SERENDIPITY


The first rain of the trip arrived in the ancient city of Goslar. It then persisted down with degrees of force all afternoon. The warden of the DJH in Quedlinburg greeted dripping waterproofs and shorts that enclosed two drenched individuals.

Setting off from Greene, stuffed with the usual German hearty buffet breakfast, we had made pretty rapid progress. It was supposedly an early lunch in Goslar, in the hope that the rain would cease. Sitting by one of the ancient churches, the music of the organ spilling int the street, I remembered some of my long misplaced German history. Goslar was, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, one of the great cities of Germany. Benefitting from the silver and other metals from the Harz Mountains and he rich agriculture to the north, the earliest King’s encouraged and developed opportunities in the area. Otto III gave the town a charter for a market and freedom from tolls in AD 990.

The generally good signposting went a stray once or twice. It seemed that the further east one went the more one needed the map and the Garmin. Indeed, as the rain continued wee ditched any official route and cut across country through sleepy former East German villages on the way to Quedlinburg. Then the “fun” began. Reaching Langolstein, and puzzling which way to go with no sensible outcome, we asked directions. It seemed tat everyone there who ever went to Quedlinburg, went by car and went on the autobahn. Eventually, a well-meaning chap directed s along a road.

It ended. Tot he right was a track which we followed. A board declared that we were entering the site of a former concentration camp. We entered and found ourselves confronted by a memorial and a mass grave. The names of some of the people who died there and the list of nationalities was as sombre as the weather. You forgot that you were wet-through. This was serendipity.

We turned back and sought out another way to get through. It turned out to be the HVR toward Boernecke. It began with possibly the worst ever surface on a designated cycle way, ever, in the entire world. One expects cobbles in Germany, even more so in the east. These cobbles were at all angles, some had sunk, others had been uplifted, hey had been at war with their neighbours and shoved them around at all angles. It did get better, but nine kilometres of dirt track was not what we wanted on a grimy Sunday afternoon.

And then came a vision, on the way to Westerhausen. Preparing for an awkward moment or two when spotting a German shepherd dog loose on the road, I glanced to the side. The beast had no interest in me. Up on the bank a herd of goats was grazing and the dog was on road patrol. And there, by the goats was a man; sharply cut grey-beard, long grey coat with a green collar, a smart mountain hat and a long staff. He could have been there for two hundred years. We waved and he raised his crook in acknowledgement. A timeless image as the rain fell and the clouds closed in.

We’d had enough of unpaved roads, so raced a quick eight kilometres to Quedlinburg and dried off in the hostel where we were the only guests.

Heading east things change. More cobbles, less fluent English - in our case the need for more, though still less fluent German - a feeling that the area is still playing catch-up with the rest of Germany. But the food was a heart y and well-prepared as ever and all the people we met very friendly.

Quedlinburg is another town that had its hey-day int eh middle-ages. The narrow cobbled streets and the glorious array of timber-framed buildings is a wonderful sight, even in drizzle. Wandering can be recommended. Not that it is a backwater now, but it had a real wet Sunday evening feel to it. So we found a bar ….

Seventy-eight miles and nearly as many litres of water in our boots. A fine day, when chance had taken us to places we would not have planned to go to. Whilst the cloud stymied any views of the Harz Mountains, the cameo of shepherd and flock will stick in the memory. And what is left to say about the unknown camp, a mere satellite of Buchenwald?

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