Having spent the night in our hammocks, I thought that perhaps my knee would have benefitted from being elevated all night long. Standing up the next morning proved me wrong. I gave it a chance and hoped that as I warmed up, the pain would lessen and we could cover some distance. I really didn’t want my knee to be the central focus of our trip, but every pedal stroke was a reminder, forcing me to question whether it was a good idea to keep riding on it, or if I should throw in the towel and buy a ticket on the Deutsche Bahn.
Wolfsburg was just a few kilometers down the road from where we had camped, but we opted to follow the canal again which would bypass some of the more industrial parts. Home to Volkswagen, it is a medium-sized city that is centered around the German auto industry. Notwithstanding, we were still able to find a bike shop so that Will could buy new 29er tubes. Interestingly, the bike shop only sold electric mountain bikes—not something either of us imagined would be very profitable considering it being such a niche product. But then again, I wouldn’t have expected Nordic walking or The Simpsons to be so popular amongst Germans either, so you never really know.
We rode into the centrum so that I could get some Ibuprofen at the drug store and to get some lunch. A small pizzeria caught our interest so we sat there and ate, got some beers, and ruminated over our next move. Ultimately, I decided that I could keep riding if we stayed at the pace we had ridden this morning— it wouldn’t get us to Berlin, but we’d get as far as we could before we had to find a train station to take us the rest of the way.
Somewhere along the line we came across one item we were hoping to find—a sign signifying the former border between East and West Germany. “Here, Germany and Europe were split until 6 a.m. on December 23rd, 1989” reads the sign. We also came across two hitch hikers who were, for all we could tell, looking for a ride in the middle of nowhere.
As we rode into what would have been a completely separate country 27 years ago, I wasn’t sure if it really did feel different or if was all in my head. The streets seemed wider, the houses were built a little differently.
We stopped at a small park to check our progress, or rather, Will checked his GPS and I wandered around looking at things and taking photos. There was a World War I memorial with an inscription that I’m well familiar with, though to see it in another language and in the context of another country’s armed conflict, it really put into perspective the tragedy our enemies had endured as well.
“No one has greater love, than he who would lay down his life for his friends.”
We came to the conclusion that we probably had enough daylight to ride to the area we would call camp for the night, and if not, well we’d just set up in the dark. We left the little town we were in and continued east, riding through a couple of smaller villages and roads with little to no traffic. After a while, we stopped to check our progress again in the village of Miesterhorst, and decided that where we were actually looked like a good spot. As a bonus, a sign indicated that the train station was just across the street, so we could catch the train in the morning and be on our way to Berlin.
The skies were clear and it was a crisp night. The limits of my sleeping setup were tested and exceeded- I ended up “going to ground” in the middle of the night, undoing the end of my hammock and laying on the ground to forego comfort in exchange for a little more warmth. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to the morning’s coffee.
After breakfast and we broke camp, we made our way across the road to the train station. Things began to look questionable as we approached a dilapidated brick building with smashed in windows and an overgrown train platform. Clearly no one had worked here in decades, but did the train still stop here? There wasn’t anywhere to purchase tickets, and after some deliberation, we decided it would be best to ride to the next town and catch the train there. My knee didn’t agree, but it was that or wait here for an unknown amount of time, and even then who knew if the train would stop for us.
So we rode on towards the next town of Mieste, about 8 kilometers out. We were relieved to find a ticketing kiosk and other people there. Two people tickets, two bicycle tickets, and we had secured the final leg of our trip.
The weather was beautiful that day, and there was hardly any wind. I couldn’t help but think about what might have been if I didn’t screw up my knee on the very first day of our trip. We would probably be able to ride right into Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate a symbolic finish line worthy of our accomplishments. Instead, we ambled along and I needed to stop with increasing frequency to deal with the pain. Will reassured me that he wasn’t disappointed and was still having a good time, so I decided to adopt the same attitude.
An interesting, yet not unexpected sentiment I kept seeing displayed on stickers, written on walls, and in graffiti was the inclusion of refugees and the shunning of Nazi sympathizers, which is apparently still an issue. That, or those opposing the refugees are being called Nazis. Either way, “Nazis verpisst euch!” above translates roughly to “Nazis f*ck off!”
Arriving at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, we gathered ourselves together for what would be, at least for me, the last ride for quite a while, as I needed to begin the lengthy process of waiting for my knee to heal. Along the way to our accommodations, we were so caught up in the rare Berlin sunshine that we almost passed right by an intact portion of the Berlin Wall. There it stood, a relic from a bygone era, now serving as a memorial to the victims that died trying to escape from it and a reminder of what might have been.
- Bicyclist Abroad