11 June 2011

The Lost Weekend and Transharz V

The Lost Weekend is not only the title of an old Hollywood movie from the Forties that I never saw AND the title of a LP by the Monochrome Set that I never liked (because it was so much inferior to the predecessor "Eligible Bachelors") but also it wasn't a weekend that I lost: to be precise,  the last one. In total I rode more than 390 km on my bike.

89KM

Thursday was a national holiday "Ascension Day" in Germany, also known as "Father's Day". A more appropriate name would be "Tube Puncture Day" or "Father Annihilation Day", but I come to the point shortly. To understand the full context, I have to  first inform the readers of this international blog that do not know the customs of Northern Germany in detail.  Unlike people from other nations who gather in solid buildings that provide solid shelter, to drink substantial amounts of alcohol, people from Bremen prefer to walk through the countryside and drink beer, in particular during winter time. This custom is known as "Kohlfahrt" and large amounts of beer are required to endure the view of the rather dull countryside. Consequently, laked amounts of beer need to be transported and that is done by means of hand carts. A typical example of a hand cart is shown below.


The hand cart also functions as some kind of broom wagon in case one or more of the particpants lost their ability to walk during the process of the Kohlfahrt. In that unfortunate but rather common case, they can be stowed in the cart. So whether consumed already or not, the beer doesn't leave the hand cart for longer periods during the event.
 
During Father's Day large groups of Bremen's male population gather with or without hand carts at the embankment of the Wümme river and stroll along as far as they can get (about 37 meters). Unfortunately that was also the road I had selected for my Thursday ride. Within 17 meters riding on the road there my front tire exploded with a loud bang. I do not recall the number of glass shards I had to remove from the Schwalbe Ultremo ZYX tire, but the work was similar to that of a surgeon that removed the shrapnels of a hand grenade from the body of an injured soldier. Moreover the exchange tube that I had so thoughtful packed in my gear was pre-punctured so I rode back on my bike to my home rather slowly.

As it was already late, I didn't want to exchange the tube again, so I swapped my white Swiss DT front wheel with my high flanged Maillard hubs wheel from the Seventies, a rather odd choice for my modern looking Faggin bike. But which turned out to be fine.

And then I headed out again to the river Wümme, this time joining the embankment further up North hoping to bypass the mobile party. After passing a brawl that ended in some bloody noses, encountering a fair share of broken bottles along the road and seeing many drunks on bikes, with a beer bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I finally arrived at a "normal" street with "normal" traffic. But before that I was offered a beating when I called one drunken guy that passed the road without looking an "Asshole" and two random bystanders took offense as they thought (and liked to thought as well) that I was talking to them. The mood was hot.

From there onwards riding was fun again. I made the usual tour through Wormswede, but I stayed in the 140 HRM range in order to built up some stamina. Unfortunately some fathers do not only think that getting drunk is a good idea, but also believe that driving home afterwards is an even better one. I almost witnessed a traffic accident just in front of me when one car overtook another one on the open road and the overtaken car suddenly decided to make a left turn (we ride on the right side of the road in Germany). Squeaking tires, the smell of burned rubber...but luckily nothing serious happened.

Anyway, that was a good and solid ride.

71 KM


Friday was a normal workday, so the remains of fathers were already removed from the roads when I started to ride around noon. Again the weather was beautiful and warm. This time I rode to Fischerhude first, then to Quellkhorn and in direction Worpswede before I made a left turn in direction Timmersloh. In the meantime I had repair my DT Swiss front wheel and I told Kaipi that I would join his spontaneous Harz Tour the next day. So I took it very easy again and returned via Timmersloh and through the fields and pastures to Fischerhude and Bremen. On one of the small agricultural roads towards Bremen, I encountered the larger version of the "Handwagen". That is a moving pub pulled by a tractor for those groups that expect that everybody will get drunk and nobody will be left to pull the hand cart. Two girls on horses where riding behind the trailer as well, as they were not able to overtake it.
But at one point, where the road was not fenced off on both sides, they took the opportunity, put spurs to their horses and galloped on the green sidestrip, overtaking trailer and tractor. The earth was shaking under the hooves of their horses. That was really impressive. Again I was home early after a much enjoyable ride.

170 KM

The next day I woke up early and met Kai at Bremen Station to catch the train to Hannover and Goslar at 7:19 AM. Since I haven't ridden in Japan for quite a while it was the first time that I got up that early for a bike tour. Germany is blessed in summer with daylight until 9:30 PM and later. I had met Kai the first time when we rode the Bremen Bike Marathon 210 km in May this year. He was able to hang out with the lead group until the end while I had to give up after about 130-140 km. He had posted on the clubs forum one day before, looking for riders to join his trip to the "Harz" and I had spontaneously said yes. Some hours later, when thinking the whole thing over, I realized that a) the Harz inlcudes some mountains and b) that I have sold my Cervelo bike some time ago and that I do only posses the Faggin bike for competitive riding (I have a large amount of bikes for non-competitive riding hidden in my garage as well). The Faggin bike however, has no front derailleur and only one chainring. Needless to say that it is not a compact crank but a standard one equipped with a 52 chain ring. Perfect for Bremen. Not so perfect for mountains. But as I had said yes already and I thought: "Hm, this will get hard but afterwards you can write a lot of nice stories about your stupidity" I decided to go along and join the Harz tour.

The most famous people I ever met were Günther Netzer (He was sitting in the seat in front of me in a Lufthansa plane) and Calle del Haye, a former soccer player of my home town club. In 1986 I was eating with my friend Peter and his girlfriend Kirsten at a restaurant in Aachen. We were placed with other guests along a long table and they were sitting on the other side of the table. Peter handed my a piece of paper on which he had written:

<----- CALLE DEL HAYE

I have to explain that Peter always made strange jokes, so I thought that would be another one. So after reading the note I said loudly "What's that fucking shit about this asshole Del Haye (at this time del Haye was playing for Fortuna Düsseldorf. He was the black sheep in a very poor team that was relegated at the end of the season)?" Peters eyes led me to my direct neighbor on the left. Needless to say, it was Calle del Haye and his wife.

Apart from that I almost met Verona Feldbusch in Japan after she visited the school of my kids.

But this is nothing against the kind of people that Kai was able to met in his life so far. Please have a close look at the below photo that was taken in 1983 during the blockade of the Mutlangen US base during the protests against nuclear weapon armament in Germany. 
Yes, this were the good old times during the cold war, where we had clear ideas who our enemies (US army) and who our friends (US army) were. Here we can see the late 1972 nobel laureate Heinrich Böll on the very left and later German prime minister candidate Oskar Lafontaine in typicial Rodin thinking posture. And guess who that good looking guy in white Addidas sport shorts in the background is? Right, this is Kai with his friends Peter, Andi and Siggi. Wow, that is something.

Kai used to grow up and live in Stuttgart but had moved to Bremen 20 years ago. Within this time period he was able to fairly adapt to the lifestyle and humour of Northern Germany, which provides a shining example of what I am supposed to do.

We jumped on the train that was fairly on time and we were joined by a group of young Nazi skinheads that were probably on their way to a different training camp in the area.(club name: "steel tempest").

When we arrived in Goslar memories from the cold war popped up in my head again. The area there used to be right on the border to former East Germany. In order to stop a possible rapid advance of Warsaw Pact tanks, the NATO decided in the fifties to built a formidable obstacle along the border line in form of an artificial mountain range that was codenamed "HARZ", an abbreviation for "Heartland Armed Resistance Zentre".  This shouldn't be mixed up with an obstacle against good taste called "Peter Hartz".


The construction activities continued for almost 40 years. Some of the obstacles were rather small in scale.

But others were rather big, so big that they were called "Großer Brocken" (eg. "Big Chunk") and reached 1.140 elevation meters.

Construction activities were stopped in 1990 after German reunification and what remains today of the whole area are the closest "mountains" to Bremen (only 2 hours or more away) and a population that is mostly drunk and enjoys mining tunnels.

Kai and me rode all days through the Harz. We rode up, he with his compact crank and me with the 52/28 setup. We rode down on long descents, reaching more than 70 km/hr. We rode on roads and we rode on gravel roads. We had some cakes in a cafe and some more food at a gas stand but otherwise we didn't took any long breaks and rode our bikes. It was very intense. I had about one hour more riding time than Kai at the end of the day as he had to wait fequently on top of the mountains for me to arrive. I didn't gave up on any climbs but it was hard to turn the crank. So I crunched my way up on the slopes by brute force.
Kai and me in front of the traditional Harz photo spot (since 2011)
In order to spread fear and respect in the Harz area I decided to wear my original Japanese Champion 2008 jersey from the JCRC. At least I was much impressed by myself.
But I doubt that any of the many, many motorbike riders noticed anything. They are so annoying, a real pest.

I tried to expain to Kai that my bike has a gold chain, gold jockey wheels, gold chain ring screws and other gold accessories as a homage to Rene Weller, one of the coolest guys in the universe.

1 Rene Weller, also known as "Handsome Rene", wasn't only a very successful boxer, pimp, and con artist. No he was also a fantastic singer almost as good as David Hasselhoff. And he has once said something really cool and intelligent, something that is so beautiful in style that i can only be said in German:

"Ich bin immer oben. Und wenn ich unten bin ist unten oben."


170 km and more than 2.200 levation meter later we were back in the train to Bremen where we arrived after a long day at 10:30 PM. Out of the 15:30 hrs we had spend more than 5 hours in the train, about 8 hrs on the bike and the rest was breaks and waiting. Proving the weather is good, we will do it again next weekend.

61 KM

On Sunday after receiving Harz V I could hardly move and I wasn't at all in the mood to ride my bike. However, I had an appointment with my former girlfriend MFG0006. Just like the musical pieces of Johann Sebastian Bach are numbered from BWV0001 to BWV1128 (Bach Works Register) I decided to code former girlfriends by MFG numbers (My Former Girlfriend). As MFG0014 became my wife, the usage of three leading zeros seems to be a bit optimistic. But hey, one has to be prepared for the exciting things that might happen in one's life. Look at Lemmy from Motorhead for example.

After separating 26 years ago in Düsseldorf, MFG0006, also known as "Jutta" has decided to settle, among all place, in Bramstedt, which is somewhat close to Bremen. To be precise it is between Bassum and Syke. She had invited my for strawberry tart so I rode the 30 km down to Bramstedt in the heat. It was almost too hot to sit outside.  5 hours later I was on the road again riding home with the additional weight of strawberries in my stomach.
Time for a nice Rollo, I thought. This was really a very intensive weekend that was made possible by my family deciding to stay in Berlin and focus on figure skating. One more time and I shall be on good shape for the Transalp. So watch out for Transharz VI.

3 comments:

David L. said...

MOB: Thank you for the report. Great that you found some hills (3 meters higher than Kazahari Pass!) and a training partner. Now if you can just get an inner chain ring you will be ready for Transalp.

I was reading recently that Germany is now more energy efficient than Japan, on a "GDP per unit of energy" basis, which surprised me a bit. Now that I see all the beer being pulled by handcarts, I can understand why.

In Japan, not only is the beer conveyed by shinkansen, but the bottles open themselves automatically, and then even the toilet into which the beer flows eventually has an electric seat raiser/lowerer/warmer, handsfree flush, etc. Japan will need to change, post-Fukushima.

As for scaring the Germans with your JCRC champion's jersey, I think you should try it again with different bib shorts. Even if your NFCC shorts are the most comfortable, since when are Germans afraid of something French? Or maybe you should wear the farewell autographed Israeli jersey?

Finally, in reading your report of visiting the former girlfriend(s), I was reminded just a little bit of the Bill Murray movie "Broken Flowers" ... have seen it?

Saturday AM here heavy rain and very humid ... but it may dry later, so I hope I can get to the real Kazahari (well to Tomin-no-mori at least), for my final training ride.

Manfred von Holstein said...

Entertaining as always, at least to someone who knows the German language and political developments. Glad to know you finally got some decent miles into your legs in preparation for the TransAlp, and even discovered something resembling mountains (what's the highest pass there? 800m?). Two hours on a train is not so bad when you know how to use this time productively. Of course being with a bunch of skinheads may be less fun. I'm glad I'm usually taking trains in Japan, not Germany. And I'm also glad I hail from the south of Germany where public beer drinking happens in a more civilized fashion, usually without broken glass, certainly not on the road. So when do you finally get to practice with your new bike??

mob said...

Thanks David and Ludwig for the comments. The highest point in the Harz is the mountain "Grosser Brocken" and you can actually ride to the very top as a telcom tower is located there.

I will ride there again the weekend before Transalp with some of the newly found riding buddies from Bremen.

It takes two hours by high speed train (IC) to the Harz from Bremen, but with local trains it is 2.5 hours - one way. This has the advantage that up to 5 persons can travel for about 1.700 Yen the whole day. Five hours in the train is long nevertheless. Al least that was my impression. Next time I will bring something to read, perhaps "Competitve advantage of Nations" by Michael Porter.
Then I may sleep for 2 hours in a row.

The story of my former girlfriend is a long an complicated one, much more complicated than broken flowers. And it is a somewhat happy ending. I may tell you the next time we meet.

Everything else by e-mail.