Giving young people the opportunity to experience the biggest adventure of their life!
About 30 years ago, two zis scholarships helped me to broaden my horizon, expand my understanding of what is possible, and develop more self-confidence. zis is a non-profit organization that has been awarding scholarships for study trips to young people between the ages of 16 and 20 for more than 60 years. Today, the word we use for tenacity and grit is resilience - and I've made it my profession, to help managers around the world to develop more of this inner power.
In retrospect, the experiences I've had on these trips to Scotland and Iceland have been priceless for my development. After having had a childhood with some challenges, I learned that I could cycle 1,700km on my own and get wet every day without despairing. I have learned that I was able to get along with only 300 € for 4 weeks and still had a good time. I have learned what it's like to be threatened with deportation and how to get an interview with the President from such a crisis. I have understood that limitations are primarily constructs in our heads, and I want to make these insights available to as many adolescents as possible.
Saying “good bye” from the people at the Friedenshof is always hard. A part of me usually wants to stay longer. However, around 10 am I was on the road again heading South towards Göttingen were Kara, my eldest daughter, is staying with her boyfriend.
The road took me along the river Leine through Hannover and couple of rather uninspiring little places. Also, it was raining a bit and there was draining headwind for a while. I did not cover much ground during most of the day.
Only in the evening the weather improved and the landscape became prettier as the small river Leine was meandering beautifully through a green valley.
Finally, I was able to complete 135 km by 8:30 pm and still found a camping site with some food on offer. The place is close to an Autobahn and has almost no even spot since it is on the side of a hill. But who cares?
Three other cyclist from Oberstdorf and Ulm were very interested in my project and my bike setup and we started chatting. Later, we had a beer together and did some shop talk around gear, equipment and other stuff.
I was waking up to constant rain which did not come unexpected. However packing up in the rain is never great fun.
I attempted to dry my tent and followed the invitation of Sabine for a yummy breakfast in a dry place.
Then I headed off into the rain for the remaining little stretch to the peace farm (“Friedenshof”) in Niedernstöcken. If you want to learn more about this community: http://www.friedenshof.org
I know this place since 30 years and have spent a lot of time up here over the years. Even if it was a significant detour of 150km it would have felt wrong not to come by.
I arrived around noon and immersed myself instantaneously into the calm, mindful and caring atmosphere of this place. The garden is so beautiful and rich with herbs and flowers and it is great to see the advancements of the revamping of the barn.
Bärbel & Karsten as well as Monika & Jan have become friends and acquaintances over the many years and it was good to have a bit of time for catching up.
I started late into the day. Detlef and Sabine as well as their friends, who were all traveling by kaiak, wanted to know much more about zis and my fundraising project. It was a very good and inspiring exchange of thought and experiences.
Unfortunately, I had also been stung by a bee the day before. As a result, my left arm felt hot, swollen and was hurting. I had hardly slept during the night
I left the river Elbe and was heading towards Celle now. That is a significant detour but I wanted to meet old friends at the “Friedenshof”, a community that tries to establish a different way of living.
The road was uninspiring but always had a cycling path. I have to acknowledge however that I am spoiled by now, thinking back to the awesome and beautiful landscapes the weeks before. So I listened to a good audio book to distract my mind (“Zero”, a thriller on digital surveillance playing in a near future).
I arrived late in Celle at a camping site called “Silbersee”. The place looked like one of the places I had come across in Eastern Germany. A bit run down, mostly empty but really beautiful as such. I started chatting with the owners, Thomas and Sabine, over a late Pizza at the bar. It turned out that they bought the place 1.5 years ago from the city of Celle. The place was mostly avoided by tourists at that time. Much rather, refugees, people living on social aid and former inmates of the nearby prison had been placed here for many years in abandoned trailer cars and huts.
Even today, over 40 people live here with permanent residence. I was not even aware that those trailer parks actually also existed in Germany. I only knew of them from the US.
Since I was really tired and suffering a bit because of my arm, I went to bed early.
Did I talk about “zis-luck” already? These are instances were zis-scholars experience unexpected and unlikely help by total strangers in difficult situations. Today was my big day of zis-luck.
The day started with some necessary bike maintenance. Especially the chain drive needed some love.
Then I headed off to find the “green ribbon trail”, i.e. the former inner German border. That wasn’t so easy to find and it took me some time.
Some younger locals who I asked had never heard of it. Matter of fact, the former border is invisible in some places, especially in towns.
Then I found the first landmarks in a forest: A memorial site for Michael Gartenschläger who had been shot in 1976 by GDR border police when he was trying to dismantle an automated gun that should keep GDR citizens from fleeing.
About 60,000 of these devices were installed alongside the border. The funnel was filled with TNT and metal shrapnels. It was triggered by a wire when somebody tried to climb over the five meter high fence. GDR officials always denied the existence of this weapons. Only after Gartenschläger had brought one as evidence, the officials had to confess their existence. Pretty shocking
At Boizenburg I was supposed to meet the river Elbe again. I had cycled the beautiful Elbe already earlier on this tour in Meissen and Dresden. I cycled up a hill when my chain drive suddenly made “crrrk ” and was ruptured. I chatted with Peter, my mechanic at home. We found out that I was missing the necessary tool to fix it. Meanwhile I had reached “Checkpoint Harry”, a former border crossing.
I asked two locals who were waiting for their meal in a nearby restaurant if they knew of a tool shop nearby. Mike, who works for Sensient Food Colors, immediately picked up his phone and called the owner of a bike shop he knew. He said “get your bike in the car, I will drive you over”. Within ten minutes, we were at the bike shop and my chain drive was taken care off. A great example of zis-luck.
Then, I followed the Elbe and met Paul, a young guy from Dortmund who was cycling up the Elbe. He wanted to know about zis and we started chatting.
We had amazing tailwind and despite the time lost because of my glitch I was still able to do 138 km.
At Dömitz, I did grocery shopping and was still able to make it onto the camping site.
Over “dinner”, I met Sabine and Detlef. Sabine had been politically active in East Berlin while Detlef was from West Berlin. They had fallen in love despite of the border in between. Both were observed, imprisoned and bullied by the Stasi (GDR secret service) before and even after Sabine’s Emigration 1984 to West Germany. They told me their heartbreaking story and it got really late.
Before I start, I would like to highlight the sponsors of the zis-fundraising-Tour 2020. Due to Corona, many companies refrained from any superfluous financial commitments. However, two companies did support me nonetheless:
BikeAge, Bammental (thanks to Peter “Steel-Pete” Reinhard they have sponsored my Böttcher Randonneur bike)
BearingPont, Frankfurt (thanks to Partner Jürgen Lux the longest standing sponsor since 4 yeats).
Thank you very much for all your great support.
In the morning, I had met Nicole from Mainz. She had hiked up the former inner German border over three months. Very impressive and she could give me some good tips for the next section of my tour.
Then I started pedaling to Travemünde alongside the most beautiful coastline of the Baltic Sea.
There I met Lars, an old friend whom I know sine 20 years or so. He had come down from his family vacation on Fehmarn to accompany me for a day. Together, we started cycling southbound.
The great thing with old friends like Lars, is that you can always reconnect effortlessly whenever and wherever you meet.
Together, we took the ferry over the Trave, cycled through Lûbeck and later through Razeburg.
Then we met Elisabeth and her husband at the Krebssee, a beautifully hidden lake near Mölln. Elisabeth is a member of the zis Jury and as auch also a mentor for young zis scholars.
We chatted a bit, enjoyed coffee and cake and then enjoyed a swim in the refreshing and crystal clear lake water. Thank you, Elisabeth, for your invitation and for showing us this wonderful spot. It is a true gem.
Later, Lars and I cycled to the nearby village Gudow where we found two available rooms in a recreation home of the fire brigade Hamburg and a nice restaurant in the neighborhood.
It was a good thing to spend the day together with Lars and catch up. Let’s hope that we find time for the next joint tour soon.
After breakfast, it was time to say “good bye” again. Carolin went off to her ferry to Denmark where she will meet Dörte and Androsch again for a short vacation. I went off, following the coastline to Boltenhagen near Lübeck.
I felt sad and alone for a while, but eventually the beauty of the Baltic coastline made me feel better again.
Rostock was the first city on my trip which did not seem to suffer or bleed out. It felt more Nordic than Eastern. The city is in good shape, there are loads of young folks, people have work and the overall atmosphere is positive.
All places westbound of Warnemünde are very touristic and crowded and could also be anywhere at the North Sea. At least, there is something going on.
I found a very nice and really humongous camping site directly by the in Boltenhagen. You can hear the waves and the sea gulls. Instantaneously, I got an emotional high when I arrived, something I never get in a 5 star hotel. Interesting, isn’t it. That reminds me of a line from a Bon Jovi song “You can get the boy off the road, but not the road from the boy”.
Somewhere here was the most Northern part of the former inner German border. Tomorrow, I will find out more. Also, I will meet an old friend and have a stop over at a new friends place.
Today was a bit of a will test. I needed to get from Anklam to Rostock because my wife Carolin was arriving there in the afternoon so that we could celebrate her birthday together. I started super early and was on the bike by 7:45 am. The first bit to Greifswald was still ok despite of the headwind. But then it started to rain cats and dogs. To make things worse the road on the remaining 40km to Stralsund consisted to 95% of cobblestones GDR-style. This was a true endurance test for man and material. I was soak, wet and tired.
After Stralsund was reached, I boarded a train and arrived in Rostock just in time to meet Carolin at the train station.
Interestingly, my Brooks handlebar tape dyed my hands during the rain.
After some very necessary laundry work and a warm shower, we had a lovely evening together at the Rostock harbor.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate Carolins birthday in Rostock. This will also be my first day off the bike since 11 days.
Today was adventure day. I got to “work” around 9am after some nice chats with my tent neighbors. all cyclists.
Then I went to Schmagerow, a tiny place where two colleagues, Anne and Hannes, live. They had invited me to stay over but now where traveling somewhere else because I am ahead of schedule. At least I wanted to see there beautiful place.
Then I wanted to find the Oder-Neiße bike path again. Sound easy, but in this area the path no longer follows the river Oder and is also not too well prepared. So, I managed to miss it and found the German Polish border instead – in the middle of nowhere.
My bike on the picture is partially in Germany and partially also in Poland.
The problem was, that there was no path. Not even a little one. So, at one point I decided to drag my bike through a kilometer of pathless forest to find a road on the Polish side. Great idea, very energy consuming though.
After cycling some distance on the Polish side, I crossed the border again and came to Blankensee were I found some cyclist taking a break with beer and water offered spontaneously by a local. Turns out, this was the former mayor of this place – and he had a lot of stories to tell. We also had enough time since a thunderstorm forced to seek shelter in a barn.
To work on my prejudices, I also asked him for his opinion on Saxonians vs people from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. He said “yes, they have a funny accent, but if Saxonians would be living here, this area would be thriving because they are more driven and more risk taking”. That’s quit a statement, I found.
I continued my tour on the Oder-Neiße-Trail and reached its end in Ueckermünde. What you can see in the background is the Stettiner Haff.
Then I continued cycling to Anklam to the shores of the river Pene. However, the camping site in the harbor area was already closed. However, there was a small unofficial camp spot next door which invited me in. Turned out, it was much nicer and even offered nice chats with friendly people and a bottle of beer. The host asked me to share his contact information in case somebody wants to camp in Anklam. I can recommend it. 5€ per night. New record low!