Chateau, Elbe River, Germany
No longer a country of bad haircuts and ill-fitting suits, this former satellite of the old Soviet Union looked like one of the nicest, and most prosperous parts of modern Unified Germany. This is where the Harz Mountains get serious and the Germans flock here for their holidays.
The day was cloudless and hot. I was riding on narrow lanes through farmland dotted with small villages. I had to keep a sharp eye out for the tractors that zip along the roads. They were some big suckers the size of our diesel trucks, and when I saw one speeding around a blind corner at 30 miles an hour, I got out of the way fast.
It was a slow, easy day. I made only 40 kilometers before I stopped a camping platz in the town of Thale. It was on the grounds of an old monastery with ancient, rock-and-brick walls and Christian iconography. It was right out of The Name Of The Rose! I had to wonder what the ghosts of the monks who wander those halls must think of the tourists defiling their sanctified ground.
The town of Thale lies in the heart of the Harz Mountains. According to the pamphlet the clerk at the front desk gave me, there were a couple of lifts farther up the canyon, a gondola and a deuce chair.
I pitched my tent next to a small stream beneath a big oak tree. Later that afternoon, a gorgeous young woman rode in and set up her camp next to mine. Her bicycle, panniers, tent, even her cycling clothes were a bright red. We chatted, and I discovered that she had ridden from Sweden and was heading to Venice. She was the first long-distance cycle tourer I’d met in Europe.
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The next morning, a nice German couple invited me to their trailer for tea. We sat in the sun and talked and before I knew it, it was almost 9:30. It was a pleasant way to spend the morning, and I was sorry to leave. The weather was cool, and it stayed that way all day, which made for good riding. For the first time since I’d been in Germany, I had a tailwind and made 90 kilometers almost without trying. I had hoped to reach Dessau that day but it wasn’t in the cards. I made it to Bernburg and camped along a river with a couple of other, long-distance tourers, a man and a woman from Bavaria who had ridden around the world. They were riding Koga Miyata bicycles, which are Dutch-made, and very high-tech and expensive. Alongside them, my battered, vintage Trek 520 looked shabby, but I had no complaints. It had been a good bike.
I studied my maps and saw that I should reach Dessau and the Elbe River the next day. From there, I’d follow the river to Prague. I arose early the next morning with a sense of happy anticipation. All through my career as a graphic designer, I’d heard about and studied the Bauhaus, a design school where the modern design movement began. Originally located in Weimar, it moved to Dessau then to Berlin where the Nazis closed it, calling it decadent. After decades of decline under Soviet rule, the Bauhaus has been restored to it’s original condition, and I couldn’t wait to see it.