Day 9: Potsdam to Rzepin

  • Distance: 158km 🙂
  • Average Speed: 21.0 km/h ☹️. Could have been better without Berlin
  • Legs: 🙂
  • Undercarriage: 🙂
  • Bike: 😄
Because had my bike with me in the room, I had been carefully watching the little slow puncture which seemed to have developed in the front tyre but when I woke up and checked it, it seemed to have fixed itself — thanks tyre-jizz!!

I also had these bad boys to look forward to:
Freshly laundered kit is just 🎶simply the best🎶

After downing a slightly more restrained breakfast (too much coffee, a bowl of muesli and two rolls with cheese and ham), I was rolling on my perfectly working bike in my perfectly laundered kit towards Berlin.  As I left Potsdam, I realised I was cycling over the Bridge of Spies again which, had I known this yesterday, would have saved me an 8k round trip walk for a photograph. 

Still no sign of Tom Hanks

Berlin (at least from the south) is surprisingly undeveloped and wooded.  It was tracks, trails and cycleways through endless trees and forests.

I met my first cyclists!  A young French couple who had cycled from Amiens through Belgium, Holland and Germany and were finishing at the Brandenburger Tor before getting the train home.  We chatted for a bit as we cycled along until we saw lines of police and fire trucks blocking the road. There was a giant fire in one of the forest sections and all of the roads from the east and south were closed.  I worked some magic with Google Maps and found a route which would skirt south and then cut directly up to the Brandenburger Tor.  The French couple were determined to go the way they had planned and skipped around the police barrier and headed off.  Never saw them again.  Hope they didn’t get flambéed before reaching their destination.

My route followed a ring road and then cut up through some more forests.  The ugly secret of long-distance cycling is that one is always glad to see a forest.  All those trees.  All those opportunities to stop and unload some coffee.  Cities can be a bit of a trial without associated forests…

The Brandenburger Tor is one of the classic monuments in Europe.  It says “Berlin” more than anything else.  I probably could have cut 20km and two hours off the route had I avoided central Berlin but I just had to cycle through it.  It felt…important.  I was glad to have seen it but I was more glad to have stayed in Potsdam for my rest day.  Berlin would have been too much.
The famous gate, some random tourists.

Getting out of Berlin going East obviously involves going through the old East Berlin.  The city sprawled and sprawled and seemed to be an endless procession of giant apartment blocks.  Although they had been nicely clad in bright colours, their small windows, the uniform design and lack of balconies tagged them as pre-1989 builds.  It was like cycling out of Cümbernaüld — yes I know about the correct use of umlauts…it’s a joke.

Somewhat surprisingly, in a small copse cutting between two apartment blocks were four shepherds tending their flock of sheep. I did not expect to see this 5km from the centre of Berlin.
Literally 200m from the ring-road.

After about 25k, the Berlin wave of car washes,  cheap supermarkets, big apartment blocks and tram tracks finally broke and it was back to long straight roads lined by trees.  Plus ça change etc etc.

For some reason I had thought that the border with Poland was coming pretty soon but the Oder was still 60k away.  (As an aside, the Polish German border running along the Oder is yet another thing we have to thank Joseph Stalin for.  Completely arbitrary, just kind of thought up in his mad, monster brain).

I ground it out.   Sometimes there were lovely cycle paths through the trees following old railway lines, sometimes it was just me grinding along the side of the road hoping that the cars and lorries wouldn’t hit me although mostly these long and straight roads were very quiet.
An example of a long and straight road

It was on one of these deserted, straight and beautifully smooth roads that I heard an approaching high pitched whine.  Germany has been a bit of a home to biker-blokes cruising in little middle-aged gangs so I knew this was a motorbike.  This whine got closer very quickly indeed before dopplering away as it passed me at 250km/h.  Christ, it was a scary moment.  He wasn’t far from me and, had he been any closer, my cycling shorts would have needed an extra special clean.

You may be wondering how I can be so precise about the 250km/h.  Make yourself comfortable and I’ll tell a story about music and maths.  

I don’t have perfect pitch but I’m good with intervals.  The dominant noise of a motorbike is not the wind or the tyres but is in fact the engine pitch and, amid the sudden terror, I registered that the interval between the bike approaching and leaving was a perfect fifth.  Perfect fifths are what violin, viola and cello strings are strung at and, although guitar strings are a perfect fourth apart, the perfect fifth is one of the easiest intervals to hear.

So let’s do some maths.  Unfortunately this blog software won’t handle embedded \LaTeX so the formatting won’t be great.  Let’s assume the speed of sound is c and the underlying frequency of the motorbike engine is f.  Making the simplifying assumption that I was stationary then the frequency of the approaching motorbike is f_a = f * c / (c-v) where v is the speed of the motorbike.  The frequency of the departing motorbike is f_d = f * c / (c+v).  Creating the ratio r = f_a / f_d and doing a bit of simplification and rearranging, we get v = c * (r - 1) / (r + 1).  The ratio I heard was a perfect fifth which is 3:2.  Sticking r=1.5 and c=1250km/h into the equation, we get v = 250km/h.   Worked this out while I was grinding along the road — except from the final sum of course.  Gotta keep myself engaged somehow  

Anyway, I can’t really blame the bloke.  If I was 21 again, I’d just got my first 750cc rice-rocket and I thought I was immortal, I would probably open up the rice-rocket on a quiet straight road to see what it could do.

I could show you more boring straight roads but there would be no point.  They were all arrow-straight roads through forests.  The villages in eastern Germany show their past.  The cottages are all the same in each village because the basic shape stamped out of a mould.  I had wondered why there were just so many adverts for roofing tiles along the side of the road.  The old pre-1989 cottages all had new shiny roof tiles in a surprisingly wide range of colours.  Some hadn’t made it through gentrification
Communist cottage.  In need of updating

It took a long long time to get to Frankfurt.  This is Frankfurt am Oder which is definitely not the other Frankfurt of the ECB, futures traders in braces and high finance. It’s run down and down-at-heel and all it’s got going for it is the bridge over the Oder into Poland.
On the border between Germany and Poland

Then I was in Poland, a country I had never been in before.  Once again, the magic of Schengen blew me away.  What a fantastic idea the European Union is.  Free travel, free and integrated markets across most of a continent.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we in the UK got involved in this?
Presented without comment.

I got a wedge of Zloty and settled in for the last 23k to Rzepin.  Often the last 20-odd kilometres go well and today was no exception.  I was battering down the long straight forest roads at 30 or 35km/h with a spectral Sean Kelly in my ear “Well Carlton, you can tell he’s got the legs today.  He’s hanging out there in front of the boonch giving it one hundert percent”.  

Rzepin is not a large town.  In fact, it’s barely a town at all but I’d booked a room in the “Grand Boutique Hotel”.  Not just any room but their best room for a total of £30.  Rolling through the shattered cobbled streets and seemingly bombed out houses, I was suffering some misgivings but the nearest hotel is another 25k away so it was the Grand Boutique or nothing. 

It’s actually delightful apart from the art. The owner clearly fancies themselves as an artist and I’m not sure how I’m going to sleep with this example of their artistic endeavours above my bed.
In case it’s not clear, this is huge. About 3m by 2m!

There are only two restaurants in Rzepin.  The kebab shop and the one in the hotel and, even making allowances for the owner’s artistic prowess, I thought I would go with the hotel restaurant.  Mystery meat kebab isn’t a good plan when you’re spending a lot of time on the bike.

I wasn’t expecting much but, in fact, the restaurant staff were delightful.  Friendly, joking about our combined lack of a shared language, suggesting things on the menu.  I ended up with beef soup with dumplings and pork tenderloin with cheese and chips and they were both absolutely delicious.

Poland is going to be more difficult than either Holland or Germany.  The roads are worse, the cycling infrastructure is patchy to say the least, and everything is completely incomprehensible.  But somehow I think I’m going to enjoy it.

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