June 19 – Potsdam to Berlin
Well, I think that was the hottest ride we’ve had so far. It was a scorcher! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, this hot weather is every shade of brilliant, but there was no ladylike glow happening, it was full on sweat dripping hot!
We rode out of Potsdam, with a route marker just around the corner from where we’d stayed, so we were on track right from the get go. It was sunny and warm and we rode over the river again and then along a path beside the road. We had a climb to begin with, but it was so gradual as to be nothing at all, just enough to get us warmed up on an already warm morning. Not warm, it was hot, I mean really hot. The hottest we’ve ever ridden in I’m sure. It was fabulous, but we were both soaked from the heat, not the effort.
Then we were back in the forest again. Lovely! The trees beside us, the welcome shade they gave us and we bumped over the lumps in the path from the tree roots and climbed a few more little hills, then began scouting for locations for elevenses. A couple of attempts didn’t have anywhere for us to sit and then we came across a seat by the path, in the shade and elevenses could commence.
The ride on gave us a nice downhill run and then we entered the outskirts of Berlin. We had bike lanes and bike paths all the way in and it reminded me of riding into Paris. Traffic around us, but we were just tootling along, in the bike lane, with all the other commuter cyclists around us and if it hadn’t been for the unusual looking load we were carrying, I would have felt like a local, just riding along, with the traffic whizzing by next to me. The bike lane, just like Paris, took a few swerves here and there as we navigated our way around delivery vans parked in our lane and cars parked nose in to the kerb instead of parallel, so they stuck out and we had to do a quick manoeuvre here and there to avoid a protruding bumper. It was fun and that all just added to the buzz of zipping into the city amongst the other two-wheeled traffic. It must be tricky being a first time driver in a place like this though, having to give way to cars and also remember to give way to bikes. I watched the cars and the fantastic drivers as they stopped to make a right hand turn, waited for cars and then looked back over their shoulder to check there were no bikes coming down the bike lane they were about to drive across. In our time in Germany, we have again had absolutely stellar drivers being so mindful of bikes.
We stopped for a quick rest stop and snack in a park before our final run into the middle of the city. Steve again came up trumps with the navigation and we found our way to my cousin Lisa’s apartment. We had never met, on account of me growing up in Australia, she growing up in Canada and then moving to Europe, so it was great to now meet in person. We were welcomed into a lovely home, I jumped into a much appreciated shower, so I could become someone you might feel more comfortable sitting next to, after a hot and sweaty ride and we chatted over a lovely lunch.
Lisa took us for a walk around the area, telling us about life in Berlin, the changes it has seen over the years, the legacy left by WWII and so many fascinating insights into the country, city and life here. It was great to hear a perspective from someone living here, who had not grown up here, so could share different ways of seeing things, as both a local and a “newcomer”. It was great.
Lisa then left us to explore and roam on our own, so we took it freestyle. We strolled past the Reichstag, then the Brandenburg Gate, before making our way out to Hackesche Höfe which used to be a Jewish community. It was a maze of narrow passageways and courtyards, in between buildings that once housed Jewish families. It has been developed now, into artisan shops, but it was really interesting to visit a place with such history. As we walked around the streets of that area, we saw many more of the “stumbling blocks” like we had seen in Dresden, with the names of the Jewish people who had once had lived in the houses or buildings where these small brass plaques had been placed. Each plaque gave their names and the concentration camp to where they were sent. It was moving to see groups of these little plaques set into the pavement, with the names of family groups together, parents and children, who had been killed. So much history here of course.
After a long and relaxed roam, we made our way back to Lisa’s apartment and then talked and talked and talked for hours into the night. Meeting for the first time, but finding so much in common. It was just brilliant.
So, we are here in Berlin for a couple of days to roam and explore. My impressions of Berlin so far are… not what I was expecting…again! So often I have my images or preconceived ideas or perceptions of a place altered completely. Berlin was another of those cases. Before coming I thought it would be another city. I was expecting hustle and bustle and traffic and noise, with some historic and significant sites in amongst it all. Nope, our experience so far is not like that at all. Yes, there are city sounds and sights, but it feels really laid back. It feels artsy, a little bohemian and very relaxed. It seemed like every second person I saw was wearing Birkenstocks. Lots of floaty dresses, harem pants, cargo shorts and lots and lots of Birkenstocks! Now, I reckon there’s a piece of footwear that says “I’m relaxed, I’m laid back, I’m casual, I take comfort seriously.” This is a Birkenstock town! It’s great. As we walked back to the apartment in the evening, people were out enjoying dinner at tables along the footpath, kids were playing in the street, a local park was full of families and kids running and playing, like a big neighbourhood, rather than the centre of a city. And…all those Birkenstocks. Almost everyone seemed to be wearing them and they began to feel like a symbol for the city’s character today…casual, relaxed, unhurried. Just the sort of place we like.
We will continue to explore and see what we can learn about Berlin, the city of the past and its life today. I just wish I had room in a pannier for extra shoes…gotta get me some Birkenstocks!
Distance ridden: 31.9 km
Time in the saddle: 2 hours 23 minutes
Distance roamed: 11.1 km
Weather: hot, hot, hot, 32C…love it!