(22) Feeling at home
Friday 17th August
We woke to an empty apartment as Ulli and Chiara were at work. They both work as special education teachers in Berlin and we can see that they’re brilliant at what they do. We worked on the blog for the morning and caught up on emails. They came home from work early in the afternoon to find us hard at work on the computer. We had lunch together and then popped to a local shop to look at cycling clothes for the warmer climate in the south. With the weather in Berlin an unusual 30 plus degrees, we had a taste of things to come. We decided to go further into the city the following day to finish our shopping as it was so hot. We headed back to the apartment to cool down and get ready for a birthday party we were going to that evening. Chiara cut Sharon’s fringe – Tim had offered to do it with his Swiss army knife…We started working through our washing. We are always grateful for the use of a washing machine!
We headed out into the city on our way to the party following a route to take in some of the sites. Ulli grew up near the area so knew a few short cuts and some interesting places you would struggle to find. The atmosphere of the city was vibrant and relaxed. There were many people out socialising in the restaurants and parks.
We were worried about leaving our bikes outside the pub where the party was but it was a private party and we were down a quiet alley. We headed into the party and were greeted by lots of friendly faces and a tasty buffet. It was a free bar to start with so we enjoyed a few beers and chatted to some of Ulli and Chiara’s friends who were mainly colleagues’ as well. We partied until 3am and then headed back through the quiet streets to fall asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillow!
Saturday 18th August
We naturally had a lie in after our night out. Tim got up first and started working on his bike as it needed its 3,000 mile service. It needed a new chain, an oil change to the Rohloff hub and a new back tyre –we are pleased to say that the ‘puncture resistant’ tyre did make it to Berlin but it had no tread left.
Tim’s tyre – a little below the legal limit!
Ulli had kindly picked up what Tim needed to carry out the service. With Tim’s bike done we decided to ride to Globetrotter about 6 miles away across the city. We managed to find it ok with the Berlin street map.
Globetrotter seemed to have everything we needed under one roof including a heap of stuff that we didn’t need and would be more suited to ‘glamping’ (posh camping). We must have been in there for over an hour but were very good and stuck to our list. We picked up maps for Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Also a new bowl (as one of them had a slight cut in it which made it leak milk at breakfast time each morning….) a wind shield for our stove, black mosquito head nets (we have green ones and you can’t see through them very well) and a new spork as we have snapped 2 already.
We flew back now knowing our way. After a while we saw loads of police vehicles lining the streets and thought there might be a football match on. As we approached the apartment and stopped to check the map, Ulli appeared around the corner. He had come to find us as there was an organised fascist march happening in the area. Things were beginning to get a little heated and so a police presence was needed. We found out later there were about 70 fascists and over 1,000 people had come out to protest against their march. We were pleased to hear no-one had got hurt.
After a ‘coffee and cake break’ we headed out for a city tour with our own personal guides! It was a perfect temperature for riding around the city as it was late afternoon by the time we headed out. Ulli and Chiara made super guides and took us to many sites in the city.
Sharon with our personal tour guides!
We learned about German history and particularly why the Berlin wall was built. When Germany was split into 4 quarters after the 2nd world war– American, French, English and Russian – as Berlin was the capital, naturally each quarter wanted a piece. Berlin is in the north East which was in the Russian quarter of the country but was split into the same quarters. Many East Germans didn’t want to be under Russian communist rule and so started to flee to the other quarters – the wall was erected by the Russians to maintain the numbers and keep the economy stable. As a result many families and friends were split up and we learned about stories of brave people who tried to cross the barrier. One person abseiled across from an upstairs window and amazingly made it across safely. It is amazing what people will do in desperation. Around 100 people were shot dead trying to cross to the West in the years the wall was up – between 1961 and 1989. With West Berlin surrounded by a wall the only way of getting supplies in was by air drops in the city airport which would continue until the wall was brought down. The wall footprint is still visable in the main streets as a line of bricks that run along the road.
We also saw the Brandenburg gate which was built in 1788 and was one of 14 built around the city and is the last one remaining, Check-point Charlie, the Houses of Parliament and to finish a great tour we watched the sun set over the city at the top of the Victory tower. On the way back we tried curry wurst which is a German curry sausage. We decided that the stall selling them must be in the Lonely planet as it was very busy with back-packers!
Checkpoint Charlie – now a rather tacky tourist attraction
Climbing the Victory tower
The view of the city from the top
On the way back, Chiara insisted that we visit the Jewish memorial also known as the Holocaust memorial. It is made up of 2, 711 marble block columns all in line with each other. As we walked in, the walkways dropped and rose revealing that the columns were actually different heights – between 0.2 to 4.8 metres high. It was an incredible experience and very sombering. We played hide and seek in the dark -the designer wanted people to experience the memorial in many different ways. It also made us stop and think.
The inspiring Jewish memorial
We arrived back to the flat shattered. We treated Ulli and Chiara to vanilla icecream and hot chocolate sauce before going to bed.
Sunday 19th August
After another long day it was great to have another lie in. We spent time sorting out our photos and saving them onto our hard drive. We also skyped home and Tim serviced Sharon’s bike. The day soon passed but we felt better for sorting out our stuff and re-packing.
We headed off to another birthday party –this one in a park close to the apartment. The park was called Tempelhof and is quite unique in that it is an old airport. It was used to drop food parcels to West Berlin during the time the wall was up. The runways are now used for roller skating, cycling and kite boarding. We had a go on Chiara and Ulli’s skates and made it all the way around – about 3 kms!
It was great to do some exercise that didn’t involve pedalling!
It was nice to meet their friends again, there was live music and food. We learned a new game –we can’t remember the name but it involved 2 teams trying to hit over pieces of wood. Tim even played the winning shot!
Playing a game in the park
We headed home to finish packing and were sad to think we’d be leaving the following day as we’d been made to feel so at home. We had appreciated the time we had to enjoy the city and hanging out with new friends.
Monday 20th August
Chiara and Ulli had gone to work early so we had said our goodbyes the night before. We had breakfast and finished our packing and headed off about 11am. It was another hot day – the bike computer showed 44 degrees – it is accurate as we’ve tested it against other thermometers! We took it easy riding through the city. We stopped at a fab second hand shop that was 4 stories high. Sharon failed to find anything but Tim came out with a pair of loose shorts and a shirt to wear when riding in the heat. Tim promised to share his bargain hunting skills-
As we headed out of the city, it was nice to return to the countryside. The clouds were building in the east with thunder and lightening and we wondered if we were in for a wet night. We stopped for a snack and it started to spit a bit but came to nothing.
Riding in stormy conditions
We stopped in a village to look for water and spotted a church. We headed towards it to have a look but it was locked. A rather fierce looking lady approached us saying something in German and looked at us suspiciously. We of-course didn’t understand her but pointed to the church – she was clearly bothered by us being there. Tim asked where we could get water and she started shaking her head. We think she thought we wanted to camp there the night! She pointed to a pub across the road so Tim headed over to get water. She kept ranting at Sharon and then headed to the house across the street. Whilst we were cooking our dinner we could see her looking at us out of her window!
We rode on out of the village and spotted some woods – it took a while to find a good spot to pitch the tent. We had a good wash and jumped into the tent. We kept the door open as it was really humid. Neither of us slept well as we kept hearing noises.
Tuesday 21st August
We woke in the woods after a bad night’s sleep. We shouldn’t have worried as we were far away from the road. It didn’t take long to pack up as we’d left most of the panniers on the bikes. We headed to a town called Bad Freienwalde 6 miles away for breakfast as we had no water left. We treated ourselves to an iced bun ; ) As we rode on towards the Polish border, we experienced the start of what was to come – bad drivers – as some drivers drove really close to us.
We arrived at the Polish border at around 11.30am at a town called Osinow Dolny. We were in country number 5 (not that we’re counting!!) We again realised that we had no idea what the exchange rate was so headed into town to look for a bank. All we seemed to find was petrol stations, shops selling beer and cigarettes and sex shops. We did wonder what the tax benefits were for crossing the border…
No-one spoke any English but we found a German couple who told us the exchange rate for Euros and where to find a bank. After some creative maths and texting Sharon’s parents we arrived at an amount and drew some cash. We headed north on quiet lanes that reminded us of Devon. There had obviously been stormy weather ahead of us as the lanes were littered with fallen branches and loads of debris and were pleased we hadn’t left Berlin the day before.
Remnants of a storm
We stopped for lunch in a sleepy village called Piasek and looked for somewhere to get water. We noticed a large house set back from the road and headed down the drive trying to ignore the ‘Beware of the dog’ sign. We met a sleeping dog and a lady who spoke a bit of English and insisted on filling our water bottles with ice cold carbonated water as well as filling our water bag.
We had our lunch and were entertained by 2 Polish kids on a bike who did wheelies and giggled a lot. They said the odd word of English but as they headed off shouted ‘give me a banana!’
In the afternoon we got our heads down and plugged our iPods in. We made it to the town of Gryfino in good time and headed for the square and a bench to cook dinner. We noticed 2 ladies sat to our left who discreetly moved a bit further away – not sure if it was our smell or the fumes from the stove – we assumed the latter.
We had heard that the Polish are pretty laid back about people camping so we headed confidently out of town to find somewhere to camp. About 3 miles on we passed a farmer’s house and stopped to ask if we could camp in his field. After a pause he nodded yes and pointed to a flat piece of field. We said our thanks and gratefully headed off to put up our tent. After about half an hour the family came out to us armed with some fresh fruit from their garden.
A generous gift from our hosts
We slept well that night grateful for the generousity of others.
Next installment coming soon….