Germany. The wall tour

Once you come to Berlin you will be tempted by a number of historical and cultural sites for a visit and most of you most likely will be seduced by East Side gallery or Check Point Charlie. Berlin wall, that was perturbing the life of inhabitants, lasted for nearly 30 years and its caused division is still felt in nowadays city. It became not only the symbol of the region, but also the massive tourist attraction. But is one truly seeing and understanding the history of the wall by visiting only the famous touristic sites?

To approach the history of the wall in a different manner, the idea to bike its perimeter came. The total distance around the West sector would be 155km, which is way to ambitious for one day, therefore we decided to achieve only the city dividing part from north to south, which is about 60km long.

By quick internet search we have acquired the map of the route and also found the information, that the full length of the wall is transformed into marked bicycle route. The distance seemingly doable still required some planning and preparation – it goes through the most crowded neighborhoods in Berlin and therefore we expected to be delayed, yet still manage under 7 hours.

The start was planned at the northern boundaries of the city early in the morning. The wall tour starts close to Hohen Neuendorf, which is technically Berlin but still has a provincial feeling with cute old town and cobbled streets. The planned start was not so easy to find in the local forest park. Luckily there are signs guiding to the old watchtower that is left after the wall was destroyed. From the watchtower the brand new bicycle route Mauerweg follows the former wall throughout the city. At the North it is going through a wonderful forest, that I never thought to be located in Berlin. It was really surprising to see so much nature surrounding sleepy and cute neighborhoods. Even some farms and horse ranches were on the way, which made Berlin feel rather rural.

This kind of calm lifestyle was felt until Prenzlauer Berg. Here the Berlin wall tour turned into the famous and hip Mauerpark, surrounded by hipster cafes and groups of tourists. The bike road became noticeably more crowded but the tour offered many information stations for those curious about history. Our highlight was the observation of the remaining wall fragment. And I mean not only the one row of painted concrete blocks, but a real wall, in its all thickness, how it used to be back in days.

There is an observation tower (free of charge), where you could go quite comfortably to look at the wall structure from above. One could see how wide the wall actually was, that it had several ‘layers’ and well lit brushed sand, to see the footsteps of illegal crossing. The small museum is sharing the stories and history of the wall, illegal crossing from East to West. The wall now is turned into memorial park. It is not only a lovely place for a walk, but also is informative, as there are many of memorial boards, telling curious stories about the wall.

It is interesting to see, that along the former wall, a lot of new building have been built. After the unification of East and West Berlin, the territory of the wall (which actually is not too little) offered new territory for building, which is being happily used until today. The area close to Hauptbahnhof is being built completely new, which allows more living spaces in a cramped city that receives many newcomers every year.

Along the route one could find some wall leftovers and other relics. A surprise watch tower was spotted next to Spree, just before reaching the central station. Awkwardly sitting in the middle of the residential buildings it is easy to miss, unless you come from the right angle. There were no one to visit this curious kinda-like-a-monument of the wall and from this point, the closer one gets to the touristic hot-spot (Brandenburg gate), the more popular and crowded other wall leftovers are.

The deeper in the city we biked, the less tour signs there were. Sometimes arrows on the poles would disappear for several streets, sometimes it would become a darker stone line on the middle of the road. It became notably harder to find the exact position of the wall, which might be not a big problem for those, who just want casually drive through the divided territory (to be honest, does it really matter if we skip a street or two and then come back to track?). But we were determined to follow the exact division pattern, so several hours were lost due to double checking the wall location on internet and then trying to follow it though the crowded city.

The most crowded place on the trip was Check point Charlie, where tourists get scammed and most likely pick-pocketed. It used to be the border crossing point, controlled by Americans. There were 3 of them in total and this one was the only one at the center of the city. Now it is a place for tourists to take an overpriced picture with ‘American soldiers’ or go to an extremely crowded Mauermuseum.

Avoiding crowded central areas in Friedrichshein we crossed Spree and headed towards Kreuzberg, which is an excellent stop for lunch, by the way. Once out of the main streets there, we could once again enjoy empty streets. City started to become green and rural again following the Mauerweg South. It is in some way surprising, how much space Berlin actually has outside the hip central neighborhoods and how much more calm and green it is there. It sometimes does not look or feel like Berlin at all.

The Southern part of the route was extremely quick and easy, as the way is almost straight and well marked. At some point it becomes not so nice to follow, as there was a highway built ower the former wall. For some good 6 to 8 km I was following this highway on bike speed way. It was quick and not so bad, but definitely not very interesting. On the far horizon one could see grey Soviet blocks, that reminded me of home a little bit.

It was still Berlin and I could not believe my eyes – wast meadows, so much beautiful nature and space. Towards the Southern most point of the wall, which was also the finishing point of the day, bike way became less and less taken care of. At some point I was driving a narrow garden colony road, that was marked as a Berlin Wall tour. Unfortunately it finished with a dead end. I tried to go around but with no luck, the trip had to be finished there.

Two years later after this tour I still think, how impressive it is, that Berlin is stretching 60km from North to South. I would like to recommend this tour not only for history enthusiasts but also for anyone who has the time to see not only touristic, artistic and fun Berlin, but how it actually is in real life of real people. From fancy and spacious villas in the North to dodgy and low-income southern outskirts, from glamorous and freshly built Mitte to grey sadness of Soviet blocks. It is unforgettable and contrast rich one-day bike trip, that is worth making for those living in Berlin as well as you might find some spots you would have never found otherwise. And for the end my advice is: get lost, at least several times on the road. It gives extra adventurous flavor :).

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Germany. From Vils to Naab

When the summer days were still incredibly hot and long, we decided to roast ourselves a little bit more and see the south. There was no real plan included, no booked places or activities, just an Interrail ticket in our pockets and huge backpacks on our backs.

It was important that this year we kept our no flying streak, so we planned mainly to use local public transportation and hitchhiking. This way we wanted to explore more remote and unique areas, rather than moving from one tourist trap to another. To start the exploration from ‘our own backyard’, we decided to make Nürnberg our first stop. In middle ages city was a center of culture, trade and politics; today, even if the city was heavily bombed, it surprises the visitors by rich and beautiful massive old town, as well as old and impressive castle on the top of the hill.

Besides cute German style white houses with dark wood lines (the ones that Americans love) the other interesting attraction was the old fountain – Schöner Brunnen. Although it is not as hot of a tourist attraction as former Nazi sites and most of the people pass over it without a longer consideration, I found it to be a rather fascinating structure. This 14th century craftsmanship survived until today only because it was hidden during the WWII. It reflects not only the finery of the art and symbolism back then, but also the worldview of Roman Empire: it pictures not only religious figures but also prince-electors and philosophers. There are also several legends about the fountain.

Our quick tour was ended by climbing to the Nürnberg castle, which provided not only the view of the cities skyline, but also an informative museum about the regional history. Built in middle ages, this sturdy castle served as a seat of kings and Roman emperors until it lost its importance during the 30 years war. During the latest world war it was destroyed to ruins and restoration until the present state took over 40 years.

To be honest, we did not plan to stay long in the city and the road turn inwards Bavarian wilderness. The next day we got a canoe offer from our friends and there we were already floating on the Vils river.

The start was decided to be in Schmidmühlen, where Vils is still a small and not more than knee deep. It started with a little bit of fast water but nothing really dangerous. It seems to be the best start as upriver from this point is too dangerous for inexperienced paddlers (us), the water is narrow there and is surrounded by cliffs, coming close to each other.

The problem with this trip was that we had to figure out how to come back to the car, as it is a linear route. We decided to always have one person on bike following the canoe by car. It was a peaceful and sunny day, river followed the fields and hills of Bavaria. It was so unbelievably remote, as I imagined Bavaria to be very crowded. The right side of the flow was extremely empty, as I have learned later on, it is a military zone, and not a small one.

The interesting fact about the zone, that we have heard from local friends, is that there is another one about 40km North. Both of them are taking a massive land space for short distance missile shooting tests/practice and were established by American army after WW2, as they controlled this region after Germany’s surrender. Basically they sit and shoot at each other missiles during the broad day light. I thought it was very curious, as former US bases are being abandoned and dismantled across the country (some of them used for housing later on, as Germany has a massive living space shortage), but these two are actively operating. We even heard some shooting while kayaking next to it.

On the map, these two suspiciously uncharted regions are the US military bases. Vils river flows a great deal at the border of the zone, which gave its peace and worries. Belonging to military this land piece looked wild at the border, yet many signs informed that stepping there might be the last idea of your life (or at least a very bad one).

It was a nice and easy river, getting rapidly wider and deeper as it approached its joining to Naab. The route had its wild moments as well as some cute villages where we stopped for a break or boat transportation over the man-made obstacles. It was a relatively dry summer in Germany, so the water levels at some wider spots dropped drastically and several times we had to walk besides the kayak. Yet, once we saw a fallen tree over the water, blocking the way completely, we decided that this time we can jump over it and that it was enough water to not the stuck. We were also a little bit too lazy to carry the kayak around, but never mind. So we gained some speed and tried our best and of course it did not work. The boat got stock on the tree trunk (that would not have been a problem with higher water) at the first third of the boat.

And then the game started. Tried to move back. No luck. Tried to move forward. No luck. paddling was not strong enough. Pushing from the tree itself did not help. Jumping and leaping forwards as well. One could have went out of the canoe but it was pretty deep and the water was not clear – could have been dangerous branches or other sharp thing underneath. Everything we tried seemed to not work. The trunk we were stuck on was right under my butt, so I moved to the very front of the kayak, but this alone did not help. We both had to move to the very front. It was a challenge to relocate ourselves without ending up in the river and once we were there, we still had to ridiculously try to jump by jerking our weight forward.

The kayak started to move, yet it was very small distances. We had to continue it for at least 10 min until we were floating again. The worst part, that our friend saw everything from a bridge nearby, as we were planning to finish the last piece of the river all together.

We planned and finished our journey where Vils meets Naab – in Kallmünz. There we had some fast water and some paddling against the Naab, in order to safely land on the side, we wanted and needed. After securing the kayak on the car roof we went for a local sight-seeing. This tiny town hold a beautiful medieval old town and castle ruins. The hill did not look so big from the river, yet climbing it proved to be not so easy. The old-town was sitting on its side and the tiny pass-ways might not always lead where the castle is. The terrain is too steep for cars so it provided a calm stair climbing event until we reached the castle path.

Once atop the view is far and incredible. The beauty of the settlement and the fields around it, same as the rivers crossing the hilly terrain made a big impression on me. Kallmünz used to be an art colony, where a lot of artists would come to relax, practice and meet same minded and it was not without a reason – the scenery is indeed gorgeous.

The whole region is perfect for castle hoppers. It is possible to visit at least one a day without a bigger trouble. Before leaving to our another stop – Regensburg – we managed to quickly hike to the Wolfstein castle ruins next to the Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz. It was a beautiful spot to catch the last sun of the day and enjoy another beautiful view. We also learned the Celtic tribes had big settlement here and even flattened some hills for better protection and visibility.

A massive castle is now being slowly restored but the entrance remains open 24/7, which makes it a wonderful place for evening walks and night star gazing. As it is not on the main touristic route, you most likely will spare yourself the frustration of tourist masses, which is another reason to take your kayak and explore the unknown side of Bayern!

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Germany. Empire of Sandstone (pt. 2)

If you enjoyed the first part of the trip, this small story will introduce you to a less touristic Saxonian Swiss. Even if the park is heavily visited by tourists, it is still possible to avoid the crowds and have a calm hike in and around this beautiful sandstone temple.

After a heavenly sleep and a soup for breakfast we found out that we don’t really have a set plan for the day. The map we had with us suggested, that there is a boofen for a night sleep on the other side of the river – Zschirnstein, here we come!

The fun part was, that there is no straight forward road from our sleeping place. We slowly wiggled down the hills searching for a better road. Combined map and Open Street Maps strength showed us a pretty straight road crossing the cliffs. The group suspected, that this might be not very passable but yet we still decided to try, as the ‘real road was not really leading to the direction we preferred. After several unsuccessful turns we found a suspiciously straight road leading in between two ridges. Map promised a pass though the rocks that this road will bump into. As it looked good enough, we followed.

The road started to climb slightly upwards and rocks came closer and closer. As we reached Erreichtturm, we decided to climb it for a snack. The day was still young but the place looked just too good to miss the opportunity. Once we started to get closer, more people joined us, apparently this part is popular among rock climbers. It took us a while to find a road to the top, but oh boy, the view and the sun there was so rewarding!

As we ate and rested, more and more climbers came for a day here. We even saw some nice boofen for sleeping there but the signs warned, that camping here is not wanted.

The hour of truth came – will we be able to cross the cliffs or not. OSM showed a faint road between two rocks but the rigged environment did not help us to find it easier. We zigzagged by some raising crags and found the narrow crossing between two massive walls. Obviously this road is not very often hiked. But oh boy, how exciting it was: a massive and old beech tree met us once we were on top. So its leaves were to blame for covering the road for us.

The further road was extremely long and not so exciting. We got into one of the main ways to reach Scmilka as there was the ferry crossing Elbe. It went up and down, the backpacks started to weight more, feet got more tired, water ran dry. The last hundred meters were crucifying, as the road went steep down and big stones put there for the easier climb up were slippy and more disturbing than helpful. Tired and thirsty, but still rather early in the day we reached the village. It was packed with people but we still found a place at the spring to fill our bottles and wash our tired feet.

The other side progressed another not too short of a hike and it met us with a very short but extremely steel climb. We were already to done that we stopped talking and just slowly dragged ourselves up. I counted every step but lost the number after 500 stairs. The heat was not helping as well. Of course, our party had no real hats and once we reached the top, we had to cross open fields in the midday heat with the sun boiling our brains. Who took a scarf, who took a T-shirt but once something was on our heads, life became much better.

Reaching Schöna was hot and not fun at all, crossing it as well. Only fields and no shadow. When the forest was once more in the horizon we rushed there with the rest of our energy. Damn this road, there still was a distance to go until we could legally camp. We chose the quickest and the straightest way, put the rest of the will and hiked straight until it made us nauseous.

Finally the road turned and we were there! How happy we were but only until we realized that we still need to climb a little bit. The road was covered once more, yey. Second wave of tiredness reached us. One of us left the backpack and went for a scouting tour to find the road. Several minutes later we were happy once more after seeing our luxurious sleeping place. So much space, wonderful view and no one to share it with.

Next morning I kicked the boys out of sleeping bag at 4.30 in the morning – time to climb up and meet the sun. Grumpy and not so enthusiastic group packed the stuff, found the way up and was amazed by the sunrise. No one was there for kilometers. And if, most likely they were still sleeping and dreaming their 9th dream. It was absolutely worth every early minute of climb. Zschirnstein is one of the highest in the region and it opened the wonderful view over the Saxonian Swiss. Recommend it to anyone interested in panoramic views – it saved our not super nutritious or tasty breakfast.

We realized that we hiked through most of the park, we were tired and not very interested in further adventures anymore. After quick clean up we were rushing once more, this time for a train. The start was early and the train station was reached just before the lunch time. Counted the kilometers made – more than 60. Happy about the result we boarded the train and slept the tired sleep of our life.

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Sweden. Walking the tectonic crack

posted in: Hiking adventure, in English, Sweden | 0

Söderåsen National Park is absolutely fantastic, that is why I was so excited to come back there again, this time for a hardcore hike, stretching exactly 40km from the park to Åstorp. But let’s go to the beginning, where is all started.

Long and lazy winter slumber came to an end and the first spring sun is being reported in one or another part of Skåne. To confirm it we decided to gather a group of hikers and test weather we could get some sun during the hike. To achieve it, we had to plan a full day hike that would cross area big enough to notice weather changes. This is how the first hike of 2019 was created, a challenge to our lazy feet.

The morning in Lund was promising, the sun was trying to break the curtain of the clouds and it seemed that the day would be quite pleasant. Once we all gathered from different parts of the town, sat into almost empty train and started to move more inland, the sun was quickly gone and grey sky just thickened and thickened. By the time we had to change to the bus the morning was cold and humid, with no hope of clear sky.

Six of us and two other serious hikers left the bus to be the first ones to start our trip from the visitor center in Söderåsen National Park, no cars, no other visitors. With no hesitation we went deeper in the valley. It is one of the most beautiful and interesting National parks in South Sweden and weekends are normally pretty crowded here, so we very much enjoyed the freedom of not meeting masses of people on our trail. Söderåsen is home for dramatic views: deep and narrow valley formed by two plates moving away from each other, steep slopes eroded during the previous ice ages, hilly scenery formed by volcanoes, deep and wild forest with lots of rivulets running down the edges and forming cute waterfalls (Swedish said it is not waterfalls, just regular rivers…).

The plan for the day was to complete the hike in 10-12 hours by following Skåneleden. In total, 4 parts of the official hiking trail number 3 were completed: parts 4, 3, 2 and 1. The website of Skåneleden was extremely helpful for planning this hike, which was smooth and easy to follow due to the excellent marking which was done!

The morning weather was not on our side, but the forecast promised a glimpse of us at noon, so without bigger stops we continued to wiggle up and down through and out of the valley. The spring was still early, trees had no leaves, nature was just starting to wake up after the winter. Rivers, on the other hand, we already in their heights: running fast and wide. Some parts of the path were under water so we had to jump from stone to stone, other were muddy as hell. I almost got my shoes wet in first kilometres and only because of a mere luck escaped only with a muddy touch.

Not long after we finally climbed out of the park and reached the beautiful and once straight forest path. It lead almost all the way up the Höjehall, where a cute watch tower is. The view from above did not strike us extraordinary, maybe because of still early and grey spring or because of the cold wind, so few minutes and a snack after we were on the way again. The day was growing older and we still were not reaching the half point of the trek, the pressure to increase our already decent speed was real.

Soon after lunch we came back to the tectonic crack in quite unexpected way: the valley dropped down deep and steep and it became wider by every meter. You almost could have forgotten that the hike is happening in southern Sweden, which is relatively flat. The path was leading alongside the cliff and we were able to enjoy the unusual view, the sun was there as well! Scarfs and gloves went into the pockets as the warmth gave hope of seeing summer again.

The rest of the trip was quick and straight forward, even though the feet were starting to hurt. The last 5 kilometres were the hardest for me as I really wished to see the train station until every turn. Good news were that it was still light and there was a chance of a clear sky to see an amazing sunset.

Åstorp is very much hidden by the forest, so it took me a little bit by a surprise, even though I was constantly checking the route as I was not sure if my feet can survive another step. Obviously it did and we were in a train station. I wasn’t so happy for a long time. Sitting in a train all tired and dirty is always an amazing feeling. “aww, you are so sleepy. I will wake you up at your station” – the train conductor joked. And it was good, we were on a way to a warm shower.

In general Skåne is not very famous for its forests as most of the fertile lands are used for farming. Sure, more northern part of the region is more forest rich, but come closer to coast or southern side and landscape will have less and less trees. To my surprise this trail lead more or less the full way in the forest and if you zoom out the map, it is visible that this is the only green tunnel in a region around. I think making a hiking way though it was very genius as I got convinced that i was in endless forest (well, except of one small agricultural part).

If you are interested into this trail yourself, feel free to use the coordinates from here.