Saints and spinners

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, September 9, 2006

I made it to Fulda, in pretty good time, having the benefit of coming down the other side of the mountain. A longer, shallower slope. Fulda is another beautiful town, very proud of its connection with Saint Boniface (Bonifatius, to the locals) about whom wikipedia volunteers the following; ´In 716 he set out on a missionary expedition to Frisia, intending to convert the Frisians [I´m fairly sure frisians are cows, which may explain his lack of success]. In 723, Boniface felled the holy oak tree dedicated to Thor near the present-day town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse. He built a chapel from its wood at the site where today stands the cathedral of Fritzlar. [This may begin to explain why christian missionaries have a reputation for insensitivity] in 754 he set out with a small retinue for Frisia. He baptized a great number, and summoned a general meeting for confirmation at a place not far from Dokkum, between Franeker and Groningen. Instead of his converts, however, a group of armed inhabitants appeared who slew the aged archbishop. This is called murder by his biographer, but the Frisians, according to their own law (The Lex Frisionum) had the right to kill him, since he had destroyed their shrines. This heartwarming story has been converted, believe it or not, into a musical, for which posters adorn every spare square meter of wallspace in Fulda. Lots of stills of bearded men with gritted teeth. His statue, in the main square, has him holding a crusifix boldly aloft and forth, presumably against the band of marauding riffs about to do him in. (the webside for the musical, in case you don´t believe me, is,

The next day was all about the ride, as my next stop, Eisenach, was too far away to reach in one day. I followed another off-road route and had a really peaceful day, stopping around 4pm in a tiny campsite with cold showers (come back 50cents for 7mins, all is forgiven), no reception and only one other occupant. I pitched my tent, assuming someone would eventually come and ask me for money. They never did, so I forgave the cold showers.

I left early on the 7th, planning on covering the 10km to Eisenach before 9am, spending the morning investigating the home town of J. S. Bach and the castle where Martin Luther translated the bible, and then pushing on to Erfurt (the next big town) in the afternoon. There was only one potential problem with this plan. The bike wasn´t behaving itself. It was ok in the lower gears (the ones I use) but wouldn´t go into the top two, so even if in a fit of lunacy I felt like pedalling downhill, I couldn´t. Regardless of the low level of inconvenience, I wasn´t keen to leave a fairly obvious mechanical failure to get worse. I passed a bike shop on the way into Eisenach, so I had breakfast in the town square and went back there at nine o´clock. Jens Ladicke, the owner of said bike shop, was waiting behind the counter. Among his many virtues are the ability to speak near-fluent american and an enthusiasm for meeting foreigners (he´s heavily involved in the town´s many international ´twinning´ projects. I explained the problem and asked him if he thought it´d take long or be expensive to fix. He said he didn´t know, he´d have to look, but it´d probably be a hundred pounds. I knew he was joking, i was only pretending to look mortified. To fix the problem, (the rear cassette was loose) took very little time, just long enough for me to explain my story, and he didn´t charge me.

This was the third thing to break on the bike. The first two were both on day one- the bell, which I have since fixed (Totally pointless though they are in England, on the busy cyclepaths of Holland and the shared pavements of Germany they are invaluable). The other was the cycle computer which tells me how far/fast/long I´ve cycled, which I fixed with no help at all from the miserable, rude and obnoxious folk in Faversham´s bike shop. If you live in Faversham and need a bike, go to Eisenach. When he´d finished Jens told me I must see the town and the Wartburg, and I could leave all my baggage with him to do it.

A house has, for the purposes of historical convenience, though not, I suspect, accuracy, been nominated as Bach´s childhood home and converted into a museum. It has the benefit of being quite small and specific, so you can´t really stretch it over more than an hour even if you read everything, so you don´t have that vague guilty feeling of leaving a museum before you know all the stuff. What made it worth the 5 euros though, was that after having a look round, a curator gave a half-hour presentation, in which he played various pieces of Bach´s music on loosely contemporary instruments - two differently powered organs, a well tempered clavier, harpsichord, piano. I am not a musical person, but even I found this kind of ´interactive edutainment´ appropriate and interesting. The finale was a recording of Bach´s ´Magnificat´ which is roughly what God sounds like.

The Wartburg, where Martin Luther translated the bible, is beautiful to look at, even more so to look from. I didn´t fancy riding up the mountain for the pleasure, however, even without the bags. I asked the bus driver if I was allowed to bring the bike on the bus, ´there´s no room´ she replied. I took this to mean that if I could make room, its allowed. Through strategic use of ´excuse me´ and gently pushing it turned out there was room after all. The inconvenienced engaged me in semi-polite conversation;
´where do you come from?´
´From England by bike?´
´No, really!´

This exchange put me in an excellent mood, as it included, in perfectly natural conversation, my favourite two word exchange in the German language- "Quatch!" , "Doch!". With only these two words you can argue all day.

The clouds were gathering as I rode to Erfurt and I arrived just before they burst. (I have had a lot of good fortune with the weather so far on this trip- touch wood) I installed myself in the ´Opera Hostel´. Brussels was the first time I´ve ever stayed in a hostel, and this was only the second, so there may be a whole culture and etiquette that I haven´t learned. However, it seems to me that if you´re going to share a bedroom with strangers, even if only for a night, its only proper to exchange some pleasantries. Not least because people are less likely to steal from someone if they know their name (this may well not be true, but it seems true to me. Surely its easier to steal from strangers?) There were an American brother and sister in this dorm, however, who obviously took a different view. I talked at them for a while, and eventually they joined in. After about five minutes of trying to get blood from a stone, Stefan and Susi, a German brother and sister, came in and started chatting at the slightest provocation. In no time we had exchanged numbers and arranged to meet for drinks later in the evening- the Germans, it seems, share my attitude to youth hostelling. While we were chatting in the evening, Stefan paid me one of the best complements I´ve ever had, which will hopefully inspire me when the going gets tough. He said I was a ´Lebenskunstler´ which, while it looks like it might be extremely rude, means literally ´life-artist´.

The next morning the combination of a hangover and enjoying the company of Stefan, Susi, and Sven (another German from the Opera Hostel) kept me from moving on until after 2pm, so I only went as far as Weimar 25km away. Weimar was, according to my Dad and Google, the seat of the inter-war government administration. Its also a popular tourist destination, with some Bauhaus buildings and generally appealing architecture. I had a wander around the town centre, before finding an internet cafe. This later transpired to be also an alternative music venue (behind) and an art gallery displaying mainly paintings based on snails (above)(really).

From Weimar halfway to Leipzig I was able to follow first the river Ilm cycle route and then the river Saale, so the only hills were to the sides, which was fine by me. It being a Saturday there were plenty of other cyclists on the paths, and I recognised a few at the campsite where I stopped. A middle-aged man called Rudi approached me as I was looking for a pitch, "how far have you come today?" - German competitiveness, always charming
"sixty kilometers"
"not far then!"
its not far, but still, there´s no need to be like that...
"well, I have a long journey, so I don´t do too much in one day"
go on, ask me. I dare ya. British competitiveness, much the same.

Seeing I was alone and enthused by my bold plan Rudi invited me to dinner with his friends and family, I said I´d come, but I had to pitch my tent so maybe I wouldn´t make it. When he came back, 10 minutes later, to check I was coming, I decided it´d be ruder not to. Besides, I don´t mind singing for my supper. I told their group all about myself and ate their food, and when they seemed to have had enough of me I took my leave.

I then met Kay and Heidi, a young couple riding to Hamburg in a week, who I´d seen on the road that day. (We had passed each other, because I was going in the wrong direction, so they were a little surprised to see me there). We met up in the bar later, had a drink and some food (for which they insisted on paying, despite my genuine protest) and arranged for me to join them for breakfast. (That is, for me to eat their food and drink their tea.) Since I left I´ve read Patrick Leigh Fermor´s book ´A Time Of Gifts´, about his journey on foot through Germany in 1933. I can see what he means.
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