Berlin to Wernigerode days 31 to 38 - 11th to 18th August 2012

The cycle route from Berlin to Wernigerode

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The Blog

Berlin to Wernigerode

Day 31 11th August Berlin to Beelitz Heilstatt

An amazing thing happened today, it is the start of a new week and a lovely sunny morning with no rain. Even Charlie the caretaker said that the weather was set fair.

We, or at least the management, started with a good deal of apprehension about whether nanny would work. It is a longish ride today for us and will be a lot longer if she faltered.

We left the apartment, crossed the river Spree and were soon circumnavigating the Siegesswise, a great roundabout with an obelisk in the middle with a golden statue on top. Then, unlike on the way in, we had about 10km of cycle path along a busy main road. This was easy but not pleasant until we came to the lakes, all called Havel.

We were now in an urban recreational area of western Berlin. It was pleasant but quite busy with roady cyclists training by speeding around the lake. Sailors were also just getting going and there were walkers with two sticks, roller bladers and sad car drivers with nothing better to do than to get in the way.

We continued beside the lakes until well after crossing Potsdam. At this point our route went into a forest and there was no one, it was just like turning off a tap. We assume that about this point we crossed the old border between Berlin and the GDR. After cycling in silence we reached our rather nice hotel at Beelitz Heilstatten.

We discovered that Beelitz Heilstatten had once been the location of a huge TB hospital built over 100 years ago. Until reunification it was the largest eastern block hospital outside the Soviet Union. Many of the huge buildings are now in a state of collapse and there are no funds available for their restoration. Our hotel was one of them but after conversion is now a listed building.

And as for nanny we treated her kindly which slowed us down a bit and she seemed ok. We will not really find out until she is put under stress.

Day 32 12th August Beelitz Heilstatten to Luhnsdorf

We discovered after we left that Beelitz Heilstatten is a Mecca for geeks who explore and photograph ruins. People go there from all over the place because it is so extensive. There are underground tunnels and masses of dangerous buildings for them to explore without the inconvenience of security guards or indeed anyone to stop them risking all.

We had an easy leisurely day today nursing nanny along through the forests in the sunshine. British cyclists will be amazed to learn that in this quiet corner of the ex GDR we had around 40km of tarmaced linear off road cycle trail. Most was well up to the standard of the Rodwell Trail. How come in the UK we can't even get a route to Bournemouth Airport?

After a picnic lunch on a wayside bench we found an icecream shop before arriving at another lovely village hotel at about 3pm. Today we really did have cycling for softies and very nice it was too.

At this point we decided to go for a replacement motor for nanny as the existing one is slipping. With the help of Sabrina at the hotel we confirmed that it can be sent forward for us to pick up at the Friday hotel. We then set it up with Trevor at the Electric Wheel Company. We will not know until tomorrow whether it can be done.

Day 33 13th August Luhnsdorf to Worlitz

It was nice to ride on ordinary country roads for the first part of the morning. Last night we went off the R1 cycle route to get to the hotel and we now looped back onto it.

Once back onto the R1, gone were the smooth tarmac surfaces of yesterday and in their place unmade tracks between villages. We were also climbing, though not without the odd descent, through fields and woods. It was very pleasant if a bit bumpy and we topped out at about 550 feet before descending into the Elbe valley.

We crossed the Elbe on a fine cycleway beside the main road bridge. We had passed right through Wittenberg without stopping, mainly because the management had the bit between his teeth and the traffic was heavy. This was almost certainly a mistake as it is a town well worth exploring and we had plenty of time.

We were now in countryside as flat as a board and making good time with a following wind on the Elbe cycleway. This was a deviation from our planned route. At the planning stage the maps showed this morning's tracks as being roads and the Elbe cycle route as being off road with an alternative. As it turned out the Elbe route is on new tarmac beside a flood defence dyke rather like the sea defences in Holland.

We stopped for a picnic in the lovely countryside but moved on without taking a bite. The only thing being eaten was us by the thriving insect population. Because of this we arrived early at our hotel in Worlitz.

At first sight Worlitz seem a pretty little town worth exploring and we unloaded the tandem and set off on it to do so. Sadly we did not enjoy the place. It would seem to be based around a large country estate and mansion set among some lakes. Unusually for Germany bikes were not allowed in most of the places we wanted to go.

The town itself may have been tarted up in the 1990s but now much of it is in need of a coat of paint. It also seemed to have an over provision of half empty cafes which did not look inviting. Exploring Wittenberg would have been a better option.

We also had an update on nanny. The Electric Wheel Company has sent a replacement motor which we should be able to pick up on Friday. In the meantime we will nurse the existing one along and she has done well so far so fingers crossed.

Day 34 14th August Worlitz to Kothen

We got up late and left late and had an amazing day of touring, though it was not all easy.

After cycling away from Worlitz, which the management thought a good move, we were again following the edge of the river Elbe. This time we were on an ancient dyke rather than the modern ones of yesterday. We were also going along the top of it rather than beside it and it was often narrow unmade single track with drops on both sides. Passing cyclists coming the other way was precarious.

Along the way we were passing through the grounds of Georgian piles. We came across both romantic ruins and fully restored fully porticoed buildings and even statued gates to the next estate.

There were at least two cafes with accommodation in the woods just for cyclists and walkers. We stopped at one of these for a welcome cup of coffee and tried to comfort an elderly gentleman, about our age, who had fallen off his bike and looked like a victim of a Tour de France crash.

The unexpected highlight was to find the Dessau Bauhaus building. The photograph here is not captioned because we will not spoil it. It is perhaps one of the most influential buildings on archictecture today. It is no doubt anathema to big ears, the wider Windsor family and the Burghers of Dorchester. But it was the highlight of our tourism today.

For information the Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in Weimar (Germany) by Walter Gropius, moved to Dessau in 1925 and disbanded in 1933 in Berlin. The spirit and the teachings of this institution spread throughout the world. With the move from Weimar to Dessau the Bauhaus had the opportunity to create a building that offered the best working conditions to develop their own design, which was carried out by Walter Gropius himself and opened on 4 December 1926, quickly becoming the icon of the early modern movement.

Following our picnic in front of the building we were brought down to earth when nanny would not go. Having only covered 18km all the morning we now had a long way to go entirely under our own steam and in the heat of the afternoon.

On the up side there were no hills and what wind there was was behind us. The extra exercise also did us no harm. We arrived at Kothen only about half an hour later than planned with our cycling gear soaked in perspiration.

Fortunately the management managed to poke some wires and get nanny working again. We still don't know why she fails which is worrying.

Day 35 15th August Kothen to Hecklingen

Last night after dinner we went for a walk in the town. In the dusk the church looks absolutely amazing, straight out of Gormenghast. It is massive with twin spires soaring into the sky. It has a steeply pitched roof with tiny dormer windows and between the spires high above the ground there appears to be a complete house. Our photograph does not do it justice.

Having moved away from the Elbe cycle route there are far fewer laden cycle tourists on the route. We only saw seven all day long and yet we are still on European route R1. With the reduction in traffic the route itself was different. There were more road sections on minor roads and the off road was mainly loose surfaced.

While the management has the route and map on his GPS it has become the stoker's job to watch for the direction signs. So far these had been very good but today some were missing and a few had been vandalised.

We were happily going along beside a river in a degree of confusion due to no signs when a local cyclist gesticulated to indicate that we could not get through. We said "route kaput?" and he confirmed that it was, pointing us in the right direction. We then found a yellow "umleitung" diversion sign which was too little too late.

During the afternoon we went from schloss (chateau) to schloss, clearly in an area inhabited by the very rich a hundred years ago. Who knows what happened to them during the GDR period but now some are hotels and some cafes. We ate a very welcome ice cream in one and stayed in another for the night.

Day 36 16th August Hecklingen to Ballenstedt

Having not seen rain for about two weeks and going to bed last night with a clear sky we awoke to the sound of steady rain. After breakfast it showed no sign of stopping so we decided to get under way.

The schloss was one of the nicest places we have stayed. It met all our requirements, the room was good, the staff friendly and the free internet worked. It seemed a shame to cycle away in the rain but as it was not too far today we decided to try to reach our next hotel for lunch.

We started off with a steady climb on road to rejoin cycle route R1 where the climb continued across fields. It was a lovely route again even in the rain though the standard of surface and signing left a lot to be desired. On the plus side the route was just passable by tandem because miles and miles of bumpy tarmac had been laid beside farm tracks. On the minus side there were many cobbles, poor or vandalised signs and the same rough tarmac beside billiard table smooth roads.

We think that most people would feel happier doing this part of the route on a mountain bike with suspension. A GPS or a good map are essential and some of the route stank, like many UK routes, of being planned by engineers who don't get out on bikes.

Having had a moan it was great to get into some real hills and nanny did a stirling job. Last night the management took the bull by the horns and rewired her and it paid off. He did not relent using her at all today and we did not detect any problem. We should say that while nanny uses standard Brompton Nano parts the wiring is not standard so cannot be blamed on the Electric Wheel Co who have been very helpful.

We booked into another schloss which was grander, bigger and more pretentious than the one we left but not a patch on it. Most things cost extra including an extortionate fee to use the internet. On the other hand it had a nice pool.

Day 37 17th August Ballenstedt to Wernigerode

It was rugged today with some serious off road climbs and descents. Fortunately yesterday's rain was gone but the trail was wet. The tandem is tough and needs to be but the management had to work hard to find the best bits. It is possible that the stoker had her eyes shut on occasions but she denies it.

The direction signs here include a witch on a broomstick. Travelling by broom could be easier than travelling by bike but of course it is impossible for muggles.

Having left Ballenstedt which laughingly claims to be a resort rivalling Wernigerode we cycled into Thale which is a resort. It was mid morning and we had a job to cycle towards the start of the chair lifts for the crush of people. We stopped for coffee and watched the masses get one of the two ski type lifts for a day in the mountains.

For the next few days we will be cycling in the foothills of the Harz mountains. This area, which was on the GDR border, is heavily wooded and rises to about 3500 feet which is high for somewhere which otherwise is not vertically challenged. We could imagine George Smiley moving quietly across the border in a black Lada.

We cycled on through Ankenbury and had lunch in a pretty newly renovated hamlet near Haelstein. Here we chatted to a couple of Dutch cycle tourists on a retirement celebration tour to Berlin. We all felt sad for those who won't stop work, and sorry for those who can't afford to stop because of the way banks and governments have behaved.

Almost the last thing we saw before cycling the last stretch into Wernigerode on newly laid tarmac was the site of a drift mine in the woods. Our German is not good enough to work out what was being mined.

Day 38 18th August Day off in Wernigerode

The main reason for having a day off here was to take a ride on the narrow guage steam railway to the top of the mountain. It is far more than the usual heritage railway. This operation runs a proper service, not just to the top of the mountain but also in the surrounding area, linking into to the main line DB service.

Like all the services on these routes our train was steam hauled and on a sunny Saturday morning was very busy. Each of the carriages has open ends rather like those in old US films and we enjoyed the cooling breeze on this warm day.

The journey takes about 90 minutes each way and most of the pleasure is listening to and watching the engine working as it climbs in excess of 2000 feet in 30km. Much of the journey is through the forest which we have become very familiar with over the last week. However when there was a break in the trees and at the top the views were spectacular.

After our train ride we walked back through the centre of town. It is by far the largest ancient town we have seen. The streets are lined with half timbered buildings with spectacular pubic buildings and lovely squares. We are sure that some people would happily spend several days here but cycle tourists move on, enjoying the journey more than the arriving.