Mobile Sauna in the Ice: Cycling in an Eastern European Winter (Part 1)

‘There’s a taxi’, she says with a longing look.

‘How about we see what the road is like on the edge of town’, I say without guile. ‘If it’s too icy, we’ll grab a taxi near the shops there’.

‘All right’, she says, unconvinced.

It had been snowing for a week, with the fields and hills and forests covered in white, and the roads a mix of salted slush and crisp, slippery ice. We of course had decided to bring our bicycles, to ride from the last railway station – Löbau – to our base for the next month and half, Herrnhut. Laden with food, winter clothes and books, the bicycles were not going to speed along.

A few slippery cobbles and snow flurries later we arrive at the edge of town.

‘I’m on my way now’, she says. ‘And I don’t want to stop’.

I smile and push on.

The catch with riding in sub-zero temperatures is not the cold but the sweat. At some point, usually on a climb, warm clothes become the equivalent of a personal sweat bath or sauna.

Up we ride through the wald, a climb to the Herrnhut ridge, and then a turn to the back road that twists in to Strahwalde. Single lane, winding in and out of fields and the village cores, we have it to ourselves. It’s these village cores that always intrigue me, for their arrangement speaks of a vastly different sense of space from a very different time: the houses, usually two-story (lower for animals) and with local patterns and styles, string out along the necessary creek – for drinking, washing, refuse. They not face the street in the series pattern of suburbs, but are jumbled about, at odd angles and perspectives. The walls too are never quite square, describing ellipses, odd corners bends and twists. And the road between them twists and turns, often turning a corner that is the corner of a house, running through an alley that is the narrow space between two houses.

2013 March 009 (Herrnhut)a

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