65 Cycling the Danube
Part 2 – Cycling the Danube – Passau to Vienna
The exit from the city was spectacular. Along the cobbled street down to the strongly flowing Inn River then along its bank, through a pepper pot watch tower to the point at which the three rivers met. The flooding Inn water was dirty brown with silt from the Austrian highlands. It was a stark contrast to the deep green of the Danube. Spires, steeples and clock towers rose behind us as we pedaled across a suspension bridge to the north bank. A long luxury tour boat slowly pushed upstream against the current. The old castle brooded in mist on the steep hill above.
Our cycle path ran between the river and the road. This section between Passau and Vienna is reputed to be the most popular cycle route in Europe and therefore probably the world. It was a Sunday, the end of the local’s holidays, and beautiful weather, but we were still surprised by the numbers on the trail with us. Race trainers sped past. E bikers floated by with enviably little effort. Touring groups came as individuals, couples, pairs and groups, young and old and all between. Day trippers from Passau had the pleasure of cycling out for a distance, luncheoning in a biergarten, crossing the river on a small ferry and then returning on the other side. The valley was deeper in this area. Forested slopes rose steeply on both sides.
45 km took us to our pre-booked gasthaus on the bank of the river. From our cool balcony above the hanging purple and pink geraniums we watched the world go by. Sleek tour boats, speedboats, an occasional long barge, puttering small ferries, water skiers, two sea kayakers, long timber craft of the locals and the stream of riders.
720 km marked the half way point of our whole cycle trip. This differed to the guidebook by about 100 km which was made up of extras we had done along the way. Bodies, bikes, interest, accommodation, weather, budget. Most aspects of the trip were going well. Except for the endless schnitzels and fries and identical salads.
Late in the night the room turned into a mosquito nightmare. Shut the windows and the heat built up. Head under the sheet, sweat runs down. Lights on we hunted them down one by one three times in the night before we could sleep relaxed.
City of young people
Rain overnight and somber clouds lent a clean softness to the river and the valley. Again the forested steeps rose on both sides. White swans in groups groomed and stately stroked the grey green water which reflected in its stillness. Small villages were passed on both sides but mostly we were alone with the river, the forest and the path.
In the afternoon rain pelted down as we coffeed in a backerei. Further along one group sheltered under a large sheet of plastic while nearby another group sheltered under the narrow eve of a covered Jesu shrine – ah the usefulness of religion.
Approaching Linz the bike path adjoined the edge of a highway for a fair distance. Traffic noise from the speeding cars and trucks assaulted our senses. Cath became a little shell shocked. As we picked our way through the trams and people throngs to our city hotel I was struck by the number of young people. Up until this point our journey had been mostly through small villages and in the “old town” sections of small Bavarian cities which probably had an over representation of older folk. This city seemed refreshingly young and vibrant in contrast. Unfortunately we’d miss the electronic arts festival with our side trip to Berlin for a few days for Cath to do a course for work.
65km for the day. 785km total.
Berlin (side trip)
Bassy music thrummed across Alexanderplatz as we exited the subway. A gentle buzz of people walking, sitting, chatting, hanging out, “chilling” through the late afternoon. Almost like a side stage to the main show of people round the huge, fountained, public square. No crowds of men in suits and women office attired hurrying home from work here. Warm in the sun. Heavily dreadlocked, tattooed, jewelled. The band of young men played out. A type of electronica folk with a deep, driving beat. Acoustic guitar, flute, singer/rapper/speaker and a guy playing a plastic ceramic didgeridoo shaped like some Celtic sea horse. Like the crowd I was captivated. The synthesised sound washed off the buildings. Amplified. Everyone was there, a couple of hundred had been drawn to the tunes and the spectacle. Mid song the voice went into a pitch about the illegality of what they were doing and what we as audience were doing as participant spectators in breaking the law against recreational noise in public places. It was music and entertainment he exhorted us to acknowledge and appreciate, not noise. The crowd cheered him on.
My filming was foregrounded by an older women in a burqa with her son. New Berlin, and Germany itself maybe following on behind, was showing itself to the world right there in “Alex”. The place that had been named after an emperor of Russia, was a major commercial centre and the heart of Berlin’s night life in the twenties, then separated into East Berlin during the Cold War before the climactic largest demonstration in East Germany during the “peaceful revolution” that precipitated the fall of The Wall in 1989. And the world watched on fascinated and interested. People of all colours
and persuasions, a real multikultur. I wondered about the softly approach of the authorities that let this music happen. Young people openly challenging the establishment. The government of the country trying to be good in the world, opening its borders to the Syrian refugees, closing its nuclear power stations and striving for renewables – we had cycled past a thousand biogas cornfields.
Earlier in the day we had walked across the now barren ground where between 1933 and 1945 the Nazi regime headquarters that housed the Gestapo and the SS had stood. Alongside a permanent exhibition outlines clearly the terrible impact on people and the world of WW2 Germany. Immediately following the war the Germans were traumatised, having been both perpetrators and victims. Unable to talk about their experiences they launched themselves into the economic miracle of post war Germany. In the 60’s, as more details of the holocaust became public through war crimes trials, sons and daughters rebelled, accusing their parents of being complicit in the war. The older generation, the same as my own parents, were “unable to grieve”. The children and grandchildren of the war may have intergenerational trauma. There may be similarities to my own family and my country on the other side of the war with parents unable to articulate their personal stories. Nearly every family in Australia at the time was touched by tragedy in the war but we in Australia don’t have to carry the guilt of perpetration.
From my seat on the edge of the fountain I looked out over the square at the world of mainly young people. I hoped that the Syrian asylum seekers found a safe home here, that the hard line right wing and neo nazis could be kept in check, that Germany could continue its efforts for good in the world. And that my own country could do some of the same.
The music played on as a firebreather added to the spectacle.
On a bike tour of the new Berlin next day we stopped outside a large, dilapidated brick building which now held the most famous techno club in the city. Opening sometime Saturday pumping parties lasted drug powered into Monday or Tuesday. The long weekends didn’t matter a lot to those without jobs. For lots of others it was a fly in for the weekend to Europe’s best scene then home to Stockholm, London or Dublin for work Monday morning. Bearheim. Apparently the best sound system in the world. Germany is the world centre for techno, trance, house, dance music. Nudity and sexual experimentation is welcomed – in the cavernous, dark, basement there are things that cannot be unseen once witnessed apparently. You wait for hours to get in and the bouncer doorman decides who passes through. It’s a big industry for the city, police are lenient with the drugs. Like “Brave New World” I wonder if this has an element of soma for the masses.
Whole, cool suburbs are plastered with graffiti art. Now the hippest suburbs have the best street art. The world’s top artists of their genre have been paid big money to fresco building facades and sides.
In a total one off for Berlin we cycled down the main strip of a major airport that had been recently decommissioned because it was a little small and situated in the city precincts. The government had anticipated selling off the land for development but couldn’t get past a militant crowd of thousands of protestors claiming it needed not to be changed and belonged to the people. So having been constructed by Hitler as the world’s best airport in 1936 to impress all visiting countries, having been used by the Nazi Luftwaffe during the war, then been a transit point for refugees from all over Europe at the end of the war, and then a distribution point for food and vital supplies during the early partition of the city, it is now a massive public park and recreation field, and the hangars are being used as a processing facility for thousands of refugees from Syria – kites of freedom in the wind sport section make a colourful welcome.
Some of the suburbs in the former East Berlin are now the places of choice – parks, multiculturalism, vibrant, lots of young people, old and comfortable feeling, very hipster. I wonder at what a grand vision socialism was – all with equal rights, access to housing, employment, health care, education, shared resources, sublimating one’s own needs to the common good – a shame that it didn’t work and was decimated by dictators, power, corruption. To stand next to the Wall, to touch it, to look at the paintings is to feel the power of people to grab the opportunity when the time is right to change the world. In 1989 the Wall was breached and torn down, then like dominos the countries in the eastern block all overpowered their communist masters in a peaceful revolution and the iron curtain just disappeared almost overnight.
Back on the bike – Part 2 continued
Darkness and Evil
Lynz to Arldaga.
Along the river out of Linz we passed a very large area of heavy industry – big smoke stacks, piles of coal.
We cycled and pushed uphill to the Mauthousen concentration camp memorial. For a time the Mauthousen Gusen complex had the harshest conditions of any in the concentration camp system. 90,000 people were murdered there through beatings, shooting, lethal injection, frozen to death or in the gas chamber. We walked through the international memorials and through the camp with deep sadness and shame that our species could have sunk so low. And the moral wrongs being committed now like our own Australian government’s torture and harsh treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore camps (as highlighted by UN and Amnesty International). The Nazi stealing of 200,000 children from Poland was the same as Australia’s “stolen generations” of indigenous children – at the same time and later – for the same racial reasons as part of the White Australia policy. The killing of inmates at concentration camps was similar to massacres and murders of aboriginal people in frontier Australia. There aren’t even many memorials in Australia to these massacres and murders, just a few place names like “Poison Waterholes Creek” and “Murdering Gully”.
Camaraderie on the trail
Arldaga Markt to Melk
A flat tire on Cath’s bike was traced to a tiny shard of stone worn into the tire. Another long day in heat through sections of boring pavement with no towns or change. We kept bumping into a nice group of yanks, who were having their luggage transferred to hotels at the end of each day, and also a Swedish couple who asked us “do Germans drink more beer than Australians?”
At Melk the famous Abbey had wonderful gardens and lots of tourists.
This section between Passau and Vienna was turning out to be not as good as the first section. We were finding the cycle path and signage in excellent condition but the touring not as interesting as the first section and a lot more crowded.
55 km (passed 900 in total)
Melk to Traismauer
A cool early start led us into the famous wine region – The Wacchau Valley – vineyards on steep slopes on both valley sides of the river valley. Old medieval towns of Durstein, Krems, Splitz – castle ruins on high rocky knolls, old church/forts, gated towns, perched on steep slopes above the river.
The riding was more interesting. Plums, grapes, wild fruit was at hand. The path was busy with day tripping cyclists and lots of river cruise boat tourists.
The afternoon was another in the series. Over 30 degrees C. In weather like this at home we probably wouldn’t go out for a cycle.
Another cool early start. We felt and thought we looked like cyclists, making good pace.
At 1,000 km we stopped to high five and photograph the bike computer. We were totally stoked to have covered such a distance and felt very proud of ourselves.
The Swedish couple caught up and we rode with them for a while chattering about cycling and our countries of origin. They had done a trip from home to Italy and back several years before and others that put our own 1000km into perspective. Achievements are relative. There is always someone out there who has gone further and done more than you.
While we morning teaed with the Swedes a New Zealand couple rode up and joined us. It turned out they had been riding and camping in Europe for 4 1/2 months and done 4,000+ km including Eastern Europe and Sicily in 40 degree heat. This was great international fun – smiling, laughing, sharing stories and tips and perspectives.
The afternoon was a long, hot grind into Vienna. Underneath circling, interweaving highways, past street art and on into the big city.
We slumped into our old world Viennese apartment with huge rooms and dated furniture.
70km, 1050km for the trip. End of stage 2
My bike needed a steering head repair and Cath’s needed a gear service.
Coloured images on concrete walls, graffiti art
Wild faces, fantasy and fantastical
In snapshots under freeways beside the Danube Canal
Cyclists flying – roadies, tourers, commuters
Apartment large grand from decades past
Like the inner city only centuries gone
Stone faced buildings line the streets
Museums, churches, town hall rathouse, parliament
Statues everywhere self-aggrandizing
Horse riding Franz, Eugen, Leopoldo imposing
Just a little silly now
Hofburg palace a grand show 700 years of ruling wealth
And the highest price for a WC
Famous Viennese cafes nice coffee grumpy staff
Tourists grouping walking everywhere
Mozart light and frilly trillies in a golden hall
Green cool park respite
Share the bench with Muslim family
Refugees most probably war at home
Kids smile and walk and play on paths and grass
Mum and dad watch the pigeons and their new countrymen and women
Such a long journey
To a new world
Time now ticks awfully slow
New jobs, friends, company, chatting, home, relatives
Takes so long
The cost of safety
Cool books coffee shop
Friendly waiter smiley makes a change
Vienna Boys Choir – flat, lacking childlike joi de vivre
Like child singing slaves in the old days
Recreated today not marching with the times
Thru the park – flak tower WW2 – “Never Again”