Carola on a swing, Germany (2014-04)

Walking Home, week 3: Life is a river


Day 15, to Eschwege
I leave Mühlhausen on Sunday morning befitting for the journey: Past the pilgrims’ hostel “AntoniQ” I walk through the inner and outer Frauentor towards Kassel. After about an hour I dive into the Mühlhauser forest. Once again, a beautiful German forest. Moreover, the trails are excellent and as luck would have it, I go past a small group of redwoods. Planted in the 1880s they are already towering 40 m above the forest.
A few kilometers after Katharinenberg I decide to stop for lunch in the bistro “Grenzblick”. I had thought it would be a bit further before I reach Hesse. But a sign by the road and the small establishment on the edge of the forest tell me otherwise.
Over a Thuringian bratwurst I chat with two elderly ladies, whom I had met in Katherinenberg and who have arrived in the eatery only a few minutes after me. The two women in their late seventie are impressed by my trip, but they can be proud of their own record as well: This Sunday it is three kilometers down to the “Grenzblick”, where they are already known, and then back up again.
Hesse also has an awefull lot of nature. I walk along the Werra Valley towards Eschwege.
I had, of course, expected that it would be rather hard to find a free bed in the city. But the youth hostel seemed like a safe alternative. Therefore the shock is quite big, when they not only ask for 22,50 € for a bed in the dorm but on top of that for 21 € to buy a hostel membership card. There must be a cheaper option.
In the city the hotels, although impressed with my journey, are not willing to deviate from their prices. Finally someone recommends the “Hotel Deutsches Haus” near the castle to me as the cheapest hotel in town. It still costs me 40 € for a single room with breakfast. Dinner is canceled for tonight.

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Day 16, to Rommerode
At 8:30 sharp I head downstairs, hungry for my breakfast. I seem to be the only guest of the house. Discreetly I let an egg, an apple and two cheese sandwiches disappear into my bag. Yogurt and three rolls with cheese, ham, honey and Nutella I devour on the spot.
Heavy rains are announced throughout the whole day today. I’m therefore quite pleased, when a bright blue sky sends me off from Eschwege after breakfast.
Today’s program is “Back to the woods”. The innkeeper in the “Deutsches Haus” not only explained to me, that wild boars are actually harmless, if one doesn’t move at a meeting, he also warned that it could be steep in the Meissen.
While I once more evade any encounter with big game it does indeed get steep pretty soon. The on-and-off rain, together with the loamy forest floor create a nice mush that I have trouble scaling with the heavy backpack. To top it all Google Maps then also tries to lure me into the undergrowth. No kidding: During last week’s getting lost in the forest episode at least a path was detectable under the sprouting green, here it’s just dense forest.
Fortunately, there is the “Premiumweg 1”. No idea how a “premium” hiking trail differs from the normal, but at least the path goes into my direction.
Around 3 pm I look for shelter from a heavy rain shower at the local bus stop in Velmede. Time for lunch.
At the next village, I think to myself, I can start looking for a place for the night.
Unfortunately, the path there leads straight past wide open fields. So no shelter is in sight when another heavy rain shower catches me half-way to Rommerode. I think I might even have seen some snow in there.
Rommerode must therefore be my goal for the day. I’m completely drenched.
But things are never that easy.
I ring at the first house in the village. The elderly lady apologizes: She has the house full of workers, who are also staying with her.
“You can not stay.” The lady at the next house is more direct.
So I change my strategy and go into the Edeka store. At least it’s warm in there. However, the staff has little hope to offer to me. “Well, you have picked a very bad place. The people here are, how should I put it, not very open to strangers.”
Awesome! Only seven kilometers to the next village.
So I keep dragging on. At an inn, I decide to give it one last try.
Closed on Mondays.
I’m not yet ready to admit defeat and walk around the house to see whether the Ii’s owners might live there.
And really, I find two doorbells to ring.
A woman replies via intercom. I make my request. To my great astonishment, she says, “Of course, I take in a pilgrim.”
As it turns out, she thought I was her neighbor who apparently makes such jokes frequently. But fortunately she has a heart not to send me back out, freezing wet as I stand before her.

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Day 17, to Kassel
At half past eight I must go, my hostess has an appointment. But before she makes me breakfast and even a lunch sandwich.
It’s still the same game: Hessian forest and Google Maps sends me into the undergrowth. All the while it’s raining softly.
In Helsa I walk past a thermometer: 7 degrees Celsius.
At the end of the town, I can take the cold no longer and enter a gas station. A quarter of an hour later I have paid 1 € to warm my hands and insides with a hot coco, put two eggs for lunch into my bag and received a pair of gloves by the young woman behind the counter.
Have I mentioned before that people are fantastic?
For the rest of the day all I have to do is follow Leipziger Strasse to the Kassel city center. There, I’m hosted by Martin, whom I had met in the Social Impact Lab in Berlin. Though he doesn’t have much time, he invites me for dinner and breakfast and generously leaves me his room in the apartment he shares with two others.

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Day 18, in Kassel
Martin is also the one who encourages me to go exploring Kassel. I expect not much of the city. But last night I had been watching the sun set at Karlsaue, a large park in the city center with plenty of lawns on which people were playing frisbee or just enjoying the sun, pools and lakes, small groups of trees, the fairground at one end and a planetarium in the old Orangerie at the other. Also, I remember that Kassel hosts the Documenta art exhibition every five years. Permanent installations from past editions can be found everywhere around town.
For the afternoon, I decide to explore Wilhelmshöhe. The large park was built by the Kassel Landgraves along the slopes of a mountain, the Herkules monument on top.
I walk the four kilometers along Wilhelmsallee from the apartment to the park. And what an impressive walk it is: The wide avenue runs straight about five kilometers from the castle to the city center, passing an interesting architectural mixture of filthy fifties-era buildings and elegant mansions from the late 19th century. Kassel, being home to several arms manufacturers, was the target of severe American air attacks in World War 2.
The mountain park Wilhelmshohe offers surprising highlights: In 100 years of construction one of the World’s largest artificial water systems has been installed here, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many artificial lakes, ponds, canals, streams and wells are waiting to be discovered by visitors from around the globe. Following the fashion of English gardening art during the 19th century gardeners have also created different landscapes. There are woods, meadows, lawns, shrubs, etc. There are also small buildings, from the Chinese pagoda to temples with names of Greek gods to the castle ruin “Löwenburg” that once served the Landgrave as a pleasure palace. I climb the paths and up and down, sit down again and again to enjoy the view.
At half past six I’m back at the apartment. My rest day was not really what it was supposed to be: I’ll still feel the 18 kilometers that I walked today at the end of the week.

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Day 19, to Bursfelde, no, Glashütte (by the Weser)
I get up early. I want to spend the night in the Bursfelde monastery by the Weser river. To get there, I have to cover almost 40 km.
But things get even more difficult: A WordPress update causes that the German website is no longer accessible to me. I try for an hour to fix the error before I give up in exasperation. Probably the visitors will not even notice.
I decide to take the tram from the city center, and a little later to complete the route from Kassel to Hannover Munden by bus. The bus driver is kind enough to acknowledge my tram ticket for the entire bus ride.
As announced by Martin, the small town of Hann. Munden is a jewel of half-timbered architecture. In the city, the rivers Fulda and Werra unite to continue their path as Weser. This is the river I have to simply follow for the rest of the afternoon until I reach the monastery.
Since it’s Holy Thursday, I’m at least not walking alone today. Again and again, I’m overtaken by cyclists. I notice that older people announce themselves with a short ringing when they drive up from behind me, and greet friendly. The fully equipped amateur riders in their spandex uniforms, with the racing wheels and sleek sunglasses, however, seem neither inclined to announce themselves nor to smile and certainly not to greet me when they rush by. The young families mostly pass with a very serious gaze on their faces.
In Hemeln at the ferry I stop for a short break. The crazy Hesse and Lower Saxony (the border runs with the Weser) people, have decided to build only once in a blue moon a bridge over the river. So it is important to be already clear in Hann. Munden about where the journey is going, if you are on foot as I am.
At a campsite I treat myself to a toilet visit (50 cents) and an ice cream (also 50 cents). Now there are only eight kilometers left to Bursfelde.
However, they run like rubber.
Before Glashütte a sign at the old forester’s house catches my attention. It announces among other things “Joie de Vivre, tantra yoga, meetings, retreat for pilgrims”. I wonder for a moment whether or not I should already ask here for shelter for the night, but then decide against it. A plan is a plan.
Shortly after five I reach Bursfelde and the monastery. The church is open. However, apart from a couple of canoeists who are gathered here, there is no one around. The pilgrims’ hostel is closed. “We are here for you from Easter until Reformation Day.”
Is Holy Thursday part of Easter?
On the note I also find a mobile number. I call it. Nothing. Also not the next two times.
Finally, I give up. I’m looking for the phone number for the forester’s house on the internet. Before I walk back the nearly three kilometers, I want to be sure that there is someone waiting for me. The lady on the other side of the line is surprised and delighted with my call. I’m their first hosteler.
An hour later I’m sitting with a glass of apple juice and homemade chocolates in the garden and watch as Dina and Achim attach a swing. Then we meditate, eat wild herbs salad for dinner and go to bed early.

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Day 20 (Good Friday), to Fredelsloh
Another long distance wants to be covered today. I have announced myself on to Janne in Fredelsloh. That’s 35 km, including the 3 km back to Bursfelde.
Just when I want to get on the way, a violent rainstorm comes down. So I use the 15 minute waiting period to draw a card. “Metamorphosis. This means change.”
I think to myself, “Yes that fits.”
But Dina sends me off with a different thought: “Consider what would happen if you don’t complete your trip as planned.”
After a few kilometers I turn from the river towards the Weserbergland (Weser mountain country). I’m trying to keep going for longer pieces to take longer breaks. Somewhere in between I reach the 500 km mark. Even if not all the time full of joy, I’m making good progress.
Until ten kilometers from the finish.
Google Maps guides me away from the main road onto a forest road. Weser mountains here means a steady uphill climb. All the while, it’s raining heavily. So I’m cold and the forest paths are not making it better.
Five kilometers from the finish I send a text message to Janne to announce my arrival in an hour. Now I have to decide: Do I return to the main road, which I know for a fact leads me to Fredelsloh but is a bit longer? Or do I continue through the forest?
As far as I can see into the forest, the road goes downhill from here. That convinces me. My reward for the seemingly endless climb.
After a few hundred meters I regret my decision. The road is lost on a freshly cleared glade. But I don’t want to turn back now. So I slowly find a way along the clearing, the cell phone always in hand. And finally, a road emerges from under the trees!
Completely exhausted I reach Fredelsloh. I wonder if maybe I could not stay two or three nights. But it’s Easter and Janne a busy woman. So I soon give up on the idea.

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Day 21, to Wachenhausen in Katlenburg
Janne gives me two bits of advice: Instead of the path, that Google Maps suggests, I should follow the road along the foot of the Ahnsberg (from which the potter family also sources their clay) towards Moringen. This was more beautiful than the federal highway. And for the night, I should go to Wachenhausen in Katlenburg. There, potter colleague Nelly and his wife Gesa would be living in an old farmhouse.
I follow both pieces of advice.
At the edge of the woods I find the Duckstein source. I use the opportunity for a rest. The water is clear and very tasty.
Behind Northeim my legs are once again begging me to stop. To make matters worse, I realize that the blisters are back. This time the insides of both feet are affected. But it’s Saturday and the buses don’t run anyways. I grit my teeth and finally reach the pottery just before five.
As Janne had predicted, it doesn’t need much explanation and Gesa shows me the guest room. In the chubby warm kitchen I enjoy a few cups of tea and lard sandwiches. Actually, I’m ready for bed. But Nelly unnd Gesa convince me to join the village at the Easter fire. The two stand out noticeably from the old-established population. But it is obvious that they have carved out a place here in the past decades. I can only agree with Gesa, who raves about how committed, yet thoughtful, the residents here are to their traditions. The Easter fire, for instance, is proudly ignited by the children: each receives a torch and on a signal they lower it into the straw.
We stay for two hours, chat with one or the other and follow the cheerful bustle, before I retire to my bed with a hot water bottle.

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I said at the beginning of the trip that only after the first three weeks I will know whether I will complete the entire 200 days. Obviously I can’t say what will happen in the coming weeks and months. And yes, I still have to learn to adjust my daily walking distance so that I’m not already tired ten kilometers before the end of the day. But deep inside of me I believe more than ever that I can do it. If I want. The overwhelming majority of people I have met in the first 21 days were not only curious and friendly, they were helpful and their ideas to support me even with little things like a pair of gloves, touch me every time anew.

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

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