The wintery way back to Groningen

After having stayed in Kattrup, Denmark, for almost two months, I thought it was time to cycle back home again. It’s true that riding in shorts and a T-shirt is more comfortable than donning everything you’ve got, because it’s the month of December you chose to go back home.

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I saw that as a challenge. It was a big advantage that I didn’t have to use my tent, because the hosts I had on my way up to Denmark where happy to welcome me in their cosy and warm houses again. I knew the way, just the other way round this time. All I had to do was keep on cycling.
And keep on cycling is the best thing (it’s always the best thing, since there is no greater joy than cycling) you can do when the temperature is just hovering above zero degrees Celsius. When you’re in motion, you get warm, and therefore you get sweaty. And that is where the danger lies. When you have a stop to eat a sandwich and a lukewarm cup of coffee from your thermos, you have to be sure to be out of the wind. Nonetheless you get chilly quite fast and need to swallow your dry bread and get going again so that your sweaty body doesn’t freeze. Busshelters are always the best options to have a stop, but during wintertime even more.

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When I woke up in Osten-Isensee after spending again a lovely evening with the Warm Shower family over there, I didn’t feel quite well. Not really sick, but far from fresh. I hoped I would make it about sixty kilometers to Bremerhaven, go to the other side of the Wezer to Blexen/Nordenham and then take a train to Varel to get to Bockhorn to my last hosts or if I would be exhausted I would go further by train to Leer.
After waving the family goodbye I already felt after a few kilometers that Bremerhaven was far too ambitious. Hemmoor was more likely. I got there, bought a train ticket, texted my girlfriend that her rest would be over a day sooner than expected, because I reckoned I could get home already that day. And I could indeed make it to Groningen.
The local trains in Germany were great. No steps in the train, plenty of space to park the bike. Only the train from Bremen to Hamburg was shit. A little stairway to get in and to get down to the bike department. I didn’t feel the strength to haul the bike down and I especially didn’t like the idea to haul it back up again when I needed to get out in Leer.
Just before I had to leave the train a grumpy conductor mentioned the fact that the front train compartment had no stairs and that I needed to go there or get my bike down where I was. Either way, I wasn’t allowed to have my bike in the little hall where people had to get in and out. Luckily she wasn’t grumpy enough, so I was granted to stay there for the last ten minutes.
I arrived in Leer later than scheduled. I had to bike to Weener, since the bridge between Leer and Groningen is still out of business (a real pain in the ass!). I couldn’t quite find the station, it was dark, I was tired and I was late, so I missed the 17:00 train and had to wait three quarters of an hour for the next one. It was cold, windy and lonesome. My girlfriend texted me before arriving in Leer that I wouldn’t make Weener in time, so I had to stay in Leer in a refreshment room or something like that. Next time I will listen to her…

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In the end I arrived in Groningen and was offered a warm meal and a bed. Although I didn’t have the strength to cycle home, it still felt a bit of a failure to take the train back home. But why? Is it not wise to do that? What is the gain to push yourself even more and maybe get even sicker than I already was? Why do I get that notion inside my head that I failed myself? I think my sister-in-law put it down very nicely:

It’s not cheating when your health is involved. It’s not winning if you ignore your body even if you reach your goals. Have a nice trip and take care!

But why did I get ill in the first place? What can I find as an excuse? My first host in Fjelstrup, Denmark, didn’t feel great that evening, but he assured me he wouldn’t breathe on me, as he told me with his usual sense of humour. Nonetheless, did he infect me? Or wasn’t I up to the task of cycling during winter? Can’t believe the last thing to be true. It had to be him, right?
I guess the most important thing is that I was feeling a hundred times better when I woke up the next morning. Fresh to think about new adventures!

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My literary experiences in Århus

On the 10th of October I went by bike to the little village called Kattrup on Danish Jutland. It lies between Horsens and Århus as you might have checked out on Google Maps already. I was over there for two months, I just came back before the holidays. I worked on my new novel as I wrote about in my previous blog. I wrote as well that the subject of the blog might shift a little towards a bit more of a literary character. But you might have guessed that by reading the title.

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The house of the family where I stayed.

I dived into the Danish literature as much as I could. I’ve learned the language in the years passed on such a level that I can have a conversation and I understand most of what is written down. But I don’t know a lot about the literature.
Even more I would like to get into contact with fellow poets and writers to gain knowledge about the literature through them, so to speak. That’s why I wrote an e-mail to the Aarhus Literatturcenter with the question if they could help me with that. And they could! I got a mail by the prose poet Carsten René Nielsen that he would make a hike on the coming Saturday and if I wanted to join him.
And that I did. We had lovely weather and chatted non-stop during our walk of twenty kilometers around Århus. He would like to help me with translating some poems of mine into Danish. He knows other people in the literary field he would like to introduce me to. Already I’m working on some translations of his work into Frisian.

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Carsten René Nielsen

Quite soon afterwards I met Tomas Dalgaard, who’s organizing an open stage at Løve’s Bog- og Vincafé in Århus. I had the pleasure of performing there two times. Both evenings were very different in terms of the performing poets. Super hyggeligt between all the books and the mood lights. Tomas has the dream that everybody has to have something with poetry. If you are attending such an evening, you already have the idea that he is fairly far in realizing that dream.

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Tomas Dalgaard

I’ve got another gig coming Sunday. In that way I meet some more poets. I would like to interview and film some of them in order to make short introductions to Århusian poets. I’ve already had a veteran from the Danish literature, Annemette Kure Andersen, and the young, fresh but very skillful poet, Mads Mygind, in front of the lens.

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Mads Mygind

There is happening a lot literarywise in the city, which is just still Cultural Capital of Europe before Ljouwert will take over next year. I’m curious to find out how it will turn out with us and how many projects will be left over in the years to come. Carsten René Nielsen is positive about this year in Århus. It did the city good and there have been a couple of great projects. It brought something in motion that will still echo long after Århus isn’t Cultural Capital anymore.

So I’m sucked into a for me completely new literature in which I knew only Hans Christian Andersen and some crimewriters. It’s very interesting to expand one’s borders to a new language and to discover a new literature.

Writing and no cycling

The mind is a strange thing. Why did I get in my head that I wanted to ride in only four days from Groningen to Kattrup? Was it because I actually wanted to leave sooner than I did? Was it because I wanted to have as little overnight stays as possible? Was it because I wanted to prove myself? I think a bit of all of that.

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The harbor of the border city Flensburg/Flensborg.

I always think of myself as not-competitive. But every time I have to confess that there is a competitor in all of us, so in me as well. My mind just won’t seem to bend in that way to accept that I am. When I wanted to ride to the Nordkapp last year and would get some visitors either there or just where I would be at that moment, I cycled my arse off to get as far as possible. Nobody demanded that of me, it was just because I had that idea stuck in my head.

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I didn’t have the best of weather, but at least I had mostly the wind in the back.

I didn’t make it to the Nordkapp before my visitors arrived. I ‘stranded’ in Alta, 200 kilometers from the most northern point of the European mainland. Now again I realized on the very first day I wouldn’t make it in four days to cycle just under 600 kilometers. Five days is already quite an effort when you have some winter clothing, Danish dictonaries and ‘hagelslag’ in your panniers.
But thanks to the never enough praised community called Warmshowers I could leave my camping gear at home, which saved me a lot of weight and hassle. All four stays were simply terrific. In that way you meet a lot of awesome people who let a sweaty cyclist into their home, provide him with a warm shower, warm meal and warm bed. Great to have such shelters in between the rainy and windy days.

And thanks to those wonderful people I could make it in five days to Kattrup. Otherwise it probably took me a day longer. In a next blogpost I’ll give them them a voice themselves in my very first digital story, which will be online in the near future. I’ll see how things will go, but it could well be that this blog will become more visual and less written, so to speak.
But there has to be done a lot of writing now that I’m here, since that is what I’m here for. I’ll have to skip cycling for the coming months, as I need to work on my novel.

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My home for the time being with the lovely family at Kattholt.

Danish retreat

On the 10th of October a new adventure will begin for me. Not really a new one, since I’ve been in Denmark before. And I’ve been there by bike before. And I’ve done some writing before.

Maybe not all that exciting, but also familiar roads can take you down to a new adventure, and writing a new book is always a new adventure. Alright, enough of the clichés. There ís something new. Apart from the fact that my top one priority is that I will be starting on my new novel, I would like to explore the Danish literature a bit more, since I’m quite a layman on that subject. Armed with a slightly better camera than my smartphone I would not only like to do more with photography, but with interviewing and filming as well. So I hope to be able to get into contact with preferably poets and more preferably poets of more or less my age. What drives them to write poetry, how do they do it, what are their themes. And to translate a poem of theirs.

But writing remains number one, so it won’t be that adventurous as my previous trips. I’m living comfortably in a house, at the lovely family where I did some WWOOF’ing a few years ago. They are very welcoming and joyful people and you can’t find more hygge than in their heartwarming house.

The updates that will follow after I arrive in Kattrup – a small village between Horsens and Arhus – will therefore be of a bit less cyclinglike character.

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To be touristic or not to be touristic?

A week before we took up the trip to Gdansk, we did a practice round which went pretty well. The adventure of almost three weeks and nearly 1500 kilometers turned out even better. My girlfriend loved the (stress)free way of travelling, being outdoor all the time and all the encounters that comes with such a journey. It’s no surprise that I fully agree, so we both look forward to our next mutual trip.

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With the tent on your back carrier, sleeping stuff, food, stove and what not in your panniers, you’re home everywhere. Exactly that is the beauty of travelling by bike. You’ve got all the freedom in the world. There are no detours, just different ways towards your destination. We made use of this freedom on the second day already, when we went more north in the direction of Bedekaspel (Germany) where a medieval festival was being held. The well-known band Baldrs Draumar had a (acoustic) gig and we thought a surprise visit would be nice.

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With the wind in our backs we rode eastward. The same route I did a couple of times actually. Just after a few days of riding we crossed the river Elbe. Usually I go north from there to Denmark, but this time we kept on going east in the direction of the city of Lübeck.
From there on we would follow the so-called Hanseatic route along the Baltic Sea through cities such as Wismar, Stralsund and Greifswald. For that we got a map by some acquaintances of Ydwine. Actually, it was my first time of cycling using a paper map.
We rode through very beautiful sceneries and cities. It was a nice way of travelling for a change, since you didn’t have to think about which route to take, since we were obediently following the map.
But the lovely landscapes and historical cities had a downside as well: Tourists… many of them. And most weren’t that considering of what was going on around their vision of interest. That meant that we encountered many helter-skelter situations… (literally, as many touristic places had skelters for rent). But many tourists would suddenly cross the road without looking up, or stop abruptly to take a picture or who knows what, and many  let their kids roam free (we saw three accidents with children). All in all, it was difficult to navigate through the crowds of wandering cyclists, skelters, segways, and strollers and we had to ring our bells quite often.
It was a bit ironic that we could have taken a thousand roads to Gdansk, but we chose the most crowded one. Because of this mayhem, rainy days were quite pleasant, since there were less people. Nonetheless we got less obedient by the kilometre and after a while we got so fed up with people that we looked forward to go more inland in Poland as a fish wanting to return in the water after he sprang on the shore.

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We had a bit of hope it would be better on the Polish side of the border. It was definitely not the case. We biked a bit faster to be away from coast line. No more tourists. The woods resounded our sigh of relieve.
It was time to find our own way again and we liked that very much. There weren’t that many campsites anymore, so we camped in the wild again as well. But we did find some sort of kayak campsites, which weren’t easy to locate. An advantage to this was that there weren’t many vistitors, and one time wer were actually the only ones. That was almost like camping in the wild. We were welcome to make a fire, swim in the river, charge our mobiles and what not.
We were hosted by a Kashubian family on one of the last evenings (thanks to Warm Showers). The mother fed us really well, and even commanded us to eat an entire pan of eggs the next morning. “Essen, alles!” she said firmly, but with a big smile. On the hearty breakfast we could ride for miles and miles and could already smell Gdansk.
We chose to bike to Gdansk in particular, as we would attend the Diversity Festival (a seminar organized by YEN and Klub Studencki Pomorania, which is a happening for all minorities in Europe) which would start on Sunday. As we were nicely ahead of schedule, we had some breathing room, which came in handy when it got hillier and sandier in Poland. Sometimes the roads turned from bad to worse. TWhen we had to push our bikes yet again, we would have gladly given up our tourist-free route in exchange for some tarmac. But we didn’t need to rush to be on time. You shouldn’t rush on a bicycle as well. Take your time and take it all in.

After having a bloody busy but awesomesauce week in Gdansk we were going back by train from Gdansk to Leer in Germany. We couldn’t go all the way to Groningen, the Netherlands, as a bridge is still kaputt, and the replacement busses do not take bikes. Again we realised how relaxing it is to just sit on a bike and pedal your brain free of any stress. Delay, slow elevators, high stairs, small doorways, cramped spaces and what not. So, after a day full of stress and catching connections with mere seconds left, it couldn’t have been a bigger relief to pitch our tent on a campsite in Bingum (near Leer). The relief was even bigger when we were on our bikes again next day to ride the last part to Groningen. It was a good way to end the journey this way, as we hadn’t cycled for a week. Seen the stressful day before, it was great to be able to have one last day of relaxed travelling by bike. And when you bike and know home is nearby, you are already thinking of the next trip. We do not know yet where we will go, but one thing is sure: we will take our freedom to pick and choose our way ourselves as we go and we will also take the freedom to avoid the touristic routes!

Cycling with company

I have always wondered how it would be to be cycling with someone else. With the previous trips I made, I never cycled more than a few dozen kilometers with another cyclist I coincidentally met on the road. I wouldn’t have mind if I would have company for one or two days, just to have that experience.

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But now I did have that experience. From just a couple of kilometers with a complete stranger I went cycling with my girlfriend for four days in a row. It was a kind of a training round to East-Frisia, since we’re planning to go by bike to Gdansk/Danzig, Poland in a week. First of all we wanted to test if she could keep up with me, and if we wouldn’t get so fed up with each other that we would kick each other out of the tent.
It went way above all expactations. She cycled like a beast, not once did I had the feeling I had to slow down a bit to let her catch her breath. We fell quite quick into a routine of building up the tent, after which Ydwine would unpack the matrasses, sleeping bags etcetera while I would lit the stove to make us a cup of coffee and boil the pasta afterwards. It went all smoothly as if we had done it for years and years.
Sure, after four days she did feel some muscles she didn’t know she had and after sitting awhile she got a bit stiff. But that’s no different with me. It would be weird when you wouldn’t feel anything after cycling for a midweek. You feel tired in a very satisfactory way. Danzig is just a few hundred kilometers more, so after this training round that will be a piece of cake.

When talking to someone about my cycling and having to answer the question if I don’t mind to ride alone, I sum up the benefits. You can ride on your own tempo, you can have a break whenever you want to. You can choose the route all by yourself. You just don’t have to take anyone one into account. But when you have the right cycling partner those things aren’t a issue.
Apart from the wonderful things and people you encounter, I have to confess that cycling for days in a row can be a bit lonely sometimes and you can get slightly cranky when you can’t find the way or a camping spot, or you just think why the hell you’re riding in the middle of nowhere with headwind and rain.
I actually can’t think of any disadvantages about cycling with your partner. I don’t think I’ll go cycling alone that easily again, but first of all we have to survive our adventure to Gdansk. 😉

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Small trip to Ostfriesland

Last week I went for a small trip of four days to Ostfriesland. A girl asked me if I could leave it all behind me and be really away for that time being. I answered yes I think I can, but the question still lingered on in the back of my head.

For this trip I had quite a set route and places I wanted to visit. Therefore I could easily have my mind set on the trip itself. I wanted to explore the region I wasn’t that familiar with, but not that unknown either. I have been in Aurich and Wilhelmshaven before but that’s been ages ago. I wanted to explore Ostfriesland more than that.
Furthermore, I knew when I would be back and the things I had to do the coming week. So I ‘just’ parked that in the back of my head and enjoyed the cycling through Ostfriesland with the sun on my back.
When you cycle you have all the time in the world to ponder on things. So, of course you think about things you have to do, you want to do and make new plans for different kind of things. And that isn’t bad, quite the opposite, apart from the fact that you cannot not think about anything (at least I can’t). It is very refreshing to be away on the bike and your primary concern is the route and in the afternoon a place to stay. That isn’t difficult in Germany where you have good cycle routes and plenty of fields to camp. In those four days you have all the time to philosphize about everything, since you don’t have to bother about other people or work or whatever. The same goes for a longer period of time when the one difference is is that you have more days to wander, wonder and ponder. Sure, to be away for a longer period of time is more adventurous. But if you want to clear your head or just reload yourself, a microadventure of a few days is more than enough. You don’t need to cycle to the Nordkapp just for that.

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My first campsite of the trip, between Riepe and Aurich (the photograph was taken in the early morning.

Now a few words about the trip itself. As I already mentioned, I had quite a clear goal where I wanted to go. The Upstalsboom at Aurich is where the old Frisians used to gather in a socalled ‘thing’ which we know from the Vikings. It was a kind of folk gathering from all the Frisian regions and where they kept court as well. So, an old place and it was seen as a sacred place which the oaks are proof of. The site is important for the Frisian history and it still is, since on the third day of Pentecost there is an assembly of the Frisians from the Netherlands, West-Germany (Ostfriesland) and the northern part of Germany with the border of Denmark (Nordfriesland).
The language that is spoken in that part of Germany isn’t Frisian anymore, but is Plattdüütsch (Lower German), which is still very much alive, since you hear it all around you and shops have signs in that language as well (I’m a lousy reporter since I haven’t made a picture of it). I knew Plattdüütsch is still common, but when you see and hear it anew you come to realize again how normal it is.
What I kinda have forgotten is the fact that they really see themselves as Frisians since I saw the sign of ‘Eala Frya Fresena’ (hail free Frisians) in a seamingly quiet town of Ogenbargen on a Landgasthof. Later on the same sign on a house. I should go back again and then really talk to the people to do a little survey. Would they feel more Frisian in the countryside, so in small towns as Ogenbargen or Hooksiel? More than in Wilhemshaven or Norden or Emden? And what about the islands?

After Jever (where I drank a Jever of course) and which is a nice town in itself I doubted if I would go diagonal to Hooksiel and visit more small towns on the way or go to Wilhemshaven and after that harbour city up to Hooksiel and take the western route alongside the coast. I chose to visit Wilhemshaven, but came to regret it actually. The town had a lot of tourists due to the beautiful weather and wasn’t that interesting. It was just a harbour, to be quite frank. But I stumbled upon a ‘Friesenbrunnen’. Again a sign of the strong Frisian history is still alive and kicking.

The cities of Norden and Emden I found much nicer. A friend of mine said that Emden could have been as nice as Harns if it hadn’t been bombed during WWII. But still it’s a nice little harbour city and apparently it is quite thriving since there was a fair going on in that weekend. I haven’t experienced it, since I was there in the early morning.
Landscapewise the East-Frisian region is quite the same as our Fryslân. Rural, Waddensea and islands. But there are also the characteristic socalled ‘sidewing landscapes’, relative small pieces of land with trees around them you see in a specific region of Fryslân, the region where I’m from. And you even have placenames that are the same.

In short I can highly recommend you to get on your bike on such a microadventure and visit Ostfriesland!

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The socalled dyke sheep you have in Fryslân as well with the island of Wangeroog in the background.