A bicycletour to Berlin June 1990:
Salzdahlum - Sanssouci

Braunschweig - Schmerwitz

The line from Salzdahlum to Sanssouci was a historical axis within the 18 th century: the crown prince Friedrich, later on well known as "Der Alte Fritz" (Fredericus Rex), was allowed by his father, Soldatenkönig Friedrich Wilhelm I, to marry the Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig - Bevern at the castle of Salzdahlum. It is well known, that the Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam was the favourite residence of Fredericus Rex. And now you will ask: What's about this Salzdahlum? Well, this is a small village 5 km from my home near Braunschweig. The castle of former times doesn't exist yet. So we have the virtual axis where they once used horses and carriages to accomplish the stretch of way. If one doesn't want to use a motorized vehicle he nowadays may use a bike.

There is an official reason to go to Berlin this time: as if they were prophets the organizers have choosen Berlin one year before for a conference past the Pentecost (Pfingsten). So I start at the Tuesday, very early at 6 am in the morning. It was a desire over the years of the iron curtain to go east to unknown regions with a tailwind and without any obstruction. Now the iron curtain has become passable and the dream comes true. 20 minutes after breakup I reach the famous Salzdahlum, but because the castle has vanished there is no need to look in and take a message with me. I pass the bulky church and then spread my ears and turn my nose ahead.

The adventure will start behind the last western town at Schöningen. I pass the town Schöppenstedt before, known by the jester Till Eulenspiegel. Until Schöningen I have spent 2 hours with impatience and sweat. Then I drive up to the border crossing at Hötensleben. This was the place, where we had our first and most impressive experience of "the Wende" in November last year  Report.

The guards are not interested to see my passport. One of them shouts: "What camping ground are you looking for?" I stop and hope to learn something about the present accommodation conditions in the DDR. I want to go until Belzig/Fläming or so, but the officers do not know nothing. Best wishes and I go off. There is a rough pavement and the village looks poor. At the church there is a scaffolding around the tower, so they seem to do some restaurations. Now I head for Ausleben along the blooming poppy seed at the roadside.



The landscape is not so scenic, agricultural land and larger fields than in the western area. Schöningen and the Elm mountain are still visible behind. The power stations Buschhaus, Offleben and Harpke send their steams up to the sky. As they vanish behind the horizon I reach the town Oschersleben, twintown of Schöningen. A rest in front of the double-towered church, and at a kiosk I buy a map of the Thüringer Wald for a later  Rennsteig-Tour.

Landschloß mit LPG
Soon the sun gets warmer and I change to the bike shorts. I pass a creek named Bode, a very common name for small rivers (this time it is the same well known Bode that comes from the Harz, the geographical wisdom was not fully developped in 1990). Now I find out, that it may be difficult to ride on the roughly paved road. Sometimes there is a "Sommerweg", an unpaved lane aside with puddles and soft sand passages and nearly not passable. In the middle of the main lane there is sometimes a stripe of concrete, but if a Trabbi or another noisy vehicle comes along the cyclist has to give way.

Near Egelen I hit on a small rural castle with a LPG (Landwirtschaftliche Produktions Genossenschaft) in it. I curve around at the courtyard and have a glance on the old walls. The route stays to be difficult, I pass the villages Biere and Börne and at noon reach the river Elbe and the town Schönebeck. We are some kms south of Magdeburg, from the hills one can see the skyline of this twintown of Braunschweig. The crossing of the Elbe is a remarkable moment on this tour. The waters of the stream look black with foam and tatter on the surface.


Über die Elbe

I must use a main road now, the B 184. At Leitzkau I detect the next castle with wide courtyards and buildings that need to be restaurated. Then I come to a railway barrier which is just closed by a signalman. A long waiting queue of vehicles is on the road, but per bicycle it is possible to pass them all until one stands just at the top of the line. I enjoy the short rest as the bearded signalman shouts: "Hey fellow come along" (of course in untranslatable Saxonian slang). But the train approaches already and I resign. As the barrier opens again I walk over to the signalman for a chat. "Where are you going?" "To Belzig" "That is not so far" "Where can I find an accommodation?" "May be at the youth hostel" "So I will go on" "Happy journey".

I ride to a small side spot and wait until the queue of stinky vehicles has passed. The next town is Zerbst and at the entrance there is a sign: Pension, Bed and Breakfast. OK, but now at 4 pm it is too early yet. But I can trust in another such occasion ahead. In Zerbst there are city walls and gates, a fortification gallery. I come to the marketplace with a Roland monument. The place is a curiosity. There are some ugly blocks as known from the socialistic architecture. These blocks just hide the old church which has no roof. Birch trees and other green plants grow out of the ruins. So the inhabitants of the blocks have a nice view from their balconies. At another spot they just remove some concrete panels, may be they have learned something.

I go on towards Dobritz. In front there are the lower hills of the Hoher Fläming, my destination for today. The Hoher Fläming is formed during the ice age by the moraines, the highest hill is the Hagelberg with 201 m. So I hope for some touristic activities to get a proper accommodation there. In case of need I have a mat and a sleeping bag with me. Suddenly there is a rising aeroplane in front of me and I observe a wide military area with an airport where the Russians have their home. There are various field camps and the green-brown uniformed soldiers wave and shout. For a short time I discuss with myself if I should ask for an invitation for the night but then one would awake as a vodka-dead body the next morning.

So I come to the town of Wiesenburg, located in the Hoher Fläming already. At the entrance there is a big sign and I await the announce of a Hotel or restaurant. But this is quite another text:

We are on wire!
The metallurgists of the wirepullers
Wiesenburg are unbeatable!

This is really a funny thing. I think they have pulled enough wires along the iron curtain in the past. I find no pension or hotel and better enter a shop to get some eatable for the night like crackers, chocolat or nuts. There are 20 km to Belzig but due to the tailwind I have made 170 km until now. This could be enough. I continue monotonically. Just ahead another big sign: the wirepullers again? But now read:

Schooling Center Schmerwitz
awaits guests.
Accommodation, Three Restaurants.
Opened 9 am to 10 pm.

This is heaven, I turn left and 5 minutes later I arrive at a red-white barrier and a guard house. Sceptically I ask if I could get a room here. "Of cause, just enter the reception over there". All my worries fly away. At the reception a bored lady waits for something to happen and is very pleased to welcome a guest now. They had other cyclists before and I have to pay 50 DDR-Mark (this would be about 10 EURO today) for a room with a shower bath. The lady comes with me to unlock the seperate block number 6. I learn, that this institution was a former training center for socialistic fightergroups (Kampftruppen). Now they have changed to the Fläming Service Corporation and all is owned by the new founded political party PDS (former SED). If I want I could visit the sauna past 6 pm, she informs. But I would prefer a good meal, there was sweat enough today.

So I end in the Flämingklause for dinner. I have to pay 10 Westmark and have an informative chat with the waitress about the situation in this region. Everything is uncertain, they do not know if they can keep their employment and what will be the consequences of the change of the currency. Moreover I learn, that there are lots of private accommodations, but they are still shy to put signs at their front door. Then I walk around and find a nice castle here, property of a Graf von Lindau once upon a time. Some houses around form the village. A woman just drives her hens with a broom "Charles, come on man!" she shouts. This is the cock.

I end alone in my house with the television and watch a report about mysterious funds and properties of the still active socialistic gangs.

Schmerwitz - Berlin

After a good night a cuckoo awakes me in the morning. I prepare bike and baggage and return the key to the reception. Just now there is "rush hour", one Trabbi after the other passes the barrier at the guard house. There are workpeople for the kitchens, cleaning services, administration clerks etc. But remember, in the moment I am the only guest around. So they wait for me already to have breakfast. I have to pay my last 5 DDR-Mark, and then can start into the sunshine. At first I pass a beautiful alley and then dive into the pine forests of the Fläming. On the bark of the pines they have made cuts like a V to collect the resin (Harz). At the bottom of the V there are small pots to catch the drops.

Soon I come to a small village amidst the forest. This is called "Verlorenwasser", which would be translated "Lost Water". The section in the forests is so long that I start to think I am lost myself. But then I hit on the B 102 at Dippmannsdorf. Some time later I turn right towards Lehnin. In this region they produce much vegetable and fruits, there are huge plantations for cherries or apples, vast fields for strawberries as well. Just now we have the strawberry-season and there are many folks around. Past Lehnin the atmosphere feels "near to Berlin" already. At first there is the Autobahn from Magdeburg, then the Berliner Ring. Some km have to be ridden on the B1. The bikepath is unpassable and on the road there is a dense traffic. One Trabbie angrily honks at me and I am glad to leave this busy road at Geltow. At a nice lake I find two benches, one for me and one for the bike and I have a nice rest. We now have swampland around, dried lakes and nature reserve everywhere. Then we reach Potsdam with a large parking site. Busses and crowds caused by the nearby park of Sanssouci and the "Neues Palais" which is just under construction for restauration activities.

Schloß Sanssouci
May be it is not allowed to cycle within the park, so I carefully find my way to the other end. At the Orangerie I meet two other cyclists who have come from Bremen. Here at the palais of Sanssouci there is the main touristic center, may be of all about Germany, so busses and tourist masses all around. I jump down the famous terraces in front of the palais. At the walls they cultivate fig trees behind a shelter of glass. I take a photo and this is the last of the film. Then I continue towards Potsdam and the Cecilienhof. I pass Russian barracks, they have nice climb gardens with ropes and walls etc. In the beautiful park of the Cecilienhof I have a rest for a while at the banks of the Heiliger See. The castle of Cecilienhof is a memorial for the Potsdam Conference which was held in July 1945 at this place. There are nice flowerbeds around the castle which is built in an English Tudor style. Sorry I can take no more photos without a film.

I stroll towards the border crossing to western Berlin. I see houses with relicts of the war 45 years ago: signs of the bombs and shootings at the walls without any plasters or colours. Eventually I pass the Glienicker Brücke with goose bumps and return to the Golden West. We now pass famous places of Berlin as there are: Havel, Pfaueninsel, Wannsee, Schlachtensee, Krumme Lanke. Finally I reach my destination in the early afternoon and this is my friend Werner M. at the BAM (Bundesanstalt für Materialprüfung).

East Berlin

We will have our conference in the afternoon of this Thursday at Dahlem. So there is much time for a visit of the east of Berlin. I use the S-Bahn from Steglitz to the Anhalter Bahnhof, no problem to transport the bike. But you should stamp your ticket at the train station and not forget it as I did. But I was lucky and no controller came up.

At first we now have to buy a new film. It is earlieer than 9 am and the shops are closed yet. At two petrol stations there are no films available. Then I pass a tent camp of people who demonstrate contra the property-tycoons and pro the occupation of old houses. At the Bernburger Strasse there is a Polish market but I don't dare to come too close. But at last at a tobacco shop I can buy my film.

Now I enter the Potsdamer Platz. There is a border crossing, I want to go to the Brandenburger Tor. This is just covered by scaffolds and the Quadriga is removed for restauration. May be the Sylvesterparty after the break of the iron curtain was too wild here. I must present my passport and then enter the Pariser Platz, the beginning of the boulevard Unter den Linden. The lime trees are not so old and will be planted after the war. There are noble and elegant bureaus like embassies, airlines, bankhouses and exclusive shops. Then we pass the Humboldt Universität, Altes Palais, Deutsche Staatsoper, Neue Wache, Museum für Deutsche Geschichte and more and more. I have a brochure with pictures declaring the peciuliarities between the Brandenburger Tor and the Alexanderplatz.

Berlin Mitte

At the Marx-Engels Platz we see The Berliner Dom with the large cupola which was restaurated recently. Then there are the Staatsrat-Building, Rotes Rathaus, Palast der Republik which contains the Volkskammer to be one of the most political places just now. The socialistic emblem showing hammer and compasses (Zirkel) is removed but one can still see the round spot where it once was. Between Dom and Palast der Republik there is another demonstration, this time they protest against the miseries in educational system.

Das Rote Rathaus
The police has blocked some areas to lead the masses in controlable canals. I now turn to the right to inspect the Nicolaiviertel. There is a guided group and they just learn, that this quarter was rebuilt due to the 750 years anniversary. I resign to go into the Nicolaikirche, this will happen at a later occasion. I want to see some "Milieu", that is the atmosphere along the wall and the streets just aside it.

At first we have to cross the Alex (Alexanderplatz) and there is the 365 m high television tower, to the regret of the west-Berliners the highest building of total Berlin. The terrain where the tower stands on was once as usual taken from private properties. So sometimes there are recourse efforts (Rückgabeforderungen). In this case in the TV there was an interview with a former owner and she said: "What shall I do with an area occupied by a television tower?".

Across the place is the station of the S-Bahn. In front of the Interhotel "Stadt Berlin" and the Centrum Warenhaus there are lots of Polish people saling junk or entertainment electronics. Some people have thick bundles of banknotes in their hands and speak to everyone if he would change some money. I do not believe that this could be the occasion to get rich. I leave this all behind and head towards the Prenzlauer Berg. Until the Immanuel Kirche I ride along the Prenzlauer Strasse and then turn into side roads. The luxuriance ends apruptly. The houses have not been restaurated since the war or earlier. It is a piece of past times and a spooky charme. Unfortunately I do not dare to pass one of the open passages to throw a glance into the courtyards. Proverbial is the term "Zille-Milieu" due to the writer and painter Heinrich Zille in the twenties, who described the atmosphere, the language and the behaviour of the people living here.

I ride on the Dimitroff Strasse, a large construction site menawhile. At the Eberswalder Strasse I hit on the border and the wall. Now I go on parallel to the famous Bernauer Strasse just along the wall or the rests of it. At one spot they just demolish the wall with an excavator. I take two pieces of the wall as reminiscents, instead of colorful grafitti there is a grey-green painting on them. I take some photos which soon will be "time documents" for you never will see these scenes again.

Another photographer comes up and speaks to me. He is from AP Press and now documenting the decay of the wall. He would not like to inspire me to any illegal action, he says, but if I would be willing to walk along those left posts? So the photo would not look so boring? Of course I am willing, but first must roll down the legs of my pants and remove the camera. Then we peer towards the still omnipresent border guards, it is still not allowed to walk within the border installations. Some months earlier they would have used their guns. Today I succeed in the walk for a photo and finally get a new film as a gift. Remember my efforts to get a new one this morning. Now I wait to be represented in any magazine or coffee-table book.

Wall in Decay
I stay to the border and eventually get lost in blind alleys or industrial areas. I come along the famous Charite, a big hospital complex. At the river Spree near the Reichstag I once again end in the no-man's land. This was called the "Todesstreifen" (death strip). Today there are two lovers in a Trabbi, may be they have more fun in this macabre surrounding. Of course I keep distance and have a symbolic photo of the Reichstag in decay with Mauerpfeffer (sedum acre) in the foreground (this is a play on words: Mauer = wall, Pfeffer = pepper).

Finally I get difficulties to get out of the death strip for there are construction activities at a bridge. But the workers wave and give signs that I can pass. "I should have come here one year earlier" I say and we all laugh. (I did not know, that not far from here and just some more than one year earlier (Feb.89) the last victim of the wall was killed...). I must carry my bike over some pipelines and reach the Otto Grotewohlstrasse and the Brandenburger Tor. In these days it is very familiar to sell pieces of the wall with colours of grafitti on it. Most pieces and colours look rather fresh so it is uncertain, if they are authentic.

This was East Berlin, now I must head to the conference this afternoon. I can insure: the conference was less interesting.
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