An occasional journal of the Life of Reilly

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Medow, Germany: The Comfortable, New, and Unexpected

Traveling in Germany is very comfortable for us.  We spent three months there in 2007 on our first major bike tour.  My parents immigrated from Germany after WWII, so there is family scattered all over the country.  I have an acceptable degree of fluency in the language, so engaging with people along the way and getting what we need is easier.  And since we were already on the European continent on this trip, we planned to spend the last month or so visiting family, crossing territory both familiar and new.

Ahh, German trains.  Comfortable, on time, and just wheel your bike on board.
Our first stop was to visit my dear cousin Eva and her family near Hanover.  We took the train from where we entered Germany in the little town of Emmerich, squeezed between the Rhine River and the border with The Netherlands, in order to arrive in time to see my cousin’s lovely daughter Lena graduate with her Master’s degree in architecture. It was a reunion, with extended family coming from near and far to celebrate.  Our four days there consisted of a bit of sightseeing and lots of eating, drinking, talking, and staying up late.  It was hard to wind down at the end of the day with a head buzzing with all the conversations of the day and the German vocabulary resurrected from somewhere deep in my brain.
No afternoon gathering is complete without three different cakes and coffee.
My cousin's daughter Birte baked a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake) which was a crowd favorite.
My Tante Christel now needs a wheelchair, and we spent an afternoon with her on a walk in the woods.
Our schedule was a bit more relaxed once we left my cousin, and we were able to cycle to connect visits to other relatives.  We stopped in historic Lüneburg to meet for the first time a cousin of my father, to Hamburg to visit with another cousin, and then across northern Germany to my second cousin outside of Anklam.  It is a feeling like a warm and soft blanket to be among family that is so nice and generous and welcoming.  Large family gatherings were not part of my childhood because family was something my parents left behind when they made a new life in the United States.  It gives me a feeling of completeness to experience it now.
My father's cousin Ortwin and his lovely wife Ute toasted our arrival to their home.

Paved bike trail along a canal in the countryside of northern Germany.

We took the underground (and underwater) route under the Elbe River through the St Pauli Elbtunnel.

Beautiful cycling in the German countryside.

Lunch with a view of the schloss in Schwerin.

Weatherbeaten but charming.


Bombing during WWII partially destroyed the St Marien church in Wismar.

Building ornaments in Wismar.

Wind machines are a frequent sight in the countryside of Germany.  Some folks don't like them, but we think they are graceful and smart.

The harbor in Stralsund where we boarded the ferry to Hiddensee.  This was my grandmother's home town.
A highlight was a visit to Hiddensee, a narrow 10-mile long island in the Baltic Sea.  We took a ferry to for a day visit with our bikes.  My father spent some time here as a youth and still recalls the geography of the island well.  No cars are allowed on the island, so people get around by walking, biking, or riding in one of the horse-drawn carriage taxis.  Most of the homes are summer residences and people are happy and relaxed because they are on vacation.  We had a brilliant sunny day, and that contributed to the general happiness and number of people sunbathing and swimming in the nude.
The sights on the beach on Hiddensee.

My aunt and grandmother on Hiddensee, probably in the 1930's, from a family photo album.  The wind blows there most of the time, which is why they decided to sit in this ditch.
Quaint vacation home on Hiddensee.

No cars on the island means luggage and other cargo gets hauled around by hand carts and bike trailers, here parked at the dock.

The horse-drawn taxi carts people around the island...
...and leaves traces behind.

The Dornbusch Lighthouse on Hiddensee, a landmark.

After our day on Hiddensee we crossed the channel to Rugen Island and watched the sun set on the lovely island where we spent the day.
We planned to stay in campgrounds, which was our normal routine throughout this trip.  But upon arrival at our first German campground the night after we left my cousin we were surprised to find out did not take overnighters.  It was a campground of “dauercampers” (permanent campers).  The other campground down the street was the same situation, and the next closest was over 15 kilometers away, not an option late in the day.  Pockets of forest are common in rural Germany, so we filled all our water containers and found a dirt road that took us out of sight amongst the trees.  It was so peaceful, not unlike the experience of camping in the wilderness at home.  No other campers watching us, no barking dogs, and no screaming children.  It was so nice and easy that we only paid for camping three nights for our entire month in Germany.

Our old tent leaks, so we had to buy a tarp to protect it on nights with rain.  Camping in the woods offers plenty of tie-off points.

The best thing about a campground is a warm shower.  But we found substitutes.  We camped near lakes a couple of nights where we were able to swim and rinse our clothes.  Many of the other people we saw swimming in the lakes didn’t bother with swimsuits, so neither did we. Schwimmbads are German institutions -- large swimming pools with diving boards and slides and areas with grass and tables.  Many larger towns have them and on a nice day families come and spend the day.  For just a few euros we were able to go for a swim, take a shower, wash our clothes before finding a secret spot in the woods.  And when either of these options are unavailable, then we looked for a public bathroom with hot water where we filled our water bag, which we could hang from a tree to take a shower, using a surprisingly small volume of water.
Schwimmbad heaven!

The unexpected part of stealth camping?  Ticks and slugs.  John had the first tick, no bigger than the period at the end of a sentence.  And then one day during our lunch break I took a look at my legs, and there were at least ten little guys that we had to pluck off with the tweezers from my Swiss Army knife.  Every evening from then on we did a tick inspection on each other before going to bed.  We had a concern about Lyme Disease, but a local pharmacist reassured us, saying it is more common in southern Germany, and that she gets ticks all the time working in her garden.  And the slugs.  Oh my, the slugs.  Big, inky black, and everywhere after a rain, including crawling up the side of our tent.  Harmless, but ugly.
Ughhh!  A slug!


Waiting out a rain event under a tree on Rugen Island.

A morning exploration with my cousins to the old fortified town of Spantekow, dating to at least the 13th century.

My second cousin Offried is a historian and antiques collector.  The live in an old farmhouse built in the late 19th century, and the top floor of one of the barns is his "museum" of artifacts.
One favorite memory of our time in Germany was at the end of the family gathering in the little town of Medow at the home of my second cousin.  It was the last day of August, the last day that we would all be together, late in the afternoon of a beautiful, warm, sunny day.  We piled into cars and drove to the Baltic Sea an hour away.  John and I ducked into the bushes on the way to the beach, and by the time we reached the water’s edge my family had already stripped down and wading into the water.  Buck naked.  It only took us a minute for us to think about it and join them.  I never felt more German than at that moment!
The Baltic Sea

My wonderful family after an afternoon of swimming in the Baltic Sea.

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1 comments:

Bonnie said...

Wow, now my favorite part of your entire trip....the family and soft, fuzzy feelings. I guess this is the essence of gemütlichkeit. Favorite gargoyle photo too! Hugs, Bonnie

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