“Peace has its victories no less than war, but it doesn’t have as many monuments to unveil” – Kin Hubbard
Memorial to those who died trying to breach the wall, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
A metal barrier completely blocked my path. I sat astride the bike, looking back and forth and realising that perhaps if I had trusted my judgement some 20 miles previously I would have realised the sign had said no access to the autobahn. With a hundred miles to go I had hoped for a high speed blast on the tarmac and an early arrival in Berlin. Still, I mused, its a glorious day, I will just nip up one junction on country roads and join the autobahn farther north.
Off through the countryside, glorious roads akin to those in England – full visibility with the road snaking into the distance and through the occasional small town and village. Green and golden fields to my left and right and even with the temperature in the high 20’s, the breeze whipped through my open jacket giving some respite from sweat. With little traffic and fast roads, progress was fast and steady. Bend after bend, the occasional overtake and I was grinning inside the helmet. I love country road riding,
Arriving at the next junction to the autobahn I could see the glint of the barrier….access blocked again. Checking the map, the next junction was some distance away and there was no clear route to get to it…in fact, I would have to double back. With time advancing, I decided to ignore the autobahn and head for the major roads leading North into Berlin. After an hour of sublime roads, I pulled into a petrol station in a small village. I don’t mind admitting I had no real clue where I was – the map certainly didn’t match with where I thought I was. Turns out I was way off the mark and needed to double back for 15 miles and then head on a different road. I plonked myself down on the grass verge of the petrol station, struggling to find a comfy way to sit within the constrictions of the bike gear. A glut of water, a rub of the head and an angled look up at the blistering sun and I realised I was getting tired. 6 days ago I was in Sicily and I’d covered Northern Italy, Switzerland, Northern Italy again, Austria and most of Germany. Never mind the fires and lack of sleep. With a big intake of breath and a nod of the head I got to my feet and clambered back on the bike again. With a setting sun and tired muscles, I ground out the last 60 miles and yet again I hit a major capital city at rush hour. It’s one thing to ride along watching corn fields when you’re tired and quite another to hit multiple lane roads with thousands of cars and buses. On the plus side it wasn’t like Porto for volume of traffic and nothing like the Death Race 2000 style of Italy.
Clinical efficiency, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I’m a reasonably intelligent bloke but like all of us, occasionally I have a brain freeze and end up in a predicament that I should never have gotten into. I’d arranged parking at an underground secure car park and the receptionist said ‘swipe your card and then head down the ramp’. So what I did was head down the ramp without the card swiping bit. The ramp goes down at a steep angle and I’m right in front of the metal door which, obviously, is closed. I sit there for a good minute or two waiting for the door to open. As I looked up at the door then behind me then up at the door again, my head went still, my eyes focussed forward and my body slumped as I realised that I had forgotten to swipe the thing at the top of the ramp. A bit of shuffling forward, nudging the front wheel against the frame of the door and gingerly clambering off, I headed back up the ramp on foot and swiped the card. The door began to open and I walked back down the ramp, shuffled up against the wall, clambered on and hit the ignition. The engine started…and the door began to close.
Realising there was no way I could manoeuvre the bike backwards back from the frame I got back off the bike, left the engine running and walked back up the ramp. Sweat was running down my back – it was hot in berlin and with no breeze, I was beginning to bake. I swiped the card, the door began to open and I ran back to the bike, pushed it backward with a grunt and clambered on while holding the brake. The door began to close, I shuffled to the left and was about to paddle forward when a car came down the ramp and stopped next to me. The driver shouted something in German, I waved him in frantically. heh paused then headed in just as the door started to close. I went off balance as I twisted the bars and lost a few seconds steadying the bike. The door clanged shut. With words such as ‘oh my, what a spot of bother you have got yourself in old chap’ and ‘this door is certainly quick to close, what a miracle of germanic engineering’, I slumped forward onto the tank and wiped the river of sweat from my forehead. Third time lucky, I managed to get inside, emptied the panniers, trekked up to the room and dived in an ice cold shower. The room smelt old and musty but I soon got rid of that by leaving my socks out overnight. May not have been the nicest smell but hey, it was my smell.
‘To the German People’, Reichstag, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
A couple of beers, a wandered round the suburb I was staying in and an early night. Not much sleep though – boiling hot all night and bed linen that can only be likened to a mix of glue and cactus leaves. I swear that if you dived onto them you would get friction burns.
I had only come to Berlin for the wall and the only reason I wanted to see the wall was because I remember being with a German girl the night it came down. I remember her tears and disbelief as a group of us watched it on a small portable TV in our digs at University. The temperature was in the mid 30’s in Berlin and oppressive. I wandered past the Reichstag and the river and down a few backstreets, guzzling water as I went. Most people were walking in zig zags rather than straight lines – desperately trying to stay in the shadows of buildings to avoid the sun. It was so hot I even had an ice cream. Even more surprisingly, I managed to eat it without dropping it on to the old spuds. (it has been brought to my attention that my spuds have had far too many mentions in this blog and so I’m now making it a point to mention them in every post, stay tuned for more)
I have no clue, genuinely no clue, it’s Art, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I’m only going to talk about the wall in any depth. I found Berlin to be soul-less. Everything is perfectly clean, buildings are perfectly in line and all constructed to house the latest in goods to consume…you get the drift.
The wall, or what remains of it, is in a small park and if you were to just go and look at it, it would take 2-3 minutes. I spent 2 hours there, watching the films about the walls history and well, just thinking.
The steel rods that reinforced the concrete of the wall, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I won’t even begin to talk about the politics of the division and the struggle between capitalist and communist ideologies. When it comes down to it, there are always those who seek to divide people. It usually involves, heartache, pain and usually bloodshed but ultimately people are reunited. It may take a year, it may take a century but ultimately, the power of human will cannot be fettered forever. It was telling to me that the day the wall came down was due to the power of people – not tanks and guns, but a crowd of people who just decided enough was enough and walked through the checkpoint en masse. The guards let them through, what would they do, gun them all down? Like the image of the protestor in Tiannamen square who stood in from of the tank and the famous cartoon that shows a million people all of whom have speech bubbles above their head saying ‘its just me, what can i do about anything?’
In the small garden there is an audio recording on continuous loop that plays the names of all those who died trying to cross the wall before the border was opened up. As you listen to the names and look at their photos , your eyes flick to the last remaining section of the wall and you can almost see the barbed wire and hear the gunshots.
The last remaining section, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
We never learn though, it’s a vicious circle. We shackle ourselves with the constraints of our political views, our religion, our prejudices and justify it to ourselves via the media and our version of history. Throwing off those shackles takes some time and it’s scary at first as you lose all bearings. Then you realise we’re all the same at birth and its only how we are moulded that fuels our division and allows us to be controlled through the proverbial flick of a Facebook switch. We spend too much time on whether someone is left or right wing, black or white, muslim or jew. As long as we continue to pigeon hole ourselves with these made up labels and allow our lives to be framed by them, we will continue to be divided. Just see the person for who they are, free of the dogma of their religion, race and sexuality and whatever else. Maybe then we wouldn’t have memorials like the following one
Holocaust memorial near the Reichstag, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Just imagine if nobody had a label for their god, their political belief or whatever. What reason would people find to kill one another en masse? Food for thought.
I had booked a ferry from Denmark to Norway and had a day to spare before departure. Looking at the map it seemed reasonable to drop in at Hamburg and then head into Denmark the following day.
With a fast autobahn, I made rapid progress, despite the driving rain and as I approached Hamburg there was a remarkable increase in the number of bikes on the road. Well, Harley’s to be more specific. The journey was uneventful other than being deliberately held up by a group of Harleys at a petrol station who refused to move their bikes away from the pumps. Despite the amount of leather, flaming skulls and bandanas I was pretty sure they would be either removing peoples teeth or head down in a spreadsheet come Monday morning. I waited, they eventually moved off, revving like they do. Yawn. Only problem was, one of them broke down on the forecourt and the whole entourage had to stop. There was enough of them there to fix any problem so I didn’t stop, just revved hard and nodded, you know, as bikers do.
Loud pipes save you having to ride home as its been impounded, iPhone
I was staying on the outskirts of Hamburg and took the train in once I had arrived which was about a 30 minute trip through some pretty rough areas. I would liken Hamburg to somewhere like Hull. It’s a place where people live rather than a tourist attraction. However, there was a national Harley festival on in town and bikes were everywhere. Loud pipes cracking and booming everywhere and everyone dressed from head to toe in HD gear, HD bags, HD shirts, HD leathers. You get the drift.
Turns out this bike fest was an annual event and this year the police were out in force with road stops, checking the decibel level of bikes. They pulled them over and impounded them as you can see in the photo above. I watched this for a good half an hour, seeing the police point out harleys that got past and then seeing police riders take off in pursuit. Talking to some local people, there had been massive complaints across the city in previous years since no one could sleep with the noise.
The main part of the festival was in the Reeperbahn – Hamburgs’ notorious party central and red light district. The ‘bahn was packed with thousands of people, most of them Harley riders. I grabbed a beer and a hot dog and sat down to watch the steady procession of bikes go down the main drag. With the sounds of Sabbath, Joan Jett and Metallica drifting through the air from the bands, the smell of petrol and barbecues (goes together surprisingly well) and the incessant grumble and bangs from the Harley’s, it was a great atmosphere. I had dressed for the occasion in my trusty orange t-shirt, combat pants and sandals. In a sea of leather and chrome, I felt I was making a unique fashion statement. Well, if the statement is that you are a cross between a Dutch football fan, local militia and a born again Christian.
The seedy part of the Reeperbahn is just that. Similar to Amsterdam or the backstreets of Bangkok, its a ‘cringe’ kind of place and much like the proverbial car crash, you don’t want to look but you do. One thing really struck me as I walked back to the tube and it is a similar thought that I had in Dublin when I completed my first bike trip. It’s a feeling you get after you’ve been out in the remote areas and away from ‘society’ for a while – you see cities as prisons. People scurrying from their job to the restaurant and then home and repeat. When you see things like the Reeperbahn, it just makes it even more powerful a thought. If a beautiful sunset or at the top of a mountain is at one end of the spectrum in terms of freedom and beauty, then most cities are at the other end. For some people, they will never leave those boundaries – some by choice, some by twist of fate. More food for thought.
The route taken to Berlin, next stop Denmark
The following days journey from Hamburg to the Northern tip of Denmark was unremarkable other than a long hold up because the autobahn (again) was completely closed for 40 miles. A long (and unmarked detour) added significantly to my journey and it was late afternoon before I arrived on the coast of Northern Denmark. I had booked a B+B at a farm and was due to catch-up the morning ferry to Norway the following day. With an evening to relax, I took the chance to empty all the panniers, sort out gear and just wind down.
Sitting with a coffee outside in the warm evening, the owner’s husband came across and waved at me. I stood up, shook his hand and introduced myself. In very broken English he said his name but I couldn’t quite work out what he said. A brief pause and then he looked at me and said ‘Brexit’. I’d been asked about this many times before on the trip and I’d always avoided it or politely nodded and smiled. I had heard though that the vote seemed to be shifting towards anti-immigration so I felt like I should say something. I spoke at length to him about the effects of migration in poorer communities, the way that parties were split in the UK and the issue of misinformation and deliberate manipulation of ‘facts’. I talked about the north/south divide and how many who had not travelled abroad would not see that Europeans are no different to us. He smiled and nodded. I talked about how I had seen nothing but great people and cultures in Europe and that whatever happened in the vote, that I would still return to Europe. He nodded again. I told him that the vote didn’t matter really since we were all people and the vote was about political and economic divide. He nodded again. I realised I had talked for several minutes and so I shut up. He looked at me intently, nodded and then said ‘Brexit’
I nodded and told myself what an idiot I’d been to assume he understood my language when I’m in his country. With nothing else left to say, I smiled and said ‘Hodor’. He smiled and wandered off. I’ve no idea if he understood the comment or the irony of it but he was smiling and that will do for me.
Graffiti at the wall, Nimmy, Canon 5d2, 16-35L