Archive for the ‘Europe 2013’ Category

Back home (to Sweden)

March 10, 2014

Our ferry landed at Skarpnato, and the pilot started to prepare the boat for laying up through the winter. Skarpnato has a windmill – in the tall, thin style favoured on Aland – and several houses, and of course a maypole with its customary attachments, appurtenances, and appendages.

We rode on. Even out here in the back end of an obscure island, the cycle tracks were wonderful.

Signs ask you to go slow if there are children around. Or cats (“Thanks, for that you drove carefully. Sixten and his friends”)

We reached the big ferry terminal at Eckero, on Aland, for the ferry to Grisslehamn in Sweden, about 90km north of Stockholm. It was mid afternoon and we had nowhere to stay and there were no maps, but we found a single copy of a brochure for Grisslehamn pinned to the wall; on the back was a Useful Map of it:

They have drawn the ferry coming in to the jetty, and from there we are going to cycle through the “town”, along its single main street and hit the campsite at top left – passing this eponymously named street –

– and we arrived at the campsite in the early evening. From here we rode back into Stockholm over the following two days, there not being anything new to show (a few churches & runestones, etc, and increasingly horriffic traffic as we near and reach the city.). So, dear readers, may I bid you farewell and leave you here on this wonderful evening in Grisslehamn.

These adventures happened last August, but writing the blog has slipped so it is March 2014 as I write this. I am about to spend a week in Tasmania on the Motorcycle, with two guys from the Road of Bones trip. Give me a couple of weeks off and then I will write more blog entries, notably some pages about food (cute, amusing, & disgusting) so please continue to follow this blog and I hope to keep churning out entertaining stuff.


Geta (Åland)

March 7, 2014

We rode on to Geta, a long way to the north of the island. We rode 75 km on this first day, and we were totally exhausted. Like a hurricane we blew into Geta, with its three houses, one shop and a bus shelter, determined to paint the town red. Here’s a map of the NW corner of Åland, where Geta is.

Now one thing not very evident in Geta – well actually a lot of things are not evident in Geta, aardvarks for example – was the accommodation that we had booked. You see the “Soltuna” place to the north? Well, that was it … up a hill. A 3-kilometre ride uphill, on gravelly dirt roads. So now we’ve ridden 78 km. We were knackered-squared when we arrived at the hill top, but what views.

Up here is a mad Radio Ham who has spent 20 years working all the others hams in the world. He wasn’t there today, which was a pity as my father was an equally crazy radio ham (G3FKH) all his life, and it is very likely they had once spoken. The aerials give away what his hobby is.

The sunset was amazing, the view over the islands out to the north (and the wild, remote North Baltic sea). I did say we’d paint the town red … well, we stayed in a wooden hut and at sunset – I swear I have not photoshopped it –

The following morning at the monument –

– which says “See God in Nature”. Now we ride DOWNHILL out of here, oh yes, to the ferry terminal. Voila, a map of where we, and the ferry, will go.

Here’s the ferry terminal:

No kidding! This is the big place to be around here. There are several buildings nearby, one of them inhabited. They have Poetry Readings and Musical Concerts here, look:

We met this independent lady from central USA. The bike folds up and goes inside the suitcase, which you can then take on aeroplanes etc., and go anywhere in the world, including Geta.

The ferry came, on time, at 11:00. It is very important for us to be on time because if we miss this ferry – it runs once a day in the summer only, and this is the last one. The next ferry will be in 8 months. The boat is specially modified to take many bicycles (up to 30!); and as you see, crowds of cyclists pile aboard for this epic last journey from Geta to Skarpnato.


March 6, 2014

No these are not our bikes. These are very well-equipped touring bikes of people who knew what they were doing (and who like to drink Coca-Cola and save the tins). We just had ordinary bikes and rucksacks. I cycled everywhere in Europe with no helmet (it not being compulsory for adults in Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden or Finland), to the horror of other riders I was with. On the other hand, Swedes go around on bikes with no pump and no repair kit, and it is very hard to remove the bolted-on wheels (need two spanners) before you even start to repair a puncture. We were spared from punctures, but when you’re 20 km from the nearest town, there’s no bus service and it starts to rain, a puncture is something you can do without.

Lunch at the junction of the ‘2’ and ‘4’ roads. There is a town here (Godby) but it’s very spread out and dull. Nearby is the sort-of-famous Kastelholm castle which turned out to be two large stone buildings, but it’s all they’ve got.

What IS near here, but we did not have time to get to it, is the huge castle at Bomarsund, at the eastern end of the ‘2’ road. Built by the Russians to hold 5,000 men and a huge naval force, it was captured and destroyed by the British in the Crimean War. The soldiers were taken to Lewes, Sussex UK to be imprisoned, where they made themselves very popular by making small wooden toys and generally not being a nuisance. The Lewes townsfolk were sad to see them return to Russia when peace broke out. I’ve been to Lewes (before I did the Road of Bones, in 2012) where this Russian Cannon was exhibited for sentimental reasons:

Anyway, at Bomarsund, which as I said we did not see, the castle walls – what was left of them after British bombardment – have an amazing geometric construction. And the walls are 6 foot thick. Someone else’s picture –

But never mind … we visited a farm, restored in 18th-century style. Here’s the wooden implements of farm (and domestic) life.

Many wooden farm buildings, here’s one. That is the flag of Åland – they are very proud of it, painting it on the mail boxes etc.

Åland also has its own Internet domain digraph (.ax). And they have their own style of May Pole. May Poles are found all over Sweden, I know those, a cross shape with two loops hanging from the cross bar. They are decorated with fresh flowers for Midsummer Day (June 24) and the flowers left on it for the rest of the year. But a maypole here on Åland has three cross bars plus other stuff, and everything about it has significance. I could have bought a book explaining all the parts and necessary accoutrements of the poles, and I regret that I didn’t.

FINLAND (well, Åland)

March 5, 2014

Åland is a large island – with hundreds of smaller islands – halfway across the Baltic, between Sweden and Finland. It belongs to Finland, but the islanders have their own identity, their own dialect of the Finnish language and their own flag. Barbro’s friend Irene lives near Stockholm and the three of us got the ferry from there to Helsinki, getting off halfway at Mariehamn, capital of Åland, and spent a a few days cycling around it.

As the thin black line shows. There’s Mariehamn at the bottom centre, we rode up through Jomala to the middle of the island where there’s a castle, then up to the NW corner at a place called Geta. From Geta we got the ferry down towards the western part of the island (Eckero) and its “port”, then back to Sweden.

The Stockholm-Helsinki ferry started early in the morning and landed halfway at Mariehamn in mid afternoon. The town was in festive mode for our arrival, crowds thronging the streets, or rather, street:

Lovely quiet town, with a beach, inland park and forest:

That cannon is RUSSIAN (Tsarist Russian) and was for pointing at the British during the Crimean War … the first Crimean War 😦 Finland in those days was part of Russia, indeed Finland as such has fought 43 wars, all of them against Russia. At Jomala there’s an old church with natty graveyard and memorial –

(in Swedish) “To the memory of those from Jomala community who have perished at sea”

Onwards across the rich fields of Åland and a Viking graveyard –

Next post – on to Geta and beyond!

The Wasa ship (1628)

March 3, 2014

(Sorry guys, I have been busy again – house guests, plus, I have dusted off and ridden the motorbike prior to spending a week riding it around Tasmania).

Moving around Stockholm laat August, we came to the preserved ship Wasa. Hell of a story: during the vicious wars between Sweden and Denmark, both sides frantically built naval ships. These were mighty oak vessels, and they had about 5 each. In the 1620s the King of Sweden commissioned a new major ship, big enough to whop the Danes once and for all. It was to have cannons, which generally missed in those days, and five rows of 12-inch-square oak beams all around it, making it strong enough both to deliver and to withstand ramming. Whole Swedish forests were felled, and work began.

“Sire”, said a vassal, “The Danes have just built a new ship with TWO rows of cannon on it.” “OK”, said the King – well probably not in those words, “Add a second row of cannon to my new ship.” “But Sire”, said the naval designers – who worked without drawings or anything technical like that – “we think that will make the ship top-heavy”. “Look, I’m the King”, expostulated the furious monarch “and top-heavy is one thing you will not be if you keep arguing with me”.

So the new ship was hastily re-designed with two rows of cannon. Lions’ heads would appear when the cannon portholes were opened, but that would be nothing compared to the 5,000 brightly-coloured works of art with which the ship was adorned all over. Ancestors, mighty Swedish warriors, legendary figures … an incredible sight, which would send the Danes scurrying away without daring to fire at it. The ship was named Wasa, after the even mightier King a century before who was already the greatest King in Swedish history, and on 10.8.1628 the whole city turned out to see it leave the dock and sail away across Stockholm harbour. Someone in the crowd had a mobile phone, so we have this picture:

It was a glorious day, the sun shone, the sea was calm, the crowd roared, the ship glided out of the dock, its sails, ropes and artworks all glistening in the summer sunshine, and it sailed majestically away, well, at least for about 1300 metres. Then it, er, how do I say this … it sank.

The King was not best pleased, unlike the King of the Danes when he heard about it and promptly attacked at sea with renewed vigour. A huge storm blew up two years later and sank more Swedish ships, and that was the end of Swedish naval power for some centuries.

A Royal Commission was appointed to find who was to blame, and presumably to verify that such persons were themselves too top-heavy. Fingers were pointed all over the place, finally pointing generally at the King himself, so the affair sort of fizzled out. The Wasa stayed rotting at the bottom of Stockholm Harbour for centuries and was carefully forgotten about – until the 1950s when one nutter kept going out in a rowing boat and dropping weighted chisels to the harbour bottom to try to find it. He reckoned that as the harbour was mostly fresh water, the marine shipworms that cause wood to decompose would not be active. Everybody shook their heads and sighed …

… until he actually found the darn thing in 1956. Then, after years of planning and construction work, it was raised in a huge maritime operation. Nobody really believed it until the timbers broke the surface, I’ve seen the film, what a moving sight. The surviving hull of the ship was made to float again, even bigger crowds than in 1628 turned up, and the King of Sweden (not the same one though) came and piloted the Wasa back into the original dock where it had been built.

It was nearly perfectly preserved in those worm-free Baltic waters. After being sprayed for decades with water containing plastics – I saw it thus in 1970 – it is now fully dried out and mounted in its own museum. When you go in, this sight hits you.

Glorious again, in this age of peace and prosperity it is probably making more money than it could ever have captured in an age of war. The museum has very good interpretive displays; we spent most of the day there. School parties are allowed onto and into the ship itself.

The original would have looked like this model. (If it had floated).

The back of the model, with the real ship in the background.

Next: Cycling in Åland, a part of Finland.


February 19, 2014

We were shown around by a good friend, here she is, with some epic weather in the background:

The weather was so vicious over there, even the rainbow got shredded:

We travelled on the Stockholm undergound. The red sign is a special greeting for Yorkshiremen

But really “Ej upp” means “Not up”. I suppose, as we are at the bottom of the escalators, they can’t label it “down”, because from here, it doesn’t go down. The Swedes spend their long, dark winters thinking of this sort of thing – and checking over the cars they have made in the summer, which is why Volvos and Saabs are so reliable.

Every station in the Stockholm Underground system is covered by art of a different theme. This one, presumably to make Russian visitors feel at home, shows a chemical factory spewing out toxic waste:

Fossil trilobytes and a north-south orientation, which is rather useless down here. Although, a Qibla would be very handy indeed for Muslims who happen to be down here at prayer time. (It’s also very useful to Scrabble players who don’t have a ‘U’)

Up onto the surface, and here’s the memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, the greatest hero of all time (in terms of the number of lives saved). It’s a stone sphere and random blocks of globby metal, with the signature that saved 10,000 or more lives.

Also a memorial to the balloonists Fraenkel, Andree, and Strindberg, who tried to float across the North Pole in a hydrogen-filled balloon, in 1897. Moving for me because I have been to the site (in Spitsbergen) where the balloon took off, read all the books and seen the movie. It was a foolhardy and disastrous venture, they crashed after 2 days’ flight and vanished. But 33 years later their bodies were found by accident, causing a media sensation and unprecedented outpouring of national grief and pride; they had walked back to a different part of Spitsbergen. The whole nation and indeed much of Scandinavia ground to a halt for their funeral procession.

A lighthouse shop. I’ve always wanted to own a lighthouse; I could host gatherings of all my friends in it 😦 But unfortunately the shop was shut. They have put up a camera, to film people who steal the lighthouses.

We walked around the city in the evening light (there’s daylight until 11pm up here in the summer). This is the “LO Castle”, headquarters of the Swedish trade union (LO) movement.

Indeed the whole suburb around it oozes trade unionism and its heroes – street names, statues, businesses. This incredibly Stalinist monument to a hero of the movement was raised in 1935.

Back to the mainland

February 16, 2014

So the wedding went off well. One thing bothered me from the picture in the church:

– showing Jesus taking Communion. The cup would contain wine, asserted to be his blood, but er … it’s him that’s going to drink it. The act of communion stems from the Last Supper, which was before the crucifixion, so the angel presenting a cross is surely in very poor taste. I can’t work this one out. Countries fought whole wars over this sort of thing – specifically, over what happens to communion wafers when they are consecrated – thousands of men, maybe millions, have died over arguing that.

Ah, the mysteries of Christianity have occupied the world’s finest minds for hundreds of years. But not us … the following day we headed back to the jetty for the return boat. The map of this part of Uto shows how frantic life is here.

At bottom left “Storangen” means “big field”, and there’s the school and the church (Skola, Kyrka – you see, it is the same language!). Just to the east is one of the two jetties (brygga) and at the top, those angular letter R’s denote runestones or other antiquities. Here comes our boat “The Silver Arrow”

And we returned to Solna, just north of Stockholm on the mainland. Here there is a huge royal garden and palace, developed at fabulous cost about 200 years ago by King Gustav III, who wanted to establish a physical, cultural and political hub here. This field is about 1/20 of the area.

Now you see the field is sort of concave? Well, it used to be convex, part of a hillside. Whole army regiments toiled for 2 years, with spades and wheelbarrows, to hollow it out, because King Gustav III thought a hollow would look better. The Royal Engineer Regiment was stationed here 1922-1970; Barbro’s father was conscripted to serve in it. They mainly build bridges. Here’s the regimental monument.

Here’s the royal tent in the park, actually made of copper (as things are, up here) and painted blue.

We had coffee in here – the view was magnificent. Fit for a King, in fact. About 100 years ago the government took over the management of this estate, but 4 years ago it was returned to the incumbent King in its entirety, for him to dispose of as he likes. (Ummm … and to pay for its upkeep).

On another part of the estate is a gazebo with an ellipsoidal roof. (Photo from Wikimedia, wrong time of year; in any case, my readers should bear in mind that this Blog has slipped far back in time – I am writing on 16 Feb 2014 but describing August 11, 2013)

King Gustav III liked to have picnics here, with his entourage. Ellipsoids, as the King presumably knew, are defined by the formula x2/a2 + y2/b2 + z2/c2 = 1, where a and b are the half-lengths from the middle to the walls; with c at about head height, any vector striking the surface will reflect back through one of the two foci. Therefore, the King, clutching his champagne, would stand on the centre line at a distance a-√(a2-b2) from the edge, encouraging any plotters and conspirators to stand at the same distance in, at the other end (as Romina Lars & Emma do here).

King Gustav III would then clearly hear them plotting and conspiring, and whistle for the axe-man (who would approach from infinity, and swing his axe in the z-plane at a distance c above the ground). Despite all this monarchical mathematics, poor Gustav III was assassinated anyway. Maybe just as well; being an ambitious King, he was planning to invade and colonise Western Australia.

The Swedes go berserk about ecology and the environment, so the grass in the Park is cut by horse-drawn mower.

Here are the 5 of us with typical Swedish lunch, open sandwiches with prawns, boiled egg and cod-roe (they call that “caviar” but it’s not really the eggs of sturgeon from Lake Baikal.)

Next two posts – Into Stockholm to see the recovered Wasa battleship!

Archipelago Wedding

February 14, 2014

We flew back up to Stockholm and had a day in the old town. Difficutl to photograph but it occupies a small island in the middle of Stockholm. Both our children – Emma, working in London, and Lars with his good friend Romina, both working in Munich, came out to join us, and this was the only time in 2013 that our family was together. Here we are in the Old Town of Stockholm.

As you see from the above photo of Lars and Romina, it is hard to get the buildings into a picture (and hard to find a street not choked with tourists). Here’s part of a view of the harbour; this is roughly where the warship Wasa sank in 1626; and thereby hangs a tale – a future post will relate it.

We only stayed a day or so before we embarked on a 3-hour ferry trip to the island of Utö, to attend our friend’s son’s wedding. Voila, a map; Utö is down the bottom, in the red circle. All the red words and lines are just the ferry system.

The island is remote and simple; indidvidual houses are marked on the above map. Here’s the church where the event will take place. As is typical of Lutheran churches, it is austere.

Here’s my family, all scrubbed up for the occasion: Romina and Lars, Barbro, Emma, and me.

OK, here comes the bridal pair. Martin from a Norwegian family living in Melbourne, and Pauliina from a Finnish family living in Stockholm.

They get hitched. (Note the simple depiction of the Last Supper in the background. I am ever on the lookout for detail).

Then they get showered with rice, and there was a reception on the lawn and then inside the village school.

We all had a good time, it was wonderful to have the family with us and meet some old friends in the bridegroom’s family. The village on Utö was a cute setting, resources were a bit basic but that was its charm.

Little Church and Little Battle

February 13, 2014

We visited Hyby Church, built in the 1100’s and with wall frescoes from the 1400’s. Unrestored, original frescoes contemporary with Andrei Rublev himself! Excuse me while I freak out yet again. Here’s Christ in Majesty, and St Peter with the keys to Heaven; the resurrected people seem pretty keen to get in. (And head for a clothes shop.)

You are looking at UNRETOUCHED 600-year old paintings, executed on wall and ceiling plaster; the whole ceiling is covered. That’s Barbro’s father, who is also pretty ancient.

It’s only a tiny church; it’s in the background of the above photo which shows the general memorial in its graveyard, for cremated ashes and for anything else that anyone wants to commemorate. The stone reads “There is something behind the mountain” and this also freaked me out, recalling when we drove over Kalkallo hill in 1988 to move house back to Melbourne after 18 months living in Canberra, and a view of Melbourne unseen for 18 months and brightly lit at night, struck us. And in 2012 after a cold, rainy 6-day 1800-km trek, through Siberian tundra and over the bones of men who built the road, I rode my motorbike over that last hill to see Magadan suddenly appear before me in all its glory. And I once read an H.P.Lovecraft story in which the mountaineering hero saw a bizarre animal looking at him from just behind a distant mountaintop; it turned out the animal was standing in the next valley and was the same size as the mountains.

Yes, there is something behind the mountain, but don’t be afraid – it can only kill you.

I seem to have digressed. (At least not in Finnish this time)

Sweden has a long and ghastly history of wars with Denmark and Russia, but these ceased in about 1700 and the last battle to be fought Swedish soil was in 1811, right here between Klagerup and Bara, near Lund. Actually it was not even a battle against anyone else, it was the result of a rebellion against local barons, installed by Napoleon’s puppet King Bernadotte who told them to recruit men to fight for Napoleon. Troops were sent in to, basically, kidnap and imprison local men to be press-ganged into the army, but in the evening of their capture they rose up against their captors even to the point of death, and 23 were killed. Courageous they were, but they would not have been very motivated as soldiers … There is a memorial stone to this, the last battle on Swedish soil; it’s on their mass grave, there in the middle distance, just below the horizon:

“At the rebellion on 15 June 1811, about 23 farmhands and farmers were killed at Klagerup Farmstead. They are buried here at this remote, outlying place. This stone was raised in 1991 by the tradesmen of Bara”.

After this peaceful interlude in the countryside, Stockholm will be a hellish maelstrom of mad people, noise and machinery, but now we are going to pass through it on the way to a friend’s wedding; and our two children will meet us there.

Lund again, for a few days

February 12, 2014

From the log cabin outside Mora, we drove to Stockholm for the confirmation of one of Mats’s children and then drove 540km south to Lund, which is where we were before, and we’ll be back in Stockholm in a week. Stopped at Linkoping on the way down, there was once a castle here but this model (for blind people to feel) shows it better than my other pictures. Note the angular defences, allowing raking fire over attackers at the walls.

Linkoping city square has a fountain in a huge copper bowl, copper being the principal metal found all over central Sweden, as well as Finland and Estonia. Water-sprites in Finnish and Estonian folklore were described as consisting entirely of copper … I thought you’d like to know that. To illustrate this point, and why not, I quote from the English translation of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, line 117 of Runo II:

Nousipa merestä miesi,
uros aallosta yleni …
Vaski-oli hattu hartioilla,
vaskisaappahat jalassa,
vaskikintahat käessä,
vaskikirjat kintahissa,
vaskivyöhyt vyölle vyötty,
vaskikirves vyön takana…

Perhaps it’d be better in English. (Those of you subjected to a British education will recognise the rhythm of Hiawatha in both languages – Longfellow stole that from the Kalevala.)

Then a man arose from ocean
From the waves a hero started …
Decked his head a helm of copper
On his feet were boots of copper
On his hands were copper gauntlets
Gloves adorned with copper tracings
Round his waist his belt was copper
In his belt his axe was copper …

You get the idea. Anyway. A battle, apparently a fairly painful one, is commemorated on the side of the Linkoping fountain:

Ow ow OW!!! But moving forward to modern times, here’s a nice idea, commonly found at Swedish bike shops: a free air pump working 24 hours a day.

For these few days back in Malmo and Lund, we stayed with our good friends Barbro and Leif, excellent hosts. Here’s (that) Barbro with a typical Swedish breakfast, namely a boiled egg followed by a minor feast with fish and cheese.

Malmo Council put on a poets’ festival. The punters were asked to show up on bicycles, at a nearby village; Leif had left a couple of his spare bikes parked (unlocked!) in the village square, for us to pick up. And we all set off along trails through the woodland –

and came to four different places, mostly abandoned railway stations (that bike trail was once a railway line), neatly restored for tourism such as this one –

– whereupon one of the local poets popped up and recited some of his/her poetry to the assembled bi-rotary throng. Then we all rode off to the next venue, where a similar thing happened. It made for a wonderful evening, with the farmland/woods setting in the golden colour of sunset. This area is “the breadbasket of Sweden” and the fields, just harvested, looked like this.

Gustav Vasa

February 11, 2014

We left the log cabins, with great reluctance, and headed for Stockholm, where we would attend a confirmation in one of the more famous cathedrals. Stopped for lunch at Mora, whose church has an unusual spire; the statue at bottom right shows St Michael slaying a dragon. And it’s definitely Mike, not George; the plaque says so. Perhaps dragons were common, and most of the saints had a go at one.

The church spire was paid for by Carl XI, and he wants you all to know that. Mora has a small shopping centre like any other town in the (modern) world; here’s the clobber shop, but look at the square sign on the right of the shop sign.

The Vasaloppet is a massive ski race of 85 km length, run from Salen to Mora by 15,000 people every year. It commemorates the journey of Gustav Vasa, whose family was unpopular with King Christian II, who was a Bad King, so on 7-9 November 1520 (the business evidently taking 3 days) he beheaded most of them, along wth other nobles he didn’t like. He even dug up the corpse of an enemy who’d died naturally, and burnt it. Gustav fled for Norway, but he stopped in Mora – the last big town before the border – and tried to raise an army for rebellion. Failed to convince the townsfolk – Mora being so remote that news didn’t really get there – and fled off towards Norway. Two hours later, an emissary from the Bad King arrived to say that much higher taxes had been imposed, and were to be paid immediately. The burghers of Mora now regretted not paying more attention to their erstwhile visitor, who in any case was Swedish whereas the Bad King was a bloody Dane, and they sent their two fastest skiers to catch up with him.

These two men found Gustav (in a pub, actually) 85 km away in a place called Salen. He returned to Mora, raised an army of 400 men, marched on Stockholm, deposed the Bad King, became King himself (on 6 June 1523 – now Sweden’s National Day), liberated Sweden from Denmark, ended feudalism, wrote history books and ruled powerfully for 37 years.

Um, that bit about “wrote history books”. History books are written by victors, and it is now suspected that Gustav Vasa was an Even Worse King than his predecessor, imposing even higher taxes, lopping off a few more heads and putting down 3 rebellions, including one, ironically, in Mora where several of his former supporters lost their heads. It’s too late to form an objective opinion now, as Gustav took care to obliterate anything that showed him in a bad light. When fleeing from the Bad King, for example, he was hidden in a cellar to avoid the King’s troops – this cellar –

– which as you see I have visited, in Mora. Here’s a painting of the scene –

Note Mr Vasa’s clean jacket, tidy appearance and neatly done hair and beard. Yes, this is another propaganda picture done by another artist with head still attached. Paint the King with grubby hands, and it’s bye-bye head. Here’s a map of his flight and return, as far as can be reconstructed from the account written by Peder Svart – another man who preferred to keep his head on his shoulders.

Another story is that Gustav, staying at a friend’s house, was being closely inspected by the King’s troops who thought (correctly) that they had found and recognised him, and was only saved by the landowner’s wife suddenly barging in, hitting him with the bakery shovel, calling him a “lazy farmboy” and ordering him back outside to work. She would have been VERY careful over how much enthusiasm she showed. Explanations and apologies would have been in order.

But these stories are all we have. Here’s one last story – probably true, this time – about Gustav Vasa, King Gustav I of Sweden:

– In 1536 a vassal told him “Sire, the English King has fancied a new sheila and had a stoush with the Pope [I am translating liberally] and as a result he’s started his own Church. And then he’s used that as an excuse to confiscate the entire wealth of the Catholic Church in England, and thereby become stinking rich.” Gustav, who was probably only stinking and not stinking rich, did not feel the need for a new wife but he’d just had his own argument with the Pope about something else, and he certainly took a fancy to the Catholic Church’s wealth, so he promptly founded a Lutheran church, seized the lot and eradicated all the staunch Catholics as well. And to this day there are very few Catholics in Sweden, all from immigrant stock.

But unlike the English situation where (Protestant) Church and State are separated below a common head (the monarch), Gustav united them all the way down. For example, all village priests were salaried Government officials, performing civic as well as religious functions – thus having more power in local affairs than you’d believe, with resultant corruption – a major reason for 1/3 of the population departing for America in the 1840’s. But by the 20th century the need to pay for religious affairs and functions (and heat the churches in the winter up to governmental standards, etc) came to be a huge burden on the State, so in the 1990s they wanted to separate the Church from the State. Fine, said the Church heavies, we can separate, but we want all our money back that Gustav Vasa took in 1536. With interest! Negotiations took place (as one can imagine) and a separation was achieved in 2003, evidently at a somewhat lower cost.

Dalarna (2)

February 10, 2014

The scenery up here is to die for. It’s like being stuck in a film by Andrei Tarkovsky (for which I would die all over again). Taking the forest for what it is, you could be the richest man in England – or indeed in Australia – and you could not buy what the poorest peasant has, here.

For comparison, this is what an Australian forest (in mid-Victoria) looks like.

Barbro’s brother Mats has had various jobs – lumberjack, forestry consultant, sawmill manager, manager of all the docks in the 14 towns around Lake Vattern, and MD of several large forestry companies. Right now he manages the sawmill at Mora, here’s the logs as they come in –

They have to be sprayed with water to keep them from drying out too soon, and to stop them catching fire from spontaneous combustion. From these, the sawmill produces vast quantities of accurately cut timbers of the highest quality, which are sold all over Sweden and Germany.

Running low on foodstuffs, we drove to a farm about 50km away, which is almost nearby, by the standards up here. Sweden has an ancient and still valid law called “Everyman’s Right”, which says that you can walk over and camp on anyone’s land without asking permission, including lighting a fire, fishing, and picking berries. Without this right, you could not travel between homesteads which are commonly more than one days’ walk or ride apart. You can’t camp within 200 metres of any building, or if the landowner has put up signs, and you can only stay one night in each camp.

You can see the actual farm on Google Earth at 61 08 24N, 13 36 57E. It had gone derelict but a family bought it 10 years ago and are running it in the old way. Farm animals – horses, cows, goats, rabbits, hens, pigs, and reindeer – run amok all over the place.

We bought butter, made at the farm from ‘milk’ from a ‘cow’. I swear I have not Photoshopped the colours in this picture.

That butter was so rich, you didn’t need to spread anything on top of it. The brown stuff on the left is “messmor” a sort of cross between butter and cheese, made from the whey left over after you’ve made cheese; it’s sweet and only 5% fat.

The farm buildings are old log cabins, of course, and there are some old graffiti carved in the timbers.

Such carvings can go back centuries and the last known genuine writing of Runes was in such a carving – done in 1890. People, albeit remote country folk, were still writing in runes in 1890! A nearby hut, used only in summer for pasturing animals, has carvings from three years 1873/4/5, the 1874 one consisting of Roman numerals, decoded to read “Elin M(ats) M(ats)son” as follows.

Log Cabin in Dalarna

February 9, 2014

We drove up Sweden’s west coast to Goteborg where we stayed a night with rello’s, and then on 400 km further to lake Siljan, the city of Mora, and on to Barbro’s brother’s family country retreat, a log cabin in the woods in Dalarna. (The old name is “Dalecarlia” and those souvenir wooden painted horses with four stiff legs, come from here).

Lake Siljan is dear to us, because it’s where we spent the second night of our honeymoon, on our way to walking the mountains of Sylarna and then home via Trondheim. We spent the first night – the wedding night proper – on a mattress on the floor of the reception room; we cancelled the first day of our honeymoon so we could stay and finish off the food. (Have I told you I like food?)

When we arrived, Barbro’s brother Mats was in the sauna – they all have a fierce sauna every day, and jump into the freezing river afterward – I barged fully clothed into the hot, steamy sauna to say hello, shaking hands after I had carefully found and identified Mats, and the appropriate part of him to shake.

Mats’s wife’s family has developed a small complex of log buildings here, like the one at 61 14 17N, 13 49 19E (for privacy, that is not ours but it’s nearby and you can get the idea). The cabins may look primitive but there is an infinite amount of wood, clean water from a well nearby –

– a running stream, and solar panels so you can recharge your iPhone, but you needn’t bother because it is out of mobile range. Log houses are easy to build, indeed Barbro’s brother was up there building another one when we arrived. The logs come in a kit and you assemble it like Lego.

That’s Mats’s father-in-law helping out – he’s 90 and fully fit. He told me to come back in the winter one year, and he’d teach me how to ski. Some of these Swedes are tough – Barbro’s father was one of 17 children. Imagine 17 kids in a two-room log cabin in the forest – during the Depression around 1930, before iron ore was discovered (1931) and when Sweden was poorer than Albania – all the kids survived into a prosperous adult life, and the mother lived to be 95.

The design of log houses is hundreds of years old, and they last hundreds of years if the roof stays good. The manufacturer fells the trees, cuts the logs to size and assembles the house, leaves it for 5 years for the wood to dry/shrink, and takes it apart to sell, numbering the logs. If you take it apart too soon, it will not reassemble and you have to use the wood for firewood. But with a good dried-out kit and some helpers, you can put it up to this extent in a couple of days –

Meanwhile, Barbro gathered berries in the forest.

We had a wonderful time here, with the finest foods and wines, sparkling company and entertainment and the pristine forest all around us.

Southern Sweden (2)

February 7, 2014

On another day we went to Wanas, an old farmstead now hosting a huge Modern Art exhibition all over its area, which includes a dense forest. Ladders, by Yoko Ono:

Upside down room, external radiator, packets on shelves, pile of wood chips

Actually the wood chips are not a work of art, just a pile of wood chips in a barn on the neighbouring farm. The Swedes burn these for central heating (the chips, that is)

Now cop some history, in the 15-1600’s the Danes and Swedes fought many bitter wars over this area, which ended up as part of Sweden. There were evil Danish landlords and Swedish “freedom fighters” (terrorists, actually) and a gang of the latter used to meet, romantically of course, at this 800-year old oak.

Then the Danes swept over the area and the same oak tree was found useful, albeit less romantically, for hanging them from!

Going back even further in history, there are Viking burials here. I’m very interested in the Vikings and their culture, I even married one. At random on the drive back to Malmo we passed this scruffy old field:

Doesn’t look much, but there are FIFTEEN ship burials here – standing stones arranged in the shape of a ship. 800 AD or so. Here’s two of them:

Next – we drive 700 km north, through Goteborg into the remote northern mountains for a week in a log cabin.

Southern Sweden (1)

February 6, 2014

We spent a few days driving around south-western Sweden, the area inland from Malmo and down to the south. This is good agricultural land, with some small forests. Here we are with Barbro’s 93-y-o father, who guzzled a beer and scoffed the food (big piece of grilled salmon on mashed potato) just like the rest of us.

This was at Smygehuk, the southernmost point of Sweden. There’s a cafe, souvenir shop and a silly signpost to London, New York, and to the northernmost point of Sweden, etc. We were here also 3 years ago; I remember the ice-cream company’s clown, propped up by a metal strut so he looks like he’s enjoying somethng other than ice cream.

More seriously, here is the famous Smygehuk Runestone. There is an (untrue) legend that the Vikings crushed people by letting this stone down on top of them, which would have been a lot more trouble than killing them any other way and besides it would have damaged the runes carved on the stone. (In the younger futhark, of course). Oddly, the runes are on the bottom face, so you can’t see them – maybe that is to protect them against the weather. Or maybe they are secret. It is said that every 10 years or so, the stone is turned over for some weeks, or it may be every 50 years, I can’t find out any more about it.

Below is Ystad, famous for the WALLANDER series of police dramas. Like Inspector Morse is set in Oxford, no attempt is made to conceal the identity of the town, which in fiction must resemble Midsomer in the number of dead bodies lying about. The council will give you a leaflet identifying all the Wallander places in and around the town. But really, Ystad has a very nice old quarter with preserved buildings. Here’s the main square and a side street.

And it looks like you can get a ride on the fire engine, which would be quite exciting if a fire broke out.

Now here’s a story. British TV copied the Wallander concept, with Kenneth Branagh in the title role and all new episodes; it was still set in Ystad, but everyone spoke English. One day the British crew were busy filming Wallander in Ystad and they saw, further down the street, the Swedish TV crew filming their Wallander. It was a cordial meeting before they got out of each other’s shot, but one imagines a dispute between the two actors “I’m the real Wallander” – “No you’re not, I am.”

Barseback and Landskrona

February 1, 2014

The ladies departed, leaving Barbro and myself to enjoy 6 weeks in Sweden. Hang on to your seat, dear reader, this is what we are going to do: one week in a flat in Lund, where Barbro’s 93-year-old father lives, then hire a car and drive 700km via Goteborg to Mora (family’s log cabin in the forest; and Mora is the home of the famous Vasaloppet ski race), drive over to Stockholm to visit friend, drive 600km south to Malmo for another friend, fly back up to Stockholm for a wedding (on a remote island in the archipelago), visit friend again and hire bikes and cycle around Aland (large Baltic island halfway over to Finland), train to Lund, then I flew home directly from Kastrup and Barbro flew home via our son’s place, in Munich.

We had a wonderful time, as we always do, and I hope to convey our joy through this blog. This map shows the first part of where we drove (and, in ecological green, cycled).

Feeling festive, we went out in Lund to buy booze. Alcohol is sold only in State-controlled shops; here’s one of them –

In this “Systembolag” shop, we got the best service we ever had in a shop. Met and greeted at the door by an attractive female assistant, who then escorted us everywhere, described the wines and used all the sales techniques in the manual. As a result we bought 4 wines and 12 beers, much more than we intended to, and later had some trouble consuming it all. But the whole idea of these State monopoly shops is to REDUCE alcohol consumption!

Gay, who was christened long before homosexuality was noticed, was with us in the shop, and she got the idea of starting her own shop “Gay Wines”, which would look like this with only pink wines, mmmm nice.

Ah, those Swedes. They really know how to party. When we were there, Copenhagen put on a concert by “Godspeed You Black Emperor”, a major band, but in Sweden –

On this first day in the flat in Lund, we hired a car and went about 40km up the coast – the west coast of Sweden – to Barseback, one of Sweden’s three nuclear power sites.

In the 1980s the Swedes had a mighty greenie-driven hoo-hah about nuclear power, a whole government collapsed over the issue and then the incoming government, pledged to get rid of the nukes, found it could not do so and 30 years later they still have 10 out of 12 nukes in full operation, and they are going to replace those with new nukes. (If you don’t already know it, you soon will – I am madly in favour of nuclear power; I’ve stood on top of two atomic piles, which may have caused a bit of brain fade; I want a nuke in my own backyard. My father came from a coal mining area, ghastly beyond belief.) These at Barseback are the decommissioned two, and the site is eerily quiet and bare except for an exhibition somewhat biased towards the desirability of nukes and the jobs they support (94% of the locals liked the nukes, when they were operational). It will take 480 wind farms to replace these two nukes, and the Swedes are building those everywhere, but will never get to 480.

Here’s the two dormant power stations at Barseback. That’s not a UFO in between, or the result of nuclear waste, it’s only a lens flare.

In the exhibition there are samples of uranium fuel rods, one cut open to show the pellets. I don’t know if it’s real uranium, I don’t really mind as there are worse nuclear hazards, like eating bananas or living in a granite house. A working pile has 444 rods.

Barbro is not as keen on nuclear power as I am. You can stand under this device “For and against nuclear power – load yourself up with the arguments” as the caption says. If you disagree, it might descend like the Cone of Silence and emit poison gas.

We went on to Landskrona, a quiet town with a major mediaeval castle. Here’s one of its four towers, the tourist cafe (where someone blew in that Barbro knew well), and the interior courtyard.

The hefty building on the left of the courtyard was converted into a prison for life-sentence murderers, of which there were many in olden times. There are very few now – modern Swedes would not dream of breaking the law. In Holland they send their prisoners home for the weekend, and they are serious about getting rid of prisons altogether. Anyway, inside the building are photographs of some of the former inmates –

A separate wing held female murderers, who look a bit more normal, which is scary really, as they were equally dangerous –

Onwards we go. Let’s hope the road turns and we don’t get shredded by the windmill.

These wind turbines, usually in bunches of 3-9, are a majestic sight, especially when it’s windy and they are churning away, putting out free power. More of Sweden anon; it’s mostly small towns from here on. Tomorrow, Ystad (of ‘Wallander’ fame).


January 30, 2014

Barbro and myself travelled by train from Copenhagen to Lund, and with us came two of the cycling ladies who had a day to spare. It was a very easy journey, with the train stopping right under Kastrup Airport, and then it went over the famous Øresund Bridge between the two countries. (That’s the Danish spelling – it’s Öresund in Swedish; and neither name works in English. Not only can they not agree on the name, but the word for “bridge” is also different. I’d better not fulminate about foreigners, though, because much of the English culture and language came from here) You see from the picture below that this spectacular structure is half bridge, half tunnel.

Yes, it disappears into a hole in the sea! The engineers had to build an artificial island to put the hole in, to stop water getting into the tunnel. When the island was nearly finished, they realised that nobody had thought about which country it would belong to – is it Danish or Swedish? The answer is worse than you think – heralding a new age of corporate power, it belongs to neither country but is owned by the company that owns the bridge.

There was a brilliant Danish police TV series “The Bridge” (title different in Danish, and different again in Swedish) involving a dead body lying exactly across the yellow line marking the jurisdictions of the two countries. The Poms are going to copy the series, with a body in the Channel Tunnel. It is much rumoured in Kent, by the way, that the French are smoking Gauloises, chewing garlic, and farting at their end of the Tunnel, and wafting the fumes through into England. But I digress. The train went into Sweden, stopped at Malmo and we got off in Lund, where we’ll stay a few days. This ancient city – same name as London – has the usual swag of old buildings and a whopping great cathedral, but I’ll skip most of that.

These very old windows bulge out due to an old way of making glass. See them on the right of this street. I took a similar picture in 1974, in the next street (with very inferior technology).

There is a very good open-air museum with old buildings, brought here log by log from all over Sweden. In an old church we saw this cute Last Supper scene –

This one has the whole crowd, including J.Iscariot (with bag) at the bottom right. I don’t know why the disciple in the middle leans over like that, and what’s his left hand doing? Ah, the mysteries of religion.

The ladies were keen to see Lund Cathedral, which is rather plain inside but has a large crypt and vault. On one of the pillars holding the building up is this man –

– and nobody knows who it is, or what the story was. The Irish hold it to be Finn MacCool; or it may be a giant who built the cathedral, or another giant who tried to tear it down. Or just Samson, from the Bible. We crept out of the crypt to see the Lund Astronomical Clock; here it is in the side aisle of the cathedral, with people starting to wait for 3pm.

They are waiting for 3pm because that’s when the display comes to life; the trumpeters hoist their trumpets and the clock plays a fanfare, and a procession of saints comes out …

… they trundle past the Virgin and child …

… supposedly bringing gifts, but they take the gifts away when they leave! There goes the last one, leaving the lonely Virgin, to coin a phrase, holding the baby.

With much more action, the assembled tourists then stampede for the door. All the cafes in Lund know when it’s 5 past three.

Meanwhile, well at all times actually, in front of the Lund Cultural Museum (and inside it too) there are Viking runestones, moved here from the middle of Sweden. I go berserk about these (among 10,000 other things) and I learned to read them years ago. They’ve been standing outside, in the Swedish winters and summers, for over 1,000 years and you can STILL READ THEM. Here’s Barbro ignoring another 1000-year old runestone –

The letter ‘u’ is upside down to us, so the word at bottom right is b,r,u,th,u,r “brother”. Runestones are generally written in the Younger Futhark, which has 16 letters f,u,th,a,r,k / h,n,i,a,s / t,b,m,l,r – that’s why it’s called the futhark. Yes I know there are two ‘a’s and two ‘r’s and no ‘e’ – the Viking lifestyle was never meant to be easy. Tolkien’s and most latter-day runes use the Elder Futhark, which has more symbols and can represent all 26 letters of the modern alphabet. The language of the runestones is Old Norse, which is basically simple English.

We went for a coffee and this big, hefty, dangerous-looking bloke walked into the cafe. He had a runic inscription tattoed onto his lower leg! I could not keep my eyes (or camera) off it.

Aware that I was staring, I went over and looked up at him (yes, up) and said in bad Swedish “I say, my good man, I see you have a tattoo written in the Elder Futhark. Can I get a picture of your leg? Otherwise I shall have to go down on my knees to interpret it”. (Not all of this is true). Well, there’s my photo. And now I can see that it says, in modern Swedish “endast de tama foglarna har draummar – de wilda fliuger” (Only the tame birds have dreams. The wild ones fly).

Copenhagen (5)

January 24, 2014

Today we were going to leave the flat at 9:30am to get the train over to Sweden. But first I wanted to see the Jens Olsen Clock inside the City Hall. I rushed over there when the building opened at 9am, but the clock’s room – it has its own room – was still locked. I waited, admiring the pictures of Old Copenhagen – this one shows how it looked in 1587, when there was room for windmills between the buildings and the river – and they had a few spires already up:

At about 9:10am a functionary came and unlocked the clock room door, and I then had a frantic 10 minutes to admire the clock, before running back to the flat in time for 9:30.

There is nothing – nothing – like the Jens Olsen Clock, finished in 1955 after a lifetime of labour. Its brass mechanisms are greatly admired by horologists. (If it’s after 9:10am).

The clock shows phases of the Moon, position of the Sun and planets (and thus it predicts eclipses), orientation of the stars, precession of the equinoxes (that dial rotates once every 25,753 years) and also it tells you what the time is (wrongly, unfortunately, because of Daylight Saving Time). It has the most exquisite engineering, and it is kept in a sealed climate-controlled glass case because it would be almost impossible to dust and oil it.

In the last picture above, the clock shows the Julian Date: 2,456,489. All Astronomers use “Julian time”, expressed as a continuous count of days, with day 0 starting at midday on 1 January 4713 B.C. You try calculating orbits of Jupiter’s moons etc. using the “25 December 2013” style of date. Why 4713 BC? Well, why not? But really, the guy who dreamed up the idea of the Julian day-count knew that there were three ancient cycles of day-counts of 15, 19 and 28 days, and the last time that all three cycles were at day 1 (once every 7,980 years) would have been in 4713 BC – a date which preceded all historical dates, so he simply used that.

Anyway, onwards by train to Lund, in Sweden. My last picture of Copenhagen shows this Very Useful Umbrella, sold at the City Hall, with map of the city on the inside. So you can see where you should be going. If it’s raining.

Copenhagen (4)

January 22, 2014

The city has a huge pedestrian area – the famous Stroget main street, car-free since the 1960s, and many other areas besides. Here’s Barbro and Gay, about a kilometre from the city centre. In the background is the Round Tower, of which more below.

Visited the Post Office Museum – communications and technology through the ages. Now when I were just a lad, computers had 1kb of memory, and here is one such kilobyte memory – count the 32 x 32 ferrite cores. And do you remember these 80-column cards and diskettes?

They exhibit a German WW2 ENIGMA code machine, fished out of the sea. It is in poor condition and probably would not work very well. Besides, there is nobody to talk to 😦

Having worked (with people who knew Alan Turing) at the organisation that took over from Bletchley Park, I was very interested to see this. I used to teach a course on elementary ciphers, and we exhibited an Enigma that was in perfect condition, in a beautifully dovetailed wooden box, made in 1944. (If you want to encode a message using the Enigma code, you can get an app for your iPhone.)

Lunch on top of the P.O.Museum – again the Round Tower in the distance.

The god Mercury, pausing to adjust a lightning conductor with his caduceus.

The spire-infested Copenhagen skyline. Note the tall buildings – there aren’t any 🙂

On the side of the Round Tower is a riddle, set by King Christian IV himself in 1745 (his personally drawn sketch of it is in the National Archives). Many of the finest buildings in Copenhagen were erected during his rule, but he clearly thought his people were in need of riddles to solve.

You can only see the top half, but it translates as “God [YHVH in Hebrew], direct [dirige] the right doctrine and justice [the sword] into the heart of King Christian IV.” But the locals prefer to read it as “The doctor with his knife directs nonsense into the heart of Christian 4.”

I climbed to the top of the Round Tower, and visited the observatory at the top. There are no stairs, only a sloping ramp:

Another skateboarder’s paradise! And indeed, King Chris IV used to like to ride his horse up to the top of the tower (and, presumably, down again), skateboards not having been invented. Czar Peter the Great (having dined at Nykobing F) was here, and not to be outdone he also rode his horse to the top, followed by the Czarina in a carriage drawn by six horses. (And, presumably, down again).

Finally here’s the City Hall, with Palace Hotel in the background. There’s something amazing inside the City Hall which I will show in the next post. Betwen the two, atop the brick column are the two Lure Players:

Now it is said that they blow their horns whenever a virgin passes by. But I never heard the horns blow in all the time I was there … actually it could be quite embarrassing … come to think of it, it would be a jolly jape to rig up a loudspeaker and announce virginities to all and sundry.

Copenhagen (3)

January 20, 2014

Bishop Absolon, 1128-1201 (he only had half an hour?). But really, those were the days when a bishop could get away from his cathedral, go outside and get some healthy exercise.

When I were a lad, people used a Plumb Line when they put buildings up. Not any more. Another boat tour today; here the guide is telling us all to duck, I hope she remembers to duck in time.

Splendid spire on the Stock Exchange building. The four lizards probably represent the major banks. Here’s some sand sculptures:

If properly done (the right sort of sand, and a lot of water when building it) a sand sculpture can last for months, even if it rains.

What is long, thin and sticky? (Answer: a stick). But here’s a long, thin, pink building. Humour me.

I know it is not much to look at, but I met a girl in that building at 10am on 21 October 1975. I met the same girl today, actually, 38 years later, and very nice too.

We walked into Christiania – a famously anarchic suburb. This area has always been impossible to police, but after a few pitched battles in the 1970’s things have settled down. Cars are forbidden, the buildings are decaying badly and the paths and roads are now just dirt tracks.

Spectacular graffiti artwork on some of the buildings-

In Christiania anyone can do pretty much whatever they like – notably one can buy, sell and smoke cannabis – but actually there are strict rules and they’ve had a lot of bother with ‘hard’ drugs, so these are now excluded:

“Christiania wiped out its junk [hard drugs] in 1979. Cocaine is also junk. In Christiania you can be tested for junk. If you are found positive, this leads to expulsion for 3 months, the first time. A second time and you are expelled for life. Because we mean it! All hard drugs are totally unacceptable in Christiania. Help us to run it in good style.”


January 16, 2014

I do not want to give a street-by-street description of Copenhagen – we were not there to compile a catalogue. So, as for yesterday, this will be a selective set of observations, with digressions if I can’t stop myself.

We got up and had coffee, cornflakes, egg and bacon, stewed anchovies, and aardvark on toast for breakfast … isn’t that interesting? (even if not true). But really, today we saw the Royal Palace, hoofed around a lot, saw the old fort, went on a long boat trip (you can get an all-day ticket) and ended up in the Tivoli Gardens. Here’s some random stuff to start with. Bow tie shop (note the sign is in English):

David. Why put a copy here, at ratepayer expense? An attempt to civilise and enculturify the Danes?

Years ago I told my kids that the most important story in the Bible was of David and Goliath. Maybe as Denmark is a very small nation, the Danes also like that story. At least this artwork is better, in my humble opinion as an art critic, than modern art – here’s a sort of Thing With a Hole In It –

Darn, I was in Vienna at the time and I missed this –

– so I’ll have to be content with noting that you can’t have a Hydrogen atom in the position indicated on the molecule; Carbons are there anyway, by implication; and there is no element “E”.

I like the chemistry of Heterocyclic Compounds, even if they all stink badly; I have a chemistry PhD, although in an entirely different topic. These are my books about Heterocyclic Compounds –

No kidding! A friend of mine was turfing out some books – he evidently likes Heterocyclic Compounds more than I do, or he wouldn’t have acquired these books. But he can’t like them VERY much, or he would have turfed some other books out instead. I simpered with undeserved pride when my German friend from our university days admired these books on my bookshelf, as he’s still actively doing real chemistry and he must have wondered, since I left chemistry behind in 1975 – anyway, when I have time, I must finish colouring them in.

Where was I – um, oh yes, Copenhagen. There was a lot of activity on the water –

Guards at the Royal Palace. The poor lads stand there for an hour in the full sunshine.

Above I depict a smarter guard, who got a spot in the shade. Perhaps they draw lots for it, or maybe fight a duel. What are the pill-boxes for? Do they go inside and come back out, according to the weather? When do they ever go in the box? Very mysterious. Down the road is the historic 12th-century fort, with a huge moat – note the bike track –

This fort was for the defence of Copenhagen against pirates – but since early mediaeval times, it has never been attacked, apart from bombardment by the British in 1801 and 1807 – see yesterday’s post. The fort stands ready to repel invaders (while attracting tourists) –

Seriously, inside the fort there is a moving memorial to fallen Danish soldiers –

– with a quiet area and a large wall on which EVERY fallen Dane for at least the 20/21st centuries is listed by name. Tragically some Danes have been killed in trying to confer peace upon other nations’ conflicts. Even more tragically, there is room on the wall for more names.

The Danes managed to avoid getting too involved in the World Wars (everyone thinks they should have attacked Germany, but …) however they run a very well-equipped army, air force and navy, which contribute substantial contingents to UN peacekeeping forces and the like.

The Little Mermaid. This exasperating bronze statue is some way north of the city. It is a popular target for vandals and political graffitists – the head (twice) and right arm have been sawn off, the whole thing has been blown into the waters by explosives, it has been dressed in an Islamic burqa, etc etc. To hinder this sort of thing, the authorities are going to move it further out to sea – but not, I hope, by using explosives. In addition to those bent on defacing or destroying it, huge crowds of tourists come to look at it, and here’s a boat-load of tourists gawking at it –

Tourists are everywhere! So many that agoraphobia began to creep over me. Take me back to the small towns and the countryside, please. Sometimes I envy those happy Storks of Gross Quassow … Here’s our boat trip coming in to one of the city harbours – whose cuteness attracts so many people that on land, you can’t actually move among them –

A Bridge that Goes Nowhere, cf. the staircase in Køge.

Maybe these constructions are symbolic. I mean, where ARE we all going? What is the purpose of life … this might be a good ship to book a ticket on.

At least, DO NOT book a ride on this one …

… “Aniara” being a famous (well, not very famous or I would not have to explain it) Swedish poem, symphony and opera about a spaceship that, due to a technical fault, keeps accelerating forever. Understandably, a deep gloom pervades the crew and passengers … and the audience … why can’t the Scandinavians write cheerful stuff? Ibsen, Munch, Strindberg, Ingmar Bergman, Liv Ullmann … I vant to be alone (famously said by Greta Garbo, but she was speaking in character).

I bet they were glad they got that bridge finished in 1900, because there’s no room for more Roman numerals. At least they missed 1888 (the longest year in Roman numerals: MDCCCLXXXVIII) but to write even “MCMI” they’d have had to make a wider bridge which would mean starting all over again, and so on for every year until 1905 I suppose.

Here’s a Famous Spire of Copenhagen that my son would just love to skateboard down. They should charge $15 to do so.

We went into the Tivoli Gardens where Barbro suddenly decided to do a ride on this highly sadistic torture device. Why anyone would pay money – and $15 at that – to do this is beyond me. Masochists sit in the suspended chairs which are whirled around so they fly out, and then the whole thing slides up and down the tower. They don’t give you a sick bag, but I for one would not hang around underneath it.

Barbro’s pleasure was considerably enhanced – or more likely, reduced – because the rotatory thing got STUCK halfway up the tower, and the victims were left dangling in space for 15 minutes or so. Eventually it descended – shakily, and with jerks. They should have charged extra for that ride! Here are Gay, Jan and Mike wondering if Barbro will ever come down … and Trish cannot resist texting about it.


January 15, 2014

… or København, as the Danes call it. Honestly, these foreigners that can’t spell …

Copenhagen is s city of spires, mostly green copper ones from the 18th century. Every view in the city shows characteristic spires on the older buildings. In this view, you can see the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden in the background. More of this anon.

As in all northern European cities they take cycling seriously … possibly because there would be no room for all the cars if everyone took theirs out for a spin. This is one of many bike parks near a railway station.

If you’re British then Copenhagen is famous for the 1801 naval Battle Of, in which (then) Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson led the attack, but in the middle of heavy fighting against the Danish Fleet was commanded (by flag signal) to withdraw, and he put his blind eye to the telescope to read the signal. Actually that is a legend – he was commanded to withdraw whenever he felt like it, as the Danes were fighting so fiercely, but he decided to fight on and so was later able to negotiate a dignified cease-fire, with many lives spared. You should read up about this, and Nelson’s even more inspiring conduct of the Battle of Trafalgar, if you’re British (or if you’re not).

We had a free day – today, with two more to come – the previous 9 days were all cycling with no day off (but some days were pretty slack as regards cycling). We checked out of the Grand Hotel, and checked into our new flat – an artist’s flat in a quiet northern quarter, but still within the old town and within walking range of the city centre. Six of us will share this flat – two ladies on their own, us two and another married couple. Most of us trundled off to see the Botanic Gardens, but I found the Geological Museum at the far corner of the park and left the ladies to look at the flowers. Lovely formal garden –

Pretty yellow flowers. These had a fractal structure, like a cauliflower has – the flowers look the same if you zoom in to any scale.

Danish weeds. We already knew all about Danish weeds, which grow densely beside the bike paths where these are not well maintained. Surely a weed is only a flower in the wrong place?

Punch and Judy show – probably illegal in UK/Aus now due to violence, sexism, portrayal of police violence and low-class stereotypes, cruelty to the crocodile, etc.

The Geological Museum had many exhibits of the complex geological history of Denmark/Sweden and also Greenland, which until recently was a Danish colony (making Denmark by far the biggest colonial power in the world, in terms of the area of its empire). Here’s a drawing of a Great Auk. Note its dismal expression.

When Great Auks became known to Western society, there was a stampede by all the museums to get one. Large rewards were offered and Great Auks, the most spectacular bird of the species at 80 cm tall, were in particular demand. Stuffed auks were displayed all over the world. In this mad rush the last two living Great Auks were killed, off the coast of Iceland, on 3 July 1844: Jón Brandsson and Sigurður Ísleifsson strangled the adult pair and Ketill Ketilsson smashed their single egg with his boot.

Equally ghastly in its way is the removal of the 3rd and 5th largest meteorites in the world from Greenland. Greenland’s only railway was built for the transport of the 31-ton Ahnighito to America. The 5th largest, Agpalilik, is here in Copenhagen. Yes, these meteorites have individual names.

As you can see, a piece of the 20-ton Agpalilik was sliced off for analysis, and yielded much new information about the Solar System and cosmology. Meteorites were the only source of iron in Greenland – the locals call iron “sky-metal”. It took many decades for Europeans and Americans to find where the meteorites were. Agpalilik was discovered by Europeans in 1963.

Day 9b END OF RIDE! – Køge to Copenhagen

January 13, 2014

Inside Køge’s cathedral – St Nikolai Church, whose exterior is hard to photograph due to nearby buildings and I did not have my wide-angle lens with me – there is a detailed altarpiece in the otherwise very simple interior –

Attentive obsession for small details in altarpieces requires a detailed perusal of the Last Supper scene – commonly at the centre of German and Danish altarpieces. Here they are, at the table:

What a rabble – appalling table manners. But look, there are only 10 disciples – five each side! Sometimes J.Iscariot is missing from these tableaux. although he’s usually included and shown as spilling the salt, grabbing the bread, or skulking toward the exit. Actually he IS in this scene, at the front on the right and my camera angle has occluded one disciple on each side – one behind the third head on the left, and you can see a tiny bit of apostolic pate behind Iscariot’s head on the right. I have no idea who is popping up in the middle, very bizarre and if it’s not clear to us, then the peasants of 15th-century Køge would have been even more baffled.

Biblical exegesis begins – How do we know that’s Judas Iscariot on the right – Because he’s holding a bag of money! This might be the 30 pieces of silver he was given for betraying Jesus, but (and more likely, as he hasn’t done that yet) it’s because he was the treasurer (yes, he was, really – he “held the bag” John 13:29) and his role as treasurer is critical to his departure because Jesus sent him off, ostensibly to buy something. Some scholars reckon that Iscariot was actually a good guy, he was the “disciple most beloved of Jesus” so described but never named in John’s Gospel, the supper was held in Iscariot’s house and was arranged well in advance, and that J.C. deliberately set up the whole betrayal and crucifixion thing in order to demonstrate his rescue from the cross by God, which would explain his very intense disappointment when this failed to happen. End of Biblical digression – thank you, thank you fans

The church’s font is interesting because it bears a lengthy inscription about the war between the Danes and the Swedes – probably the 1658-60 one which was the nastiest; there were eleven such wars between 1521 and 1814. According to displays we will see in Sweden later, relations between the two countries at this time were somewhat worse than anything on the planet today.

Best of all in the church though – well, I like it because it’s addressed to me – was this inscription on Denning Jacobsen’s tomb of 1683 –

which ends, roughly, “Take care, you who walk away from here. See what I have become. Live your life so that when you are inscribed in the roll of the dead, your faith may carry your soul to heaven, and that your name as an honest man will be remembered on earth”

So, all arted and cultured out, we rode into Copenhagen. Well, actually we got a train for part of the way – the bikes go in a rack on some European trains –

– but if you leave them sticking out like that, they all fall over when the train takes off. You are supposed to bend the steering at a right angle and strap the bikes to the wall. Onward into the city, along a now brilliant bike lane –

Bizarre architecture in the outer suburbs –

And we rode right into the centre of the city – finding the traffic, noise and crowds very oppressive and unpleasant. Finally, totally exhausted by this last part of the 550-km journey from Berlin, we reached our hotel, very near the central railway station. We all handed our bikes back to the hire company. One night here, and eleven riders will go home, the remaining 6 of us will move to a flat for 3 days and see around the city.

Copenhagen, eh.

COMING UP NEXT on this blog – probably interspersed with jokes and food and stuff – 3 days in Copenhagen – then in August, we go all over Sweden from the remotest backwoods to Stockholm – Aland, a part of Finland – Munich – and home to Melbourne. Phew! And a happy new year to all my readers!

Day 9a – Køge

January 12, 2014

Having arrived really late in Køge the previous evening, we three decided to hang around the town for the morning and arrive later in Copenhagen, where we would have three days to explore anyway.

Køge – lovely old town, despite having a heavy port/docks area. The usual quaint old buildings, empty city square, regal statue (of King Frederik VII – “The people’s love is my strength”) but I shall eschew depiction of these somewhat normal things and describe the more unusual delights of Køge. Its art gallery has the full-sized colour cartoons for the 17 huge modern tapestries that hang in the Copenhagen palace, depicting the history of Denmark century by century. Denmark has a LOT of history. This depicts the 20th-century –

But there is a lot of quirky art in Køge too. Here’s a hedge that vibrates when you touch it:

A circular hedge that rotates when you come near it.

The closer you come, the faster it rotates – oh, what a glorious morning. Here’s a Useful Hedge that shoots up out of the ground when you sit on the bench, to stop you seeing anything. An alert photographer can show that what you are missing is a view of a large pile of scrapped cars.

They give you a map so you can locate the silly hedges and other stuff, for example a wheelbarrow for people who like to collect helium-filled balloons.

And here’s a staircase that leads to nowhere – cf. The Simpsons, series 4 episode 12 (1993) had an escalator that led nowhere. You fall off the top – heaven only knows how the local bureaucrats interpret OH&S guidelines for public safety.

Køge has a beach with a pier – and they even frame the picture for you –

Enough! Enough! More serious stuff – and the ride into Copenhagen – in next post.

Day 8b – Cliffs of Møn

January 9, 2014

From the well-kept estate, into the forest and onwards down the eastern edge of the island to the Cliffs of Møn. Come to think of it, cliffs by definition are tall structures and nobody hangs around at the bottom of them, they put buildings at the top, so, when approaching cliffs you always have to go uphill. And these hills contain the highest point in Denmark! (OK, it’s only 143m). The forest contained a large network of bike tracks, but not for the sort of sedate and dignified riding that we were trying to do.

Here’s Barbro steaming up a whopping great slope of 15%. Easy peasy … look at me …

However, it was quite impossible to ride up a slope of 15% on these bikes (and with these decrepit sexagenarian bodies) – and to be honest, 25 seconds beforehand, the scene actually looked like this.

At about 1pm we arrived at the cliffs. Of course this place is now a huge tourist draw, with big new building, major geological museum and displays, and an expensive cafe where you can’t fill your water bottle because we sell water at 3 euro a bottle.

You get down to the beach 120m below down a very long wooden staircase, which has 492 steps. I know, I counted them on the way back up, and at the top I met another guy who had also counted them. Except that he reckoned, equally breathlessly, that there were 493 steps. Both of us immediately jumped up and headed back down the steps, but were recalled by our wives, who expected one or other of us blokes to tolerate being wrong. (Damn! A Google search shows it to be 494 … Both wrong! Another stair nearby has 468 steps).

And here they are! The famous Møns Klint – the Cliffs of Møn.

As the 70-million year old chalky cliffs crumble, all sorts of interesting fossils become exposed here. There was a major landslip in 2007, revealing more stuff of great scientific interest. Here’s an old dinosaur. (On the right).

So in mid-afternoon, way too late for our liking, we ride back along the Møn south road.

At 5pm we crossed the bridge from Møn to Sjaelland, the biggest of the 407 islands that make up Denmark. This is the big island with Copenhagen and thus the rest of our trip. We frantically rode the 38km into Vordingborg, arriving at 7:20, noted there was a train at 8:03, jammed in a pasta dinner near the station, and we were in Køge at 9pm. Here’s a panorama view from the bridge – click on it (as with all my pictures) to enlarge it.

Note, from the left: the town of Kalvehave with its marina, the waters of Ulvsund, a part of the north coast of Møn, Helga with me coming up in the background, the bridge, and ARGHHHH LOOK a ghost in the other lane! Wooo oooo oooo…..

Day 8a: Møn – Elmelunde Church

January 8, 2014

Here’s a Google Earth view of all of Denmark, where we’ve been so far in red, and where we’ll go today in yellow. You can also see all of Southern Sweden, and I’ve thrown in a bit of Norway too. Oh yes, you get good value on this blog.

We were staying about 4km east of Stege (there being nowhere in Stege that can take 17 people with bicycles). Today, most of the riders set out to ride west, off the island of Møn to the town of Kalvehave, then north to Køge – a 95 km ride, but a minor railway line appears and it is possible to do the last 40km or so by train. But we Three Mouseketeers – me, Barbro and Helga – wanted to see more of Møn, especially the famous Cliffs of Møn. So we rode east across Møn, through Helmelunde in the middle to a stately home at the NE corner of the island, then south along the coast through a forest to reach the cliffs, then back along the south coast and going well south of Stege, to reach Kalvehave at about tea-time – far too late to get to Køge, even if we pick up the train!

But I hatched a Cunning Plan: from Kalvehave we would go directly west, through Stensved, to reach the major city of Vordingborg – a city so remote within Denmark that it has its own peculiar dialect and accent, which are the topic of Danish jokes – and a city so big that it has many more trains than go up the east coast.

With one change of train (dotted line on the upper map), we should arrive in Køge, totally knackered, at about 9pm. May the gods watch over us as we attempt this uncharted ride, much of it along major roads with no bike path. But the three of us will see the Cliffs of Møn … and as it turns out, for our pains, today we will see a greater wonder yet.

And here it is: the three of us set off in the other direction to the rest of the pack – and soon, we came to Elmelunde Church.

And, you can keep your cathedrals and stuff, this blew my head off. Built in Skanske style in about 1080, this church has the finest frescoes in Denmark, painted in the 1400s. The original frescoes, undamaged, cover the whole ceiling.

The church is even older than the 12th-century Usspensky Cathedral, in Vladimir (east of Moscow), and it was glorious to stand in it but not as glorious as last year when I stood beneath the Usspensky ceiling, wholly painted in 1408 by Andrey Rublev himself, immortalised in Tarkovsky’s film …. oh don’t get me started on Tarkovsky … now where was I. Yes, Elmelunde. A little hamlet in Denmark. So to speak.

To cap it all, Elmelunde Church stands next to a major 30-metre Bronze Age burial mound, yet untouched. Nowadays we would say that mounds are often found near churches, but the truth is that the churches were built near the mounds.

It has a small graveyard, immaculately kept and with a perfect peaceful atmosphere, as hardly any cars go on the roads out here so you can ride a bicycle in silence. Buried here are Johan P. Jensen, his wife Anna Kirstine, and Fred.

(actually Fred was on most of the gravestones – it’s the Danish word for “peace”).

Onwards until about midday when we reached a large estate with extensive manicured grounds. This is one of the lesser houses in a cute setting on the edge of a forest.

And the main house –

A Rhinoceros, sadly wondering how he got so out of context. But as he grazes the plains of Denmark, he would be thinking that the grass here is better than the stuff back home.

You can put money in, through a slot just behind the hump on his back, as a donation to the WWF’s campaign to save such beasts. That’d be the WWF who shortened their name from the 4-syllable “World Wildlife Fund” to the 7-syllable “WWF” which then frequently gets confused with the wrestling body.

I don’t know how they get the money out again – a tin opener maybe. There must be quite a lot of money when it’s filled up. I cannot resist a calculation: say he’s 2 cubic metres and people fill him with 1-euro coins, which are 23.25×2.33mm (thanks Wikipedia) and packed at 70% efficiency. Then 2 x 10^9 x 0.7 / pi x (23.25/2)^2 x 2.33 = 1,415,260 euro – not bad, but not as much as I first thought.

Nearby is a statue of a hapless king, once a very important person but now doomed to provide a background for selfie photos –

And here’s me a few minutes later … I must have had a narrow escape, as now I see the king has grabbed a big stick, to wallop people who take photos like these.

Day 7b – Bogo to Stege/Mon

January 1, 2014

More riding, and another church in what Barbro will call Skane style:

Came into another forest, this one with many Bronze Age burial mounds – there were 16 mounds, none of which have ever been disturbed or excavated. Here’s one of them, very neatly looked after.

A memorial stone commemorates the locals who bought the forest 250 years ago to preserve it

“This stone, raised in 1869 by descendants in grateful memory to the priest and parishioners of Fanefjord who in 1769 jointly bought this forest and estate … Let this stone stand unshaken for posterity, in the hope that those who come in 100 years’ time can also live in freedom.”

So this stone speaks to us, or at least, to the people of 1969, who in the event DID live in freedom, although it was hard earned over the intervening 100 years. If I’d lived here in 1969 I would have erected a stone to greet the people of 2069. Not many monuments address the future.

Ho hum, another beach, another Bronze Age burial mound.

And that is Stege. over there. That’s me, trying to photograph it … yes, the road sign says go the other way, but that is how you have to get to Stege if you can’t swim.

And we rode on into Stege, where a big street festival and market was in full swing!

We stayed a few kilometres outside the town, to the east near Elmelunde, which has an amazing 14th-century church – more of this anon. And tomorrow we will go out of our way to visit the Cliffs of Mon, a major tourist attraction.

Day 7a – Nykobing to Bogo

December 31, 2013

We went directly north across Falster, got the local ferry to the quaintly named Bogo, rode right across that and onto Mon, a highly characteristic island whose main town is Stege.

Immediately after we set off we found a deserted BEACH, typical of Denmark and some of our riders could not resist the temptation to swim in the Baltic.

We rode through Danish forests, which look like this –

and came to a small coastal village with a quiet souvenir shop, where the lady knocked up some tea and cakes for us. The houses here are thatched and very old.

Came to the site of the Borre House, where lived Marie Grubbe, whose eventful life inspired many Danish writers including H.C.Andersen. (She was a squire’s daughter who married a bastard son of the King; divorced him, and married an Earl; then ran off with his coachman, travelled the world with him, then they settled here 1705-18 and ran an inn, with a ferry over to Mon. The coachman became alcoholic, unfaithful and was thrown into jail for murder; Marie died in poverty aged 74, but she reckoned she’d lived a happy life, with some good adventures).

Then we got the local ferry over to Bogo, on which island a mighty battle was fought in 1659, evidently in the days before Denmark was united.

“Here brave men of Mon lost their lives and blood when Karl Gustav’s army invaded over the low waters – Their courageous deed stands honoured, 300 years later”

Day 6 – Gedser and Nykobing

December 29, 2013

Up bright and early today, because we are getting the 11 o’clock ferry and we ought to be on time for the ferry – and we may as well be early – and then supposing we get lost on the way to the terminal (which, in the event, we nearly did) – and supposing someone gets a puncture – the result was that we were at the terminal way, way before the office opened, and then in the upshot the ferry didn’t go at all, we had to get the next one at 1pm … which we could have used as a backstop anyway.

A view back at Rostock city centre, which is not completely restored – the church shows 19th-century additions and a 21st-century addition of solar panels. One wonders what use electricity might have in a church, and why the god doesn’t provide it for free … This church like most others, has a lightning conductor on the spire; when these were invented, there was an enormous argument about whether churches should have them or not. Here we all are, queueing up with our naive belief that there will be a ferry.

We got into a very interesting conversation with an 18-year-old kid who was riding his bicycle from Teheran to Copenhagen, and would be home that evening … yes, THAT Teheran, the one in Iran. What a journey. Apart from venturing into a dodgy suburb of Teheran and getting mugged on his first day, he was safe from both robbers and traffic the whole way. Next thing in his life was to go to university, but regardless of whatever exam result he eventually gets, this is something he can put on his resume with pride.

And here at last is the ferry … unfortunately, this is as near as anyone got to it.

Due to some undefined technical hitch, we were told to go away and await further instructions. Basically, they are going to find another boat. So here we are, waiting for something to happen.

But all this waiting around was not for me – having had to skip breakfast due to the futile early start I made a bee-line back to the restaurant at the terminal building, which was now open and I bought a vast mound of German food with a huge sausage on top. But no sooner had I begun to chomp my way in than we were told to get back to the wharf ASAP to board a replacement ferry! Luckily I was able to wolf most of my hard-earned tucker, and then ride like the wind and still catch the ferry, which due to me probably sailed with one side lower than the other. After an hour (and more coffee) we reached Denmark, specifically the town of Gedser, on the island of Falster. Gedser (pop. 786) is “an important port town on the Baltic Sea” but evidently has nothing worthy of its picture being taken.

We took off along the Danish cycle paths, which are older than the German ones and inferior in quality. Not all the cycle route was on safe tracks – we had to share roads with dangerous traffic now and then, and the signposting was sometimes missing. Here’s a photo of the afternoon’s ride.

That’s not the Finger of Doom, that’s a bit of me in front of the iPhone lens. We came to the major city of Nykobing … actually it is called Nykobing F, as several other major cities share the name, which just means “New Town”. This particular Nykobing once had a huge sugar factory and processing works, but that is all derelict now, and tourism is now the main thing. A website encourages people to come and live in (Danish “bo i”) the town – so it’s which I have to read as “boiny kobing”.

Nykobing has a quiet town square with all quaint old buildings, but not on the scale of what we saw in Germany. It’s never been “restored” – it always looked like this. Here’s the water tower and the old church (Klosterkirken).

What immediately struck me and Barbro about this church is the stepped style of the roof edges – this style is universal all over southern Sweden (which used to belong to Denmark) and for us it was a very strong sign that we are nearing Barbro’s homeland.

Most riders ate at the motel where we stayed, but a few of us found the most interesting building in the town – Czar Peter’s House, a restaurant where Peter the Great himself dined, one night in July 1716. He was travelling incognito, trying to get a deal with the Danes to wallop the Swedes from both sides, and rather than dine at the castle he wanted to dine at the local pub. I don’t know what he ate, but we had a very nice meal there.

Day 5b/6a – Gustrow and Rostock

December 28, 2013

Gustrow, just south of the Baltic coast, the usual old buildings and nice old cathedral, no doubt restored after the neglect and ravages of the Communists. Town square with statue of the founder, Henry Borwin II (1170-1226). I don’t know whether he was a nice bloke … but somehow I doubt it.

The building behind him is not a church but the main Post Office, built in historicist style. Historicism, as readers (of Wikipedia) would know, became fully developed with the dialectic of G.W.F.Hegel, and is evident in the writings of Karl Marx, who was of course influenced by Hegel. So the communists might have had some respect for this building. But after a hard day’s stone-circle hunting I was more interested in the nearest Cake Shop:

There is an old church, with natty altarpiece, but this is nothing to the one in Rostock (later down the page).

Gustrow has a castle but it is all show – only the front wall and the necessary parts of the side walls ever got built. The front door has an impressive stone bridge for access, but as my photo shows, to attack it one would go around the back, wade the (indefensible) moat and walk through the gardens.

Gustrow – at least, in the middle of the city – had the plethora of old buildings that we by now had become accustomed to seeing … but unusually, there was a statue of Archimedes.

Poor old Archie is depicted in what might have been his final pose – when Syracuse was attacked, soldiers swarmed through his garden, where he was sketching some geometry in the sand; his last words were “Don’t disturb my circles”. Whereupon a soldier, not understanding this (or not caring) hacked his head off, showing the sort of damage that lack of a proper education can do. Why is there a statue to him in Gustrow? Why not?

(A bit of Googling shows that the statue is here because it is an exact copy of one at the Archenhold Observatory in Berlin. Or, quite possibly, the original has been moved here.)

The next morning we rode onwards and upwards (well, northwards) into Rostock. The local concrete company is trying hard to improve their image, by putting smiley faces on the batching plant and mixer trucks. It must be difficult to sell concrete (especially after it has begun to set) so perhaps this will help.

The landscape is wonderfully flat – it must have been the sea bed until comparatively recently – some canals appear, with lifting bridges such as we saw all over the Netherlands –

World War I memorial, with plaque added to include the fallen of World War II –

People putting up a picture on the side of a house (but really it’s another trompe a l’oeil – there are no people, and the entire wall is flat)

Lovely old thatched cottage, you’d think you were in England … or the Netherlands.

Rostock is yet another restored mediaeval city, and as befits a Hanseatic trading city there was a market in the main square, with old buildings on all four sides, for example –

Rostock’s mediaeval fortifications are now in some disrepair, but its old cathedral has a baroque interior, and an amazing altarpiece –

Memorial Book of the Dead. Today’s page was for Hermann Bandow, who died in 1944, aged 30, in the Ukraine, where he was probably not much lamented very much.

Best sight of all was the Rostock Astronomical Clock, rivalling the contemporary clocks in Prague and Lund, although this one is in need of a bit of restoration. The big annual dial is calibrated for the moon and dates of Easter etc. for years 1885 to 2017, so some urgency is required.

And now after this rather lengthy post, we say GOODBYE TO GERMANY because tomorrow morning we will get the ferry across to Gedser in Denmark, from where it is 4 day’s ride to Copenhagen!

Day 5a – Serrahn to Bellin

December 27, 2013

This was a somewhat shorter day as regards riding, but with more to see. We started from Serrahn and rode anti-clockwise around the lake to Krakow im See, which had a beautiful old church, depicted hereunder. Simple but elegant interior and detailed Last Supper tableau. (I may be an atheist, but I still appreciate beauty and elegance). Note how the brickwork tells its own story of rebuilds over the centuries – you cannot hide any modification to the way bricks have been laid:

Krakow im See also has a nice park beside the lake, in which there is a highly educational and scientific vortex machine. (In the park, not in the lake). You wind a handle and a vortex develops in the column of water. Great fun, and the vortex develops into a shape of considerable beauty.

Well *I* thought it had considerable beauty – it kept me amused for ages while everybody else was looking at the pretty lake and the trees – if they weren’t playing in the playground, that is. Notice the exasperated expression on the dolphin in this one:

Beside the church there was a memorial to the fallen of the First World War, as we now call it. (We used to call it “The Great War” as it was honestly believed that there could never again be another slaughter like it). The inscription reads “In the highest fulfilment of their obligation. our (secondary school?) brothers died for the Fatherland. Traveller, bow your head in awe before death and bravery.”

The inscription speaks to me and yes, I did bow my head in a respectful silence … these men may have been born in, and thus were made to fight for, the side that happened to lose, but they were men and members of humanity nonetheless.

Now this one, in a little park in the back streets, is very carefully worded “In commemoration of the victims of the 2nd World War – Remember the dead”

We left Krakow-im-See towards Gustrow, along obscure country roads that led us through Bellin – another ancient village with fat-cat houses and farms, and peasant cottages. Near here is the famous “Belliner Steintanz” or Stone Dance – a prehistoric circle of stones. Someone has put a marker for it in Google Earth, but of course at the time we had no idea where it was; the guidebook just says “north of the village”.

Being interested in anything pre-1000AD (and in anything else, for that matter), I followed the local road signs and sliced off north from the Krakower Strasse to the bottom corner of the field where that house is, then up the west edge of the field to the corner of the forest. Abdy and Saideh came with me! and it was a fiercely hot day, the road was badly surfaced and the field had nasty, scratchy just-harvested corn. Having read that the Steintanz was near the Heydenholzee, I ventured into the forest to the west; here there was dense undergrowth, with thorny creepers and stinging nettles. After about half an hour’s painful progress I did get a view of the Heydenholzsee – I must be one of the few men alive who has ever seen it – but no Steintanz. Zooming in on Google Earth at the true location of the Steintanz gives an idea of the density of the forest:

So we gave up and came back into Bellin, but on leaving it by the NE road (“Am Karpendiek” on the above map) I suddenly saw ANOTHER sign to the elusive Steintanz, and having wasted so much time and endured so much agony looking for it already, I followed this new forest road, which went up the eastern edge of the field. Abdy and Saideh, wisely and based on their recent experience of stone-hunting in Bellin, did not accompany me this time, which is a pity because this time I found the damn thing.

Admittedly, the stones are not exactly Stonehenge-sized, but this is a prehistoric arrangement around the cross-roads of two tracks thousands of years old and still visible, deep in the quietness of an almost impenetrable forest, and thus there was a sort of magical presence to it.

Well at least *I* thought so, after all the effort and pain I had put in to finding it. And there was nobody else there – nobody else being crazy enough to ride into the forest to find it.

Anyway there was not much else to see in Bellin – in particular, the absence of coffee shops and cafes was conspicuous, so we rode on towards Gustrow.

Day 4b – Drewitzer See to Serrahn

December 15, 2013

We finished lunch with an ice-cream sundae each … and were horrified to find that its label (above) warns prospective diners “All the ice-cream sundaes may vary optically”. And sure enough, a close and scientific examination showed our respective sundaes to differ optically in several significant respects. Ah, these modern times when things are allowed to differ, even in Germany – and speaking of differing, this is the horse-drawn carriage in which Herr Honecker loved to ride:

I didn’t feel comfortable, next to it. Yes, the Secretary of the Communist Party rode around in this thing, although probably not in front of the peasants. Imagine the duplicity and shame … I would not even let my dead body be carried in such a thing. A famous joke (and one-way ticket to Siberia) has Herr Honecker showing this sort of place off to his mother. “Look Mum, I’ve done well – here’s my house – here’s my hunting lodge – here’s my horse-drawn carriage … But why do you look so sad?” – “Erich, I am worried about what you’ll have if the Communists take over”.

And so from this beautiful but ghastly place we rode to Serrahn, where we stayed in a very nice stately home overlooking a golf course. This is at 53* 39′ 15″N 12* 20′ 40″E and it is the only big building in the sub-village.

A few of us walked down to the lake (Serrahner See) at sunset. As she was being helped down an embankment, Helga slipped and I, perpetually encumbered by my camera, happened to be taking a snap. So I held the button down and shot her in flight:

Apart from that, we had lovely peaceful views at sunset.

Barbro and myself went up onto the golf course (it’s on a small hill) where we viewed the most wonderful setting sun in a fierce red sky, before returning to the hotel for a magnificent, intimate formal dinner.

But wait! There’s more!! When the Sun sets over water or over a very clean horizon, in very rarely favourable conditions you can see a Green Flash just at the moment the Sun sets fully. I have seen it twice, after hundreds of attempts, and in desperation this time I tried to photograph it, as above – no luck. Nobody believes me, so here is what a professional photographer was able to get once:

NASA with their super-duper equipment were able to snap the damn thing before the full sunset:

Now isn’t that interesting?

Day 4a – Waren to Drewitzer See

December 14, 2013

As we pedalled our way further across Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, we left Waren for a day of riding in very dense, managed forests, with a surprise for lunch. The traffic lights in town, between the red and green man/bicycle, show “Signal is coming” for a second or two.

Fat-cat houses on the outskirts of Waren … here’s one for example –

– But you have never seen a fat-cat place quite like we are going to see today. Onwards, pausing to pick and eat berries –

and play the Forest Xylophone –

And then we got lost. Here we are in a lost state, but as I took this picture I read ALL OF the sign – the last line of text shows where to go.

And into the forest, which looked like this –

I love pictures like that, which fill the frame with repetitive data, I use them as screensavers, A pile of sand, autumn leaves, dense bushes, brick walls … I’ve got hundreds. Mysteriously in the forest, beside the road every kilometre or so there were little fenced-off areas that had been ploughed up; I think they were for the protection and encouragement of spiders.

The forest is all around 53* 34’N, 12* 25’E and it looks like the sort of place where there’d be something secret/spooky going on, but Google Earth does not show it.

Actually something even worse than secret military installations used to be in this forest. Deep into it, on the edge of the Drewitzer See, at 53* 33′ 31.5″N, 12* 21′ 04″E is the hunting lodge of Herr Erich Honecker, supremo of the East German Communist Party. Herr Honecker loved to come here and hunt wild animals, and he was actually personally responsible for several species getting onto the endangered list. We had lunch here … in the old days the guards from the attached military compound (clearly seen on Google Earth) would ensure that you’d never get near this place if you weren’t on the guest list.

But we had lunch here, as any pleb can who has enough money (it was about $10, and very nice too). Here’s the view from the terrace across the lake. And also very nice too.

Day 3b of 9 – Ankershagen to Waren

December 10, 2013

We turned north and rode through very nice woodland with many lakes and a good bike path. Emerging at Ankershagen, we stopped for lunch. Here is the Heinrich Schliemann Museum, devoted to the guy who in the 1880s discovered and excavated the ancient city of Troy, in what is now north-western Turkey. His archaeological methods and techniques were controversial – er, dynamite?! – anyway here we have a Wooden Horse for kids to play on.

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (I am cautious about the Greeks, even when they bring gifts). Further along, but still within the Muritz National Park we came to a tourist facility with a very good exposition of the Osprey and its nesting and other habits. You see these pylons for electricity cables – look on top of the middle one, there is an osprey nest.

The Germans of course mount a camera and film the poor bird 24 hours a day. Here is a live (well, it was live when I photographed it) TV picture of the osprey itself (not at the same nest on the pylon – another one). This is a major achievement, ospreys are rare and very hard to observe. But even the poor old Stork of Gross Quassow had more privacy than this.

And we rode on into Waren. (Muritz is the lake, the largest lake to lie entirely within Germany – Waren is the town). Another lovely old town – once the regional capital, and increasingly a holiday and a spa resort – with centuries-old buildings, preserved and restored to look like that, after the depredations of the Soviet Red Army and the Communists, who demolished half the town to make a new traffic system. The centre is vehicle free.

Now it breaks my heart to admit this, but Waren was a huge Soviet military centre in the Cold War, and the town and its surroundings bristled with nuclear missiles. Had the “balloon gone up”, we on the NATO side would have promptly bombed it flat. I think things are better the way they are now.

Down by the lakeside there is a huge new museum, exhibiting the area around Lake Muritz, its fish (many native and unique to the lake) and plants. There are live fish that you can look at and make a mental note to eat later – we noted one species that looked (a) miserable and (b) nice to eat. That’s probably why it looked miserable, come to think of it. Anyway, we scoffed one in a restaurant later in the evening, and it was very nice.

Day 3a of 9 – Neustrelitz to Ankershagen

December 9, 2013

The tour company gave us maps and a booklet to navigate the ride. The booklet was all in German – reminding me of the film U-571, which falsified history by depicting Americans capturing a German submarine in order to get the Nazis’ code machine and code books (reality being quite different, but the British don’t make silly blockbuster movies). Submarine surfaces and American sailors gleefully unscrew the hatch and jump inside … only to reappear a few seconds later and complain “Hey, it’s all in German!”. Indeed, as I recall, breaking the Enigma code was hard enough to start with, but then the underlying plain-text messages were not in English …

But I digress. Despite having a map each, we took turns to navigate the group’s way across the difficult bits, and I got dobbed in to get us all out of Neustrelitz. Unlike one of us who would actually ride his routes on the previous evening, I hacked it all on Google Earth combined with my experience of the previous day around the Stork-erama at Quassow. So in the morning, we all set off with me at the front exuding an air of confidence, which masked a growing panic beneath. I went vooming down a hill along one of the main roads, followed by 16 cyclists, oh, their faith in my ability was so touching – and me hoping this would not be a mistake and we’d have to labour back up the hill again. Nope, it was the right way and I got them all into the forest and over to the Quassow Stork Show in one piece.

It’s fun to lead the ride, you can go anywhere you like and they will all follow you, preparing to vent their spleens when it turns out you’ve led them astray, or down a filthy, boggy old track into an industrial waste facility or similar. Anyway, I led them into this well-marked path in the forest whereupon I was able to announce that my leadership was here at an end. This was not a led ride as we commonly do in Melbourne, we all essentially went our own ways, but some stretches like getting out of the major towns were worth having a leader for.

Nice path and area, but the historical reality of the former East Germany crept into present-day reality. Soviet-era housing was in evidence – this is one of the nicer places –

– and when I strayed off the correct road (at the bend in the distance) I saw what the roads here REALLY look like.

The bike path has been specially tarted up for tourism. Hey, let’s give them a chance, the whole country was decrepit and in ruins, even by Soviet standards. Now there is a lot of burgeoning agriculture –

Arrgh, run away quick, here come the toilet rolls!!

Fleeing, we stopped at a nice pub/cafe sort of place for morning coffee. Here’s Saideh, Abdy and myself – that’ll be 3 of my 4 readers (and when Saideh is in Iran she can’t see this blog, as WordPress is among the sites that is blocked, as I discovered in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and many other countries).

It must be cold in the winter around here, everybody stacks up huge amounts of firewood, usually with Teutonic neatness:

Some people build a great big shed specifically for it ….

… and then they find, they have so much firewood, their shed is not big enough! Curses!!

Day 2 of 9 – Wesenberg to Neustrelitz – with Stork

December 6, 2013

After lunch in Wesenberg and shinning up and down its Burg tower, we pointed our front wheels at Klein Quassow, Gross Quassow and into Neustrelitz for the night. By going this way instead of directly through Furstenberg, we were able to creep up on Neustrelitz from the west, and take it by surprise. Besides, the paths and roads this way are nicer for bikes, and a major surprise awaits us today and tomorrow.

Neustrelitz is a planned city, built on the loss of Strelitz in a fire in 1712. It has a spectacular octagonal main square between two lakes – looks good on Google Earth. The quiet streets and peaceful architecture are curiously at odds with the mass slaughter and 681 suicides that happened here when the Red Army invaded in 1945. As with ALL THE TOWNS that we visited, you’d never know there had been fascists, communists, or anyone else pervading the place.

On the way there I could say there was not much to see, but we spotted this Stork Nest on a farm building – this is at 53* 19′ 15″N, 13* 00′ 24.3″E. That’s how I’d find it, I don’t know how the stork finds it, from landmarks and lakes probably, the same stork comes here every year. Readers should remember the tall poles I showed in the Netherlands with stork nests on top; storks like to nest on tall, inaccessible places such as chimney pots.

As we looked, the stork himself popped up, and then a second stork also appeared –

Quick! This must be recorded on the Stork Board, on the side of a nearby barn.

This also shows the migratory route of storks, from the flat lakelands of northern Europe to sites in Africa. The number of young ones that take flight from this nest is recorded – the family that owns the barn watches them every day. There was a picture of the family, about 30 of them and clearly their whole life is dominated by Mr Stork and his offspring. It would be wonderfully groovy to attach a transmitter on the stork of this German village, and thereby (or somehow) locate the exact village in Africa where it goes every year (it would be the same village) and thus establish a deep cultural rapport between the two villages.

More signs present “Interesting Facts about the Life of the Stork” and how to protect and care for your stork. I am going into some depth over this because this was a storky kind of day, and this is all just, well, glorious.

Yet another sign explained that the Maasz family put up the platform in 1938 – it would have been some years before a stork spotted it and began to build a nest on it – and “from the beginning the family have chronicled this hatchery and carried out its care and conservation.”

It also shows the five storks of this vicinity. One wonders if this Gross-Quassow Stork ever sends its cordial and fraternal greetings to the respective Storks of Leussow, Alt-Strelitz, Wesenberg and Wustrow, or do they fiercely compete for resources and status, or snub one other. The dates of arrival (in April) and departure (in August) are shown for each year.

Poor old Mr Stork, to be so thoroughly observed and documented. Every time poor old Mr Stork gets it on with Mrs Stork, they probably put up a sign. When storks carry out courtship, they clap their mandibles together (which must bring tears to their eyes, as I recall a BBC panellist saying in 1978; see how educational television can be).

This was all so cute that we returned the following day to check it out again – and we had lunch at the local cafe, which is called the Stork Restaurant. That bird, that one single bird and his family, gives the village of Gross Quassow its identity and whole meaning of life, and it would also confer this on a village deep in Africa. I am wholly inspired and freaked out with the glory and beauty of the whole thing. If I lived anywhere near here, I’d put up my stork pole or a platform on my roof first thing of all.

But this afternoon we had to tear ourselves away from this wonder, and ride on into Neustrelitz – another empty main square, actually with 8 roads leading off it.

Water tower in the rich area, by the lake. (You can ride without a helmet in Germany; on the main roads we had helmets, I think they are compulsory for kids and if you go over 25 kph; the roads and paths are much safer for cyclists than in Australia).

Trompe a l’oeil painting on the side of a building. In reality, the wall is completely flat.

Scruffy old building, but what stories it could tell, most of them very unpleasant .

The emblem of Neustrelitz is the Bird of Paradise plant, with obvious reference to the Stork. I am all storked out.

Day 2 of 9 – Globby to Wesenberg

December 5, 2013

A rather complex route today, with an unexpected bonus. Leaving the lakeside hamlet of Neuglobsow we wended our weary way northwards, through Furstenberg and then through Wustrow to Wesenberg, and later Kleine/Gross Quassow and into Neustrelitz for the night. Here’s the Globby lake, and a forest –

One of the trees is decidedly kinky, and may I here celebrate the freedom of trees and people to grow as bent as they like in this 21st century. In the old days that tree would soon be singled out; fail to conform like that, and you’d be first for the chop. All over the former East Germany are these towers in the fields –

– which (on a previous visit many years ago) I used to think were for guards to surveill the hapless peasants, but now I see they are simply hunting towers for spotting deer and rabbits etc. Here’s a pretty field with nice pretty poppies and blue flowers, which nevertheless would make the farmer despair over the contamination of his cash crop –

The villages around here put up complicated Maypoles which stand all the year round, the first example below is typical of that found all over Sweden and celebrated to this day. The second one is bizarre with many layers of figures, and is oddly similar to ones I saw later on this trip in northern Sweden and Finland, where I could have bought a book explaining all the symbolism, and I really wish I had.

A bird box for tall, thin birds 🙂

And so, into Wesenberg for lunch. Wesenberg has a sort of castle (Burg) with a tower you can climb AS LONG AS YOU GO IN SINGLE FILE!!!

– which you have to anyway, as it would be physically impossible to go two abreast or to pass anyone on the spiral staircase. At the top we got a limited but typical view of the buildings and layout of this area. And here’s me and Barbro.

Wesenberg is another town with a big, deserted main square. This of course is Wesenberg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, part of the Amt Mecklenburgische Kleinseenplatte of Mecklenburg, Western Pomerania, as opposed to the Wesenberg in Schleswig-Holstein. (The men who paint the signs often die of fatigue, before the paint runs out.) Not to mention Wesendonck, Richard Wagner’s five Wesendonck Lieder named after Mathilde Wesendonck, his close friend and possibly lover – Yes! she’d have been the Wesendonck Bonck, with some terrific music besides. Now where was I. Ah yes, the market square –

Now in these sort of places one looks for statues, memorials and the like, and in Germany these are present but hard to spot. One also wonders what the memorials would be in memorial of, given that some of the things and people around here in historical times are not exactly in favour these days, and never were with each other. But here we have a memorial to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, yet another mighty slaughter but now so long ago as to be safe to recognise –

And here also, is this relatively safe memorial stone put up by the Communists – it’s hard to read but it says “The struggle of the German Working Class. 19 October 1959”.

One wonders what happened on that fateful day in 1959, but I think they just felt the need to put up a stone, and around here in 1959 they couldn’t really inscribe much else. Later I will show memorials “to the sacrifices of the German people during the terror of 1933-45”, etc, and other careful wording. They are out there all over Germany – I guess every populace needs to commemorate its history and traumas.

Day 1 ends – Lakes to Neuglobsow

December 2, 2013

On we rode and into a large flat area, with many lakes, mostly man-made from a century ago when bricks and tiles ware made here. The 1880-1945 industrial expansion of Germany consumed huge quantities. Here’s an aerial shot of the start of the area, and the names of the successful and wealthy brickworks that arose:

We looked around a brick works with ring ovens and the like, and a cute little train as this place is very touristy. Choo Choo:

Onwards along the path, which had lots of nice fruit trees with all the reachable fruit gone. Anyone tall or with a stepladder could feast in style, but not us. Helga and me I nommed a sausage instead:

House for sale “with great potential for renovation”

Onwards to Neuglobsow, an exclusive lakeside village that was formerly the exclusive domain of Party heavies, under both Nazi and Soviet rule. In those days the common man probably could not have got near the place physically, now however any pleb with enough money – and not that much is needed, actually – can stay here as we did, in a very nice hotel, from where we set out on foot to dine at the Fontanehaus:

All around the eaves on this building, as with all other buildings in the village, and, according to my friend who has lived for many years in Hannover, on everything else – the mediaeval Germans wrote religious poems and inscriptions. This one read – “Schutze, Vater, dies Gebaud / von der Feuer, Wasser, Sturm / Fulle segnend seine Raume / Du, der nicht vergisst den Turm” –

“Father, protect this building from fire, water and storm, blessing in abundance its rooms – you, [Father,] who would not forget to look after the tower”.

Day 1 of 9 – Oranienberg to Lakes Area

December 1, 2013

Define “tomorrow” … well, when *I* said “more writing tomorrow, in better taste and with cycling” on October 20th, I meant “… in six weeks’ time”. Look, it’s my blog, and words can mean whatever I choose them to mean, as Humpty Dumpty might have said if he’d had a blog … but he didn’t, he only had a wall, but I’ve done enough about walls on this blog already.

So look out, hold on to your seats, and don’t hold the coffee near the keyboard because here it comes, A BLOG POST ABOUT CYCLING IN GERMANY, yes, this is it folks! Now I will describe the German part of the route … roughly north from Berlin to Rostock, 5 days (all deep in the former East Germany), then by ferry over to Gedser in Denmark, and 4 days into Copenhagen. The German part was very well laid out and signposted, I could do it all again – the Danish part less so, unfortunately.

While my Hungarian String Bike (which is going very well now as I write, thank you) was laid up in high dudgeon in Melbourne, like the other 16 people in our party I hired a bike from Mecklenburger Tours Ltd. The bikes were delivered to us at Oranienberg, skipping the first day’s ride out of Berlin, and here we are ready to start:

That’s Abdy and his sister in white tops, right of centre – and below, in her sole magnificence is Abdy’s sister – :

– a surgeon with fluent English and German, trained and working in Teheran (yes THAT Teheran, in Iran) and she had never ridden a bike before. Every day, 50-60 km for nine days without a break, she would keep up with us. We thought she was unusually smart and fit – “No, not really” she said, demurely “There are many more females like me in Iran”. Well, I never. But let’s get going, over flat canal-infested country, here’s a boat with some sort of apparatus for cleaning the already-pure waters:

We’re in Germany now:

It was a hot day and after about 17km we came to a small town that had one cafe, a very welcome break from the heat and the riding, after several days off the bikes.

It had a toilet which, as I found out with much plying of the dictionary, was emphatically for customers only:

And despite being a customer, indeed IMNSHO a Major Customer, having ordered not only a coffee but also a whacking great slice of Ucky Cake to go with it, I tried and tried to get the door open, I puffed and pulled and turned the handle and rattled the door and stamped and screamed, and cast magical incantations, all to no avail while my bladder nearly burst and everyone chortled with laughter. Eventually a helpful Barbro came up and opened it for me.

I had tried everything except pushing it. Everybody roared even more, and on rushing inside even the former pedestal’s mark on the floor was laughing at me.

Tomorrow (meaning, in LESS THAN six weeks) – on to the flat lands of the former East Germany.

Berlin to Oranienburg

October 20, 2013

Welcome back to the blog – I apologise for not updating it for some weeks. My excuses are, firstly, that I got burned out from posting about Berlin – and the 5th post, which was extremely emotional, never got up – parts of it are below.  Secondly/thirdly I have been on TWO MORE TRIPS since then, with difficulty in finding any time to write blog posts. I do hope to pull my finger out and blog about both these trips (Sweden; and coastal-outback Australia) in due course.

Ah, Berlin – I had been looking at this view from our flat for days, but for a while I failed to see something; recall this picture from the “Berlin(1)” post a few posts ago, with the red dot that I added:

After the Second World War, Berlin consisted entirely of rubble, which was shovelled up and taken away over the years, and had to be dumped within West Berlin, thus forming an artificial mountain, which was then named Teufelsberg (devil’s mountain). And that’s it, there, under my red dot. Going west, the next hill of such a height is Cleeve Hill, at Cheltenham Glos UK, where I worked in 1979; and going east, the next hill this size is in the Urals.

Teufelsberg turned out to be a good place to put radar and communications domes. Zooming in shows these, but wait and see:

I was stationed there for a few weeks in 1979, with NATO to study Russian military radars and communications. In those Cold War years, both sides – NATO and the Warsaw Pact – came to the same ideas on how World War III would start; it was only a question of when. It would start, effectively, in Berlin; and both sides rehearsed this. The British occupying contingent kept a few tanks including some like this one, a Chieftain with a bulldozer blade – about the only thing that would be able to move if a conflict had started:

But the British, pragmatically, would have defended (their part of occupied) Berlin by landing a few Hercules aircraft at Gatow (now a housing estate) or Templehof (now a picnic and kite-flying field) and getting everyone out. The French had no idea, and the Americans kept 20 or so tanks and would have made a valiant attempt at defending their bit … against the five fully equipped major armies and 8,000 tanks which the Russians would have brought to bear against the city. Looking at it now, in 2013, all this silliness is hard to believe and I did not have time to visit the military places but I have found pictures of the buildings where I once worked. Behold:

And let it stay in ruins. May the whole military apparatus, its scheming and planning and construction and cheating, its unnecessary and dangerous standoffs and conflicts, and all the associated prospects of misery, may it all decompose and rot, may it rot all the way down into Hell, and leave the world in peace.

The Occupying Powers were not as bad as their predecessors; in the words of Mel Brooks “Don’t be stoopid, be a smarty. Come and join the Nazi Party”

One and one is two / Two and two is four / I feel so bad because I’m losing the war!

Enough, enough, moving right along …. This day was to be the FIRST DAY OF OUR CYCLING TRIP Berlin to Copenhagen. This trip will be 6 days in Germany plus 4 in Denmark, cycling every day; the towns in what was the former East Germany have been restored and made magnificent, and the German forests, lakes and bike paths were wonderful. The Danish bike paths, surprisingly, were somewhat inferior and badly maintained, and later we’ll be finding that some of the Swedish ones will be appalling.

The bike path from Berlin to Copenhagen is well set out, well marked and there is a very thorough guide book about cycling along it, which we were each given as we started. But we skipped a day’s ride and started from Oranienburg, the tour company considering it too messy to get going with bikes from the middle of Berlin. So on this day, we had the morning in Berlin and went by train to Oranienberg in the afternoon, and we did not actually ride (or even see) our hired bikes until the next morning. We checked into our hotel – it was a terrible place!

Sorry, I could not resist … below is where we really stayed. More writing tomorrow, in better taste and with cycling.