laws. As the statue has managed to survive for nearly 400 years, Belgern is known as a Rolandstadt, i.e. a Roland City, and seems quite proud of this heritage.

After enjoying a good night’s sleep in a B&B at the top of the bluffs overlooking the river, we decided to take the ferry across to the eastern side of the Elbe, and start riding back home from there. These small ferries along the river are quite an amazing feat of engineering, as they operate completely without engines. Known as “reaction ferries”, this one has a floating cable attached to a mid-river anchorage way upstream. When the ferry is angled into the current, its force propels the boat across the river quite quickly. It’s always enjoyable to take one, as there’s no noise but that of the boat gently curving through the river on its way to the far bank. It’s a peaceful experience but is always over much too quickly.

We rode along some old roads connecting the various villages located in the floodplain. One section still had a variety of old pavers, which withstand flooding better than asphalt. They do tend to be slippery when wet, though, and are quite rough. The Himalayan’s suspension is made for bad roads (“or no roads”!) though, and dealt with them well. It’s perfect for this type of slow exploration!

A few kilometers north of Belgern we crossed the Elbe again and entered the town of Torgau. Known best as the place where US and Soviet forces met for the first time shortly before the end of WWII, the town is dominated by Hartenfels Castle, which has been completely restored since the wall came down. Now a beautiful structure, a museum in the castle reveals its difficult history as a prison for political prisoners both under the National Socialists and later GDR government, and as a Soviet special internment camp directly after the war.

Climbing one of the castle’s towers provided us with beautiful views across the courtyard and surrounding town.

The temperature was climbing and it was time to get back on the bikes and take advantage of whatever airflow we could create. We stopped briefly at a memorial erected in honor of the “Spirit of the Elbe”, i.e. the meeting of the two allied armies in the city. This story has always interested me and will be picked up on in a later post.

Heading north, we stopped at the edge of a wooded area to take advantage of the shade and eat lunch. After unsuccessfully trying to find a place where we could get a bite to eat (often difficult down here!), we ended up buying a few things at a grocery store and having a picknick, which was nicer anyway.

In Jüterborg we stopped to tank up and get a cup of coffee and some water, and once again took to the shade. My helmet doesn’t offer much in the way of ventilation and I was beginning to suffer. I’m not used to the heat anymore, and this year it’s come early. Wearing lots of protective gear doesn’t help much concerning warm-weather comfort either, but I’m not willing to ride without at least a good jacket, helmet, gloves and boots anymore. Newer jackets and pants often have vents, which helps a lot, and ours were wide open.

The coffee at gas stations (in Germany) is generally quite good now, and I often, to the chagrin of my fellow motorcyclists, prefer it to that served at a cafe or restaurant. After sitting on a bike for hours, I like being able to stand up and walk around while enjoying a cup, and sometimes good conversations with other riders ensue as well. Angela didn’t mind stopping here either, and bought some ice cream to cool off with.

Shortly before reaching home we went through a small village and noticed an old telephone booth that had been converted into a little free library. We stopped and browsed for a few minutes and both went away with a book. What a great idea, and it was the perfect ending to a great little trip. We had seen some nice towns, had peaceful hours cruising between beautiful fields and forests, and enjoyed near empty roads and great weather, despite the growing heat at the end. The bikes ran beautifully, although Angela’s chain started making some strange sounds late in the day. After 25,000 kms, it’s time for a new one.

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