Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

Tandem Tour 2013: Magdeburg to Wittenberge

Route_mag nach WittenbergeIn the early summer, much of Germany suffered from floods. The Elbe region was one of those severely affected. Magdeburg in particular. Up to this point we had not really noticed, but much of the Elberadweg to the North of the city was no longer passable. The detour – Umleitung – was not well signposted, intuitive or attractive.

We were trying to get to the market town of Tangemünde having left Magdeburg at 1500. We fell 18km short and opted for the Family Camp Kellerwiehl just north the small town of Bittkau.

The campsite is idyllic. There is a large lake, lots of trees, and a rudimentary restaurant; and to top it all, a labour-saving washing machine for our cycling gear. We ate in the evening (2030 on arrival) some salad, omelette and chips. We also cheated on the camping by hiring a wooden hut for a very reasonable fee. Luxury (below right).

Breakfast in the sunshine and then off (with the key to the hut in my pocket). It DSCF0300was only when I stopped to shake an apple tree to harvest some of the abundant free fruit along the way that we noticed. Fortunately, community functions sometimes. Although the post office was closed in Tangemünde (Saturday, late morning), a quick call to the campsite secured the return of the key. Moments later the owner retrieved it from the jewellers (a strangely complementary business for a post office) whilst we had coffee in the impressive town square with the

DSCF0301imposing town hall (below left) hosting a wedding. The town is an architectural delight with many wooden beamed ‘Fachwerk’ houses and buildings.

We set ourselves the target of reaching Wittenberge by the end of the day (100 or so kilometres), and picking up some fuel in one of the region’s ‘Hanse’ Stadts, in our case, Havelberg. En route, most of the villages and small towns were totally deserted. Arneburg, for example, with its impressive array of fachwerk, public art and an open Tourist Information Office, was reminiscent of southern European town in the middle of a siesta. But even then to use the toilet, one needed a key. Very clean though.

Crossing the river by ferry at Sandau, it is clear on arrival in Hansestatdt Havelberg that it was once a strategically important town. It is situated on the River Havel connected to the Elbe initially by a canal (upstream it voluntarily flows into its bigger neighbour). The rivers have served the town for trade, water and protection – indeed the safest place today would seem to be the campsite occupying an island accessed by a small bridge. From the middle ages, the economy was based on fishing, ship building, agriculture and cattle breading, apparently.

Again as the sun began to set, we approached our stopping place, Wittenberge. It was nothing like its southern Namesake. We sensed that we had entered a town that was not wealthy. It clearly lacked commercial heritage, and as we discovered later, young people. But in the midst of all of this is the hotel to match no other.

DSCF0303The Tollhouse Pension is what it says on the can. On arrival, check-in involves playing a couple of games, one resulting in the award of a sweet, the other the prospect of a glass of schnapps. Once in – perhaps 45 minutes after arrival – one encounters a room of some individual character. The owners, aware that Wittenberge is not the prettiest, provide a view (right). The bed was supremely comfortable, too.

As for the place, the old town and river front are pleasant and compact. The Mexican restaurant in the high street is ‘preiswert’ and brimming with choice. Wittenberge, then, is one of those places that one rarely chooses to visit but should.

Duckworth Lewis Method Brighton review, 20 September 2013

DLM_21_9_14As Thomas Walsh said part way through under the crucifix at St Georges church, the unlikely venue for this 90 minute musical cricket fest, ‘two albums about cricket, how fucking crazy is that?’

The first Duckworth Lewis Method album dates from 2009 and co-incided with the momentous and nervous Ashes tour of that year. For readers unfamiliar with the Ashes, it is the trophy fought for between England and Australia in the five-day version of the game, also known as test matches. Despite their Irish origins, Neil Hannon – whose other musical project is The Divine Comedy – and Walsh of Pugwash, their love of the game and for England has culminated in enough songs to justify a paying audience, hence this short tour of intimate venues.

Duckworth Lewes Method fans – and there are many going by the size of this audience – know the songs only too well. Tellingly, the two requests from the audience were for songs from the first album. ‘Jiggery Pokery’ about the extraordinary phenomenon that was Shane Warne, Australia’s most celebrated and effective leg spinner of all time, is one of the cleverest and vocally trickiest songs in the repertoire but always handled with aplomb by Hannon. Mr Miandad, the second of the requests, chronicling the journey to Pakistan by Hannon and Walsh in a VW camper van to meet with Javed Miandad, one of the Pakistan’s greats, is just a feel-good song.

The show’s final few overs included a song that should have come earlier bearing in mind its subject matter; namely, ‘The Coin Toss’ and a really mischievous rendition of ‘Nudging and Nurdling’, a song that is as inexplicable as is the game of cricket itself. The finale was as fitting as it could be ‘Test Match Special’, a celebration of the BBC’s ball-by-ball cricket commentary so bemusing to many.

By this time the audience had got to its feet leaving Hannon and Walsh with the sense of a winning draw if not victory. Great night.

Tandem Tour 2013 – Dessau to Magdeburg

Route Dessau nach MagdeburgThis is a very quiet stretch of river in every sense. From Dessau we took a bit of a short cut to Aken where we crossed the Elbe on one of the ubiquitous ferries. The larger villages and towns are on the opposite side such as Schönebeck. But it is very green and peaceful. There is also a campsite at Plötsky, an option we wanted to keep open. It also promises a quieter approach to Magdeburg through the Stadtpark Rotehorn.

We arrived in Magdeburg again quite late and in the dark. Finding a hotel was not so easy, though we headed towards the railway station and came across the Roncalli Haus with vacancies. Roncalli became Pope Johannes XXIII. The Haus is a hotel, conference/seminar/meeting space, restaurant, etc. My misgivings about the religious affiliation dissolved quite quickly. The people were friendly – they actually put themselves out to help us on more than one occasion during our short stay. The adjacent café served up some good vegetarian fayre. They cook to order; suffice to say, this is not a place to get through in a hurry.

Magdeburg itself seems to have come of age. The cathedral tells a different Lutheran story to that found in Wittenburg. Clearly Luther was not universally loved; indeed, the panels in the cathedral go out of their way to highlight some of his less-endearing characteristics.

DSCF0291More secular is die Grüne Zitadelle (right), the final building by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser ( Inside one finds over 100 dwellings, visitor accommodation, workspaces, shops and a theatre. Hundertwasser never saw it built, but his rejection of symmetry and straight lines is clear from the outside. Though we did not venture inside, there is plenty more unsymmetry if the photographs displayed in the foyer are anything to go by.

Tandem tour 2013 – Dresden to Dessau

Route Dresden nach DessauWe arrived in Dresden 1530 on Sunday 18 August. We got off the train one stop short of Hauptbahnhof (Dresden Neustadt) in order to make way to a campsite situated to the North of the City marked on the Bikeline guide in Wilschdorf (and checked the night before online). It proved not to be there. We had to continue on to a site located to the south of Moritzburg (Bad Sonnenland). There we pitched, showered and ate at the onsite restaurant. Just in time (most campsite restaurants close by 2100). We also took breakfast on the site before our first real day of pedalling.

Monday 19 August was the only wet day that we had. Even then it was not too bad. We DSCF0264sheltered away from the worst of it at a café in Meissen (having decided not to go back into Dresden). The castle and cathedral (right) huddle together for safety.

We camped for the second night at a site to the north of the small town of Strehla. It is a town of one restaurant, one hotel, a zoo and a massive outdoor swimming pool which also hosts the DSCF0269campsite (left). The campsite is spacious – but the showers are not very private – there are no doors to the cubicles and one is also exposed to a seating area adjacent to the Sanitär. The restaurant was unexpectedly good, however.

A bit of overnight rain cleared and we got on our way following the Radweg to Lutherstadt Wittenberg through Belgern, Torgau, Dommitzsch (where we crossed by ferry) and Elster. Lutherstadt Wittenberg is where martin Luther had nailed his theses to the door of the church. After a very late arrival in the dark, we checked into a recommended small hotel (Am Alten Anker) and decided to have a day to explore the town and nearby Dessau, the second and final home of the Bauhaus.

Lutherstadt Wittenberg is a bit of a tourist trap and its proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site at nearby DessauDSCF0274 adds to this. We visited the Luther House where he lived with his wife, a notable business woman in her own right, for many years. The museum in the house is, as small provincial museums go, breathtaking. the artefacts are not many, but they are treasures. The life of the man and history that he made are documented in large panels in German and English.

The room (right) was one of my favourites – the altarpiece at the end has Luther as close to God as possible. The man had quite an ego as well as guts to go to Worms to face the wrath of the Pope.

DSCF0279On the same day we took in Dessau. We took the train (35 minutes) and headed to the Bauhaus which is close to the station. The really iconic Bauhaus buildings are located in Dessau, now part of the university in the town.

The museum – constituting only two rooms – is in the basement. One room focuses on artefacts, the other on teaching and ‘philosophy’. The Bauhaus is one of the few institutions whose history is perhaps best told through the minds behind it (easy when it was so short-lived). Figures like Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Josef and Anni Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Breuer, Marianne Brandt and Paul Klee, to name a few. There is in the second room a large biographical graphic that locates these figures in history from birth to death, from place of birth to places of career, etc. The Bauhaus was dissolved by the Nazis who regarded it as subversive and ‘un-German’. There is a chilling photograph of the Bauhaus buildings in ruins with some satisfied Nazis celebrating a job well done.

Tandem tour 2013: introduction

Elberadweg_logoThis year’s tour was really two contrasting rides. The first section Dresden to Hamburg along the banks of the Elbe. For this tour we followed the Elberadweg (paths on both banks) guided by the publication from Bikeline ( We complemented this with our Garmin Navigation device (see entry: 14 June 2013 We selected the banks on the basis of places to stay (campsites) and places of interest (Luterstadt Wittenberge, Dessau, etc.). There are not so many bridges across the river; though there are many ferries – some are for passengers and bicycles only, others carry cars and small commercial vehicles. Some use a sophisticated cabling system to cross the river, others use conventional diesel motors.

The second part of the tour involved a coastal tour along the north coast of Holland starting in Groningen and ending at Europoort. This took in DSCF0358the amazing 30km-long Afsluitdijk separating the North Sea and the Ijsselmeer. This route was of our own making; but those readers who have cycled in the Netherlands will be aware that the Dutch make cycling and navigation particularly easy. The cycle tracks are superb (though one has to beware of mopeds) – and usually separated from the road. In addition, cycle signs make navigation relatively simple with a numbering system that is intuitive. We used a national cycle map purchased from the Tourist Information Centre in Groningen. The map comes as a spiral bound book which, on the whole, works; though some of the numbers do not come out at the edge of each page. The Garmin navigation device, however, helped overcome this as the numbers are incorporated into the maps.

DSCF0259Tandems are quite difficult to get on and off trains. In Germany it is not possible to use the Intercity routes. One is restricted to Regional Services involving quite a few changes but are relatively inexpensive. We travelled from Munich to Dresden (arrival pictured left) with the tandem for under 50 Euros. The journey took over 7 hours: Munich to Nürnberg;  Nürnberg to Saalfeld; Saalfeld to Leipzig; Leipzig to Dresden. We travelled on a Sunday. With hindsight, this was a mistake. The competition for bicycle spaces on regional services at the weekend is high. By contrast, travelling between Hamburg and Groningen on a Wednesday was uncomplicated (Hamburg to Bremen; Bremen to Leer: Leer to Groningen).

Railway stations are not optimised for bicycles, let alone tandems. Some, including Bremen, have no escalators. Changing platforms requires unloading bags and carrying the tandem down and up stairs. Some stations do have lifts, but these are too small to accommodate a tandem. Trains are also subject to platform change at late notice.

The Elberadweg is challenging. Riders encounter many surfaces. One of the least frienDSCF0266dly is cobblestone. In dry conditions cobblestones are manageable at slow speed (picture right). In the wet they will be very slippery.

Cobbles are encountered in most villages and towns through which one passes (for example, Lauenburg an der Elbe). Equally, in the countryside (pictured right) and in damp forested areas with gradients (the approach to Lauenburg an der Elbe on the north bank was particularly gruelling).

Other surfaces include asphalt, concrete and shingle (again, fine when dry but no so easy in the wet). Good puncture-proof tyres are advised.

The Elberadweg is peppered with campsites, small hotels, pensions and available rooms.  We took with us a 25 year-old Vango 2-person tent, microlite sleeping bags, inflatable mats and pillows. We did not carry any means of heating or cooking food. We used either cafés onsite or in nearby villages. Bakery shops are also good sources of breakfasts. We did our best to eat a substantial meal in the mid-late afternoon. As vegetarians, we encountered some very interesting menus; but with some flexibility (especially where eggs are concerned), eating was not a problem.

My Blackberry

My two years were up in August. Time to ‘ugrade’ my mobile. Even on the morning of my visit to the Carphone Warehouse, I really really wanted to stay with Blackberry. But the bad news about the state of Blackberry and the intelligence from app writers that there is little to be gained for writing for the platform, coupled with Nokia’s acquisition by Microsoft, indicated that a migration to another platform was reluctantly needed. Most converting Blackberry users, it seems, have over the past months migrated either to iPhone or alternatively to Samsung/Android. Whilst getting locked in to Google does not really appeal, getting locked out of Blackberry is even less attractive.

DSC00542My new mobile is a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini (left). I have not had it long enough to comment on its functionality. That comes later. In the meantime, any readers with whom I was connected on Blackberry Messenger, please be reassured that I did not deliberately break the link. Within 20 minutes of my visit to the shop, I had been transferred (they said it would take 24 hours).