East is West
Germany, Poland and Czech Republic by F650 GS
To many of my age, the memory of the Iron Curtain is fresh; although it is now 24 years since the wall came down and there are many for whom it is as much history as WW2 is to me. The Moto13 Euro-trip was to remind us of both hot and cold past conflicts, in a small way, to our party – Varaderos and my 650 (800) GS. But first, the Ring:
One Ring to rule them all
Robblog readers (see Soup Run) with will recall our previous attempt at a Touristfahrt at the Nuerburgring was thwarted by the remnants of the rock festival. This time we were a few days later and the ring was to open later on the day we arrived. Martin Bird, who runs the guest-house, is very aware of both delights and dangers of the Ring. He was quite unequivocal: if wet, do not go out. There is so much rubber on the track that rain makes it like ice. A few specs of precipitation began. We’ll just go and look. At the assembly point, all was dry. Hopefuls of all shapes and sizes were queuing up at the barriers: race-prepped Porsches to minivans; rocket-crotch-ships to tourers. After about half an hour, the initial rush had subsided. Got to do it; said Tom, so we bought our 1-Runde-Karte.
The Nordschlieife circuit swoops and dives through the forest, with every conceivable type of corner. As a first timer, you take it easy of course, and keep to the right, observing at least as much behind as in front, so that you can keep away from the fast men and not obstruct their lines. Riding at the wrong side of a drifting racer at a serious speed differential is not comfortable. Glad we did it, but I would not want to get addicted – and I can see how it might happen.
After the culinary sophistication of France, This trip was less diverse, with pork in various forms filling most menus. We did not delve into all types of Wurst, as there are some very suspicious ones about if you venture into the wilds; but all of the more common ones were consumed (and as far as I know, none were hidden).
For a historical perspective, a day's ride north and east from Nuerburg, we visited the Sorpe, Moehne and Eder reservoirs. You can see the 1943 repairs on the latter 2. The Eder is the most scenic and also the most awe-inspiring when one considers the technical difficulties of approach and exit for a 60ft precision attack. Perhaps suitably, this proved the only real soaking of the trip as the gathering clouds broke as we rode the last 100 kms from the Moehne to our hotel.
The Harz Mountains mark the highest point in northern Germany. Although not alpine, they do offer good motorcycling. Our hotel was in Wernigerode, previously on the eastern side of the curtain. The old border is marked with a memorial, although much of the swathe cut through the forest has grown back now. The plaque included a chilling new word in my German vocabulary to describe the layout of the old border. Selbstschussanlage. (Literally self-shooting- apparatus). Nothing to do with suicide I suspect.
Our stay at Wernigerode coincided happily with their 50th Rathausfest, (town hall festival) which involved many bands and much revelry in the town over all the nights we were there. Talking to a café-owner later, he confirmed very good trade, and listed the Schuetzenfest, Sommerfest, Weinfest and Schokoladenfest , all due this summer. Loud music, food and drink, happy revellers, no drunks, no agro, no plastic beakers – all glass: sadly hard to imagine here.
Part of the Wernigerode attraction is the steam train up to the Brocken at 1141m. Whilst this is just over Snowdon height, the engines, although narrow gauge, are much bigger than little Welsh ones. Furthermore we counted 8 (or was it 9) fully steamed up engines operational every day. The hotel catered for steam buffs and delivered your beer via a model steam train running around the perimeter of the restaurant. Delight for young and old!
Next stop was to plunge us back into history again. Colditz conjures up a very sinister past to English ears, although the informative castle tour made it sound more like a strict out-of bounds camp for wayward public school boys. That is to take nothing away from the horrors of war or the amazing ingenuity of those incarcerated here.
Bypassing Dresden and more history, we skirted along the Polish/Czech/German borders. Here the difference between the old DDR, which was the recipient of massive West German investment after unification, and the newer members of Europe, is most noticeable. Germany – East or West now seems equally prosperous, whereas Poland and the Czech Republic can no doubt absorb much more EU money. Occasionally some crumbling block of flats or socialist edifice would be evident, to contrast with the smart housing recently built.
Karlov Vary is however a very up-market spa town. We stayed in a comfortable holiday complex recently built for and by Russian money. There is obviously money around, as I was about to buy some shorts for the hot afternoon, until I discovered the price was nearly 200€. I made an excuse and left. If there are visitors who can afford that, then they have few worries.
Entertainment from Mr Bean
The white plastic chair, in which I was snoozing on the last afternoon, suddenly collapsed explosively. Trying unsuccessfully to compose my dignity, I examined the wreckage, to discover only one rear leg. An hour later, we spotted the 4th leg, 10m away, at the bottom of the pool – sent there by the explosion. It made Tom and Steve’s day. Mike reminded us that he had worked hard to ensure UV light did not degrade white plastic. Obviously not ICI plastic.
The restaurant at the hotel was a private concern, newly manned by a Russian family who had just moved from SE Germany, having crossed into the west when the wall came down. As we were the only customers here (more were promised by the weekend) we got into much conversation, although my German was the only common denominator. He was a good singer and practiced his repertoire on us, prior to the approaching Grill-fest. We hoped they got a better turnout for that.
Our last night before the ferry was in Schotten, which boasts a classic race in August around its street circuit. Located in the Vogelsberg national park, it is a very picturesque town, although we could not linger too long as we had to head up the AutoRoutes to make the ferry the next afternoon. No particular issues in that , except that you still need to watch your back , as there is still a significant number of Germans for whom an unrestricted Autobahn and a big fast car are an irresistible combination. The influence of the Ring goes a long way.