Jump to Essen
In the previous update, I explained that Henry had set up a blind date (sort of) with his sister Heike in Borken. Ok so I had a really good time learning German with Romy’s help in Überlingen, So I headed a considerable distance north to take advantage of a chance to live with, and cycle with a patient German woman that does not speak English. I look upon this as an extension of the process already started with Romy. Thank you Henry. I have a feeling this will be worthy distraction for me.
Getting to Essen by train required only two trains. I changed trains in Basel, Switzerland. From Basel to Essen we took an ICE train (Germany’s high speed line). This was a good experiment for me. It was a bit of a struggle to get the bike into the space given. The conductor was pretty low key about the whole thing. Eventually we made it work.
I was somehow under the impression that there are two different towns named Basel, one in Germany and one In Switzerland, and I was to change trains in Basel, Germany. It became clear that I had left Germany when we rolled past an operating nuclear power plant. Henry explained that Germany has shut down all nuclear power in response to Fukushima. I checked with Henry by email. He confirmed that I was in Switzerland.
When I got off the train in Switzerland, no one wanted to see my passport, even though I was leaving the EU. Nor did anyone want to see my passport on reentering Germany with my next connection to Essen. Perhaps this is because I never left the train station.
When I get to Essen, it is raining, so I checked into a hotel near the train station, showered, and headed to the hotel bar for a light meal and beer. There, I met Tommy, a bus driver from East Germany who regularly drives a bus from Dresden to Essen. Tommy and I can hold a basic conversation about the rules for transporting a bicycle on a bus.
Tommy said ‘Die Welt is wirchlich ein Dorf’. In English: The world is actually a village.
Tobias dropped by our conversation. He speaks English quite well, but I suggest it would be best if we all spoke German. The high speed German that developed between Tobias and Tommy, I cannot follow at all. I simply look for words that get repeated often and get the translation from my iPhone. Fledermaus translates to bat. OK, they are talking about flying bats or something.
This was not completely useless. But for me, it is not nearly as good as schlaging through a one on one conversation with someone in slow German. It’s too slow for the purpose of light conversation when other options exist.
I happen to catch Tobias at breakfast the next morning. We have a good conversation in English about the differences in R&D culture between United States and Germany. This confirms much of what I had learned from Paul and Henry. For instance, when you tell a German something he does not believe, he will efficiently say, ‘No, that’s shit.’, and then be willing to say why, or listen to a rebuttal. In the same circumstance Americans will say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about that later’ when they really mean to say ‘You’re wrong or off track’. In most cases, it’s not really an invitation for further discussion.
Tobias also says that if you are given one final wish before being put to death, tell them you want to learn the Finnish language. It will take a lifetime.
Ride to Borken
After learning how the streetcars work, and running some errands in Essen, it was time to take the thirty mile ride to Heike’s place in Borken.
It rains for about an hour, and quite hard at times during the ride from Essen. I arrive around 3pm already mostly dry. Heike is working alone in the office in her home. She still has more work to do and invites me to shower and make myself at home, which I do.
My typical routine is to take a shower with my riding clothes on. In the shower, I peel the clothes off and wash and rinse them at the same time I wash myself. It works, not as well as a washing machine, but I can cycle my riding clothes this way a few times before they need a real washing machine. All my clothes are made from quick drying fabrics. So they line dry fairly quickly, if they are wrung out beforehand.
When Heike emerged from her work, she was not upset to find I have taken over a corner of her condo. She also pointed out that she has a washing machine and dryer which I am welcome to use. I tried to explain that I have a system that is sustainable and will work in almost any environment. I think my German was still too clumsy to get my point across.
She explained that her brother Jürgen will drop off an eBike that she will use for the ride to Muenster the following day.
We communicate in two languages. Heike speaks some English. She also speaks Italian, which we do not use. We both have iPhones to find words we are missing. Though more typically we can fill holes in our language just by talking about the hole and looking for synonyms. I find a really good mode is for me to listen to the German, then try to say it back in English. Heike then confirms whether I have it right or not.
The opportunity to learn here amazes me. We frequently tell jokes and stories about our past, mostly in German. We can talk about fairly deep things, like meditation and flow, who we are and why we think that is. Heike loves the Peanuts characters. She finds similarities between herself and Peppermint Patty. She also likes Italian culture quite a bit.
The communication in German is not fast yet. We take the time to do a good job. I really value this opportunity. When Heike needed to get the point across quickly, she used English. She knows I prefer to use German.
Jürgen showed up with the eBike and reviews its operation with us. Heike prepared dinner for the three of us. We had a good meal time discussion. Jürgen can speak English fairly well.
After dinner, Jürgen left and Heike and I worked on the course both to and from the city of Muenster. It is about 40 miles each way. The plan was to ride there on Friday and stay with Heike’s friend Gabi on Friday night. The ride back was planned for Sunday. A full charge on the eBike would have enough range for one leg, as long as the rider was prudent with how extensively the motor was used. I planned to use my touring bike but without the full complement of gear. With the lighter bike, I should be able to keep up with the eBike.
It rained quite hard Thursday night and early Friday morning. The air was cool, about 10C in the morning (50F). The sky was cloudy but the rain had stopped. We did a test ride to a cafe for breakfast. We decided it was all systems go. Off to Muenster!
It’s about forty miles from Borken to Muenster. The route is mostly flat with gently rolling hills in the countryside. We planned the outbound route through Coesfeld and Nottuln. Heike adapted to the eBike with ease.
The pace was slow enough so that we could talk, mostly in German. The places we rode through carried memories from her childhood. She took horse riding lessons and bought her first horse from a farmer. She remembered having to bring her dog to a veterinarian.
In Muenster, we arrived at the home of Gabi, Heike’s best friend of many years. Gabi lives in a nice home with her husband Ralph and their two children Paul and Jacob. Gabi and Ralph spoke English fairly well. Still we used German for the most part.
Heike and I rode to the center of Muenster by bike. Muenster is considered to be a very bike friendly city. Indeed it was. There were sophisticated parking garages for bikes only. We parked our bikes there for the entire evening at a cost of 0.40 Euro each.
I saw a very unique tricycle which could be split into two parts, one of which was a wheel chair. Together they formed a hand cycle with electric assist. The owner was happy to demonstrate how the two parts were easily coupled into one unit. We spoke to the owner at some length. This was all in high speed German, which Heike told me about afterwards. It turns out that the tricycle was provided by the government, though it took some convincing to get this approved. As the owner nimbly rode off in what I considered to be a one of a kind thing. I saw a second bike of the same design riding in the street.
After a good meal at an Italian restaurant called Maca’ do, we returned to Gabi and Ralph’s place for good discussions in both English and German. Ralph could also speak a dialect of German called Schwabish. This he knew from his childhood. We sampled beer from many places in Europe. The best ones were from Scotland where they somehow use peet in the making.
We spent the night there. Heike says I talk in my sleep but not in German. We stayed for a late breakfast then left for the ride back to Borken.
On the way back we took a different route which included a long bike path that followed a canal. There were some barges, along with personal motor boats and even some crewing teams doing their training. I told Heike about a time my brother and I swam across a river in Germany when we were teenagers. She asked me if I wanted to swim this canal. So I did. It was a good moment for me.
Tim swims across the canal.
We got back to Borken in the afternoon. A letter was waiting there for me. Joël and Irène had sent me a sticker from Brittany. The sticker made it to Romy and Henry’s place in Überlingen after I had left for Borken. Romy express mailed the letter to Heike’s place. Through my friendly network here in Europe, I was happy to receive the sticker and place it on my bike.
I was still waiting for one more thing. Dana had arranged through HP Velotechnik to send me a replacement for my broken kickstand. We guessed it would arrive in the morning mail. It did.
Up until this point my travel has been a sporadic path inspired mostly by an interest in meeting up with old friends. I must say that it has been most enjoyable, but at this point I have changed my strategy for the two months I have remaining on my EU tourist visa. The plan is follow the Rhein upstream into the Black Forest. There I will find the source of the Danube, then follow the Danube east through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romainia. See how far I can get. I will my time and make new friends along the way.
On Tuesday morning, I said farewell to Heike and rode south to meet the Rhein and follow the plan.