Thursday, June 17, 2010

Storkow, Germany

Friends: I now have a legitimate reason to stop for all the stray German flags fallen off cars littering the road side. An anarchist organization in Berlin has placed a bounty on them--bring in thirty and they'll give you a "I Hate Germany" t-shirt.

If I'd only known I wouldn't have been giving away all that I've found and I would have been more conscientious about stopping for the many I've seen. I could have earned a dozen or more of the t-shirts by now, and that without plundering and pillaging, breaking them off cars and snagging them from homes and businesses, as the anarchists are trying to inspire. Mall parking lots would be a gold mine. Some cars have as many as four of them, one mounted on each of their windows, along with the latest in car wear--flag booties that can be stretched over the bodies of the driver's and passenger's rear view mirrors.

If this redemption plan was more widely known, I might have learned about it from a cop or an extreme nationalist suspicious of the pile of pelts lashed to the top of my gear on the back of my bicycle, but it was a young Berliner, a tattooed film-student with quite a few rings adorning his face, just setting out on his first bicycle tour, who was my informant.

Jan stopped to ask me for directions as I was picnicking along  the road. He was traveling with a highly detailed set of bike route maps, but the road he had been riding, an approved bike route according to his maps, unexpectedly presented him with that dreaded "No Bicycle" sign. I thought I could help him, as I had suffered the same ill-luck twenty miles back, and had acquired a highly detailed map of the area. It showed every road but didn't indicate bike routes, though one could fairly safely guess which roads were amenable to bicycles.

We plotted a route on tiny roads to his destination, but it wasn't as direct as he would have liked. As we pored over the map, a woman pulled into an adjoining parking lot. Jan asked her if she knew what alternative there was for bicyclists to route 2. She knew without even pausing to think. I had a similar reaction when I had my latest heart-plummeting confrontation with a no bikes sign. The young woman at the gas station I had to double back to for directions knew the alternative, but it was too complicated to explain, so she dug out a map for me. It involved a detour of five miles or so.

It has been my dream since entering Germany a week ago, to have a day without encountering a bicycles forbidden sign. I thought this was to be the day, as I was going to be on 246 for the next 100 miles heading due east. I had already been on it for thirty miles the previous day. It was a minor road through small towns without much traffic. It didn't even need an adjoining bike path. It was exceptionally fine cycling through forests and pastures.

But I hadn't gone even ten miles on what was to be my hassle-free day when I was thwarted by a short stretch where two highways merged for a couple of miles and someone decided it wasn't safe for bicyclists. It wouldn't have been so frustrating if there had been signs for the bicycle detour, as there sometimes are. If I had only known it was such a short no-bike stretch I would have made a run for it, as I would have in any other country.

When I told Jan what a headache bicycle touring can be in Germany with so many roads denied cyclists he said he strictly obeyed no bike signs as a friend of his had been killed when he continued on a road prohibited to bikes. He doesn't trust drivers on such roads, as they seem entitled to run down cyclists when they are riding a road prohibited to them.

Jan was riding a fixed gear bicycle and had no panniers, just a hefty messenger bag slung across his back with a sleeping bag and a change of clothes. He was just biking 250 miles back to his home, planning to do it in three days. He was willing to risk sleeping out without a tent. He figured the terrain was flat enough to manage on his one-speed bike. At least he had a front brake. He said fixed gear bikes without a brake were illegal in Berlin and that cops were always on the alert for them. If they caught someone on such a bike they'd confiscate it and destroy it, he said.

He looked like a messenger, and has aspirations of giving it a try, but hadn't yet. I heartily encouraged him. We talked for nearly an hour. There was a cemetery down the road where I had just filled my water bottles and washed my clothes. That was one of many recommendations I gave Jan.

He asked what I did for bathing. I told him cemeteries were always a possibility, but yesterday I was lucky enough to take a plunge in a lake. It was on the outskirts of a small town and had a couple of nice beaches with a sand dune plummeting to the shoreline that kids ran down into the water. I was surprised to see one nudist among all the kids--a 40-year old guy with a pot belly. I told Jan that in the U.S. he would have been arrested. He understood, as he said when he was three-years old he had visited the U.S. with his parents and went swimming in the ocean in North Carolina. His mother was reprimanded for letting her two young children swim without bathing suits. But he added that men swimming naked was more of a tradition in former East Germany, where I am now, than the West.

I had crossed into the former Eastern sector a couple of days ago. I had forgotten that a green zone of thousands of miles had been established along the former line between the east and west, nor was it evident when I crossed it. Still, there was no mistaking when I made that transition from West to East. There was no difference in the quality of the roads or the quality of the cars. The same franchise stores dotted the towns and the richly cultivated fields were no different. But for the first-time I saw old pre-WW II buildings, some abandoned with windows broken out and many others just run-down and unmaintained. They lent a sense of personality to the towns. I also saw more older folk getting around on bicycles, and then there was the lone nudist parading around among kids.

It was also impossible to find a town with an Internet cafe. At last here in Storkow I found a library with Internet. Storkow had been my prime destination in Germany as it is the home of Didi Senf, the Tour de France Devil, and his museum. He is a noted bicycle inventor. The Guinness Book of Records recognizes him for having built the world's smallest and largest and longest bikes. His museum doesn't open until one o'clock.

I was hoping to see him, as he knows me from our many meetings along The Tour de France route, but I'm told he isn't in town. He's probably off at the Tour of Switzerland waving his pitch fork at Lance and everyone else in the peloton. I had planned on giving him my stash of flags to see if he wanted to make something of them. I was able to give the two I had that still had the window attachment in tact to the helpful woman at the tourist office. She said she wasn't much interested in the World Cup, but she had friends who would be delighted to have the flags.

It is less than fifty miles to Poland to the east, but I will head north, then angle north-westward to Denmark. Tomorrow I hope to join a mob watching Germany´s second World Cup match at 1:30 in the afternoon. It will be a short work week for Germans.

It's over an hour until the museum opens, more than enough time for a dip in the town lake.

Later, George

1 comment:

T.C. O'Rourke said...

Nothing breeds great anarchists like totalitarianism.

Do wait until you're home to wear the shirt, tho'.