Day 1, Sept. 6: Berlin to Potsdam, 48 km

In our tradition of starting later than expected, we rolled out of Kai’s apartment area after noon. Although Kreuzberg, where Kai lives, is nice and we were able to bike along a park canal for the start of the day, the path soon turned to busier roads. We decided to go back to Brandenburg Tor to the “official” starting place of many routes, and also to see some important monuments we’d not been to. Near Brandenburg Tor is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a striking and massive memorial that covers a space the size of a large plaza. The memorial consists of concrete rectangles at varying heights. There are narrow pathways between all of the blocks, so that you can walk across the entire memorial in long straight lines. The path is not flat, however, with the land dipping in the middle and the blocks also getting higher, so that in the center you would be far below the top of the memorial. Although we did not walk through it, the memorial is incredibly powerful. The museum under the memorial is also supposed to be very good, and I am sorry that we were not able to visit it. We also walked across the road to the area the memorial to gay and lesbian victims of the holocaust stands. That memorial consists of a large concrete box, maybe 12 feet tall, with a viewing window at one end. If you look through the window you see a lovely and powerful video loop with scenes of couples kissing.

  

After the memorials we started our biking for the day more seriously. We greatly underestimated the distance we would be in the busy city, as it was nearly 20 km of traffic, pedestrians, and confusing signs before we reached the large park that would take us south along the river to Potsdam. The path here wound through a forest, up and down rolling hills. From there we crossed quickly through the small town of Wannsee and over a large hill to Potsdam, home of Prussian kings and endless castles. We also returned to the world of abandoned GDR houses, with the edges of Potsdam hosting some previously ornate homes that had been taken over by vegetation.

We biked through the center of the city past fancy buildings, but missing the largest castles, which are surrounded by gardens on the edges of the town. The camping area is a few kilometers south of the town, along the lake, and the site was packed. As we set up our tent we noticed a rabbit grazing nearby. Soon we realized the site was filled with rabbits, munching quietly in the darkening evening. A massive flock of swallows swerved in undulating clouds above the lake and a few bats circle nearby. It felt good to be out of the city again.

    

Day 2, Sept. 7: Potsdam to Rappinichin, 79 km.

Slept in a little, as we almost always do, and started out under overcast skies and with the wind fairly brisk. The day remained overcast, and the path wound up and down rolling hills and through small villages. Much of the path was along cycle-only lanes, which makes sense as this is part of the R1 route – the Eurovelo route that goes from St. Petersburg, Russia, to the Netherlands with a total length of 3,500 km. We are following it just for these two days, but are glad for the better-signed route and the information boards along these larger routes.

Mid-day we passed a massive abandoned building, what looked to be the perfect home for Miss Havisham. At the front of the property we saw that a film crew was shooting inside, and fancy cars lined the rutted drive. Down the way an information board noted that this area had been a tuberculosis sanitarium at the start of the century. Beelitz is now apparently being slowly restored, and some of the buildings in the larger campus are inhabited. Many are still empty, however, and the area is creepy but fascinating.

Although we did cross fields, much of the day was spent in forests. We skirt a military installation as well, with explosions in the distance. This section is through what seems to be a managed forest. Although some sections are planted in rows, like long series of boulevards, most is more natural looking. What is stunning about the forest is its amazing look of perpetual sunset. This is a result of the trunk coloration, which changes from brown to a reddish orange hue mid-way up. There is no understory to the forest, so the trunks rise directly from bright green moss or brown grass for as far as you can see in each direction.

We eat lunch in one of the small huts created along bike routes and walking paths. The day becomes longer as we seem to make insignificant progress towards Judith’s parents’ house at the very edge of our map. We finally reach the town of Bad Belzig around 6:30, stopping for espressos in a groovy circular café near the thermal springs and with a marching band practicing in a close field. From here we aren’t sure how far it is to Rappinichin, but we know it is at least 20 km. We set off along a different path, which looks to be quicker and is marked in town as a cycle way. The cycle lane ends at the edge of town, however, leaving us on a road with a rarely paved shoulder and cars passing quickly. It is early evening so the light is still present, but it is rapidly fading under flat clouds.

With the cars moving quickly by we are spurred to take this section at a fast pace, and arrive in the next small town to find that the following few kilometers has a brand new cycle way – just finished last month! We speed to the next town, just to find that the path disappears on the following stretch, leaving us again with fast cars and now in much firmer darkness. The final stretch of road is clear, with few cards but with several massive tractors pulling loads of hay. A deer leaps into the forest just ahead of us right before town. In the darkness we roll into Rappinichin not knowing precisely where to go. After wandering some streets a man smoking on a stoop points us towards the right house. We finally find the house and let are into the lovely courtyard by our friend’s father and grandfather. We gratefully use the hot showers and cook a lovely meal from the food they generous put out for us.  

       

Day 3, Sept 8: Reppinichen, 0 km.

We woke up today to a lovely breakfast from Judith’s mother, who suggested that we spend the day here to rest. It did not take much convincing for us to agree. After a long breakfast we took their little Westy terrier for a slow amble around the village.

In the afternoon we drove back to Bad Belzig to visit the Stein Thermal, with a warm pool area and also a sauna section for some great relaxation after our long, late day yesterday. In the evening we sit in the garden talking. It was a lovely rest day with very enjoyable and generous hosts, and we are hard pressed to want to jump on our bikes again tomorrow.

   

Day 4: (Reppinichen) Raben to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, 26 km.

Enjoyed another lovely late breakfast and decided that we would accept the offer for a ride back to the R1 route, as we’d deviated from the route a bit to get here. We stopped at the castle in Raben, built in the 1200s and apparently the best preserved castle of this era in the county. The castle had an impressive stone tower, as well as thick walls and an enclosed courtyard that we wandered through briefly.

We said goodbye to our wonderful hosts and began the day’s short path with a breezy downhill in the forest. Although the first short section was spent on paved paths, much of the route was along gravel, sand, or compacted dirt roads, some of which went through cultivated fields. This made the going quite slow, and one section of the route was on an especially poor surface and without shade. Today was warm again – 30 degrees C – after the last few days of cooler weather, and tomorrow is meant to be even hotter.

The route for the day was short, however, and after passing through a couple of small villages we glided downhill and into Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the town where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door nearly 500 years ago. The downtown area around the market and two churches is quaint and well preserved, and also seems to be a popular holiday destination. We stopped for what meant to be coffee and became dinner at a Greek restaurant on the road between the churches – St. Martin’s church with the two towers in the main square, and Schloss Kirch, Luther’s church just a few blocks away. After dinner we visited the Schloss Kirch to see the Luther’s door, which is now forged iron covered with his 95 theses. We stepped inside to hear a few minutes of the Evensong service, and then biked across the river to the camping site. The Elbe is wide here, and it will be nice to follow it for the next week upstream to Prague.