Carola in Berlin at the beginning of Walking Home, Germany (2014-03-30)

Walking Home, week 1 – Pleasure and Pain


Day 1, Berlin to Bergholz-Rehbrücke
It feels good to see how many people have come to say goodbye. After all it’s Sunday morning at clocks have been set forward one hour for summer time.
Still my sisters and nieces and a friend have come to the Honolulu for breakfast. At Oberbaumbruecke a distant cousin that I haven’t seen in ages bids me a quick ¨Bon voyage¨. When my sisters leave my side about three kilometers down the road another friend joins me. We walk together until we have almost reached the Botanical Gardens. She offers to transport my backpack on her bike. A friend of hers that I have never before met also joins and invites us for a lassi at an Indian restaurant. And somewhere inbetween another befriended couple with their little son has come all the way from Prenzlauer Berg to walk a few steps with me and hand me an envelope ¨Read it tonight.¨
Then I am alone for the first time. I had planned to be in with my first hosts at six. I can tell at three already that this is impossible. To not walk until eight I walk faster than I had planned.
33 km on the first day. I knew before that that is a rather long march right at the beginning of the trip. But I wanted to leave town on this day. Luckily I had found Theresa and Joris on Luckily they agreed to host me. They aren’t even upset when I call them to tell them about the delay. ¨No need to stress out.¨
In Zehlendorf one last friend finds me. We sit in a playground and have blueberry cheesecake.
Koenigsweg (the ¨king’s way¨) leads me out of town. In one constant straight line. Sometimes passing settlements. But mostly through the forest. There are signs warning to let the dogs off their leashes. Boars.
When I was a child I once rode my bicycle through a forest in the early morning hours. I hear a rustling noise to my left and discover, much to my amazement, boar babies in the undergrowth. That feeling only lasts a few seconds until I realize that their mother has also noticed me. Ever since I have been finding forests scary.
Past five thirty I have reached the end of the king’s way. I take some rest and text Theresa ¨90 more minutes.¨ I have just set foot on the tarred road when it happens: my brand new camera comes lose and crashes on the hard surface. How lucky that I have applied a display protection sheet. It is now holding the bits of screen in place.
It is almost seven thirty when I arrive at Theresa’s and Joris’ place. I am sweaty and tired. But the hot shower, the generous meal, the giant couch and the wonderful conversations that night offer everything and more that they had promised.
Before I go to bed I open the envelope. It contains a photo of the TV tower and a prayer for a save journey. I do not belong to any religion but I am deeply moved by the care my friends are showing for me.

Show 2014-03-30 10:30 in new tab

Day 2, to Beelitz Elsholz
Theresa and Joris let me sleep for as long as I need to. They tell me to have all the breakfast I want and leave the keys in the mail box when I leave. I do as I am told and am back on my way past ten thirty.
Google Maps surprises me with paths that I would have not recognized as such. They lead me along fields, windmills and train tracks. Today I am using both walking sticks. After a short practise time I am finding a rhythm.
At some point I have to go back on the main road. But I am thankful for the bike/foot path that runs parallele to Brandeburg’s larger roads.
I have lunch by a lake, Seddiner See. I plunge on a fallen tree because I cannot walk any more steps up the trail to see whether they have built a nice picknick spot up there.
It is past four when I arrive in Elsholz which is a part of Beelitz, dubbed ¨Asparagus City¨ for the main crop exported from here. I liked the idea of staying on one of the asparagus farms for the night.
Right behind the tiny train stationI find the Hentschel farm. After some contemplation and organisationthe owner really agrees to let me stay in the workers’ quarters. The hot shower is very welcome. So is the early dinner.

Show 2014-03-31 10:19 in new tab

Day 3, to Marzahna
Getting up in the morning is hard. It was a very cold night. But I have invited to stick around for breakfast at nine thirty. So I stay in bed for as long as I can, have another hot showere and pack my backs.
There are about ten people around the breakfast table. All staff at the farm. They serve bread rolls, cheese, homemade jams and honey. And Bockwurst sausage. I dig into all the options.
While we eat I ask all the questions I can come up with about growing asparagus. Only half jokingly Mr Hentschel offers me a job for the season. I decline for this season but promise to think about it for next year.
Before I leave two of the asparagus peelers (yes, it’s best done by hand) give me a tour of the premises. Though it seems like everybody is talking about asparagus from Beelitz when spring arrives commercial farming only rose in the last ten or so years (a few years after German reunification). My two guides used to work in the sausage factory in the same buildings that are now the asparagus farm. Now they spend a few weeks in spring peeling, and a few weeks before Christmas on a poultry farm in the next village.
It is almost 11 when I finally get moving. Today’s route is simple: Just follow the B2 road. Just behind Elsholz road works force all cars on a detour. For almost six kilometers I am alone with the forest to the left and the right.
I buy a piece of cake for lunch at a supermarket bakery in Treuenbrietzen. Had I known that there was such a beautiful old town only a few hundret meters on, I would have held back. On the other hand I had such a hard time getting back on my feet after lunch that I do not dare to stop again so soon.
In Schmoergelsdorf I am finally so tired that I start looking for a bed for the night. The woman I find in her large garden, next to her large house refuses. Ï understand. But you can’t stay here. Because of the dog. And I don’t think anyone else in the village will let you stay. So you better move on.¨ She puts so much sincerety in her words that I fear she will call every other house in the villgae once I leave. Just to make sure no one lets me in.
I move on to the next village. And really I am more lucky here: an elderly couple in the old rectory lets me in. Even though they do not seem to have a lot they take very good care of me that night and the next morning.

2014-04-01 – Show on large map.

Day 4, to Lutherstadt-Wittenberg
The Wilhelms send me off with good wishes and a packed lunch.
My feet are screaming: ¨No!¨ But I have to go on. Early on in the day I make a decision not to take any chances with my stay in Wittenberg and find a hostel. Hopefully it won’T be too expensive.
I can feel the blisters on the outsides of my heels grow by the minute. Those few kilometers into town seem to take forever and a day. Even worse, when I enter Sachsen-Anhalt the foot/bike path beside the main road no longer exists. So I walk on the road, always ready to jump into the grass when a truck doesn’t slow down or at least make an effort to got around me.
In a suburb of Wittenberrg I find a bus stop that is more like a little house with four walls and a wide door. For one second it occurs to me that I could just stay here.
Instead I move on. And that’s a good decision: The brand new, pretty official youth hostel readily points me to a cheaper alternative in the old town. I have the whole house to myself. The ¨Herberge im Gloecknerstift¨ is neither pretty nor new. The internet is not free. But a bed is only 15 Euro a night. The house is clean and has a fully equipped kitchen with free coffee.
I trod to the next supermarket to buy ramen noodles and bananas for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow. At the drugstore I get extra large blister patches.

2014-04-02 10:10 – Show large map.

Day 5, in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg
Today I am taking it slow. The shower is not exactly hot. But the coffee and ramen noodles for breakfast are. While I eat I sort through my photos, upload some to Flickr and write a blog post. Afterwards I do some laundry. The sun is shining. So I hang my clothes to dry in the large hostel garden. By nighttime they will be dry.
It is already afternoon when I set out to discover Wittenberg, the city where Martin Luther pinned his theses to the church door. Luckily all the interesting sights are within a 600 by 1200 meter area – the old town. Walking today will be kept to a minimum.
Only two and half years until the beginning of Luther Year. Between Reformation Days 2016 and 2017 500 years of refomation will be celebrated. That unfortunately means for me that I only see parts of the churches and the Luther house. The buildings are almost completely hidden by scaffolding.
Still I get a good feeling of the place. In the Cranachhöfe (the house where Cranach the father and the Younger once lived) I treat myself to a cappuccino and apricot cake. The waitress looks surprised when I add 40 cent tip to my 3,60 Euro check for the two cheapest items on the menu.
I head back to the supermarket to get 89 cent baguettes for dinner.

2014-04-03 14:05 Fleischerstraße 17 – Show large map.

Day 6, to Ferropolis, nope, Jüdenberg
I had planned to leave early today. But the plan is being foiled by my unemployment agency. The Berlin branch claims I had not reported my move from Berlin to Oranienburg in time and threatens to ask for some of my benefits back. So I call the Oranienburg branch. They do not see what all the fuss is about and instead congratulate me that I am off benefit from April. But I will still have to write a report. I will do that once I get to Halle.
Somewhat calmer I try to focus on the task ahead: cover the humongeous blisters on my feet and motivate myself to move on.
This thought has been running through my head since I got up in the morning: ¨Give up! You are not cut out for this. You will never make it. What are you trying to prove? And to who?¨
However, I am prepared for this situation.
Even before the trip I knew: The first week will be the toughest. If I can make it through the first three it is highly likely I will complete the treck in its entirety.
But I am not anywhere near that point, yet. It has only been six days and I want no more.
I somehow manage to motivate myself to hit the road. I had found a trail map at the info center. So at least instead of the main road B2 – as suggested by Google Maps – I follow the bike paths ¨R1¨ and ¨Coal Steam Light¨ and Luther’s footsteps on the ¨Luther path¨. I get to see more forest. In contrast to Brandeburg the pine forests around here are dotted with the occasional beech grove and birches.
In Bergwitz I sit down for lunch at an old quarry that has been filled with water to form a large lake and recreation area. I indulge on a banana and trail mix with dried mangoes, pineapple and chocolate covered hazelnuts, appropriately named ¨Good Humour Mix¨.
However, I lose some of my good humour when I realize that I have only made it half way through the distance I had planned on covering today. The idea is to spend the night in ¨Ferropolis¨, where they have a collection of giant old mining vehicles on display. The location is also used for a number of annual music festivals (like Melt). Therefore I hold high hopes that there should be a community of people living an alternative lifestyle with a heart and a bed for me.
Towards Radis I cross yet another forest. Well, actually the forest is only to my right. To the left express trains pass every half hour or so. I do not even want to think about how they cover in minutes a stretch that takes me three days to walk.
Three kilometers from radis I meet some railway workers. They poke fun at my walking sticks: ¨Waiting for some snow, aren’t you?¨
I stop and strike up a conversation. We chat about my trip and their job here by the railroad tracks (remove all trees lest they get blown onto the tracks in a storm). Finally one of them offers: ¨If you stick around and chat for another ten minutes I could give you a lift into Radis.¨
It only takes me a few seconds to accept.
He drops me at the train station. But a look at my phone tells me that I must not go into the village but continue along the railroad tracks. So I trod on towards my destination. Step by step.
A few hundret meters from Ferropolis reality catches up with me. The whole thing is more of an amusement park that is locked at night. No settlement here. An elderly couple informs me. If I had a tent I could just climb the fence and camp among the trees… Nope. I turn the other way to find the next village.
But once more I am lucky: A family that sells insurance by day and raises cattle as a hobby goes out of their way to find me a place and finally allows me to stay in their party shed when they head for an evening engagement in town. I am amazed and blown by their hospitality.
Overall, I really have no reason to complain: The weather has been great all along (dry, yet not to sunny). I have been offered a bed rather quickly each night. And still it doesn’t feel right. Are the feet to blame?

2014-04-04 09:56 – Show large map.

Day 7, to Bitterfeld-Wolfen and on to Halle (Saale)
During the past days getting up after lunch has been the worst part of my day. The first two hours in the morning on the other hand I have felt light as a feather. Today is different. I am tired even before the first step. But I cannot give in. The Hünsches have already been kind enough. I must move on. What would be the alternative anyways? I cannotstay forever. And turning back…
I am going to find my hiking trail in the village of Zschornewitz to spare myself the extra kilometers back towards Ferropolis. Indeed, I find the trail for about five minutes before I am on my own (or Google Maps) again.
By the main road, across the street from a bus stop I feel my left foot get all wet. The blister has broken. First I am happy because the pressure is gone. Then I start worrying that skin might start to chafe. I sit down on a graveyard wall and lead a ten minute argument with myself about whether or not to check where the bus goes.
Finally I move on. Without checking. For the rest of the day the left foot offers little reason to complain. By the eveningthe other blister will break as well.
I do not trust Google Maps’ suggested route. Instead I find a shorter one along fields and meadows, through forests and bushes towards my chosen lunch sport in Bergkemnitz. Of course I find the only hill (when does a hill become a mountain?) in the area. The top is planted with wind generators. On the other side I can see Bergkemnitz.
So I keep going. Acording to my little paper map I should also find my hiking trails again, somewhere by the train station.
I reach the station at two in the afternoon. Only that I am on the wrong side of the tracks. Another argument with myself. Should I cross the tracks? Should I not take any unnecessary risk and walk for another kilometer for the official crossing?
I make a dash, climb on the platform, drop in the grass just outside the station.
Another bus stop. With the timetable right above me. Only 13 kilometers until Bitterfeld-Wolfen, where I had planned to stay the night.
Another express train sweeps by.
I eat my egg and the apple that last night’s host has given me. Before I have my sandwich I have a glance at the timetable. No busses on Saturday. Today is Saturday. I hobble over to the ticket machine for the trains. 4,50 Euro to go all the way to Halle. In less then anhour. Via Bitterfeld.
What did I say? ¨It’s about the journey, not the destination.¨
I buy a ticket, hobble to the platform and have my sandwich.

2014-04-05 11:00 – Show large map.

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