The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 35, 29 August 2018: Halle to Benkendorf return (32 km; 1718 km in total)

2018 08 29 Halle to Benkendorf return - Suesser See route (32 km)

The last day of an extraordinary summer had to come at last. Since I had ridden northward and southward, I opted today for a route to the Süßer See to the west. I had seen a sign on my first ride in Halle and found it again today.

Off I set with glee – only to find my front tyre flat. How so, I wondered. Were not the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres supposed to be impervious to punctures? It turned out to be a pinched tube from deflating the tyres for the transport case. But the replacement tube also had a small hole, so I undertook the whole process again.

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At last I could get going, only to find the route closed due to roadwork. Ah well, I will simply pick up a bicycle path through Neustadt and see where it takes me. After a few kilometres, the signs to the Süßer See appeared once again. Now they took through forest paths, villages and the double ribbon of concrete farm tracks. Here farmers were ploughing and putting on a layer of topsoil, which had blown away over the dry summer. As always, they hoped for rain in the midst of the dust.

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I took my time along the ride back, savouring the farmlands and forest, thinking back over the 1700 or so kilometres I had ridden and looking forward to the next long ride.

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I was not fully aware of it then, but the month or more of riding was another profound transition. It was not merely that my head had cleared, with a sharp recall of Chinese language – my passion – I had not expected. It was not merely the tanned fitness of day after day on the road. At a deeper level, it would turn out to be a pattern of life in which I did not feel pressured and tensed by all around, an ability to take on relatively little and reflect much. In short, a growing sense of calm and peace.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 34, 28 August 2018: Halle to Merseberg return (41 km; 1686 km in total)

2018 08 28 Halle to Merseburg return - D11 near Halle (41 km)

Today I would head south from Halle along the D11, which entailed riding through the old town and then swinging right to pick up the river. Sooner than yesterday I was out of town and in the fields … until the ‘radweg gesperrt [bicycle route closed]’ sign stopped my gentle progress.

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After pondering which way to go, I followed an old man calmly pedalling along a busy and treacherous road, until we reached the village of Korbetha. Once again I could ride along quieter paths, passing through Schkopau and then back along the D11 to the outskirts of Merseberg.

Once again I had to turn back before I was ready to do so, although I took my time to notice the many industrial ruins around Schkopau. I have encountered this type of scenery before, but each time it is still a shock. One after another, the industries of the former DDR were shut down after 1989. Since they offered too much competition, with good quality products at relatively low prices, they were rapidly bought up and closed. Hence the ruins today, hence the unemployment in these parts. It was a process of comprehensive de-industrialisation, enacted right across eastern Europe. Here in particular, the process was obvious and devastating.

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After Schkopau, I followed the ‘Umleitung [detour]’ sign back to Halle. Once back in the outskirts, I opted to follow a quiet route along the Weiss Elster River, a tributary of the Saale. Here my heart lifted, for I came across an extraordinary apartment complex, winding its way long the river for about half a kilometre. Another DRR dwelling complex, gloriously maintained, painted and lived-in. I sucked it all in and it went on and on.

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I arrived back in Neustadt at sunset and took in yet again the vistas and street scapes of the DDR architecture and town planning.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 33, 27 August 2018: Halle to Brachwitz return (29 km; 1645 km in total)

A pause in riding for a week or more, before the last burst. Were the three days to come a footnote to the summer? Or were they an anticipation of next year? I had been studying the D11 Radweg, a ride – from Rostock on the Baltic coast to the Austrian border – that covers some 1600 kilometres. Much of it goes through the eastern parts of Germany, so it has a natural attraction for me.

We were in Halle, on the Saale River. The D11 ran right through the town, so it was too good an opportunity to miss. We were staying in the Neustadt part of town, in a hotel that had originally been built during the DDR era and had recently been refurbished. A grand building it was, retaining the feel of the effort to create a new sense of space under socialism. Indeed, nearly all the buildings around about had also been constructed at the same time.

Much of the town had been destroyed towards the end of the Second World War, as the Red Army came through and was routing the last of the Wehrmacht. Soon after and under Stalin’s leadership and inspiration, the Red Army would defeat Hitler and bring an end to the war.

In places like Halle, they had to start almost from scratch, building modern apartments for workers in the new society. Streetscapes, open spaces, vistas from the nearby farmlands – all of these indicated a distinct effort to produce space anew. Since 1989, they had been ignored and became dilapidated, but in the last few years people had realised how well-built they really were. So some renovation is underway, albeit too little in light of the grim economic situation in the east.

More recently still, the German government has been housing the millions of refugees from Africa and the Middle East in such places. The risk of ghettoes is great, even though the people hereabouts do their best to make a home and create work.

I would see many other parts in my rides out of Halle and back again. On this day, I rode north after negotiating traffic work. Along the Saale I rode, longing to be out of the built-up areas. Eventually I was out in the fields, riding past a mother with a baby in a trailer, and an older woman who seemed to be the grandmother. Slowly they rode, until it was time to feed the baby. I wondered at the story behind these three generations, clearly touring some distance with a small baby.

Too soon did I have to turn back, at the ferry crossing to Brachwitz. Back along the same route, but with a last detour through one of the campuses of the university – also built during DDR times.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 32, 18 August 2018: Christianfeld, along Route 5, to Kolding and return (65 km; 1616 km in total)

2018 08 18 Christiansfeld along route 5 Jutland (65km)

I was struggling to get back into work. A couple of hours in the morning was all I could manage, before the urge to get out and do something else was irresistible. By now, I had repaired the bicycle case, cleaned out the old garage, and checked over and cleaned the bicycles.

What was left to do? This morning, the kitchen tap broke and parts were needed. The specialist shop was only in the regional centre of Kolding, so I needed little excuse to set out on the bicycle once again. Kolding may be 17 or so kilometres along the road, but I decided to ride east and along the Jutland coast.

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Soon I arrived at Hejlsminde, an old fishing village that had become a holiday destination. Up the coast I went, following ‘Route 5’. Winding farm tracks through villages, dirt paths along the beach, stony tracks where only a few walkers dared to tread. A few Danes were still seeking their last chance of holiday. But autumn was already wanting to arrive, with wind and clouds and the threat of rain. Those on the beach wore jackets rather than swimming costumes.

The tap parts were found in Kolding, on the edge of closing time at the shop. I had hoped that the headwind I experienced all the way would become a tailwind home. It was not to be, as a rider knows all too well. Now it turned, straight in my face all the way home along the direct road. Initially, I had been looking forward to a cup of tea on my return. But after pushing into the wind for an hour or more, I felt more like a beer.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 31, 15 August 2018: Christiansfeld to Haderslev return (23 km; 1551 km in total)

She may have had enough riding for a while, but I had not. I needed some parts to repair my Brompton’s transport case: one of the small wheels on the base had come loose, with a crack in the case. Since there was no hardware shop in town, I had to ride to Haderslev and back.

The sun may have shone on my departure, and I took my time, savouring the quiet of the fields. By the time I left the shop and mounted the bicycle for my return, the clouds were heavy and dark and the wind was up. I raced the edge of the blackest cloud, with a line of rain just on my back. They caught up with me as I turned the last corner in Christiansfeld, but I was quick enough to fold the bicycle and step inside before the downpour began.

The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 30, 14 August 2018: Trier to Christiansfeld (19 km; 1528 km in total)

2018 08 14 Kolding to Christiansfeld (17 km)

In the morning, it was more Marx. At first light, we sought out the house where he was born. On the way, we rode under banners saying ‘Wir sind Marx’, announcements at the museum of a special display concerning Marx, and yet another visit to the statue.

Soon our early train would depart from Trier, to wind our way northwards, via Hamburg and a technical breakdown on the rail bottleneck north of Hamburg, eventually via an odd collection of regional trains to Kolding station deep in the night.

From Kolding to Christianfeld is 17 kilometres, through the countryside and without roadside lights. She has a simple flashing light that might do for town riding, but not in these conditions. Fortunately, I have a dynamo light that shines up the heavens and the earth. So I rode in front, lighting the way forward on a pitch-black night. A little before midnight, we rode into the village, returning to the point from which we had begun a month earlier. Over more than 1500 kilometres, much had changed in our sense of life, but we would find out only as the weeks and months unfolded.

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The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 29, 13 August 2018: Hof to Trier: 2 km (1509 km in total)

2018 08 13-14 Trier (4km)

At one level, the ride itself was over, for we had achieved our destination. At other levels, it was not. Part of the reason was that I had begun to think of the next long ride, pondering routes. And part of the reason was that we wanted to visit Trier on our way home.

Why Trier? This year marked the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. We simply could not miss the opportunity to visit Trier in this auspicious year. From Hof we took regional trains westward to the Rhineland. Here, along the Moselle River, there was no drought. Green were the hills and fields and humid was the air.

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We arrived in Trier near dusk and pedalled a short distance to the Porta Nigra, the ancient Roman gate to the city. Indeed, Trier is the oldest city in Germany, having been founded by the Romans as they tried to conquer the local tribes. Close by and in the old town was Kolpinghaus Warsberger Hof, a popular hostel at a reasonable price for the location (71 Euro). We dropped our bicycles and luggage and immediately set off to find Marx.

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Soon we found him, or, rather, his statue. Close by the Porta Nigra is a brand new statue, made by the famous sculptor Wu Weishan and provided as a gift from the Chinese government to Trier. It had been unveiled on 5 May, Marx’s birthday.

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It warmed my heart to find Chinese characters, for Marx’s name, in the middle of Trier. It warmed our hearts to find that the other visitors at this late hour were from China and Russia. I chatted with the former in Chinese, finding out that they were from Shanghai.

Marx kept appearing in town. Traffic lights near the statue bore his image. As did the beer glasses at a late drink. The beer was crap and expensive, so as we sipped, I said, ‘You know we are paying for the glasses’. With that observation, we quietly departed with the beer glasses in hand.

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