Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lübeck, Germany

Friends: Just a few miles before the northern German city Lübeck I passed a large sign in the middle of a dense forest with a map of Europe with 1989 on it, the year the Berlin Wall fell, and a jagged line bisecting East from West running from the far north near where I am to the Black Sea.

This was the Green Zone I had missed when I passed it a week ago a couple of hundred miles to the south. There was a rough dirt road down the corridor, but no indication that this had been a well-fortified and feared barrier for over four decades. I had camped just three miles from it. If I had known it was imminent, I would have made it my campsite.

The forests of Germany go on and on. I´m appreciating them not only as an easy place to camp, but also as a wind and sun break. The wind has become more ferocious as I head north towards Denmark. The countryside is well-populated with towering jet-propeller windmills. I can precisely gauge the wind direction by how they are pointed, all too often the way I´m going.

The air has taken on that crystal clear clarity of Scandinavia and Iceland with the diminishing industry and the strong winds whisking away all the particulates. It is also becoming colder, not even 60 degrees. I dug out my sweater for the first time since leaving Cannes and moved my tights to the top of my pannier in case it gets much colder.

I've at last reached a region of Germany where bicyclists aren't persecuted and can freely share the roads with motorists. There are still occasional bike paths alongside the roads, some that I have taken advantage of, as they can have a fresher and smoother pavement than the highway, but bike paths are not as universal as elsewhere in the country.

Without having to worry about suddenly being forced off a road and sent on a wild goose chase trying to get to where I want to go, the cycling becomes as fine as can be. Germany in general gets top grades with its ease of camping thanks to all the forests and also ease of finding inexpensive and varied food. Germany is much like Japan with few large grocery stores but lots and lots of small chain grocery stores--Aldi, Lidl, Penny Market, Netto--every ten or fifteen miles, with bargain-priced food.

The grocery stores are all open until eight p.m. and don´t close for lunch for 90 minutes as in France, Spain and Italy. Travel is considerably easier without that large black hole in the middle of each day when everything closes down and I can´t use the Internet or get food other than at a restaurant or seek information from a tourist office. And in Germany when a business says it will open at a certain hour I can be certain it will be open at that hour and often earlier.

Germany also shares with Japan the distinction of being one of the few places in the world to have cigarette vending machines along the road, not that I need them. They are not as ubiquitous as in Japan, the land of the vending machine, but as in Japan, their presence implies a trust that the underaged will not taken advantage of the machines.

I´m down to harvesting just five or six flags a day along the road. There is less traffic but also with Germany having lost its second game to Serbia, maybe a little less enthusiasm. As I toddled around Neuthropin early Friday afternoon as game time neared, dodging people with a six-pack under their arm hurrying to their viewing party, many draped in a flag or wearing a funny gold, black and red hat or bedecked with a similarly colored lei or adorned with some other object of the German colors, I was on the alert for a bar with a large screen, preferably outdoors. I was also looking for the library or an Internet cafe.

When it got to five minutes before game time I decided it was time to ask. I've developed a sense for who might speak English. I was right about a 40-year old respectable looking guy. I asked if he could recommend a place to watch the game. "Join us," he said. We were just short of where he was turning in. "Come on in," he invited.

Just inside the doorway was a conference room with a large table and chairs all around. At the far end of the room was a screen that the game was being projected on. There was a wall of books and a cabinet full of religious icons. Several older men were seated around the table. They were the ministers and the staff for a religious group.

The national anthems were just finishing up and the game about to start. We were shortly joined by several women and children. Only one in the crowd was wearing anything to denote himself as a fan, but that didn't lessen anyone´s enthusiasm. Several times the man who invited me in apologized for an outburst, once slamming the table so hard it knocked over a bottle of water. Ten minutes into the game a woman brought out coffee. When I declined, one of the ministers was so taken aback he said, "There´s only two things I like more than coffee, my wife and the Bible." We were no doubt one of the few gatherings around that wasn't drinking beer.

Serbia scored near the end of the first half on a brilliant shot near the goal after a corner kick that was headed to the scorer. There was little conversation as everyone was so intent on watching the game. I did learn though that much of the Serbia team plays on German teams and that the German team is young, but good. That was the only goal for the game.

During the 15 minute half time I could have a little conversation. I mentioned that I had visited The Devil´s Museum and shared a brochure from it. They all knew him well. One of the ministers shook his head and said, "Why couldn't he have chosen to be an angel. Its not good to be promoting the devil." When I explained that The Devil took his name from the German expression for the final kilometer marker in a race, he said he knew that, but not everyone did.

There was no more scoring in the second half. The gathering grew increasingly frustrated as the game went on, some even leaving before the game ended. Germany´s next game is Wednesday at 20:30 against Ghana, which played Serbia to a 1-1 tie in its first game. If Germany loses, the tournament will be over for them. I hope to be back in Germany from Denmark to watch it with another crowd.

Later, George

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