Forest path, Germany (2014-04)

Walking Home, week 2: Thuringian Forest


Day 8, Halle (Saale)

I’ve decided to stay in Halle for two more nights. The blisters at my heels have burst and I want to give them the opportunity to at least start healing. After another cold night, albeit in a fairly comfortable bed, in the former squat and now alternative project Reil78, I don’t think twice about accepting the offer, which much to my surprise has come in via Hicham is a student and has a mattress for me in his small room near the city center.

I get there around noon. I start working on the diary for the first week right away. In the afternoon we take a short stroll to the old town of Halle. I allow myself to celebrate the day with a scoop of ice cream.

Day 9, Halle (Saale)

Hicham has to work, but lets me spend the day in his room. There it is again: trust. So I start slowly, sleep until 9 am, have more mac’n’cheese, do my laundry.

Around noon, I head out to visit the old town. But actually I’m looking for a good WiFi. The tourist information desk sends me without much ado to the square next to the Kaufhof: There, a local radio station has set up a free hot spot for unlimited web surfing.

At the designated location I join a few tourists and a large group of youngsters who are all looking at their smartphones.

I upload photos of the past days to Flickr, publish blog posts and think about where I can best spend the nights on the way to Mühlhausen and in the city itself. I write to a few people on We’ll see.

Then I have to resolve the problem with the employment office that popped up last week: The officer in Berlin had not been very excited about my move to Oranienburg. I find a shop that sells stamps, at Kaufhof I buy the smallest possible quantity of envelopes (a pack of five) and make my way to an internet cafe to print out the documents. The owner gets me caught up in a conversation about his uneconomic prices (50 cents per hour) and seems glad that I only use half of my hour.

For dinner, I eat the remaining mac’n’cheese. Amazingly, the chocolate still remains untouched in my stash bag.

Day 10, to Obhausen

It is time to move on. Last night at Hicham’s I have looked up a few points of contact along the 124 km between Halle and Mühlhausen. Just for peace of mind. The past week had made me painfully aware that my concerns about a bed for the night were a huge distraction for me while walking.

The route out of town leads me through the new town of Halle, Neustadt. In a shopping center I go to the bathroom. Actually, I had wanted to withdraw money. But I ultimately decide against it: 50 € have to be enough for 5 days.

The weather in the afternoon is not as summery as during the first week. I’m in and out of the rain jacket every ten minutes. This doesn’t make moving forward any easier. At least my feet, which I covered generously with blister patches in the morning, are all good.

By five I arrive in Obhausen. I had found a marker for the Merlitz farm when I zoomed into the village on Google Maps. I want to go there to ask for shelter.

Meanwhile, I have convinced myself that I’m actually not on the Waltz, but on a pilgrimage. Which is what I begin to tell the older gentleman on the farm. I haven’t even finished the first sentence when I’m already shown my quarter. What a birthday gift!

I’m 35 today. The numerous greetings, coming in throughout the day via Facebook, phone and email, fill me with a lot of gratitude. Part of me would now like be in Berlin in the company of friends and family. But only a small one. The little garden shed with a view of the pont, the simple dinner and the sandwiches that a neighbor brings over after I have already finished my food, make me feel like I’m exactly at the right place

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Day 11, to Esperstedt

Today starts unusually early: At half past seven I get up and get dressed in the wonderfully warm laundry room. Back in the garden house I find waiting for me, thanks to Mr. Merlitz, a bun and coffee.

After breakfast I help him unload the trailer of his antique tractor and in return he gives me a lift towards Altstedt. Although the 16 km trip takes more than an hour that is still several times faster than my normal pace.

A few meters after I say goodbye to Mr. Merlitz, Google Maps tells me to turn from the road into the forest. The longer I walk in the forest, the more overgrown is the path. Google Maps, you crazy thing! No sign of human life.

Until I decide to pee.

Just when I button up the pants, a man in a blue jacket appears in front of me. He is without a backpack. And without answering my greeting he has vanished between the trees only a few seconds later. How scary!

Eventually I make it out of the woods without further incident. I step out on a hill that overlooks the area. It’s lunchtime and below me is the village in which I imagine to have a fantastic stay at an old monastery. To pass some time until I feel it’s late enough to request shelter I sit down, eat the chocolate and write my diary.

An hour later the color of the sky is turning to a threatening dark grey. I pack my things and prepare to trade working the afternoon at the monastery and farm Mönchspfiffel for a bed and dinner.

What a disappointment!

The estate is owned by a large agriculture company. They had the property elaborately restored. Now, however, the buildings are almost completely deserted. Over the weekend, maybe a few visitors find their way here. But it’s Wednesday.

In a flower shop I find shelter from the rain, but no accommodation. It’s a strange coincidence that my deal with last night’s host has helped me to arrive here so early. This gives me a few hours to search for shelter in the next village or the one thereafter.

So I set out again.

In between, I sprint to a luxurious bus stop with three walls and a bank in order to escape a hailstorm.

On the outskirts of Artern I see many empty and open houses. I already envision myself spending the night there. But I’m moving on. Too cold. Too wet.

In Esperstedt I’m lucky once more: A few minutes later and I would probably have found the local vicarage empty, and my host for the night, Michael, out on his appointment.

Instead I not only get a bed but over dinner also learn a little bit about the lives of three young people.

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Day 12, to Mühlhausen/Thuringia

A new day, a new lift. Michael’s ride to work also happens to go into my direction. After twenty kilometers in his VW bus, he drops me off in Hackelbich at the entrance to the Hainleite forest. It’s eight-thirty and before me lie more than ten kilometers of walking through Thuringian Forest at its best.

For two and a half hours I meet not one other soul. I waver between horror and inner peace, between the desire to suddenly see a large deer break through the trees and the panic that a boar might show up in the undergrowth.

In Ebeleben, the footpath ends at a highway. When the rain starts pouring, I seize the moment and treat me to hot cocoa and gooseberry pie at a coffee shop.

I self-found dirt road that helps me to escape the main road outside Rockensusstra encourages me to distrust the proposed Google Maps route.

Big mistake!

First, everything goes really well. I discover DAS Metal, the cemetery of the German Army tanks (or the breeding ground for a revolution).

A short time later, however, the party is over. I trudge through a clayey wheat field, because the way I thought I had found had ended in tractor tracks, and then I misread the GPS and walk in the wrong direction. After twenty minutes, I believe to have reached a paved path. But the turns out to be a future railway line. For the next half hour the walking sticks are useless to me, as I try not to lose balance on fist-sized gravel.

In Schlotheim, back on the main road, I’ve already had enough for the day. But it’s only early afternoon.

So I move on. Here, there is even less space next to the lanes of the highway. Sometimes a moment of happiness ensues when for minutes no vehicles pass. But then truck after truck rushes past me and I lean back, touching the planks at the side of the road.

In Osterkorner all I want is to board the bus to Mühlhausen. But I have missed it by ten minutes. The next one is passing only in one and a half hours. So I might as well move on to the next stop in Korner. I try to motivate myself with a classic saying by German goalie legend Olli Kahn: “Balls, we need balls!” turns into “Korner, we need Korner!¨

In Korner I trot to the pharmacy to inquire about the bus stop.

The pharmacist is in high spirits: “The sticks, the backpack. You are on a pilgrimage, aren’t you?”

I confirm.

He describes the way to the bus stop to me, and afterwards in detail the position of the pilgrims’ hostel “AntoniQ” in Mühlhausen. If my contact doesn’t work out, I’ll probably have to go there.

In parting, the pharmacist pulls out a chain from under his smock: The shell of the St. James pilgrims. “That was a wonderful time. Very, very nice.”

The bus driver also proves knowledgable and explains the main sights of the city to me.

Fortunately, Stephan does give me a call. He and dog Struppie pick me up at the monumental St Mary’s Church.

Thanks to the lovely people who have hosted me so far the budget for the first nearly two weeks of travel is looking quite good: so far I have spent less than 75 €.

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Day 13, Mühlhausen

Time for a rest day. I spend the morning not really doing anything. In the afternoon Stephan shows me the old town. In the wonderful city library, which only a few years ago moved into Jacobi Church, we discover a poster with the announcement for the “Long Night of House Music” and decide to come back in the evening.

For dinner, Stephan proposes tarte flambee. I talk him into enriching it with carrots and tomatoes. I want vegetables.

At 10 pm we return, along with about fifty other people – all of them much older than us – to the city library. The soprano Marie Friederieke Schoeder indulges in a dreamlike entrance: Singing the Ave Maria she descends the stairs of the library down to the nave of the old church. She and pianist Danny Wilks entertain the audience for close to one hour with Bach songs and Bach references .

What a stark contrast to the hours I’ve spent the past few days on the streets and in the woods!

Day 14, Mühlhausen

I treat myself to another day of rest, which I primarily use to get my digital world up to date: I upload photos to Flickr, and write about last week’s events. Tomorrow I will head on to Hesse.

Do you have anything to add? Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know!

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