Spreeradweg, Day Five (Werder to Fürstenwalde, 64 km)

The look out of the window this morning is not good, with the rain beating down. ‘It will clear by noon’, says the expanding young man on duty for breakfast. Of course, the four cyclists cling to his words like prophecy; yet prophecy has a tendency to fail. It clears only by late afternoon.

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A day of driving rain has its benefits. The rain may do its best to work its way through the most careful waterproofing, it may even delight in filling one’s shows like buckets. But the rain also brings out the smells of the conifers in the magnificent forests, and it provides the gift of a lonely wet fahrradstraße among the trees. By now we are used to the rhythms of the day, largely determined by our bodies: morning glide; noon grind; afternoon flight. The morning is a gentle easing into the day, of loosening bones and muscles. But the morning glide passes soon enough to the mid-afternoon grind. A knee begins to throb; a bum aches on an ill-fitting seat; a hand tingles; energy is low. Yet the late afternoon is something else again, aided and abetted by the feast that goes by the name of ‘kaffe und küchen’. Nothing but sugar, flour and butter – in vast quantities. Powered up, the rest of the ride is sheer flight.

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Two items strike me today, the first concerning our encounter with other riders. Today it is the two women: middle aged friends, going for a ride every year along one of the German Rivers – Ems, Oder-Neisse, Spree. I am drawn to them, two friends putting aside everything else and sharing a deep pleasure. One is a smoker, the other not; they prefer shorter rides each day (no more than 50 km), sending a suitcase ahead to each place, booking accommodation before departure. They had been more than two days ahead of us (at Neustadt the hotelier had mentioned a couple of riders passing through); yesterday we had passed them on the lakes as they rested. Last night we meet, as the only occupants of the hotel in Werder, and I suspect it is open because they have booked ahead. We speak often, of the things that are most important to riders: one’s origin and destination, the weather, where a good stop may be, the condition of the bicycles.

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The second is the importance of the whole biological and ecological dimension to German approaches to life. In contrast to some countries where politicians play with the issue for their own gain, here the decision has been made many years ago to pursue modes of ecologically sensitive ways of living. We ride past many nature paths, wild tracks, solar farms, windmills … all espousing the benefits of the natural. But this naturalism may be twisted and appropriated by fascism, which perverts the purity of nature and extends it to the purity of the volk. How to prevent such a perversion is the perpetual question one faces.

Tonight we splurge a little, enjoying the comforts of the Kaiserhof Hotel in the middle of Fürstenwalde. With some time to explore the town, to note its destructions and rebuilds through a number of wars, and to see the ongoing effects of deindustrialisation and annexation into West Germany, we find ourselves wanting to return. Like Cottbuss and Peitz, here too is a sense of the resistance and persistence of the DDR, of an east that keeps its identity. That the hotel is on Friedrich Engels Straße certainly helps.

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