12 July 2000
The hiking trip to east Germany down the Bekannt (famous) Rennsteig trail was all and more than we expected.
The Bavarian forest is supposed to be very nice as are the forest around Vienna Austria but alas We stumble across the Thuringia forest. This is an area that until recently was all behind the Wall.
Sue works with a woman who grew up in this area and last year sent us to her home town to buy glass Christmas ornaments. It was very beautiful and different from the parts of Germany we have already seen. So off I go looking for a book or guide map to this area and that is when I discovered the Rennsteig. This is a path that is 168 kilometers long and all along it are border markers from ancient lands and kingdoms that no longer exist but the markers are still there. So this now turns into a must do for us. So Sue is talking to her friend and she gets all excited about the fact that we even know what the Rennsteig is let alone are planning on hiking it. She then tells us that to do it right you need to accomplish it in five days. She made the same hike 5 years ago and said it was hard but worth it. She also explains that when you start you pluck a stone out of the River Werra and you carry it with you all the way for inspiration and at the completion of the trip you throw it into the River Salle. One more thing she says is that on the third day she took her stone from her pocket and cursed it because she was so tired. A sign of things to come?
Now we need to find a way to get to the trail head and then to get back to Nurenberg. This rules out the car since we will end up over 100 miles from where we started. So off to get a train ticket. Saturday with train ticket in hand back packs on with all we would need for five days we were off.
So back to the hike. Day one we take a short train ride to the trail head.(we had taken the train to Eisenach the day before) When we get off the train at this little station we are the only ones there. A man leans out of the train window as the train pulls away and wishes us luck. He knows what we are up to and his words psych us up to accomplish our goal. So down to the river to get our stone and then the first step of our five day journey. The landscape is beautiful and it is a slow steady climb throughout the day. We have lunch at a nice gausthaus and stop twice for coffee along the way. we are truly rookies as we will find out. Now it is starting to get late, around 5pm. we have a final big hill to climb and it is very steep and our legs are cooked. Up we go and when we make it we are exhausted and a light cold rain starts to fall. Now we are at the end of day one yet we are on a hill in the woods. where do we sleep? There is a tourist shop up here but other than that all we see is woods and the light rain is now picking up. I would be lying if I did not admit that self doubt now was more than creeping into our minds. We were pretty sure we had bit off more than we could chew. Alas you have no choice to suck it up and push on down the trail. Lucky for us in about 15 minutes we find a house and it looks as though they may rent out rooms as well as have dinner. So in we go and ask the question we were to get good at. Zimmer Frei? this means do you have a room for the night. The answer was in German and it was JA!!! So we then were asked weather we wanted it with or without a bathroom. We opted to spend the big bucks and go for the bathroom. Forty dollars with a real nice breakfast to boot. The room was light and airy and we felt pretty good but really tired. We ate dinner at this house and then watched a little of the soccer matches and then crashed.
We wake up early the next day and start off for day two. A light rain starts and stops and the temperatures are in the high fifties. Not at all what we expected with the prior week being in the 90's. We walk with a little more determination this day because we have some concept of how long the day will get. Lunch is a problem because this part of the hike goes through no small villages and is primarily forest. We are carrying some stuff to eat so we stop for lunch at a nice table in the woods and eat while a rather chilly wind blew around us. We are feeling pretty good about our adventure and how we are doing. The end of the day wen stay in a town called Oberhof. this is one of the biggest towns we will see all week. Population 2500. So off to find the Zimmer Frei. As luck would have it we find a place very Quickly again a very nice room with a sitting area looking into a beautiful back yard. This town had a few real hotels but we liked staying in this type of place better. We found a grocery store in this town. Most towns we walked through had no stores. Really zero none just houses and a road. I guess it takes awhile to build from communism to capitalism. We ponder when the Wall Mart will open and are pretty happy that we are here while wall Mart is not. The other kool thing about this town is that it is a training grounds for winter sports like cross country Biathlon, bob sledding, and ski jumping. the whole area we are hiking is big into these types of sports but this one looks like a base area. Included with all this is a great indoor outdoor swimming complex. This comes also with whirlpools. Now what more could our legs need than a whirlpool. so off we go and try to decipher how to get in and what we need to pay. The place is really very modern. We sit in the hot tub and I am eyeing this very kool slide thing. It is really just this long chute that takes you out side and through waterfalls and then dumps you back indoors in the pool. I go for it and have never laughed so hard in my life. It really just whips you along like a piece of wood in the rapids. You have zero control and I guess that is what makes it so much fun. Now I need to talk Sue into it not an easy task but I win and she goes for it. A hear a lot of screaming before I see her body deposited into the pool. Oh well nice diversion but we have a mission to complete so back to our room for some much needed rest.
Day three is sunny but also very kool, we decide that even though it is staying almost cold it is better than heat for the task we have set out for. Now this day has us the most concerned about where we might stay at the end of the day. There only appears to be one small town where we will be at the end of the day and the population is 900. Hope that at least one of those 900 has a Zimmer Frei. Well, we put that out of our minds for now and put one foot in front of the other and push off. we are really in a pattern now of getting up putting on our packs and just enjoying the woods and the scenery as well as reading the signs on the path depicting the history of the area. We are really tired at lunch time and this concerns us because this is to early to start feeling fatigued. Lunch does revive us and off we go with the prior mentioned small town as our destination. As the day wears on we start to feel really tired. We are dragging when we enter Masserburg and just praying for a room with a good meal. The funny thing about this town is that amongst all the small blue gray houses (all houses in east Germany are the same color of what we call gray and they call blue) is this very garish large building that kind of resembles the Denver airport design. This turns out to be the Cure. To describe this is a little lengthily but basically it is a place Germans go that is a hospital slash vacation place. Very strange with lots of people with canes and wheel chairs and a hospital connected to hot baths, movie theaters and restaurants. This is not a place we are welcomed or want to be. We do find a house with a room. this is a little different from other places in that we are the only guest and you have to walk basically through these peoples living room to get up to our room. The woman ask us what time we want breakfast and do we drink coffee or tea. Again a nice room with a sitting area off it. No place here for dinner but she recommends a friends place. Nice little restaurant with good food and beer. The next morning down for our breakfast in a room right off the kitchen. Just the two of us and our table was set with the usual bread meats and cheese with a couple of yogurts. Very nice and now off for day four but not before we congratulate ourselves on being very worldly by finding rooms and places to stay in these small villages for the last three nights. This is starting to feel really neat backpacking the small towns of Europe and more precisely the small towns of the former East Germany.
Day four is an interesting day because our map says we only need to go about 13 miles instead of the usual 20 or more. This would be good news except it then has day five listed as over 25 miles the longest yet. Sue's friend recommended that we push a little further on day four to make day five less strenuous great idea but there is a problem. There does not appear to be anywhere to stay overnight in the 20 mile area. We push on pass the recommended stopping point anyway. We are getting more tired earlier everyday now but we are over half way and this makes us push on. When the day is nearing an end or at least our legs are saying they can go no further we find this little town Spechtsbrunn , 600 inhabitants. So into town we go looking foe Zimmer Frei. We run into a Gausthaus but it is closed. Now we know we are in trouble but down the road with all these little gray houses is a small pension and they have a room as well as a small restaurant. So we find ourselves in another very airy well lite room with a kind of modern air to it. We then go out to walk the town a little and we run into the proprietor of our Pension. She is buying Bratwurst from a truck that just pulled up. Once again there are no stores in this town. we then head back to the pension and order a beer. At this point we are the only people in the place. Then the first of the Stammtisch come in. this concept of Stammtisch is all throughout Germany and in a lot of restaurants you will see tables with a Stammtisch sign on it. This means regulars only. We of course knew not to sit at this table. Now when the first Stammtisch shows up he says Guten tag and then knocks on our table. We think this is weird but say Guten tag back and go back to sipping our beers. then the next Stammtisch comes in and the same thing happens including the knocking on our table. This goes on all night and we learn that this is some sort of custom at least in this town. Now we are ready to order dinner and I ask for the menu. The guy tells me there is no menu we are having Bratwurst and sauerkraut for dinner. Remember the lady at the truck? So we decide our choice is indeed Bratwurst and sauerkraut. Then off to bed and get ready for one last day.
It then starts to get late in the afternoon and every bone in our bodies start to hurt. every step seems harder and the kilometers are ticking off slowly. We are within 5 miles and we are not sure we are going to make it. we stop just three miles from the end for a couple of salads and some water and then push on. It seemed to take for ever but then there it was Blankenstein and the River Salle. We literally limped into town and down to the river and threw our stones in.
So now we are home and our bodies are recuperating and just as in all feats like this one the parts were we were tired and a little scared start to fade and only the good moments last and like good wine they get even better with time.
Since then we have seen 4 great concerts. It is Nurenbergs 950 birthday and it is being celebrated all year. So we saw a great open air free Symphony concert Sunday night. Then on Monday we saw a great jazz show followed by a really weird but neat Blues or something from Sandy Dillion. The a friend arrived that works with Sue in the states and we went to the Orgel fest. (organ) at saint Sebald complete with symphony and a large choir. On Saturday the Marienbachs arrived and we all went to the country side for a nice Bavarian style lunch, followed by a short wander. Then off to visit some sites and finish the day up on the Roddelbahn. this is a bobsled run done on sleds with wheels. You can really get moving on the high banks if you let yourself. The Marienbachs will be here for the week and we are looking forward to really enjoy what may well be their last trip to our house or at least to our house in Europe.
Abenteuer in Deutschland