The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 6, July 2018: Rest Day in Bad Bramstedt

A rest day: in earlier times, both of us had scoffed at the idea of a rest day, thinking they were for softies. How wrong we were. After five days of riding, a rest day is welcome indeed.

I gave the bicycles a careful clean and mechanical check. We slept, went for a small walk around town, avoided communicating too much with the outside world, and generally did nothing much except rest.

But it did give us a chance to reflect on the last few days. Clearly, riding through a popular holiday season in July was not going to do our budget much good. Later, we would find that one third of our expenses were burned up with these five days. So we looked forward to getting deeper into the countryside and its pensions.

At this point, our minds were still processing many things. She had not had a proper break for many a year, so found all manner of thoughts running through her head. As for me, I continued to be surprised at what came to mind when it was left to its own devices. It would be a few days more before all the mental rubbish had been deposited somewhere along the ride.

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At the same time, I did find something new to ponder: Bad Bramstedt is one of the ‘Roland’ towns. What on earth could this mean? Signs pointed to ‘Roland’, shops were named ‘Roland …’ and there is even a famous statue of aforesaid ‘Roland’.

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I knew of the ‘Chanson de Roland’, one of the first real pieces of French literature dating back to the eleventh century. As an epic poem (chanson de geste), it is set in the time of Charlemagne and the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778. Full of Christian-Muslim struggles and court intrigues, it recounts how my namesake was betrayed by his stepfather and died in a Saracen ambush. He dies not from an enemy sword, but by blowing out his temples while blasting away on his ‘help us’ horn, ‘olifant’. As one does. The rest of the poem tells of Charlemagne’s success in defeating another Muslim army and the trial and somewhat gruesome execution of Roland’s betrayer.

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What has all this got to do with Bad Bramsted? Was Roland from these parts? Not at all, at least as far as we can tell. He was actually from Breton March in western France and tasked with guarding against the Bretons, not the Muslims. He does indeed seem to have fought in Spain and died there, but it was the Basques who did him in – again, not the Muslims.

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No matter: because of the song and his subsequent entry into a wide range of medieval European literature (he even turns up in the Faroe Islands), my namesake became a mascot for the early ‘free cities’ in Europe. The Hanseatic towns in particular loved him. I guess – at a stretch – that the fiction of fighting the Muslims on behalf of the emperor who systematically introduced feudalism into Europe can be seen in some way as a symbol of ‘freedom’. Bad Bramstedt is one of these places, boasting a statue with Roland holding his sword high.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 5, 20 July 2018: Rendsburg to Bad Bramstedt (77 km; 281 km in total)

Our last day on the Ochsenweg, the old connection between Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein. Sorting out our food intake had a distinct benefit, as did a noticeable improvement in long-distance bicycle fitness. No matter how fit or unfit you might think you are before the beginning of a long ride, it always takes a few days to regain the peculiar fitness that comes from thousands of pedal revolutions.

Our bums too were becoming used to being on bicycle seats for five or six hours a day. Over the first few days, they were tender in strange places, with a good layer of lanolin needed overnight. But skin toughens up, the seat moulds to one’s derriere and it begin to feel like a comfortable lounge.

We rode southward from Rendsburg, winding and twisting our way along the route until Nortorff. As is the German wont, the route had a variety of surfaces, from village cobbles, through paved bicycle paths and farm roads, to dirt tracks through forests. But it was sign-posted well, except for our bypass of Neumünster – we did not want at this point of the day to negotiate another town and its marketplace.

Before then, we stopped at Nortorff and sat down to some decent German pastry at a baker. Under normal circumstances I can perhaps manage one of these items, given their loadings of animal fats, sugars and flour. But on a bicycle, I can down a significant number.

Even so, the energy ran out with about 10 kilometres to go. We pedalled slowly into the intriguing town of Bad Bramstedt (more on the town tomorrow) and Hotel Freeze. At 89 Euro it was definitely a luxury, but the new proprietor seemed keen to cut corners in intriguing ways. For example one of the light fittings needed a twist of the bulb to turn it on, for the cord was broken.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 4, 19 July 2018: Flensburg to Rendsburg (80 km; 204 km in total)

2018 07 19 Flensburg to Rendsburg

Today was our opportunity to get food patterns sorted, especially since we had German country food upon which to draw. For some reason, German bicycle routes seem to go extraordinarily well with German food and beer. I at least burn up a lot of energy and need to be replenished regularly: a big German breakfast, with its eggs, oats, yoghurt, bread rolls and cheese. If we had a buffet, we would select more than enough; if a set table, I would eat everything on the table, even the sliced meats. Why? Normally, I am a vegetarian, but without the regular sources of protein (beans, wholemeal rice, tofu and so on) I had to do as the Germans do – when in the village, follow the local customs. Charged up and a little overfull after breakfast, I had enough reserves to last until lunch.

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Lunch was at a Gastäte in Schleswig. Buying lunch like this was an exception, since normally we bought food for the day and would stop where needed: breads, satchels of jam and honey from breakfast, grapefruit, cucumber and bananas – endless bananas. Later, I found the blissful ‘Ice Coffee’ muesli bars in Aldi and we hit upon the wonderfully refreshing combination of sour cherry drink and mineral water – a litre of each was mixed and gone in one sitting.

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From Flensburg to Schleswig, we rode alone the Ochsenweg. Through ancient forest, along farm tracks and through villages it went. I pondered older ideas of what counted as roads. One clearly needed regular stops for the night, every 20 kilometres or so, and food had to be plentiful. Guard posts too were a constant feature – back then, at least (they are gone now). A hill and a twist are no problems, for one is going at horse or walking pace. Like us, really. So no need for straight roads along which one can speed along.

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Except if it is hot and dry, like today. After Schleswig, we decided to pick up the paved bicycle path along the ‘77’ route. Straight from Schleswig to Rendsburg it went. Settle into a rhythm, tired though you might be, and the kilometres tick by.

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At Rendsburg, we were gone. All that was left was to dig out Hotel Tüxen, along the twists and turns of the town and under a glorious railway overpass. At 80 Euro it was a little over our budget but relatively modest for the coastal regions in high holiday mode. The massive German meal, with its glorious salad (with some content, as Germans like) and Bauernfrüstuck, are my favourites. The latter’s basis is an omelette-like slab loaded with potatoes and onions. It may have some extras, but it hits the spot as no other food – when on a German bicycle route.

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We slept almost 10 hours.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 3, 18 July 2018: Aabenraa to Flensburg (53 km; 124 km in total)

The first few kilometres out of Aaberaa turned out to be one those roads that simply happen from time to time. A pure delight: a single lane through farmland and hills, completely to ourselves. You never know when such roads appear: it depends as much on how you feel and the time of day as the road itself. But they stay in your bodily memory, so much so that I can recall them years later.

We continued through parts of the peninsula that leads to Sønderborg, where we had ridden many years ago. Already we had to find our own way, using our phones, occasional maps printed on boards and other means to find a route suitable for bicycles. It would be good practice for the rest of the ride, since much of it was not sign-posted.

Later in the day, we arrived in Gråsten on the Flensburg fjord. Now we followed the coast route to the German border, looking out over the fjord that led to the ancient Hanseatic cities and its Baltic trade. Much mythology surrounds Flensburg, with romantic images of small white houses clustering the old port area.

But we were somewhat thrown by the town. Why? It is full of Danes! After crossing the small cycling bridge into Germany, with its many small pillars from different eras marking the border, we expected to enjoy the passage into Germany. But everywhere we turned, people spoke Danish. There was even the stunning Flegaard: just across the border, it sells Danish products, has Danish signs and uses Danish staff. But the items are subject to German rather than Danish taxes. So Danes flock to them. The catch is that the prices are perhaps a little cheaper than Denmark, but still higher than German prices. I simply could not figure it out.

Our accommodation for the night was a puzzle. We had booked ahead due to the holiday season, but the mysterious ‘Werkzimmer’ gave its address only after booking. We soon found out why: it was a spare room backstage at a grungy concert hall in the industrial district. Nylon sheets and some dope-smoking and heavy-drinking fellow guests – who also made use of the share toilet – saw us pack up an hour or two later and find the Altstadt Hotel, which still had a room to spare. Soft? Perhaps. But we slept well after a simple dinner in our room.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 2, 17 July 2018: Christiansfeld to Aabenraa (42 km; 71 km in total)

2018 07 17 Christiansfeld to Aabenraa (42 km)

Perhaps today was a foretaste of what was to come, at least weatherwise. It was hot, even for Denmark (southern Jutland). The country was already in drought and total fire bans were in place. We did not notice it so much today, given the undulating farmland and smooth bicycle paths hereabouts.

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The day was mainly about getting used to being on the bicycle again for a slightly longer time and sorting out our riding rhythms. Having grown up in Denmark, she loved the flats. One could pedal all day in one gear without stopping. If there was a slight rise – which the Danes tend to see as a challenging climb – she would get a run up and be over the top in no time through momentum.

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I loved the real climbs, so even with a Danish hillock, I would change down and get into a comfortable rhythm for the climb. I also like to stop frequently – for a photograph, a drink, a piss, a minor adjustment.

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Brief though they may be, such stops can be frustrating for another rider. So she rode in front and I behind. At times the gap between us was larger, at times shorter, for she could stop, rest and wait for me at a time of her choosing.

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We found an old-style Danish hotel: Sølst Kro was directly opposite the roll-on-roll-off port facility in Aabenraa. The price was not old-style. Then again, a bargain in Denmark is unexpected. It was 800 Danish kroner, plus 100 for breakfast – or over 100 Euro.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 1, 16 July 2018: Christiansfeld to Haderslev return (29 km)

The first day was what they call a ‘positioning ride’. She needed a maintenance check on her new bicycle (a Dutch Batavus) at the bicycle shop in the town of Haderslev, since the village of Christianfeld does not have such a shop. Spare tubes, a pump and some chain oil would also come in handy.

I needed to make sure that the seat on my fold-up Brompton was in the best position and that the machine in general was running well.

That evening, we decided what to take with us and what not. We would leave our laptops behind, for it was to be a month without work. This caused somewhat more separation anxiety for her rather than me.

We were certainly not the conventional tourers, for we did not have matching panniers and outfits. She began with an old bag strapped to the back and a granny basket in front (rear panniers were bought on the ride). I had my special Brompton front bag and a small makeshift one with the heavy material strapped the to the rack on the bag. My ride last year along the ‘Mittelland Route’ through the middle of Germany had taught me what I did and did not need. Less of the former and more of the latter.

 

The Anti-Fascist Trail on a Brompton

The ‘Iron Curtain Trail’ some call it, running from the northern border between Russia and Finland to the Black Sea. It is a cycling and walking route, designated ‘Eurovelo 13’, that runs more than 6000 kilometres – although it intriguingly includes Yugoslavia in ‘Western Europe’.

Some call it the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’. But the Germans seem reluctant to do so. Very few signs appear with the ‘ICT’ logo. Occasionally, you see ‘Grenzetour’, Border tour, or ‘Grünesband’, the ‘Green Belt’. But rarely ‘Iron Curtain Trail’.

Is it because German unity has always been a problem, arriving late on the European scene and always struggling in light of regional differences? Is it because of the increasing assertion – in unexpected ways – by those in the east of Germany of a distinct cultural and historical identity? To call it the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’ would add further insult to the three decades of ‘western’ denigration of the eastern parts.

We reflected on these matters, among many others, as we rode our bicycles along the ‘Innerdeutscher Grenze’, the ‘Inner German Border’. Or what I prefer to call the Anti-Fascist Trail. Why? To begin with, we need to discard the influence of that English racist, Winston Churchill, who popularised the ‘iron curtain’. Further, the border was seen by people in eastern Europe as the clear line between a communist east and a fascist west (many former Nazis had found employment in the German Federal Republic as well as the United States of America, for their anti-communist credentials were second to none). The border was in those times called ‘The Anti-Fascist Rampart’. Now that it has to some extent gone and now that NATO has aggressively expanded eastward to aggravate Russia is only further testimony to the importance of the defensive line that once existed in military terms. This is not so say that it does not exist today in cultural terms.

Enough of an introduction. Unlike most previous travel stories, I will provide a day to day chronicle of the ride. We – the two of us – began in the village of Christiansfeld in southern Jutland (Denmark). For almost a week we rode along what the Danes call the ‘Hærvegen’, the ‘Army Trail’, and what the Germans call the old ‘Ochsenweg’, the ‘Ox Trail’.

This was was an ancient trading and military route between northern Germany and Denmark’s Jutland.

From Lübeck we rode southward towards the Czech border. Given the absence of signage and a clearly marked route (it exists largely in theory in German parts), we had to map our own way.

The total ridden was 1528 kilometres.