We stayed in Hamburg for an extra day to scramble for Schengen visas. Very pleased to announce our legality. Turns out procuring a 90-day extension is a shockingly easy thing for American citizens. God bless the USA, huh.
We collected a lot of footage around the city, visited Altes Mädchen brewery, Gartendeck, an urban garden, and a fleamarket happening in the blocks around Fabulous St. Pauli. The neighborhood of St. Pauli continued to shock and awe. Our visit happened to coincide with Tag der Arbeit, Germany’s May Day labor weekend, and Hamburg crawled with cops for two nights, echoes of firecrackers and shattered glass. Meanwhile, Facebook exploded with images of Baltimore. In Hamburg it’s a yearly ritual.
After our visas were approved, we said goodbye to Axel and Tanja and hopped back on the bikes. Next stop: Fab Lab Bremen. We inched out of the city, but once we hit Route 75 it was smooth cruising. We had a lot of kilometers to cover and the first 30 were largely uphill. Plus, we can never seem to go anywhere without the wind blowing against us.
Out of Hamburg, it’s a straight shot on a bike southwest to Bremen. Despite the hills, wind, and not having biked seriously in six days, our tires swallowed 70 kilometers by the early afternoon. We planned to pitch at Camping-Paradies another 15 down the road. We rolled into Rotenburg and found a Famila grocery store, some of which have WiFi. This one didn’t, unfortunately, but they did have the standard Getränkemarkt, so we bought a couple different Maibock brews and leaned back in the sunshine.
The Gemütlichkeit (a unique form of German pleasantness) of our improvisational Biergarten didn’t last. The sky turned to soot in half a minute and suddenly the beautiful May afternoon whipped into a deluge. In classic Madulthood style, we drank in the grocery store and waited it out. Few storms rage that hard for long.
Sure enough, the long summer day cleared and we were able to pedal to our campsite. Our biggest disappointment was that we couldn’t get Tent WiFi. Peacocks strutted everywhere and small deer slept closeish in a pen. We couldn’t hack the sauna.
The next day was supposed to be an easy 29km to Fab Lab Bremen. But we got mired on tractor trails, had to fight for every kilometer to Fischerhude. Those first ten were so brutal I ended up walking the Buddha bike a lot of the way. I wouldn’t have been able to move any faster by pedaling, grinding into the chain, wobbling over all the sandy ruts. So it goes.
Even covered in mud, we had a great visit with Fab Lab Bremen, which is open to the public and situated in the Universitat Bremen. Betreuer Lars Grochla and Florian Lütkebohmert were advising students from high school to graduate level in their projects.
We Couchsurfed with Ivan and Maria, a Bulgarian couple who have been living in Bremen for eleven years. Walking over the Weser, the air smells like roasting hops, sweet and burnt. Our hosts served wonderful dinner and wonderful conversation, wild and mild in turns. God and Politics.
Despite getting a late start (blame bacon) and intermittent rainstorms, we covered almost 100km the next day. We sheltered out the third downpour of the day in Hatay Restaurant in Oldenburg, where we bid auf Wiedersehen to Deutschland with Döner Kebab. Hatay served one of the best Döners of my life, definitely the best I’ve had outside of Berlin, so if you’re ever in Oldenburg.
Thus fortified with food, we were able to bike another 55km before the sun kissed the horizon. We pitched in someone’s across-the-street garden, just barely hidden from the sidewalk by a hedge and the impending night. Two flowering trees wafted perfume, rich from the rain. The aroma of saturated pine needles.
Morning mist greeted us as we struggled out of the tent at 5:30 the next morning. We packed up in record speed and arrived in Weener, a town with a funny name but nothing much going on. We hit the Dutch border at noon. Nothing much changed, but all of a sudden the signs were all in a different language, a language I don’t speak. It’s close enough: Bier is still Bier.
For the first time in days, we biked without the wind rushing in our faces. The land sped past effortlessly, so flat it felt like downhill. The number of bikes we passed increased the closer we got to Groningen, and then all of a sudden there were hardly any cars left. Cruising around city streets once more, everyone else looking immaculate on their sleek fixies, we’re like truckers steering an eighteen-wheeler.
Our host Matthias lives in a unique situation in a central location. There’s writing on the wall here, recipes in the kitchen, doodles and one-liners in the hallway, poetry in the bathroom. We’re in Groningen for a few days. As lovely as the Freedom of the Bike is, gosh it’s nice to shower and rest our butts.
Now that we’ve crossed International Border #2, we’re ready to focus on Holland. Several makers from Groningen reached out, and we adjusted our schedule to spend more time here. Groningen hosted Holland’s first ever Maker Faire and boasts several community workshops, including Fab Lab Groningen. This is a young city, a university city, and an incubation hub for creative start-ups. We’ve already realized just how robust the bike culture here is.
About 30km west of the border yesterday, we took a “pause for the cause,” when we dismount and give our bums a break. I glanced at the map on my tablet, and when I closed it, a key popped off the keyboard. Madison found it in the grass: the home key. We laughed for a solid minute about that, losing and finding home. Maybe you had to have been there.