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.