Was another gorgeous day as I left Berlin. Warm enough to cycle in just a fleece and the sun was out. Felt a little groggy from the weekend, but nothing a good ride wouldn’t cure.
After a couple of hours cycling I came across a block of flats nestled in the forest, clearly deserted and long abandoned. I hopped off my bike to explore, only to find the block was part of a huge complex of over ten buildings (including a part railway station) that had all been abandoned. The sites were big enough to accommodate hundreds of people, but they were so overgrown it was obvious that they hadn’t been inhabited in decades. I walked around briefly, but I found them too creepy to go inside.
As I reached my next stop – Juterbog, I passed a similar site. This time the buildings were more industrial looking, but also abandoned to ruin. I assumed that these were old Russian sites, which was pretty much confirmed by the sight of Cyrillic text engraved on the walls.
This is one of the few clear differences between West and East Germany, these abandoned buildings are fairly frequent here.
I’d detoured a little further west than planned to find a host that night, but that worked out well. Juterbog was charming, my host was lovely, and the route was pleasant (following a large section of the Berlin-Leipzig trail).
The next day I joined some sections of the Flaeming-Skate network – a bizarre ring of over 200km of perfect asphalt track designed for roller skaters and cyclists. The route was a pleasure to cycle on – through the forests and cutting through tiny villages.
Away from the Flaeming-Skate paths, I got a little lost in the forests and ended up pushing my bike through some pretty dubious paths. Suddenly my pedal slammed to a halt, jamming sharply. Gulp! I stopped to look at the damage, and it wasn’t pretty. My derailleur had come loose and lodged itself between my spokes. This was way beyond what I was capable of fixing. BUT, I spent a while fiddling with it and eventually got it ‘kinda’ working. Only problem was that I couldn’t leave my hardest gear. So I cycled on, struggling up the tiniest hills covered in oil and grease.
The first town I found didn’t have a bike shop, but the second one Finsterwalde – did. The owner, who didn’t speak much English, told me that if I went for a coffee in half an hour he’d have it fixed. But upon my return it was clear that the problem was bigger than he’d first expected. The derailleur was completely broken, and the hanger had bent. We sat in his cluttered office on Google translate (among a horde of empty beer bottles) and he explained that he didn’t have the tool to straighten it. He helped bend it to a position that the middle gears worked, and he reckoned that would get me to Dresden (hopefully).
I stopped that evening in a small village called Muero, as planned. My hosts were a couple who both worked in the coal mining industry. They took me to see one of the nearby sites – it was huge! Was interesting to hear their ‘inside’ thoughts on what is clearly a slightly controversial industry. We drove to the nearby town Seftenburg for dinner, dodging the million frogs that had decided it was their time of year to cross the main road in the pouring rain.
From Muero I was in a positin to join the Berlin – Dresden bicycle route for the first time, which took me alongside the motorway, but zig zagging into forests and through fields. The last section into Dresden was particularly charming – along a small river that suddenly popped out into the north of town.
For the first time in the trip I was paying for a night of accommodation. But – and important to note – this was out of choice. A friend from the UK was also staying in Dresden so I was going to catch her that evening. I took my bike to the shop first – that was my main priority. On the way there, the same thing happened with me chain, slamming into my spokes. This time the result was even more ugly. I walked the rest of the way to the shop. Inside, the guy looked with a pretty concerned face at my twisted parts but said he could replace the broken derailleur and straighten the bent part over night. Great, I thought – surely no more problems can materialise.
We went out for dinner at a super cheap Indian place, and found a pub in the area that was showing the Chelsea vs. Paris Champion’s League game. Chelsea was knocked out, while all the Germans around decided they were French fans once the Bayern Munich game finished, making the result even more annoying.
The next day I walked to the bike shop, nervous to hear if it had been fixed. More bad news, and it seemed that previous problems had just been the tip of the iceberg. Long story cut short, I needed to replace most of the gear mechanisms and wait another day. The worst news was how much it would cost. All I wanted was a working bike that would not cause me any more problems so I left and agreed to return the next morning.
Dresden was a really nice town, but the poor weather, Chelsea’s failings and the bike problems had really dampened my mood and I spent most of the day walking around feeling sorry for myself. For the first time on the trip, I really couldn’t find any inspiration.
I stayed with a Couchsurfing host that night, and went to the bike shop in the morning. Finally everything was working. The bike felt great, and my mood improved in a second. I was excited to be joining the Elbe (which I’d last crossed in Hamburg weeks ago) and head into the Czech Republic.
I was great to have such an easy route – simply following the river. The scenery was rewarding too – slowly mountains began to form alongside the banks and the villages’ aesthetic changed considerably.
I crossed into the Czech Republic and stopped for the night in a small town called Decin. My host wasn’t back in town til 10pm, so I looked for somewhere to entertain myself. As I often do, I searched for the ‘worst’ bar I could find to kill some time in. The one I found was great – a huge canteen full of 100 locals who looked like they were there every weekend, chain smoking and beer drinking the night away. Entering the room was like walking into a wall of smoke – I felt like I’d smoked 20 cigs after having sat there for 5 minutes. Two beers cost me just over £1 – amazing! Think I will like this country…
In the morning my host showed me around town, and took me up to an amazing viewpoint from another mountain-top castle. People in Czech clearly loved building castles in every difficult place they could find, back in the day.
I cycled onwards to a town called Roudnice Na Labeem, which was small but nicer than Decin. Went out for dinner with my host and one of his pals, and the meal and a couple beers cost a fiver. It would cost at least three times the price in London. I try not to be too affected by price changes while I travel as it distorts perspective a little, but it does feel great not to be scraping the barrel.
I had my hilliest day of climbing to get in to Prague, but it felt amazing to have reached my fith capital of the trip. I was last in Prague four years ago, and to be honest I didn’t remember all that much of it – so was looking forward to re-discovering the city.