Lonely Roads and Bare Trees: Cycling in an Eastern European Winter (Part 4)

The wind in my face tells me two things: a white Easter is on its way and the Siberian wind of the last few days is easing. Given the circumstances, we need no further invitation. We are keen for open road, lined by stark and bare trees reaching their fingers to the sky. It is almost impossible to put in words the physical sensation of riding along a single lane road across an open hill – a road seemingly made for us on this day and purely for this purpose.

Our route takes us on a northerly loop, seeking to fill in the Oberlausitz map: north-east to Berstandt, north to Kemnitz, west in a zigzag to Herwigdorf, and then south-east, back to our lodgings. Initially, we must ride on busier thoroughfares. Despite the ice tight by the roadside, German traffic in these parts behaves admirably well, giving us a wide berth where possible. I guess it’s because nearly everyone is a cyclist as well (in fairer weather), so they have some sense of what it is like to be peddling on the side of a road, with trucks and buses and cars whizzing by. After the left turn in Bernstadt, we climb steadily to Kemnitz, working up a sweat in our winter gear and removing a few layers. Of course, our ears freeze in the wind as the rest of my body cools.

Now the best part of the ride begins, for we turn onto that magical single-lane road, here today for us but perhaps already gone tomorrow, relocated to another place. I imagine such roads appearing for a day or so, linking villages in a new way, moving aside trees and rocks, only to close up the space and reappear elsewhere – hopefully when we are riding through. On that road the traffic does not come and we have the road to ourselves, even if today that involves the wind in one’s face and ice crunching beneath one’s tyres. But at least now we are somewhat experienced with the encrusted ice beneath the latest layer of snow. Nonetheless, we linger long on these roads, for their pleasure sets my memory tracks running, recalling the same bodily feel of what may well be one of the best pieces of cycling road in the world.

Again we are taken by the forest-topped hills, by the sweeps of fields cleared from the twelfth century onwards, by the villages nestled in folds beside a creek. Again we can locate ourselves easily – that’s Neuberthelsdorf on the hillside there, that’s Grosshennersdorf’s church there, that’s the long rise of the Spreequelle there. And we enjoy riding through the twisting streets of villages and towns, dodging the corners of houses that just out into the street, or rather around which the road must turn.

We skirt the edge of a large forest on the Wolfsberg, pass by a farmhouse with a Trabant and one of those glorious DDR garage (simple, functional and built to last), and then drop from the heights into Herwigsdorf. Too soon do we find ourselves on the final run, winding through the back lanes of Strahwalde before a stop for some of the ridiculously cheap German beer to slake our riding thirst.