Dankbar sign, Germany (2014-05)

Walking Home, week 4: Pole, pole


Day 22, to Silkerode
I should have asked Gesa and Nelly for another night. But I only realize that after a few kilometers into the day. Gesa had suggested that I follow the Rhume – one of Germany’s shortest rivers – to its source and then spend the night in Silkerode, just ten kilometers further. Gesa and Nelly get their weekly vegetable box from there and thus were sure Monika would let me stay.
I begin the day’s stage after eleven and am therefore concerned from the beginning, not to make it in time. The blisters and pain on the soles of both feet don’t make it any easier.
So I rush through the first ten kilometers to Gieboldehausen with only a very short break. Once there, I throw my backpack from me and tear the shoes from my feet. Gesa has packed me a particularly large lunch pack: sandwiches, radishes, carrots, chocolate eggs and dates. I devour the first half and leave the rest for when I arrive at the Rhume source. To get there I have to complete another ten kilometers. I notice that I haven’t filled up my water bottle in the morning. Luckily, it is still three-quarters full from yesterday. Also, I expect to soon be able to enjoy delicious spring water like the day before at the Duckstein source.
It’s almost 4:30 pm when I finally arrive at the source. It is gorgeous. The water forms a small lake before it flows into the river. Its color is milky, but in a luminous shade of blue. At the edge of the lake, benches invite visitors to linger.
However, unfortunately, I can’t fill my bottle here.
Then it must just work without.
Silkerode is about ten kilometers away. Two hours. Minimum. I can only hope that there is someone on the organic farm.
Now moving is getting harder with each step. My feet. And since my experiences in the Hesse forest I don’t trust Google Maps whenever I discover green areas on my small phone display and the path through it bears no name. Each cyclist, every car I meet seems to be laughing at me.
Finally, I find the farm. It’s already dinner time. Moni greets me at the door “First we have to ask the others.” The next moment she takes me up to my room. For two nights.
“I don’t know, but somehow you seem very trustworthy. ¨

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Day 23, in Silkerode
I feel the blisters on the inside of my heels whenever I stretch out my legs. Throughout the night that pain woke me up again and again. No walks today. Instead, I write a little in my diary, put the feet up and drink coffee.
Life in the old farmhouse seems very relaxed. Everyone does his or her thing. Yet, all support each other. Even the children look for their own tasks (when they’re not playing on the computer).

Day 24, to Worbis
My luck continues: Through her foster kids Moni knows a couple in Worbis, where I can stay; they are foster parents as well. The best part of this is that Worbis is not even 25 km away. Pole. Pole. Slowly. Slowly.
I leave Silkerode in perfect hiking weather, and continue to cross the Eichsfeld towards Worbis.
Shortly after Zwinge a man in his 70s stops his car next to me. “Where are you going?”
“Today? To Worbis.”
The man nods and begins to explain. I listen attentively. Of course, my GPS probably knew that too. But maybe the old man has a few hidden gems to share.
” … and then you pass the Sun Stone. You must climb it. You have to have seen it, if I may say so …”
“Yes, I don’t know. I’m currently not very well able to walk.”
“I used to hike a lot around here. The wife of ABV [Section Officer at the East German police] and I, we would head out almost every week. Then she died suddenly. After that I still went out on a few tours on my own. But that just was not the same anymore.”
I can understand that. For me being alone all the time is sometimes unbearable. And if I had lost my familiar traveling companion …
“Do you know, I’ll take you there. I have to go to Jüstenberg. So I can take you to the sun stone. Afterwards you go straight and I turn left to Jüstenberg. ¨
Now, I don’t even think twice about accepting a lift. Especially when one is offered so charmingly.
I get in the car and the old man races along the dirt roads. “Some people are afraid, when I offer them a lift. As if I wanted to rob them. But you seem very relaxed.”
After a curve in a wooded area a deer leaps across the street. “It is better to be careful now. They always come in pairs.” My driver throttles the speed and looks for the other deer. “Well, the other one is here somewhere in the forest.” We continue our wild ride. Suddenly a wonderful panorama opens to the left of us.
“This is Jüstenberg … And all the way in the back the Harz mountains. Well … you can’t see so far today. But if you know where they are, then you see them.”
I don’t know and so the view of the Brocken remains hidden to me.
The old man explains that the whole area here was in GDR times part of the border strip. His native village was in the 5 km zone in which the residents were able to move relatively freely, but all visitors needed a permit. Then there was also the 500 m zone. This included, for example, Silkerode where I’ve spent the last two nights. In the 500 m zone everyone needed a permit for everything except to visit their own neighbors in the village. My driver tells how he had not even visited the neighboring village for almost thirty years. But when the Berlin Wall came down, he said to his wife: “Come on sweetheart, let’s go see what it looks like in Silkerode these days.”
Finally we reach the main road. We stop opposite a steep hill.
“This is the sun stone. You need to get off here. Just go straight ahead. I turn from there. But first you must visit the Sun Stone.”
We say goodbye. He wishes me a safe journey. I climb the Sun Stone and enjoy the views of the Eisfeld.
I reach Worbis around three. I call my hosts and explain that I want to go to the Bear Park before I arrive at their home.
The alternative Worbis Bear Park was created to give circus bears and such who spent their lives in much too small cages at zoos a more natural home. There are two very large outdoor enclosures. The younger bears share their’s with a pack of wolves. In a petting zoo children can be close to sheep, goats, ducks and chickens. In addition, the park is home to a large colony of guinea pigs, a budgy colony, bees, raccoons and a peacock. I find it especially amazing, that the park is able to create a comprehensive experience for different audiences. Large display boards, for example, not only inform about the welfare and ideas for the better coexistence of humans and the animals living here, but also about threats to the animals’ natural habitat. Who knew, that donkeys have such a great aversion to wolves that in a flock of sheep they can provide extra protection from wolves and wild dogs? And for the little ones various playgrounds and adventure paths offer variety. The restaurant overlooks bears and wolves. And I will not even mention the ice cream parlor…
After six I reach my quarters for the night.

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Day 25, to Mühlhausen
After breakfast I have to decide if I should head for Mühlhausen or the monastery in Volkenroda for the night. Because of the ease of accessibility I end up choosing Mühlhausen. That seems even more sensible since I want to stay several nights and update the blog. I remember from my last visit the AntoniQ where – as a pilgrim – you can get a comfortable bed for 10 € per night. And then there is also the free internet at the public library.
In addition, the route to Mühlhausen has the advantage that I can move from one train station to the next until my feet tell me “Take the train!”
It’s a nice walk. Instead of the constant forests I walk along fields and through small villages. In Silberhausen I meet three hikers – men in their eighties with sticks, coming towards me from Helmsdorf. I smile at them: “Ah, I see three traveling companions.”
When I tell them about my journey they get almost more excited than I am. “That’s impossible!” – “Awesome!” – “I can’t believe it!”
After a few minutes we part with best wishes for each other.
In Zella I have barely reached the village when I see a bus. The display reads “Mühlhausen”.
If the gods send you a bus, what do you do?
An hour later I’m sitting on a bench at AntoniQ. The clerk has told me with regret that the entire hostel is booked to the last bed and she could not even offer space for me to set up my cot. I feel tears welling in me. A mix of despair with a bit of anger. What kind of pilgrim’s hostel doesn’t hold at least one or two beds for, well, pilgrims? “They are just not as common as you would expect,” she apologizes.
At least she hands me a slip of paper with the address of a private room rental.
The Schumanns’ house is located directly across from the entrance to St. Mary’s Church. An old half-timbered house that they have bought in the late seventies from the Protestant church and renovated all by themselves. The room is spacious, with a sink, sofa, kettle and TV. 20 € per night including breakfast. That’s ok. When I say that I would like to stay for two nights, Mrs. Schumann offers: “If you stay two nights, I can give you a slightly better price. You must certainly be looking after your money.” So 35 € for two nights. Nearly four weeks, and still such – perhaps only small – gestures give me a fuzzy feeling all over. People …
I make me a cappuccino, sit down for an hour in the small garden and watch tits in the little bird house on the Schumanns’ balcony.
For dinner, I feast at Subways. Chicken Fajita sandwich for 2.99 €.

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Day 26, in Mühlhausen
Mrs. Schumann puts a bag next to my generous breakfast. “Everything that you don’t eat, take with you for lunch.¨
I do as told, quickly hang my laundry in the garden and head out to explore a little more of the city before I retreat to the City Library.
The library is located in St. Jacobi Church. Three floors filled with books have been built into the nave. And I love it.
I’m making good progress with the blog. In between I eat some of my bread or treat myself to a chocolate egg from the lush breakfast. All the while making sure none of the library staff see me.
Then I remember that when I was in Kassel the site was partially down. And indeed, when I publish a new blog post the readers immediately report. “The page can’t be accessed.”
For this kind of problem my tablet is right now not the ideal tool. Not only can I watch how the battery goes down, I’m also having difficulties to reproduce the error. I google for solutions. With the last bit of battery I find a solution that will hopefully eliminate all problems.

Day 27, to Gotha
I decide to take the train today. This gives me the opportunity to explore Bad Langensalza and still be in Gotha in the afternoon. Christian will be my couchsurfing host for the next two nights.
This relaxes me.
At 11.42 am I board the RB52. A quarter of an hour later I’m already in the “Garden City”. I walk into the old town of Langensalza from the wrong side and wonder at first why here – after all, 25 years after the reunification – everything still looks so run down. A few street corners later, the impression is negated. In the tourist information I pick up a map and within an hour I have seen the main attractions (except the gardens).
At 2.01 pm I move on to Gotha. The RB53 takes twenty minutes to get to the “Residence City”. Christian greets me, shows me my room, hands me a key and says goodbye until the evening.
I take my time to look around the old town and pay the tourist information office a visit. I want to know how to best cross the Thuringian Forest. Unfortunately, the staff there can’t help me either.
Back in the apartment I chat with Christian’s roommates, Duke and Maha from Bangladesh. He studies International Business in Schmalkalden and just takes a leave of absence, she is his wife, and they are currently working in a hotel in the forest.
For dinner my host offers pasta with Bavarian beer, chocolate and relaxed conversations about everything and nothing.

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Day 28, in Gotha
I start the day off slowly. After lunch, I take a look at the castle, want to actually go down to the casemates. Unfortunately, the old weir is only open for guided tours at 1 and 5 pm. I’m too late or too early.
From my room I can see a tower on a hill. Christian invites me to go there by bike.
After five minutes, I remember why I don’t like to ride bikes. Mountains. Having to go uphill. We manage to climb the tower – despite my aversion to height – and enjoy the view of the country. Over the Thuringia Forest, threatening clouds pile up.
The Latvian dinner is a feast: Peas and mashed potatoes with mushrooms and onions, herbs, beer, vodka with pomegranate juice, pickles and chocolate.
As luck would have it Christian turns out to be a climber and having been living in Gotha forever. So he finds me the best way to Tambach-Dietharz. I’m ready for the forest and completing the “e”.

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