One word to describe Berlin is MASSIVE. Everything about Berlin has this massive quality about it. How about Tempelhof, a huge open space in the heart of the city? It used to be an airport providing supplies for West Berlin but now is just a gigantic mostly empty park that has landing lanes instead of trees. Absolutely marvellous. Or Teufelsberg, an abandoned American military radar again in western parts of the city? Massive naturally. If you make it all the way to the top, you will find yourself in a spherical echo chamber with amazing acoustics. If Hamburg is full or rivers and canals, Berlin has railway tracks everywhere. Indeed, S/U-bahn tracks are akin to rivers – wide, massive and require proper bridges to cross.
Map of Berlin can be treacherous, as short distances on the map turn out to be long rides. You feel like making a lot of progress, but the map says otherwise. Nonetheless I was happy to have my bicycle with me, as the city is best to be explored this way. Another pitfall of the Berlin geography is identically named streets in different parts of the city. I found out this fact the hard way. A short 30km ride from Potsdam took almost five hours. It rained like there was no tomorrow for hours with proper floods on the streets. Confusing geography did not help my cause either. After an exhausting wet ride I made it to Siegfriedstrasse in Liechtenberg, only to find that I was after Siegfriedstrasse in Neuköln. The rest of the stay was much more pleasant though. The city was explored, Friends were met for the bi-annual symposium of discohippies in Berlin. Parties were attended. And delicious food was had. Fun times without a doubt. The highlight of this visit to Berlin was Peristal Signum, a bizarre labyrinth like installation in an equally bizarre club Salon: Zur Wilden Renate. It is strange, it is fascinating, it is mind-blowing, it is popular. It took us more than two hours of waiting to experience it against the promised half an hour (never trust a hippy!), but the result was well worth the wait. A little bit of Alice in Wonderland like world in the real life that makes you totally believe your experience and totally forget about the outside world for a moment. Just like virtual reality, minus the virtual part. Borrowing the language of Apple, it is magical. Enough spoilers though, it is best to be experienced without any prior ideas.
Berlin is an alpha city in its truest sense. The city that has got everything. The only problem is how to find it. A week is not enough to experience Berlin, nor a month, nor a year I presume. I spent six days in Berlin (more than in Denmark!) and was tempted to stay in Berlin longer. Accommodation was sorted for the next week and Air Berlin had a regular sale. I felt I would lose either way. Lose by abandoning the journey and lose by missing out all the great things Berlin had to offer. The law of dukkha in action. After a lot of hesitation I continued with pedaling only to be treated with rains for the rest of the journey. Oh well…
Berlin is still there though and one day I would love to make it my home. I love Berlin, but then again who doesn’t?
On my way to Hamburg after it had started raining, I sat under a tree on the side of the road, had a yoghurt and watched passing by cars. Slowly getting wet and feeling more or less miserable, I had a realization that for the time being I was essentially living a life of a bum. Drifting around, spending most of my time outside, being on the mercy of weather and having no place I would call home or even a base camp. Having no base camp was one of the biggest mindfucks of my journey. At times I felt like Cartman from South Park: “Screw you guys, I am going home”. Except I did not have one. Unlike a tent my hammock was merely a temporarily shelter intended for sleeping, it had no camp qualities. Moreover I avoided temporary homes in the form of hotels and hostels for the entire journey. Drifting life has its charm, but homelessness is not a nice feeling by any means. I would not want to experience anything like this out of necessity. Of course in my case this all was by choice, plus it had a high-tech slightly posh flavour. I had my bicycle, expensive technological clothes and gadgets. I ate well and once in a while went to a semi-fancy restaraunt. Once I went to a boutique cafe to have a 6€ chai-latte (Hello Denmark!) and used their toilet for a morning wash-up. Contrasts at their best.
This homeless life would not be possible without pit-stops. Camping in the nature and going without a shower is fine for several days, but it is not sustainable over a longer period of time. Everything has an expiration date. I was lucky to have friends and acquantances along the way, which were kind enough to host me. My gratitude goes to Dhamma Sobhana in Ödeshög; Helena and her family in Skredsvik; Deepak in Copenhagen; Helge and Ina in Hamburg; Christian, Karine and Juri in Magdeburg; Juha and Maija in Berlin; Kristo in Berlin; Marcin and his family in Chocewil; Leonid and his family in Riga; Marko and Ivo in Tallinn. Without you, this trip would not be possible. Thank you guys.
It started raining more or less regularly in Hamburg. All the big cities save Magdeburg and Riga greeted me with a heavy rain: Hamburg, Berlin, Szczecin, Gdansk, Kaliningrad and Tallinn. It became a tradition in a way, entering a city soaking wet and muddy. At first I did not mind it. I managed to cycle between storms and find a roof of some sort to have a lunch or chill out. After spending most of my time outside, I learnt to appreciate such a simple invention as a roof. Trees are good, but a man-made roof is way better. Oh, those small perks of technological progress and civilisation. Riding in a light to moderate rain is not that bad provided adequate rain gear and frequent chain greasing. My rain gear could be better, but at least it dries quickly. “Rain” pants are particularly bad – crap at breathing and crap at stopping water (for the curious the pants in question are Montane Featherlight). After Berlin rains became more intense and more frequent. In Szczecin I first began toying with the idea of taking a ferry to somewhere. There were no ferries and it stopped raining soon enough, so I continued my journey on bicycle. Rains kept on on a regular basis though.
In the vipassana LINK retreat I experienced periods of intense sudden fear, where I pictured situations of riding in prolonged rains. As it turned out, this exact thing happened to me and the reality was not that bad at all. At least it was not cold and I managed more or less to keep my stuff dry. I had enough of this on my arrival to Lithuania from Russia via Curonian Spit. That day it rained almost non-stop all day long. I was tired, hungry and pissed off too. On top of that, the forecast for the next few days showed only rain, rain, rain. So upon my arrival to Klaipeda I had two things in mind: a hostel and a bus to Riga. The hostel did not become a reality, but the next day I took a bus to Riga breaking my streak of travelling by bicycle only. In Riga it continued raining, violent thunderstorms this time, so the choice was right indeed. On the day if departure it was sunny and hot weather for a change, but alas the momentum was gone. So I took another shortcut, a train to Valga, the Latvian-Estonian border. In Valga I almost jumped on a train to Tallinn, but since the weather was still sunny I figured out one more day of riding would do no harm. The next day I arrived to Tartu and soon enough the rain resumed and continued all the way to Tallinn.
So there you go, one month of raining and three shortcuts. In the beginning I did not set any goals to do all the distance by bicycle, but nonetheless I had mixed feelings about the whole matter. Of course it would have been nice to do the entire route on bicycle, but I had enough of the rain after a month of wet riding and at that point I wanted to go home as soon as possible. Taking shortcuts is a good reason to visit Baltic states on bike again. Especially as it turned out there are things to see here, such as abandoned Soviet military objects.
Hamburg made an impression of “the nautical Berlin”. At least in terms of culture and liberalism it gives Berlin run for its money thanks to the districts of St. Pauli, Sternschanze and Reeperbahn. There are punk bars and hipsters cafes. Techno clubs (or rather huts) and squatted buildings full of lo-fi spontaneous art. There is a red light district behind iron gates, after which woman visitors are banned from entering. If that was not enough, a massive ugly-grey nazi-era bunker sits right in the centre of the city. Plans have been devised to demolish it, but destroying German quality 2 meters thick walls is not an easy task. So for the time being it hosts techno and punk nights. Very fitting indeed.
The city centre is quite generic with its pretty, but standard Central European architecture. Nothing to write home about. On the other hand, Speicherstadt is absolutely amazing with its tall red brick buildings, canals and the beginning of the 20th century industrial look. In terms of the architecture it is one of the most impressive areas I have ever seen and most certainly the most attractive warehouse area in the world. On a slightly different note, just outside of the city to the west lies Blankenese, a pretty village for posh people, which makes a pleasant half-day trip. Expensive houses, hilly narrow roads and a water-front make it all very Mediterranean. Germany does not cease to amaze, Hamburg in particular.
I am not a big fan of visiting museums, just because they are big and famous, but Hamburg has something entirely different to offer, namely an Airbus factory. I wanted to visit it, but unfortunately my timing was off for English guided tours. I went there to take a look at this massive facility. I tried acting like in the know and marching through open gates, but was politely stopped by a guard and guided to the reception. Upon explaining my cause at the reception, the answer was “this is not possible”. Said in the cold tone that instantly kills all the hope inside. The factory left unseen. Well, Hamburg is definitely worth visiting again, the factory or not. Hopefully next time I will have better luck with Fish Market and Airbus.
Estimating travel times is hard. I started a journey to Hamburg just outside of Lübeck, some 50km to the destination or about two and half hours of riding. The plan was to arrive early to catch the legendary Sunday fish market. I woke up at 5:30am and was on the road half an hour later. Fifteen minutes into the ride it started raining and the rain continued until the evening. In fact the weather was stormy during almost the entire stay in Hamburg. Continuous rains did not spoil my impression of Hamburg, but on contrary they complimented the character of the city. Anyway, I arrived to Hamburg soaking wet and muddy around noon just in time to see flocks of trucks leaving the market square… Two and hours turned somehow into almost six hours. If that was not enough, my phone experienced a temporary water death. Fortunately I had a place to stay thanks to Helge and Ina. Helge was my roommate at vipassana for ten days, most of which we spent not communicating with each other. It almost felt like being roommates in Finland. Well this time we had plenty of communication and I benefitted from the knowledge of the locals. Thank you, Helge and Ina.
I did not know anything about Hamburg in advance, apart from the fact that The Beatles had started their career there. The biggest feat of Hamburg is of course its harbour, which is the second biggest in Europe after Rotterdam. It occupies the other bank of Elbe, making a neat split between industry and living. Unlike in Göteburg, where the harbour looks sort of out of place in the heart of the city, the harbour of Hamburg fits nicely in the city landscape. As well as horns of passing by ships compliment the soundscape of the city. The harbour is a subject of pride among Hamburg inhabitants, as it has historically been the main source of wealth of the city. There is even an annual celebration dedicated to the harbour. What other city can boast something like that? The harbour creates an illusion as if there was an open sea just behind the harbour. All the channels and rivers make the impression complete that Hamburg is a sea-side city. When I shared my thoughts with Ina, the answer was that there is indeed nothing on of the other side of Elbe. I dedicated one day to exploration of the harbour and as it turned out there is well nothing much to see. Heavy industry, even heavier fog and flocks of trucks, not much in terms of sightseeing. The harbour looks much more appealing from the other side of Elbe.
There is a municipal river bus cruising Elbe. I experienced a cultural shock, when I realised that there was a bar on the municipal river bus. Completed with tables and chairs too. All for the price of a bus ticket (drinks are not included). Suomenlinna ferry has got a long way to go. Maybe in the year of 2107. One can only hope…