‘So you have come all the way from Australia to drive your bicycle in east Germany?’ she asked.
‘Much better than the western parts’, I said. ‘Here you have streets called Karl Marx Strasse or Friedrich Engels Strass and much more. But tell me, what is the German for “ride a bicycle”’?
‘Fahrrad fahren’, she said, smiling. ‘To drive a bicycle’.
It was the last day but one of our ‘drive’ along the Spreeradweg, the bicycle route that winds its way to Berlin from the three springs that make up the source of the Spree River, on and about the mountain of Kottmar in the Oberlausitz region of the far east of Germany. The ride covers more than 410 km (we added a few more by departing from Herrnhut, where we were staying to the east of the source at Kottmar). It skirts and at times hops over the Czech border, passes through the heart of east Germany (the main attraction), but also through old Sorbian lands, tribes of a Slavic language with links to the Serbs.
The main story and focus is of course the river itself, beginning as a stream over which one can jump in the hills of the south-eastern parts of Saxony and becoming a river full of barges, ferries and river boats. It passes through medieval towns, through vast wetlands (the Spreewald) full of canals and dykes, and through almost endless forests and lakes. Its running waters may once have powered myriad mills and early industries, although they continue to be the focus of industry today, whether power stations or tourism. Its dammed waters serve as drinking water, for swimming and boating, and for the multitude of nudist places throughout the east. In a country with little coastline, the rivers and lakes become the locus for whatever waterside activities one can imagine and a not a few unimaginable activities. Throughout the ride, the Spree was our focus, guide, and source of endless fascination.