A big shout-out to the Germans!

Going down through the first half of Europe (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia) I’ve met Germans almost everywhere. And in Vienna I only hung out with Germans. But what a great time.

A couple of hours after saying hi to each other for the first time, Sarah (on the picture) and I got our first beer. Then we had Spritze (wine and sparkling water – excellent stuff) in her collective’s kitchen, we danced in a bar where no one else danced, crawled in the window to her colleagues and hung out after the restaurant closed, had a classic moment of group indecisiveness and ended up dancing in this old theater with a groovy vibe but awful music. I was back in a big city. Thanks, Sarah!
The next day Sarah showed me the Schönbrunn Palace*. Tourist destination number one in Vienna, it seemed. It’s basically just a big ass castle with a lot of symmetrical stuff and an enormous garden, so instead I give you a picture from a little romantic alley. Here couples queued up to get their picture taken, and even though we are not a couple, it almost felt like an obligation walking around man and woman in such a traditional, baroque environment. – Very special, like the woman taking our picture said when she handed me back the iPhone. Indeed.

The next days I played football twice with Sarah’s flat mate Patrick and Agathe showed me around in Vienna. I had an impression of a bigger and more diverse city than Copenhagen but still full of cafés, old buildings and an awful lot of shopping. The three Germans in Vienna did an outstanding job hosting me in Austria. Thanks to our mutual Austrian connection living in Canada. Thanks, Mavie!

*Earlier I wrote that we went to Hofburg Palace but I’ve been corrected. Bonus info: Schönbrunn Palace was according to Wikipedia a 1441-room Rococo style summer residence for the Roman emperor. So the description ‘a big ass castle’ still stands, though the name has changed.

Rainer and the lone wolf

Five years ago, Rainer lost his daughter and wife. I have no idea how to do this story justice and I’ve thought about whether to write it at all. But it keeps on coming back to me.

His daughter was 20 years old, she studied law and the three of them were planning on going to Canada together. It was early spring and Rainer had told her wife to be careful on the slippery road that time a year. But, as he said while doing this rolling gesture with his hands, the car rolled over and they were gone. Like that.

- Something can’t be explained. Life goes on. It has to. It has to, he said.

Rainer was born in Czech Republic but with the help from his mothers German citizenship he got out of the Iron Curtain in 1982 and moved to Düsseldorf. He is only back in Brno this August to do the last paper work after his mothers death two months ago.

Despite the sad stories, Rainer was definitely not the ‘sad, lonely man in the bar’. I did meet him in a beer bar in the central Brno but it was me who approach him, offering him a cigarette. He declined but asked me if I spoke German. My German is rusty but as for most people beer cures, and we talked (and drank) for almost four hours. About Rainers love for the Danish society, system and especially the royal family. We also talked about my journey. Rainer called me the ‘lone wolf’ and was very impressed with my “courage to go alone”. Still, when I at some point after drinking maybe more than five and definitely more than four large Edelweiss asked him for his best advice to a 32-year-old man, it sounded quite different.

- Get married. Get a family. You have seen enough. USA, the Middle East and soon the most of Europe. It’s time to find a girl. And then you can take her with you. If you don’t fin her on your way though Europe, go home and find one.

Rainer himself says he is also an adventurer. But he is not going to make it to Canada, in this life. Instead, he plans on driving 8000 kilometers in Australia. I hope he goes.

(Life is serious, Rainer said when I showed him the picture above. Still, this picture is more how I remember life in Brno)

Polish fun facts

My friend Maja is a big fan of fun facts. So I thought it appropriate to write a post full of them in here. Polish ones since she’s from Poland. Unfortunately Maja, according to herself, has a problem remembering stuff when she’s asked to do so, so we didn’t find that many. But here’s a few. (It should be said, Maja talked to her friend and her dad several times in an attempt to get more facts. She has promised to be back, if she suddenly remembers).

* When you’re in a city in Poland, one thing that you notice immediately is the very, very, very colorful building blocks. Green. Red. Pink. Yellow. All pastel. This is a result of an attempt to cure Poland from gray, sad apartment blocks from the past but according to Maja, it all went a bit too fast and now in Poland they call it ‘pasteloza’. Like a disease. From what I can read it’s not known precisely how it all started but a political wish to distance Poland from the Soviet past combined with a lack of communication between administrators of the buildings, visual artists and architects is mentioned as one explanation. Supposedly it began in the 90′s in Wroclaw but was soon seen all around the country (it doesn’t refer to private houses so it has nothing to do with the polish facades, I wrote about earlier on).

* Speaking of Wroclaw. A Danish friend works here, and when we visited her, she told us that all production facilities in Poland are required by law to have an alcometer in place. So if a worker seems drunk, they can make him or her blow. And send the worker home, if the worker is too drunk. If it’s enough to fire the worker, my friend didn’t know.

* Polish gas stations offer refrigerated vodka (this was the first thing I noticed in Poland).

* And I hate that this one is also about alcohol but according to a morning show on Polish public tv, one out of five Poles are drunk when they are at the sea or the river. That seems like quite a lot.

* Oh, but this is not about alcohol and will make you respect Poland even more than before reading this blog In 1683, when the Ottoman had besieged Vienna for a few months, it was the Polish who – after an exhausting and fierce battle – tipped the balance and sent the troops from the expanding empire home. Thanks Poland.

And lastly a picture of Maja’s dad, who is a an overall good guy. He has his own company selling windows, likes to drive fast, took us out for lunch and smiles back. The latter is not something you can expect in Poland. Not at all. He lives in Zielona Gora, where the pastel picture is also from. I had a great time in that town.

The Schengen Blog

After less than three hours on the road, this blog already reminds me of a border checkpoint in the EU. With the Schengen Agreement citizens of the union can freely cross borders, which means that the checkpoints are slowly dying. Like here on the border between Austria and Slovakia. Who will remove the weeds from the little cracks in the pavement?

Who will maintain the parking lot?

Who will fix the car that doesn’t even have registration plates anymore?

I WILL! I’m just in the bistro. Thinking big. There’s not a lot of people but the opening hours are great. Yalla!

Facades

Poland is big on colorful or just intriguing house facades. Here is a fraction of what I saw the first hours in the country going from Frankfurt an der Oder (Germany) on a very straight road to Zielona Góra. Most of the pictures are from the little town Cybinka. I’m a big fan.

Oh, and I met Ronaldo! (cliffhanger). He talked and talked and talked, though I kept on pointing to my ear, shaking my head and making the cut-the-throat gesture. I had to pull him away from the road several times when a truck approached us. It seemed like the alcohol made him indifferent.

Germany

In big parts of eastern Germany they don’t mess around with turns, roundabouts and the like. At the same time I forgot to stop and talk to people because I was so fascinated with my new bicycle – and speed. Instead I took some pictures.

My bet is that the person who chose this pavement for a 9,3 km short cut for cyclists has never been on a bicycle.

A sign showing where the country was divided 25 years ago.

Terrible things happened here. This forest used to host a nazi concentration camp, now called Glöwen, where they produced ammunition.

The view from Herr und Frau Guus’ eight euro camp site a few kilometers north of Ratzeburg.

But of course.

Mmm, rye bread.

Unfortunately, I missed this show.

Finally a picture rom Denmark. In Denmark Dybbøl is (almost) synonymous with military defeat and humiliation of our nation but it seems like they also know how to have fun. And it’s actually not that far from what the real deal looks like in daylight.

Quitting!

This podcast episode about time and energy spent in the past versus the future has been the most interesting I’ve listened to on the road so far. Freakonomics have a tendency to take it a bit far when they want to prove a point but this one about quitting (not just your job) is indeed thought provoking.

The Upside of Quitting

Erchan

- I don’t think much of ISIS. I don’t think they can call themselves Muslims because what they do is not allowed when you’re a Muslim. Nowhere.

- Aren’t you nervous about them taking over more and more in the Middle East?

- No. They’re just looting terrorists. Soon they have to buy arms from the big nations. They need arms. And then it’s over.

On the same say as Barack Obama authorized air strikes on the group ISIS, who now call themselves Islamic State, in Iraq, Erchan gave me his view on the future (we had not heard about the strikes), while we were drinking a post-hamam-tea. I hope he’s right.

Erchan himself comes from a town outside Izmir in Turkey but has lived the last five years in Germany. First in “too busy” Hamburg but now in the old Hansestadt Lübeck. I met him in the reception in hamam Orient Oase and though this place is only open for women on Thursdays, he called someone, who replaced him in the reception and gave me the whole treatment himself. And of course convinced me to go with the 63 euro deal instead of the 30 euro one…

Oh, and Erchan is a former (semi)pro in the second best Turkish football league.

- Midfield. Creating chances. Right behind the striker, he said with a big, satisfied smile.

If you one day find yourself exhausted, sick or worn out in Lübeck, hamamorientoase.de is the place to go.

René und Cornelia

The first ordinary stranger to approach me on this trip was René. I sat outside a restaurant next to the forest and he’d guessed I was from Denmark. René doesn’t speak English and my German is indeed rusty so we kept it to prost! and that awkward laughter when you’re trying really hard but you both know the other person has no idea what you’re talking about. He has lived his whole life in the village Achterwehr close to where we met. It made him burst into laughter every time he retold stories about my plans, kilometers and hours on the bicycle and saw Cornelia’s puzzled face. She was a bit more shy. Great people.

Man in Black

So now this semi-public diary from my journey down through Europe begins. It’s made mostly for future memory and done in English so friends from outside Denmark can read along. If they like.

After 960 kilometers and 42 hours on the bike I made it to Berlin from Copenhagen – via friends and family and a few campsites. Yesterday on a campsite in Havelberg a man – while eating breakfast with his small children – chose to turn up his car stereo at 7:30 in the morning. And so we all got up. What a hero. I’ve never been much of a camper but these places could prove to be where the true adventure happens on this journey.

Oh, and instead of a picture from busy Berlin here is one from a road with around one car every fifth minute – between Perleberg and Havelberg.