Day 8: Potsdam

  • Distance: 10k
  • Average Speed: 6km/h
  • Legs: πŸ˜„
  • Undercarriage: πŸ˜„
  • Bike: πŸ˜„
Today was the rest day in Potsdam.  The Hotel Mercure does a fabulous buffet spread but, mindful that I wouldn’t be burning up 3,000 calories today, I reduced my customary intake of fried pork products and bread to an acceptable level.  I had a number of things I wanted to see in Potsdam but before that, there was a much more serious matter to attend to.

It’s time to broach the subject of “off-the-bike wear” for the long-distance, self-supported cyclist.  As discussed before, weight is everything on a bike and trying to keep the weight down is a big headache before you start.  Obviously there are the cycling clothes you wear during the day but what to wear in the evening? One could just wear one’s cycling gear but, after a long day in the saddle, your shorts and top are banned by a number of chemical weapons conventions.  

I had gone for a pair of “deck shoes” which were made out of horrible nylon, made me look like a addled pensioner but weighed less than 500g.  I had an ugly pair of trousers from Craghoppers which I was already planning to burn as I bought them but also weighed about 500g.  Finally, I had a light blue t-shirt which, like the trousers, I hadn’t been able to wash since I left.  Oh and one pair of underpants and one pair of socks which had only been washed that one evening when the thermonuclear towel rail had done it’s thing.

Everything was wrinkled and dirty so I got out into the lovely shopping district of Potsdam and found the equivalent of John Lewis.  I got two pairs of underpants (€9 in the sale) and 2 black t-shirts (€10 in the sale), found a coffee shop with a toilet and changed, leaving my old pants and old t-shirt in the bin.  It felt a very “Jack Reacher” sort of moment.  I’d also bought something to augment my SudoCrem which was also shamefully but liberally applied in the coffee-shop toilet.
Undercarriage care.

Then it was out on my cultural, tourist trail.  I’d used Atlas Obscura as my guide.  I cannot recommend this site highly enough.  If you’re in a city for a day or even an evening, it will give you a handful of kind of cool places to go and see.

The first site was the Sanssouci Palace, one of the many beautiful palaces set amid stunning gardens in Potsdam.  I really didn’t expect things like this.
Not a great photo.  Sorry.

The boulevards were wide and tree-lined.  There were hundreds of beautiful villas around the Neuer Garten which would have easily cost £30m+ if they were in Mayfair or Holland Park.

Not the “stack-a-prole” apartment blocks I expected.

I walked and walked through an unexpectedly beautiful city.  One of the only remnants of the GDR to be seen is the little green hatted man that graces every pedestrian crossing in the old East Germany.
A rather sweet thing to leave behind.

I then walked to Alexandrowka which is a little Russian village in the middle of Potsdam.  The history is fascinating and it’s a really arresting sight to see these traditional Russian wooden cottages set in orchards and farm land slap bang in the middle of a modern city.

I drank coffee in the garden of one of the cottages and was served by my first grumpy German.  Everybody I have met so far has been unfailingly kind, amusing and helpful.  I have come to love the smile and the phrase “but I speak English”.  

Realising that the grumpy waiter was over 50 and that one in five of the people currently over 50 in the GDR were Stasi informants, I pegged him as an ex-Stasi informant.  Unfair but hey I had got used to everybody being kind and nice to me. 

Then it was a long walk out to the “Bridge of Spies” so-called because this was where most of the spy exchanges happened during the Cold War.  There’s a film about it of the same title starring Tom Hanks.  I didn’t see Tom but took this photo.
No sign of Tom

That was it for WW2, Iron Curtain and Cold War tourism.  I could have gone to see where that monster Joe Stalin negotiated 45 years of misery and destruction for half of Europe but…some things aren’t really tourism. I’m sure there will be much more (and much worse) WW2 history to come in Poland.

I was done walking so I got on a tram and bought a €9 ticket which allows me to use all public transport in Germany for free for the whole of August.  Isn’t that just a fantastic thing?  Environmentally friendly, gets cars off the road, doesn’t cost much money to implement.  It would be great if we could have some properly radical and popular policies like this in the UK rather than “tax cuts”, “EU rules bonfire” and “send them to Rwanda”…<sigh>.

The final tourist trip was a bit of a Potsdam Pilgrimage for me. The Einsteinturm is a solar observatory set in a beautiful wooded astronomical campus set on a hill (sigh) near the centre of Potsdam. Since it was built to confirm Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and I’d spent a reasonable proportion of my youth researching this very theory, it was a must-see in Potsdam. It’s also an architectural masterpiece or folly depending on your point of view. From my point of view, it was neither. 
Click on the link above for a better picture

The Potsdam Great Refractor was very impressive but very much a consolation prize for walking up the hill.
This is a lot bigger than it looks

I wandered through the grounds and found the research institute cafeteria. As I sipped my coffee I was surrounded by young Ph.D students and researchers all speaking the scientific lingua-franca of English. The main topic of of conversation was where they were going to go next. Hawaii, Italy, Cambridge, Japan…. Sitting outside amid the trees in the gently setting sun I felt like saying “Just stay here in beautiful Potsdam. It doesn’t get better than this”. 

I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and not go out for dinner. I’m going to eat in the hotel since the menu looks sufficiently carbohydrate heavy to fuel me up for tomorrow. It’ll be an early night since the restaurant closes at 8:30pm. 

Tomorrow I’m going to pull on my freshly laundered cycling kit, load up the bean and head 160km to Rzepin in Poland. I am quite excited to finally get to Poland.