THE YELLOW BULLET
I cycled into Dresden early in the morning, and stopped in a small bakery in the district of Pieschen. It was unusually cold early that day, and the prospect of a hot beverage and a freshly baked delicacy was simply irresistible. There were a few bake shops that were already open, but this one caught my attention because of a strange looking yellow bullet-looking bicycle that was parked just outside.
I came inside and ordered a big cup of coffee, a cheese croissant and a glass of orange juice. There were quite a few guests enjoying their early bird meals, but the owner of the yellow bullet was easy to recognize. He wore stretchy black pants and a yellow cyclist T-shirt. He was in his mid to late-fifties, and although his thick nicotine-stained mustache suggested he was a heavy smoker, he was in top physical form. When he was done with his coffee, he went outside to light up a smoke. I asked for the check, paid, and headed outside to ask him about his cool looking bike-projectile..
Achim and the yellow bullet
His name was Achim, and he, like me, was on a long distance bicycle trip. A couple years ago he was in a mobility fair in southern Germany, when he came across a similar bullet-bike in a stand. It didn't take him long to find a similar model online. He was so impressed by his newly acquired two-wheeled wind-piercer that he has ever since biked to work every day: 100km round trip!! Including this exercise in his daily life made him feel younger and more at peace with himself, he said, and now he couldn't even imagine going back to his old car days. While he was telling me all of this, I could hint a flicker of infatuation in his eyes. No wonder, Achim had fallen head over heals for this stunningly slick blonde!
As he pedalled away, I approached my bike, which had been lurking around the corner. „Don't you be jealous, you bamboo beauty“ I told her „the bullet babe was cute, but you are the prettiest of them all“. We strolled down the road hand-in-handlebar making our way to Dresden's city center.
722 British Royal Air Force bombers and 527 US Army Air Forces carried out four devastating air raids that dropped over 3900 tons of high explosives over Saxony's capital in February 1945: Dresden took a beating during the Second World War. Much controversy surrounds the scale of the attack, claiming it disproportional to the military strategic value of the city. Dresden was, quite simply, bombed to the ground. Though I am not trying to question the motives that lead to such a brutal military intervention, from an architectural perspective it was truly a shame that it ever happened.
Dresden after the 1945 bombings. (©AFP/ GETTY IMAGES)
Although it might never fully regain its former glory, Dresden has resurrected from its ashes and stands tall as a reference of the 18th and 19th century European cultural landscape. I took a day off to sip in as much of the city as I could before pedalling further south towards the Czech Republic. I stayed at a friends place who lived near the Blaues Wunder (Blue Wonder), a bridge that crossed over the Elbe and owes its name to the erratic paint that was applied to it which, originally meant to be green, decayed due to sunlight and quickly faded to blue. From here, I strolled down the Elbenradweg (Elbe Bike Way), the same bike path I had been cycling for the last days, towards the city center. This paved way was just as enjoyable on foot as it had been on two wheels. I admired the Albrechtsberg Castle, the sights of the city center from the river and the many bridges that link the northern and southern parts of the city. A jewel of baroque architecture, this stretch of the river, called the Dresden Elbe Valley, was awarded the World Heritage Status in 2004. Sadly, due to the construction of an ultra modern 4-lane highway bridge near the town center, the UNESCO decided in 2009, only for the second time in history, to strip Dresden of this status.
Dresden's historic city center at sunset.
Aside from admiring the city's architecture, I was specially keen on observing how functional the bicycle infrastructure in the city was, and I was sad to find out that it was several steps behind what I had experienced in other German cities. Although the town center and the roads nearby the train stations had appropriate bicycle lanes, as one cycled away from these hot spots, the cycle paths became either non-existent or intermittently appeared for a few meters in the most random streets. My day off came to an end. It was time to get some sleep, before the trip continued.
Thomas and Karin woke up refreshed in their recreational vehicle that morning. They had purchased it 3 years ago and had put it to good use already with expeditions to Iceland and different vacation trips in Germany. That morning, their mobile home was parked in a camping atop the Struppen Hill, some 50 km away from Dresden. The couple detached their bikes from the back rack and went out for a day tour of the nearby Sächsiche Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland), a conglomerate of over 1000 climbing peaks very popular for climbers and hikers.
As dawn approached, the couple made their way back up the mountain to where they had parked their RV. As they were ascending the last section of the steep hill, they saw a man on a bamboo bike and a funny bright orange helmet asking an old lady for a glass of water and directions to the Struppen Camping.
„It's not far away“ said Thomas, „we are going in that direction, you can come with us“. The three of them slowly pedalled up the last metres of the hill until they reached the camping grounds. Thomas and Karin went to their car, leaned their bikes on a nearby tree and enjoyed the views of the Struppen valley. A few minutes later, and on his way to the toilette, Thomas encountered the orange helmet man from the hill as he was unpacking his overloaded bicycle. All the other campers in Struppen were mobile home owners, and seeing as this was the only person who had ventured up the hill to sleep under a carp, he kindly asked: „would you like to have dinner with us?“. The man's eyes gleed with joy. „Why yes, thank you!", he said, "all I have left to eat are a few muesli bars!“.
Karin and Thomas set up a camping table next to their mobile home and got out some bread, spreads, peppers, beer and wine from southern Germany. Many of their neighbours had connected their satellite dishes, as the German and French national football teams would duel for a place in the European Football Championship final that very evening, but after a day of bike riding, there was nothing more appealing to the cycling couple and the orange helmet man than sitting down under the stars, enjoying food, drink and conversation.
Candlelight with Karin and Thomas.
TERRIBLE SLIME PARTY
I said goodbye to Karin and Thomas and thanked them for their generousity as I headed back to where I had parked my bicycle. Although I had only had two glasses of wine, I could already feel its warming effect on my fingertips and the drowsiness on my eyelids. „I am going to sleep like a baby“, I though to myself. I got my tent, sleeping bag and inflatable mattress out of the back rack of my bike and proceeded to set camp for the night. As I unrolled my tightly packed tent, however, I noticed there was something unusual about this now mechanized procedure. The tent did not unroll in one single smooth motion, as it usually does, but got stuck half way. As I attempted to unroll it again, pushing it with my hand, I felt something downright disgusting on my fingertips. This was not the nice tingling sensation from the wine, it was something else. Something slimy, viscous and thick. I got out my flashlight and pointed it to my half unrolled tent: I almost vomited at the sight.
Two nights ago I had pitched my tent behind an abandoned warehouse. At the time, I had momentarily allowed my head to replay some of the horror films I had seen in the past, and what terrible things might happen to a silly camper who decided to overnight in such an unwelcoming location. Motorized axes, wax-museums, creepy men with bad acne scars and even Freddy Kruegger came to mind for a moment before I fell asleep, imaginary threats fueled by a mind overexposed to Hollywood productions. There was, however, a very real threat creeping towards my tent at that very moment: slugs.
Attracted to the moist air emanating from within, a crew of thug slugs decided to come to my tent and party for the night. They found their sweet spot just between the outside cover and the inner layer and had a grand time dancing their slimy buts to the beat of my rythmic snoring all night long. It must have come as a terrible surprise to them, when at 5 a.m. my alarm went off. I had been afraid of being caught camping on private grounds and wanted to get out of there before sunrise. It was still quite dark when I got out of the tent and started packing my things. The party slugs must have known what was coming, and started hurrying to get out of the tent. Slugs, however, are not know for their velocity, and, being still inebriated from a night of excess dancing, they were slower than usual. It was too late. I collapsed my tent, unaware of the slugs „running“ for their lives within it, folded it and started rolling it as compactly as I could to make it fit into its case. The poor partying slugs got crushed by the weight of compacting polyester, industrial plastic and metal zippers.
Bitter end to the slugs' slumber party.
Had I noticed what had happened right at that moment, it might have even been funny. Had I noticed a day after, it would have been disgusting, but entertaining. But I had taken a day off in Dresden and had slept in a comfortable bed that day while the remains of the slugs were rotting away inside my tent. It was exactly 43 hours after the glutinous creatures' tragic end, that I had bid Thomas and Karin goodbye, unpacked my bike and unrolled the horror. Luckily the inside of my tent was slug-free, but the dark brown stains that remained after I cleaned the rotting slurpee of crushed slugs smelled of old fish and sour milk.
I had a big day coming, as I would cross my first border getting into the Czech Republic and I wanted to get as close as possible to Prague, which meant pedalling well over 100km. I needed to get a good night sleep, so I got into my sleeping bag and prayed to the Greek god Hypnos to take me quickly to the land of cotton-candy smelling dreams.
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