Shortly after I have arrived in Germany I decided to go cycling. I always loved to cycle – I used to go on long and far trips, and after having hiked so much during the last two years, I longed for going on a cycling trip. I had this idea in mind for quite a bit and ideally I would have wanted to cycle all the way to Warsaw, where I lived for a while a couple of years back. But I soon figured I might not have enough time and I might not be in my best cycling shape anymore. 100 and more kilometer a day wouldn’t be doable at this point. But not only the pure idea of going around on my bike, also the urge to meet and catch up with friends after that long time motivated me. So I set off with Erfurt, my former home town, as my first destination. Then I went on to Arnstadt and on to Bamberg. Especially curious I was about Bamberg. It is a charming medieval town in northern Bavaria I have never been to before. Eventually I wanted to visit a friend, who always encouraged me to come around. So I went and explored this pretty university town. To get there I took one of those really convenient German regional trains where you very easily can transport your bike. Then from the small town of Lichtenfels I took the Main cycling path all the way south to Bamberg. I started my trip without a proper plan, so I finally decided to bike all the way to Cottbus, that is another university town in the east of Germany, to also visit friends.
That trip, that startet off as a cycling trip from place to place to catch up with friends, soon transformed into a trip towards a psychological core of the nation and towards the pulse of the country I haven’t been to for quite some time. Even though I had a warm feeling as places where familiar, as I was surrounded by my mother tongue and I, of course, understood all social codes, but I soon figured that it is a different country I was cycling through. Germany changed slightly: the atmospheric and mental state is a different one than when I left over two years ago. Despite the lazy summer mood, I perceive the atmosphere as highly political, almost hysterical and generally quite irritated. People seem to have developed the urge to comment on all and everything even more and I encountered people that blamed me out of the sudden and very open of falsely stopping with my bike on sidewalks („This is not a cycling path!“). Also not rare were people passing me with their cars while is was riding my bike without any care at all. Most conversations sooner or later ended in political discussions where arguments didn’t matter.
Furthermore I perceived growing differences between the German east and the west, growing differences between urban and rural areas. I am quite unhappy to witness the increasing support right-winged parties get in the eastern provinces and as regional elections will take place in fall I was confronted with stupid-bullshit propaganda on posters of right-winged parties. But bigger cities prosper, boast a liberal and more tolerant atmosphere. In contrast to cities like Leipzig, the rural parts – not only in the east, I was told – are getting de-industrialized, young people move away for a better education and better jobs, social and cultural infrastructure gets more sparse. Left behind are dying villages, empty houses and fallow industrial plants. There seem to be local initiatives to change things for the better, to (kinda successfully) lure back people that moved away, to lure companies with lower taxes and to liften up the quality of living. For instance in the huge area called the „Lausitz“, that is located in the German east, there are initiatives to transform former open-cast mining into a landscape of lakes where people can go swimming, kayaking, hiking and cycling. And there are initiatives and local groups that fight racism and discrimination and aim for a better living-environment. There is still some way to go, but more than just first steps are done.
But although the general atmosphere got more edgy, personal conversations and encounters were warm, friendly and hospitable. The owner of one of the guesthouses I stayed at, even bought me a huge cup of ice cream.
Being back in the Thuringian Forest at my parents’ for now, I am more than happy that I did that trip. I caught up with friends, I travelled on my own with my bike and I got to understand the nowadays psychology of my home-country a tiny little bit better. Also – cycling in Germany is awesome! To get to the trails you can easily transport the bike in regional trains, in some provinces it is even free of additional charge. Official path are pretty well marked and most of the trails I took were paved and lead through idyllic landscapes. I highly recommend to explore Germany (or your own home areas) by bike.
Last but not least I want to send out a big, big THANK YOU to all friends that let me stay on their couches, showed me their home towns and gave me a valuable present – their time and presence.