Hohlmichweg writing, Germany (2014-05(

Walking Home, week 5: It’s raining, man


Day 29 – to Tambach-Dietharz
By ten I step out onto the road to the Thuringian Forest: To the right, then onto the Street of March 18, passing under the railway tracks, into the old district, once built for the railroad workers, in the direction of the hospital, to Sundhausen over to the horse track in Boxberg, continuing to Gospiteroda and Wipperode past Schönau vor dem Wald (“before the forest”). From there, the trail runs almost straight on the old railway embankment to Georgenthal.
I had been promised an ice cream parlor in Georgenthal. Instead, it’s raining. Like mad.
So I hurry on to Tambach-Dietharz.
At the old mill Lohmühle the skies are clearing. So I sit down for a moment on a bench at the fishing pond.
My intended destination for the night is reached quickly after: the hostel in Tambach-Dietharz. But I find it deserted. At the door, a note for another guest with the mobile number of the hostel manager. I phone. The entire house is apparently fully booked. Two sports groups. While there’s nobody here. But who am I to argue? Mr. Grün recommends I go to the Lohmühle. That would be two kilometers back to where I came from. And who knows what I would have to pay them per night.
Instead, I discover on the opposite side of the street a sign for an inn, with beds advertised for as little as 15 €.
I’m on my way and find the inn closed. “We will be back at 5.30pm.” It’s 4.30pm now.
As the rain has started again, I sit down by the inn’s door and try to catch the owner at the number in the store window. Without success.
Here’s to smart phones!
I google the website of Tambach-Dietharz. There I find the addresses and telephone numbers of families who rent rooms in their homes.
After a few unsuccessful attempts I reach Mrs. Wolf on her cell phone. She is cycling around Gotha. Sure they had a bed for me. However, they were still about two hours away. I tell her I want the room anyway.
Normally I would have hung out on a bench or the meadow. Thanks to the persistent rain I choose Plan B: a gas station down the main street.
There is no seating here. But on the TV they are showing “The Hunger Games”. One after the other I buy and slowly devour a sausage (who knows if I will get anything else to eat tonight), a coffee and a hot chocolate.
One and a half hours later I start moving towards the guesthouse. Mr. Wolf, still in his cycling outfit greets me half way with a radiant smile on his face. “A lone hiker!”

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Day 30 – to Meiningen
The morning starts off drizzly. The visibility is maybe 50 meters. But Hartmut has drawn a plan for me. So I’m heading out to cross the Thuringian Forest.
At the roadside an old man fills bottles with spring water. After that, it is a lonely path.
At eleven the clouds finally hold no longer. It starts to rain. In streams. I stop at a shelter and try to figure out how I should proceed. I know that around three a bus goes from Steinbach-Hallenberg to Meiningen. If I wait here until the rain has passed by, maybe I’ll miss the bus.
So on I go.
Within minutes, I’m completely soaked. The pants stick to the legs, the raincoat is dripping. Now, each break is more of a hindrance than a joy. Instead, I go on and on to the ridge.
I reach the Rennsteig hut at Wachsenrasen just before one. A father and his son are traveling by bicycle. They leave when I arrive. In the hut I take off my jacket and sweater. Both are dripping wet. The pants soaked through to the underwear. I pull them down to the knees, sure that no other hikers will show up anytime soon, and sit on my towel.
The rain has calmed down to just a drizzle. Should I change into dry clothes? Risk that everything gets wet? I’d rather not.
Slowly I convince myself to move on. The clothes cling to my body. I sing “Who’s warm, is dry and who’s dry is warm…” on my way down from the mountain. At least it is now only rarely uphill.
And finally, at least the pants are already almost dry as I find the bus stop. Here, the departure times are more specific: My bus leaves at 3.09 pm to Meiningen. On school days. Thuringia schools are on Easter break.
Another bus stops. “You must go with me to Schmalkalden and from there you take the bus or train.”
At the bus station in Schmalkalden the driver kindly shows me my connecting bus. To my even greater joy it leaves only five minutes later.
I reach my couchsurfing.org hostess Christiane. She proposes to go swimming in the evening. My financial alarm bell is ringing. But what should I do? “Come on. Live a little!” my friend Joe would say. Oh well.
I still have time to look at the old town of Meiningen and Catherine’s castle from the outside and I treat myself to a snack before we meet. 2.80 € for an hour of swimming end up not tearing a major hole in my wallet. The second hour I sit in the lobby and write a few lines in my diary.

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Day 31 – Meiningen .
The night ends early. Meiningen is “Theater City” and Christiane has incited me to at least go to the children’s theater and see “The Little Witch”. I get a ticket for 7 €. In the midst of ecstatic kindergarten children, I’m sitting on the best seat in the house: row 7, in the middle.
I had no breakfast. So I leave the theater in search of a café. I stay a few hours and use the time to complete the diary for week 4. Now all I need is WLAN.
Before I look for it, I follow Christiane’s second advice and climb up into the tower of Elizabeth Castle to the little café in Hesse hall. In the sumptuously decorated room, the waitress quickly puts on a CD of classical music and takes off her gray sweater when she notices my entering. I enjoy the views, take a few photos and then order out of compassion a poppy-seed cake and coffee. Only when I’m almost finished, two older ladies have found their way up here and order large sundaes.
I’m hoping to find, as in Mühlhausen, free internet access in the library. But unfortunately I’m disappointed. I still stay and for an hour get comfortable in the reading room. There I meet Ahmed. He comes from Pakistan, has studied medicine in Russia and wants to work in Germany. He has only one problem: the German language. In addition, it is not easy in a small town like Meiningen to meet people. That Christiane had already told me.
On the way back to the apartment I want to quickly run through the ReWe store and buy trail mix, instant soup as well as something for dinner. But I have overlooked that it is a mega-market. For nearly 45 minutes I roam the aisles until I have checked off all items on my list.
Before going to bed I ask Christiane for some baking powder. My shoes are still wet and I fear that soon a musty smell will develop. Somewhere I’ve heard that baking soda binds the odor.

Day 32 – to the Ellenbogen (“elbow”) peak in the Rhön
Just after six in the morning the night is over. Christiane has to work early and has promised to take me to the city center. From Catherine’s Castle the Milseburg hiking trail that will take me up to Fulda begins.
The first thousand meters are the perfect wake up program: the path ascends in the woods up the mountain. The narrow, steep trail is still muddy from the heavy rain last night. Up on the top the Dietz house offers a familiar view: the city of Meiningen is covered in a cloak of thick fog.
In the Rhön forests and fields alternate. I like that. Only with the uphill, downhill I have my problems. So I leave the Milseburg trail and choose a parallel route through the villages. On a pasture the cows seem thrilled to see me, come running towards me, then stand at the fence and stare at me. Rhön sheep, however, don’t cross my way.
For lunch I have a can of herring in tomato sauce, which had remained from the night before. I would love to have some bread with the fish. But all the villages I have passed through since eight have each only a dozen or so houses, none of which is a bakery or grocery store.
My shoes are still wet. At a bus stop, I take off the socks. It occurs to me that I can also take the soles out of the shoes. That should speed up the drying process. But not now. Now it is raining once again.
Since I started so early, I’m relaxed and taking more breaks than usual doesn’t begrudge me. I also don’t want to repeat the mistake of walking too many miles a day. The result, however, is that at half past four I’m literally in the forest. The only overnight options (ie houses) within a radius of three kilometers are three inns. I’m trying to negotiate a discount at the Thuringian Rhön house. Unfortunately, without success. 33 € is the standard tariff for bed and breakfast. So I skip dinner again.
But I wash my clothes, I treat myself to a hot bath in the big bath tub and watch “How I met your mother” on TV. The only thing that doesn’t exist in the “Rhönhaus”, is access to my phone network. So I have to celebrate the joy over the one month anniversary of Walking Home all by myself.

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Day 33 – to Kleinsassen
At breakfast at eight, I’m once more surprised: first, the hostess gives me aluminium foil, so I can pack a lunch pack; then she lowers my bill by almost 25%. Finally, she pulls out a map and points out the cheapest places I could head to for tonight. The Enzianhütte, because they also have dorm rooms, or the artists’ village Kleinsassen.
Since both are reached on different routes, I decide to try my luck in Kleinsassen. There must be an alternative artists’ community, ready to host me for the night. My budget for today is already exhausted by the paid accommodation and the extravagances of the past two days.
To my delight, the shoes have actually dried overnight.
With a light heart I’m on my way. Between ten and eleven I encounter many hikers who make use of the holiday. I get into a long conversation with two women . The older of the two tells me with shining eyes that she has walked the Camino de Santiago after her retirement: first only the last 800 km. The year after 800 km from the launch of the first stage to La Point. Then, 800 km from Koblenz to La Point. And last from her home town Fulda to Koblenz. Impressive!
On the way to Castle Eberstein I’m caught in a rain shower. And again on the way down. But by then the steep, slippery section fortunately already lies behind me. And just when I think that I’m done with the rain, a few hundred meters after the llama farm in Oberrohrbach, the real fun begins: For half an hour it’s pouring rain, even hailing some. The only protection I can find is by standing close to a pine tree. This is not comfortable, but keeps most of the water away from me.
When I’m just about to rest for a bit at the foot of the Milseburg mountain, I hear from afar a man yelling at his wife: “Then take the path, if you want […] It’s the same with you every time. You ruin every hike. […] Going to Compostela with you will be impossible.”
I see the two of them walk towards me. She walks silently beside him and as he goes on past me, she turns in the direction of information board. She is looking for the “Fuldaer Haus”, an inn a few miles away. Together we find the route. I can hear the man waiting out of sight behind some bushes. And indeed, the abuse continues after she has caught up to him.
If that’s the alternative, then I’d rather walk alone and be scared or bored sometimes.
This is the end for me and the Milseburg trail. I have no intentions to climb on the mountain. Instead, I’m looking at the small walking map to find the way to Kleinsassen behind the mountain. Since I still have barely any network connection, I can’t expect any help from Google Maps.
I’m quite a bit proud of me when I find my goal without GPS and signposts.
What a disappointment! The “Artist’s Village” is a normal, albeit quite large village with a small art school and a museum, the “Kunststation”.
Undeterred, I begin to ring at doors. But, unfortunately, it is a holiday and as I soon find out, a popular inhabitant of Kleinsassen is celebrating his sixtieth birthday. So some doors nobody answers my call, while at others people tell me that they unfortunately already had arrangements for tonight or a house filled with guests. A party at least takes the time to call around the village, to see whether apartments or rooms were available. Without success. I’m sent to the neighboring village, where there is a hotel. But I don’t want to give up and stop by some more houses. The tattoo artist finally sends me to the baker: “They should have space. He’s cool…”
It turns out that the baker has rooms. For rent. 25 € a night or I try my luck again in the next village. I opt for the retro room.
At least I get a free dinner: Zwiebelploatz. The local variety of onion tarte fills the stomach properly.
Overt dinner I have a philosophical conversation with the baker, Klaus (“Klaus of the House”), and his two friends. Photographer Dieter, especially, takes great interest in my journey and tells me his own life story. www.dww1.de

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Day 34 – to Fulda
It is less than twenty kilometers to Fulda. There couchsurfer Niki will take me in for three nights. This means I can sleep for a little longer than usual. At about nine I go to the bakery and watch baker Klaus as he bakes fruit cake with crumble on large round trays. He gives me coffee and we talk about life as a baker, health and happiness. In between customers keep coming in. The bakery also serves as sales room. Klaus offers cheerful, warm words and fresh bread products, sometimes even a coffee on the improvised sales counter.
I order breakfast and Mrs. Krause conjures up all sorts of things from her own kitchen and, of course, has her husband fill a bread basket.
When I get on my way, a cheese stick with butter and ham for lunch in my pocket, it’s almost eleven. Klaus shares some last words with me:

“Home is not a place. Home is the moment. The past is memory. The future is expectation. But the now is without fear. In now is home. I hope you find what you are looking for.”

Although gray clouds hang above me al day, the weather holds. I move slowly along the road to Fulda, and reach Niki’s apartment shortly after three. Once again, I’m lucky: She lives just a few minutes from the city center with its castle and cathedral.
After an early dinner Niki proposes to go to the local independent cinema “Café Panama”. “Blue is the warmest color” is showing. Sounds good to me. Looks like this is my culture week.
But first I want to do my laundry. Niki doesn’t have a machine. So we ask the neighbor on the first floor. He agrees and shows us the laundry room.
Now I suddenly haven’t got anything to wear anymore. Although my hostess is at least one size smaller than I’m, after a thorough search she finds a nice outfit for me in her closet: skinny jeans, a striped tunic and a hoodie. To keep me warm, an alpaca scarf from Peru, Niki’s last great journey. I feel very civilized.
In the movies we meet half of Niki’s sociology class, most of them also dear friends of her. I’m even more overwhelmed when the students decide behind my back to pay for my ticket. Although that’s “just” 3 € I’m touched by the gesture …
The film runs for three hours. With its debauched sex scenes I would see it somehow as the female answer to “The Wolf of Wall Street”. But the actresses are better and the story more cohesive.

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Day 35 – in Fulda
Oh, I love rest days! I sleep in and then stay in bed to go over messages from the past week, read e-mails, and upload photos to Flickr …
In the early afternoon we make our way into the city, first together and then I’m left alone to explore the cathedral. In the tourist information I equip myself with walking maps for Hesse.
Back in the apartment I’m working on the blog post for week 4.
In the evening we want to go back to “Café Panama”. Tonight they have a party. But my head and stomach won’t play along. So I stay behind, read and even write a little bit.

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