Exploring Germany by Bike
In preparation for our ambitious goal to travel by bike all the way down to Lake Constance with stopovers in Bad Kissingen and Freiburg at Aunt Meta’s place, Rainer and I had a lot of things to do. We planned to camp in the fields and woods along our route and stay away from the campgrounds to save money. I already owned a two-person tent, for which Mother had so lovingly sewn together a sheet of cloth that could be draped over the tent for extra protection against the rain. Rainer, being the son of the owner of a lucrative car repair shop, had access to telephone and quickly set the approximate date of our visit as promised by Christine’s father the previous summer. For food we limited ourselves to non-perishable goods, such as canned sardines, meat, even pumpernickel, and fruit for dessert. For entertainment I took along my harmonica and also a novel written by Jerome K. Jerome at the turn of the century with the title ‘Three Men in a Boat’. In English class we had to read excerpts from the book and we had so much fun with many of the hilarious passages that I decided to buy the book in German translation. At the end of a long and tiring day on the saddle we would crawl into the tent and I would read aloud from this delightful traveling book. We often had to pause to recover from our fits of laughter over a particularly comical description of the three boaters and their temperamental dog.
The Lower Rhineland and the adjacent Ruhr industrial area are almost level. So traveling was easy and light for the first couple of days, even though our bikes were loaded to the maximum capacity with supplies. But when we were nearing the halfway mark to Bad Kissingen we were in the hill country. The slope was getting steeper. Riding old-fashioned bicycles without being able to shift into a lower gear, we often had to get off our bikes and push them with the heavy luggage several kilometers uphill. Oh, how I wished then to be back again in the cool refreshing breeze of the Baltic Sea. Eventually though we were rewarded for our hard labor with a comfortable coasting down into the valley bottom. On one of these pleasant downhill rides not too far from our first stopover I lost control on a sharp curve and took a nasty spill over loose gravel. I badly scratched up my right knee and was bleeding profusely. Other than feeling the stinging pain I got away without any major injuries. Fortunately, the bike had not suffered any damage. So Rainer and I, disheveled and myself a little bit shaken up, arrived at our first major destination. Dr. Baudach took immediate care of my knee and applied a stinging disinfectant and a healing cream to my wounds from a little tube that was worth fifty marks, the equivalent of 10 days of my traveling budget. Bad Kissingen is a spa town and a world-famous resort town in the Bavarian region of Lower Franconia about 300 km southeast of Wesel. We were thankful for the opportunity to recover from our arduous climbs over the hill country and thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality in the doctor’s home during our three-day resting period. When we said good-bye and our heart-felt thank-you to Mr. and Mrs. Baudach, we promised to write as soon as we had finished our journey. We also promised Christine to start as pen pals a correspondence with her. After all she was the one who initiated our invitation from her dad in the previous summer.
Having already been almost two weeks on the road, Rainer and I decided to drop Lake Constance from our itinerary and ride on in a southwesterly direction to Freiburg. Because of the sultry and hot weather we did not average more than sixty kilometers a day. More and more often we had to walk our bikes, as the road was getting steeper. When we had finally reached the famous Black Forest Highway, we realized that the toughest part was still to come. We had to overcome the difference in elevation of more than five hundred meters in order to reach the top of this arduous mountain road. Our progress dwindled to a mere thirty kilometers a day. We would need seven days or more to get to Aunt Meta’s place in Freiburg.
On a particularly long and steep stretch we almost despaired and were ready to buy train tickets in the next major town to escape what appeared to us to be self-inflicted torture rather than a fun-filled journey through one of the most beautiful parts of Germany. While we had parked our bikes on the roadside and contemplated what to do next, we noticed how sluggishly the big trailer trucks were crawling up the mountain road. Necessity is the mother of invention. Seeing the trucks rumbling by at a very slow pace sparked the idea. We would pick one with a trailer and attach ourselves to its back-end. At less than twenty kilometers per hour we figured we would be able to hang onto it with one hand and steer the bicycle with the other. Totally ignoring how dangerous and unlawful it would be, we tried out our plan on the next curve, where we could be sure not to be seen in the rear view mirror of the truck driver. It worked marvelously. Even though we had to switch trucks several times to give our arms a rest, we reached the summit of the North Black Forest road in a matter of a few hours. Tired and exhausted, but happy and content we set up our tent in a cool forest meadow near a mountain creek, whose gentle murmuring quickly lulled us into a deep and well-deserved sleep.
Well rested we made excellent progress on a relatively level stretch of highway on the Black Forest plateau. We refrained from hitching onto the much faster moving trucks this morning. Turning west near the picturesque town of Hinterzarten we were now heading toward the Höllental (Valley of Hell). Below these high-lying hollows of the town the federal highway B31 winds downhill in spectacular loops. Riding on this road turned to be a fantastic joyride, even though in hindsight it could have easily turned into a disaster, if the simple back pedal brakes had failed. After the railway station Hirschsprung with its steep slopes up to six hundred meters high came a section with towering cliffs known as the Höllenpass (Hell Narrows). The narrowest part of the gorge is called the Hirschsprung (Deer’s Jump). A common tale reports that a deer escaped hunters by jumping over the nine-meter wide gorge. Enjoying more the exhilarating high-speed ride than the magnificent scenery all around us we zipped by in typical teenage fashion toward the widening valley of the Freiburg district. It was late afternoon when we arrived at Aunt Meta’s place, where we received the warmest reception and for the first time in days had a decent meal again.
Since my last visit in 1953 Aunt Anna after the death of her husband Baron von Waldenfels had been living with Aunt Meta at the same apartment. Her colorful life as baroness, a very interesting piece of family history, can be read in the voluminous book ‘Familienchronik Klopp’ written by Eberhardt Klopp, a distant cousin of mine. Having grown up in the nationalistic era of Imperial Germany, she was still filled with the fervor of German patriotism. While we were savoring Aunt Meta’s delicious cake at the coffee table, her passionate plea to us strapping young men to embrace and adhere to the archaic concepts of blood and honor is still ringing in my ears after all these years.
Rainer made a phone call to his mother describing to her the fun we had but also the ordeals we experienced in pedaling through mountainous terrain. Whether it was compassion for her son or whether she just wanted to take a break from her household chores, I do not know. But she decided to pick us up in her VW beetle. We took our bikes to the railroad station and had them shipped to Wesel. The trip home with Rainer’s cheerful mom along the scenic River Rhine with its impressive mediaeval castles brought another adventure to a most pleasant conclusion.