The Anti-Fascist Trail: Day 7, 22 July 2018: Bad Bramstedt to Groß Sarau (100 km; 381 in total)

After a week on the Ochsenweg and the holiday areas of Schleswig-Holstein, we were keen to get to the actual Anti-Fascist Trail. This morning we mapped our own way eastward from Bad Bramstedt to Bad Oldesloe, following quiet roads and local trails.

Hot, dry and a Sunday – meaning there were few if any places open to get some food and drink. The Germans have stuck resolutely to the ‘day of rest’ tradition, refusing the pressure from capitalist enterprises to make a profit at any time of day and night. Occasionally, one might find a baker open until lunchtime, where we able to stock up on bread rolls and pastry.

On we rode, drawing nigh to Bad Oldesloe and the train we wished to catch to Travemünde. A sprint for the last 15 kilometres suddenly stopped with a puncture in one of her tyres: a pinched tube from bike-fitting before she bought it. I repaired the tube while she cooled down. The next train would be fine. Once again the value of the Brompton showed itself. In 30 seconds I had it folded and in a soft bag, ready to carry on the train and not worry about a bicycle ticket. Hers required such a ticket.

Travemünde – the port for the old headquarters of the Hanseatic League in Lübeck. Cute painted houses around the old town, ships still coming and going, and a sea of semi-naked solid bodies seeking the sea itself. Not for us, not even the FKK – Freikorporkultur.

We were more than keen to pick up the Anti-Fascist Trail. After crossing on the ferry, we pedalled into eastern Germany. Here it was far more peaceful. We celebrated the notices about landlords who has were deprived of their estates by the communists. Poor things. Fancy having to give up your collection of villages and many servants to flee to the west.

We enjoyed the village of Dassow and its twisting streets – so much so that we found ourselves back in town a few kilometres later. The few ‘Iron Curtain Trail’ signs, which had pointed us on our way from Travemünde, rapidly disappeared, with the last one sending us in a circle back to the village. Already it was clear the German states (which are responsible for bicycle routes) do not see the ‘ICT’ as something to promote.

And already we had to map our own way. Our destination, the guesthouse Nobis Krug, was still some distance away. It was getting a little late and we had already ridden 73 kilometres (52 to Bad Oldesloe and 21 from Travemünde to Dassow). We opted to use the often unreliable ‘google maps’ and turn on the annoying voice. Through farms, sand tracks, cobbles and rough stones it took us – for 27 kilometres. At the end I could see our destination and yet the annoying voice said to go in another direction. I turned it off, gratefully.

The village was barely a few houses, the glacier-formed lake a relief and Nobis Krug a place you could stay for a week, even at 69 Euro a night (including breakfast). The beers and the Bauernfrüstuck were even more welcoming. As was the bed and ten hours sleep.

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.