Day 74 of my cycling journey – July 13, 2022
Once again I experienced a perfect cycling day with moderate temperatures, an overcast sky with a sunny disposition and only a slight wind from the west. I cycled for 92 km from my space in the forest near Uchtspringe to the city of Gifhorn. On the way I passed the old border between West and East-Germany, and suddenly I was back in the part of the country I was born in and which I left when the border was still operational.
My campsite in the forest proved to be very pleasant. The forest floor was soft mosses which made lying on it as comfortable as being on a five-star hotel mattress. My forest hotel’s minibar, however, was empty and so I had to leave the spot early to buy my breakfast in the next village. Packing up in the morning, which used to take ages at the beginning of the journey, happens now in no time and soon I was on my way out of the forest. Soon after I reached the old Hanseatic city of Gardelegen with its beautiful old city. It is truly amazing how many beautiful old city centres I have encountered on this trip. Every time it is like diving into a time long past.
I continued and soon I crossed the “Mittellandkanal”, a major man-made waterway for transporting goods, and the agricultural landscape turned again into a more natural one. I came into the area which had been the border area between East and West Germany. On the eastern side, this was in the old communist times a closed off area and people could enter it with special permits only. The east German elite wanted to prevent people from fleeing its worker’s and farmer’s paradise, a contradiction in terms if you ask me. The result was a special border area which couldn’t be entered by people without permit and immediately on the border you had a death strip where all kinds of nasty surprises waited for the poor soul trying to escape paradise. The final fence being quite high and sturdy was often equipped with robotic machine guns, which were triggered by touching the fence. In some areas they had uninterrupted lines on which dogs were leashed, patrolling the border. Watchtowers were placed strategically to allow the border guards to have an uninterrupted view of the border. In hilly areas they had soldiers always patrolling the border, always in double formations and each of the soldiers got the order to shoot the other one if he should attempt to flee. Obviously, both had orders to shoot anybody else trying to flee. There were many more sick details on how to prevent people from leaving, and anybody interested in this can read it up on the net. I entered the border area, and nothing could be seen anymore. Indeed, I came to the border and if there wouldn’t have been a sign indicating the former border I would have passed it without noticing. There is not much left to see of the German Democratic Republic now.
One of the interesting details of the day were the increasing warning signs on the cycleways about the presence of the oak processionary moth (Thaumetopoea processionea) whose caterpillar are damaging oaks substantially but can be also very irritating or even harmful to humans. The caterpillar’s hairs are venomous and can trigger allergic reactions in humans. I cycled through many oak-lined cyclepaths and saw the warning signs and even eradication measures being carried out. It is a prime example that plant health is much more important than many people think. I reached Wolfsburg, a city which is not so much known for its beautiful castle but for a much more mundane matter – the headquarters of the VW corporation. The carmaker dominates the city with factories, training centres and other institutions dispersed throughout the town. I cycled through the town quite rapidly because I wanted to reach the city of Gifhorn, where I had found a camping ground placed in a promising meadow area along the river Aller. The campground was beautifully located but was clearly in decline. One of the drawbacks was the lack of hot water, and after an ice-cold shower I slept like a baby.