In Germany

Sept 3, 2019. Odometer: 1425mi

In the classic cyclist style, I took three trains from Brittany to Strasbourg. One stop was in Paris. I had a few hours to pedal around there. I stopped in on the Notre Dam Cathedral. Of course it was closed for renovations after the devastating fire earlier this year. It was reassuring to see that none-the-less it looked pretty good from the exterior. I also stopped and had a meal in an outdoor cafe. I managed to have a conversation in French with a woman there. I think it is useful to stumble with a language you barely know. You learn it much faster. Trying to figure out the word you don’t know can turn into a game of charades. This is fun if you have a patient audience. She noticed that the tail flag on my bike is a Gay Pride flag. I was surprised to find it could be recognized even in France.

Norte Dame under renovation. Notice the extensive scaffolding in the rear.

I got to Strasbourg after sunset. Fortunately my Warmshowers host was close to the train station.

Nico, My WarmShowers host in Strasbourg. His user name is nico nico on Warmshowers

On my way in to Strasbourg, Nico and I traded emails. So he knew when my train would arrive. At 9:30pm he was out in front of his apartment when I rolled up to his place. He is a very helpful and considerate guy. Much like my own place in San Francisco, Nico has a small flat with a good view of the city. We walked to the main Cathedral and watched a light show projected against the outside wall of the cathedral, very similar to the one I saw in Rennes. Nico showed me that in the center of town there is a system of locks for small boats to navigate the tributary that flows there. It was clear that these locks are both ancient and functional.

Before we went to sleep, Nico asked when I wanted to wake up the next day. He then made sure breakfast was ready when I awoke. Definitely a classy host. As good as any hotelier I’ve encountered in Europe so far. He also speaks four languages.

The next morning I headed east over the Rhein and out into the Black Forest of Germany. A different language, a new chapter. I’ve had more formal training in the German language. So for me it works better, though I still stumble quite a lot. This was my first time in the Black Forest. The course I chose followed the Kinzig upstream. I think the Kinzig is a tributary to the Rhein.

The Rhein River in Strasbourg, On the border with Germany.
A bicycle bridge over the Rhein

In Germany there is a good systems of bike paths which follow next to the roads for motorists, there are also roads for cyclists that do not follow next to anything. I learned that these roads are essentially roads for agricultural equipment to get out into the fields. There is a network of them out in the country side, well maintained and with good signs. Komoot found these roads preferentially. Which I really appreciated.

The Kinzig River
A stork is out looking to invite a mouse to breakfast.

In the western part of the Black Forest it is mostly flat farm land with some very nice villages occasionally. Here the Kinzig is a slow moving stream. When riding along the Kinzig I meet occasional cyclists and occasionally some farm equipment. I see storks in the fields. They appear to be stalking prey. I guess that they typically find mice.

The first night I slept in a hotel in Gengenbach, a beautifully restored villiage with a stone wall surrounding it.

Views of Gengenbach from my hotel window

On my second day, I met two cyclists at lunch. We had a good fun getting each other’s understanding in German only. The weak link was me of course, but I have fun trying to understand and answer questions. I expect the husband actually spoke English pretty well, because he would occasionally bail me out.

When we agreed that it was time to go, I told them that I had not paid my bill yet. They just smiled and said it had already been paid. Danke!

A husband and wife cycling group from Black Forest. We shared a table at lunch.

About halfway to Überlingen, the road gets steep. Before the hill started in Hornberg, I saw a sign that indicated 19% grade which I disregarded. I’d been riding a flat route following the Kinzig. This 19% grade doesn’t apply to me. I was wrong.

I took a left turn and started following the Schwanenbach instead. It went through some very beautiful wooded mountains. The road was continuously climbing. The Schwannenbach was a much smaller creek, much faster moving.

Views from Schwanenbach Straße in the Black Forest

Fortunately it was not a continuous 19% grade, but there were definitely a few 200 meter sections of that road that could well have been 19%. Anyway, I was very glad to see the top. I rolled downhill into Sankt Georgen, ate an entire pizza and drank a liter of pils. I slept very well in a nearby hotel that night.

I awoke Thursday morning with a plan to ride 100km to Überlingen. My good friends Henry and Romy were expecting me. Henry Klemm and I worked together for Applied Biosystems about 20 years ago. Henry had a team of engineers in Überlingen. I worked in Foster City, California. We would make frequent trips in both directions. A while back I contacted Henry about visiting him in Überlingen. He said he would round up the guys for a get together (Stammtisch in German). Anyway, I told Henry I would make it there by Thursday afternoon. Fortunately it was mostly downhill to the Lake of Constance. I made it there without any issues.

Überlingen is a very nice town directly on the Lake of Constance. Henry and Romy are wonderful hosts. My plan was to stay with them through the weekend. It’s Tuesday night now as I write this and they haven’t kicked me out yet. Here are the details:

The Klemm Family

Henry and Romy are wonderful hosts. Henry turned over his home office to be my room. Romy prepares wonderful meals. She drives me to the store for various supplies, train tickets, and bike parts. She does my laundry. I’ve been here nearly a week already. I do hope I leave before I wear out my welcome, because I want to be invited back again.

Romy Klemm at home
Henry Klemm at home.

It is an environment filled with love and respect. Their only daughter, Jeanine is married with a five year old boy named Benno and a husband named Marco. They bought a home in Überlingen. Benno has a tree house in the back yard. Jeanine and Marco are building a stone wall for a garden in the front yard.

Marco and Tim
(Left to Right) Marco, Tim, Benno, Jeanine

On the weekend, Henry, Romy and I go for a bike ride through the area. During the week, Henry takes his bike to work. Romy has more time off and so we go for rides weather permitting.

Tim and Henry rolling to a stop at the Meersburg Cathedral
Tim and Henry praying for good riding conditions

I spend much of my time with Romy. The fact that she speaks no English is a benefit to my learning German. You see Henry’s English is very good. So if Henry and I get into a bind in German, we immediately switch to English. When I’m speaking with Romy, we cannot switch. I am forced to figure it out using the smart phone or asking for slower simpler wording. We work well together. She is very patient with me. I also had some time talking with Benno. He is very creative and patient. We have fun using the translator on my smart phone.

Tim and Romy in Meersburg

Tim and Romy below the Meersburg Cathedral

I told Henry I really need a cycling partner that speaks only German. With this, I could build from the foundation that Romy has started. He called up his sister Heike Klemm in Borken to set this up. It is kind of like a blind date except Heike already has a boy friend. We will travel from Borken to Muenster and back. A total distance of about 120 Km. I look forward to meeting Heike on Thursday. I think we will work well together. We have been talking by phone and texting. She is patient with me like Romy.

Romy loves animals of all types. When she meets a dog in public, she will frequently pet the dog or give it a treat. She feeds the birds regularly. She will even leave a lump of jam in a dish at the breakfast table for the bees to eat.

The bees are invited to breakfast.

Henry takes Benno under his wing. They do projects together like building a sailboat or performing a science experiment. Benno likes to play with fire. Henry thinks this is fine as long as it’s properly supervised.

Der Stammtisch

(Left to Right) Tim and Jürgen Wulf practicing their non verbal skills
(Left to Right) Michael Steinwand and Henry Klemm catching up on old times
(Left to Right) Tim and Jürgen are friends again.
Tim and Michael Steinwand getting ready for the Stammtisch

It has been twenty years since I have been with these guys all together. The company we worked for is long gone, we all have different jobs. Jürgen, Henry, and I all have moved to different homes not far from our old ones. Jürgen and I have retired. Me to ride my bike. Jürgen is sailing his sailboat (Laser) out on the lake and has a good tan to show for it. He also bought an RV and travels through Europe with his wife Ursula. Michael is consulting with many companies and knows a lot of impressive people in science. Henry is working with an automotive engineering group in Illinois. He also does some consulting on the side. He has a side interest in trading currency and the like.

We spent 3 hours talking about old stories and new ones. We might have continued longer, but the restaurant was closing for the night.

Offline I met with Paul Hing at the Galgen Holtzle, a bar in Überlingen. Sorry Paul, I forgot to take a picture. Paul originally came from Applied Biosystems in California. He was part of our cycling group which would meet every Saturday in the San Francisco Bay Area and ride the hills. He started a company near Überlingen and moved there about 20 years back. He sold the company to Miltenyi Biotec, but still holds the position of CTO there. Paul dreams about retiring and building a tree house to live in somewhere near Seattle. One might think this is just a crazy dream. However, Paul has already bought the land. It has ten large cedar trees, any one of which would make a good candidate for his tree house.

Paul heads up a team of engineers and scientists at Miltenyi. He has a lot of experience with building teams. We had a good discussion about the differences in culture between US and German culture in the engineering environment. I later discussed this with Henry who also has a lot of experience. I came away with the idea that both cultures are hard working and productive. The German culture is more skeptical. This simply means that the German engineer is less willing to take things on faith.

Paul Hing Photo taken from his LinkedIn profile

Überlingen

Überlingen is a classy German city with a population of more than twenty thousand. It sits directly on the Lake of Constance The lake is one of the largest fresh water lakes in Europe. The lakeshore touches Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. It attracts sport boats of many types, wind surfers, and scuba divers. Yes, the water is remarkably clear and remarkably deep. It has a natural hot spring in Überlingen, and possibly other places.

A swan demonstrates how clear the lake water is.
Middle of Überlingen
Überlingen situated on the Lake of Constance

While I was in Überlingen, I swam in the lake, visited the hot spring, took many bike rides to nearby towns with Romy and Henry. One thing they wanted to point out was the work of Peter Lenk. This artist created many sculptures. Many are on display in Überlingen and neighboring towns.

Peter Lenk has a very satirical style. The political and social satire becomes very clear in his work.

Showing the peaceful coexistence of society
Fat Cats and their gold

World leaders in a circle jerk.

Clearly winged creatures are emerging from this guy’s but.

The remarkable thing is these sculptures are prominently displayed in the city centers, not in a corner of some museum. Here I detect an openness to discord in German culture that we don’t have in the US.

German Rock and Roll

In a nearby town, Meersburg I think. There was a festival going with traditional German music.

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