Last year we have made a cycle-tour from Tangermünde to Havelberg at the big German stream Elbe. Eventually we found ourselves at the western shore at a signed cycle path around the Altmark region. So a certain curiosity was born. At another occasion I found a book table and the brochure: Radrundkurs Altmark. It is presented by Haupka & Co., Bad Soden, Taunus. But the booklet was not available in our local book stores.
Something about the Altmark. At our mental geography the region of the Altmark is a white spot. Until 1990 it was DDR, today it is part of Sachsen Anhalt. On the western side of the Elbe stream there is a pedant to the Altmark named Wendland. We know this region from a 1989-tour, but now 7 years after the German reunion it is time to fill this white mental Altmark-spot with colours. Nowadays further informations are drawn from the internet. And there are some URLs already, thoroughly made by locals who love their homeland. I find the phone number of the tourist information at Gardelegen and they tell me, that the brochure: Radrundkurs Altmark, DM 6.90 is available at their bureau.
Section 1: Gardelegen - Stendal, 2.5.97, 75 km
So we will start this expedition on Friday the 2.5.97, this is a "bridge-day" between the 1st of May, the day of labour, and the weekend. My companion is Thomas, who was with me at the Elbe last year. We start with my car and arrive at Gardelegen 1 1/2 hours later. The tourist information at Gardelegen is at the old fashioned Salzwedeler Tor. This is built by two huge former fortification towers. A friendly lady in the bureau now sells the long desired brochure and the full title is:
Radrundkurs Altmark, Gesamtlänge 475 km
Im Städtedreieck Hamburg - Braunschweig - Berlin
Streckenverlauf: Stendal - Havelberg - Salzwedel - Gardelegen - Stendal
We have a chat with the ladies and we tell that we are from Braunschweig. "Oh this is fine" one of the ladies says. "We will visit the Harz und Heide exhibition on Sunday with an Altmark-information booth, so you can explain us the route to Braunschweig". "It is the same as to go to Hannover" we say. "Oh, we have not been so far yet" is the stunning answer. Thereafter they show us the successful results of restauration activities in the inner parts and the courtyard of the building.
We have not planned anything for today for we did not own the map of the path until now. At first we stroll around in the old fashioned city of Gardelegen. Soon we hit on the portal of the brewery. In former times the region was famous for the hop cultivation and until now they brew the famous Garley Bier. A colourful beer-trailer in the courtyard waits for the next festivity, may be at Ascension Day which is called "Herrentag" hereabout. Then there was a famous son of the town and we pass the house, where he was born. It was Otto Reutter, a couplet-singer in the 20/30s.
We come to the city hall and the market but then head south to hit the bike path. We have the choice to go towards Klötze or Stendal. We decide to go to Stendal and in consequence turn off towards Klötze. This is caused by the unusual mapping, the northern arrow points down unlike to the usual upward direction. But we soon get aware of our fault and turn to the right direction which leads left. At the gardensite Lindental we have a chat at a fence with a retired couple. They wind off the locations to Stendal and we continue somewhat confused. Now we have tail wind, sunshine and the yellow buttercups bloom, we ride along a fine forest path. The next village is Zienau and we are highly motivated by the rural impressions.
We cross a special construction site: this is the brand new ICE-railway Hannover - Berlin which is nearly the bee-line. Unfortunately this bee-line just misses our hometown Braunschweig. The fundaments of the rails is made of concrete and completely plane. We ride across a bridge with grand prix course like crash barriers. But the path on both sides of the bridge is only gravel. So it remains to be a secret, why they have wasted so much costs. We soon will observe another brand new institution.
We come to the village Neuendorf which was recently renewed and as usual they have paved too much and the atmosphere turns to sterility. But does anyone miss the cobblestones, the puddles, potholes and sand and mud? But the bike path is perfectly signed and we pass a larger forest, the northern end of the Colbitz Letzinger Heide. This region was one of the greatest military area of Europe more than 50 years long. After the Russians have gone the region is open again. We have read (K.D Felsmann, Rund um die Altmark), that some older locals have climbed a hill and past 60 years for the first time saw again the Brocken (Harz Mountains). They broke out in tears at that moment. This is understandable. It is not understandable, that the German armed forces will continue to use this region for their exercises.
We pass the "Octagonal Stone", which is placed on a crossing of eight paths. We can trust in our signs so do not choose a wrong of those eight directions. Amidst a dried out pine forest we suddenly see some smoke ahead. But the fire brigade is there already and they do not fight against a fire but instead have a barbecue grill at work. There is an open air children's party and we are not properly aged to ask for a fried sausage.
At the end of the forest we reach the town Uchtspringe. You may suppose that this is the location with the spring of the creek named Uchte.
But moreover there are several of odd persons wearing woolen bonnets or so. We soon realize that there are Institutes for mental health resources and forensic psychiatry. We discuss the latter expression and think this will have to do with justice and medicine. As we leave the main road we get struck. There is something ahead shining in the morning sun, it is a brand new double security fence of barbed wire around a large complex of buildings with prison-bar-windows, some of the buildings new as well. And it is to be read that this will be a high security prison for criminals driven by urge (Triebtäter). In the newspapers you will read "Closed Safekeeping" (Verwahrung in einer geschlossenen Anstalt), now we see the reality. But all these impressions are unpersonal, we cannot imagine the human beings behind the walls.
In sight of this macabre matter we roll under trees to the springs of the Uchte. There are lots of springsinks which will never fall dry, even during dry years. This is to be read from a sign. Back in the landscape we need some time to overcome the impressions before. After some time we reach a strange 3 direction crossing. The odd thing is, that the signs point to all of those 3 directions. So we choose the left one and there shall be a pigeon's house in the village Wittenmoor. And really there is a castle, a park, a manor house, a brickstone church, and finally the pigeon's house. But the continuation is difficult, we cannot find any sign of the bikepath. And of course, we have to return to the strange crossing and choose the third direction.
We come to the village named Gross Schwarzlosen end eventually have a look to the clock. Time has run, we have almost 4 pm now, how can we get back to the car? We can choose a short cut and avoid a slope around Tangerhütte, then we will have a short distance to Stendal. And instead to fight back against the headwind we can enter a train there. So we turn north and on a quiet road ride side by side. Suddenly the signal of a horn, a car rolls from behind, overtakes and apruptly stops in front of us. I do hard to pass the car at it's right side while Thomas exposes himself to the noisy discussion. The people at the car, an elder couple, think to throw light on the fact, that it is not allowed to ride side by side on a road (this is true on National roads but not on side roads).While my companion risks to get a claim for insult I better follow my way straight ahead. After some time the grouchy driver goes on himself and we to a National road and ride one after the other.
The next villages are rural again, a chapel of a graveyard with a half timbered tower, some adventurous electric installations are scenic objects for a photo. The last northern stretch to Stendal is on the bike path again. After the next uphill the skyline of Stendal is in front already. Soon we reach the railway station. We arrive at 5.15 pm. In the hall there is a beautiful blond guard of the Deutsche Bahn and I am so stupid to look to the timetable. A train to Gardelegen gets off at 5.26 pm. Thomas gets the same information - but he has asked the blond angel.
So we have not so much time and immediately enter the platform. The blond angel comes along as well but seems to have a date with the engine driver. We stroll to the end of the train with the baggage trailer and are introduced by another uniformed clerk but this is a strapper girl. After all we have forgotten to buy the tickets, but in vain wait for the blond angel to do this in the train. So after 35 minutes we leave the train with free admission but never saw our blond angel again.
To end the day we do a small tour along the city walls of Gardelegen,
a photo of the
Salzwedeler Tor, a visit at the baker's shop where the shop girl is interrupted
to wipe the floor. Then we enter our car again - this was the first stage
of the Altmark tour, but we know already - it was not the last one.