Flying back to Germany from the UK dropped me off in Cologne-Bonn airport, and I took the chance to visit the two before I got back to Christian & Edith’s place where my bike was waiting. It was just a short wander around them both, but that included getting to see the quite remarkable cathedral in Cologne, and the birthplace of Beethoven in Bonn. Helped by their close proximity, and the fact that I slept for the train ride, the cities seemed more distinct than they would have otherwise.
I wasn’t in a rush to ride on, with such wonderfully warm hospitality from Christian & Edith. They live about 30km north of Koblenz, in a small town, but I did manage to be a tourist in Koblenz too, thanks to their kind help. In the morning, Christian gave me a lift to his workplace, where I gave a talk in front of a room of 20 of his colleagues about my trip, and then in the afternoon Edith took me around the city. There were plenty of highlights, such as the glorious Augenroller clock which rolls its eyes to show the seconds and sticks it’s tongue out on the hour, taking the cable car over the confluence of the Rhine & Mosel and eating the best ice-cream of my trip so far – spaghetti-eis!
When I was planning this trip, I was definitely heading east from Koblenz to Prague. It just made sense. I’d go east, see some more of Germany, and then get to Prague which everyone says is so amazing. I could then keep heading east through southern Poland. That idea all fell apart when I was talking with Edith one day, who mentioned that her sister lived in the Black Forest and I clearly had to go and visit her. That’s all it took for my plan to completely change and instead of heading east it was south down the Rhine that I went.
My first day out of Koblenz had me following the Rhine, and I’m pretty sure I saw more bicycles with panniers in that day than I did in my 18 months in the Americas south of Mexico. I said hello to pretty much every single one, but got little back. I did make friends with a father and son pair, who I rode with for a few hours, and they also found my custom of saying hello to every bicycle bizarre – a common experience that I’d have with most people I rode with during my time in Germany. We rode together down the section known as the Romantic Rhine, where castles and vineyards line the steep hillsides along the river’s banks, quite lovely.
One good thing about riding along the Rhine, was the number of people I could meet on Warmshowers. That started with Martina, Dietmar & Paul who shared their seasonal asparagus with me, as well as a fair amount of wine as I was their first guest on Warmshowers. Both Martina & Dietmar could speak some English, but Paul, their 10-year-old, couldn’t really speak any so we couldn’t communicate so much. A shame after always being able to have silly chats with kids in Spanish in other countries. After that, it was Torsten and his girlfriend in Worms, where I had my first geocaching outing – basically hide and seek with a GPS. His girlfriend, whose name escapes me right now, lives up near Hamburg as a house guardian in an old government building. I’d never heard of the concept but basically, as a way of avoiding squatters, she gets super-cheap rent living in an office building until it’s sold. It could be for the next 2 months, or the next 3 years, but she pays about 25% of market rate and gets to live in the absolute centre of the city.
Worms, one of the oldest cities in Germany, is home to not only a beautiful cathedral, but also the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery. I heard a little about it, as I was lucky enough to be there at the same time as a tour group, but my favourite thing was the picture I have below. As far as I understand, Rocks are left on Jewish gravestones to show respect instead of flowers, and so a couple of Chinese girls whose parents were listening to the tour decided that instead of sitting around bored they would go and put small piles of rocks on the nearby gravestones. There are two famous gravestones, of a rabbi and a rich man who paid for the rabbi to be freed, and they have huge amounts of notes and rocks, but most of the others were barren other than the ones the two small girls placed.
Heidelberg, one of the most popular national tourist destinations for Germans, was next on my ride southwards and while it’s a beautiful city, with a great historical centre and beautiful mountains surrounding it that have some glorious trails, the highlight was the family that hosted me. They are the Global Mobile Family, Julie from England, her German husband Martin and four adorable young children (Moses, Caspar, Turis and Herbie) that did a trip around the world with their bikes. There was a fair amount of flying involved – with their average of 30-40km a day they’d probably still be going otherwise – but their kids are so amazing. Moses in particular, maybe just by virtue of being the eldest at 7.5, was just full of questions and talking, although his 3 younger brothers all joined in too. Who needs a normal life? Not them!
My hosts in Karlsruhe, Bine, Tobias and baby Robin, were also quite wonderful. Tobias is involved with a charity called Bikes without Borders which aims to help refugees – of which Karlsruhe has plenty – get a bicycle. All the refugee has to do is give a €10 deposit and then they are given a bike that Tobias and others have restored from donations that they are given. If the bike has any problems, it’ll get fixed for free. Karlsruhe has a fair number of refugees, because the German system centralises where refugees go to be processed. For this area, that’s Karlsruhe. They arrive, are processed and then when they get their papers they have more freedom to move elsewhere. Although Germany gets a large number of the refugees and immigrants that arrive into Europe, the people I spoke to about it didn’t seem to really think that it was a problem – unlike the current attitude in the UK. Maybe I just spoke to a certain kind of person, but it was quite lovely to see people like Tobias.