Greetings, dear reader. Thank you for your patience regarding this latest blog update, it has been a while, hasn't it? The last time I had published a post I was still in Leipzig and just about ready to join my friends at Wayste on tour throughout Germany. My oh my, much has gone on since then, and I'll do my best to describe my journey of hiking across Germany.
First and foremost, I do formally apologize for the delayed post, and I apologize for its quality. I'm going to type as fast as I can (I only have so many hours of Wi-fi here in Nemours and I know that Y'all deserve an update to my journey. So, moving onto the hike...
Hiking Across Germany Using the E3 Wanderweg
While it took me two attempts to walk across Germany (check out why over here), I suppose that it is only appropriate for me to describe what it is like to walk across all of Germany as if it were in one season.
After completing the hike in the Czech Republic, you as a hiker are presented with several hiking options. It turns out the E3 route splits off into different directions, and, just like those books that are popular amongst younger readers, it is up to you to choose your own adventure.
The Southern Route continues in the Czech mountains that border Germany, while the Northern Route takes you across the river Elbe and into Germany. I had made plans to meet some fellow hikers in Leipzig, but I was also warned that the mountains in the Czech Republic were covered in snow. Seeing how I wasn't prepared to hiking the snow back in the Czech Republic, I decided to take the Northern Route.
It is also worth noting, that I accidentally took the wrong hiking trail when entering into Germany. Turns out that the Czech Republic has several similar trail signs that resemble the E3, but are, in fact, not the E3. Because of my mistake, I ended up adding a few extra kilometers to the hike. While I typically think that I'm unlucky if I add more distance to my hike, my mistake did give me the chance to hike across the Saxon Switzerland National Park, which, by all means, was well worth the extra miles.
The Saxon side of Germany can be best summed up as dense forests, peculiar rock formation, and plenty of mountains. All in all, hiking in Saxony is by far some of my favorite hiking in Germany. It's not that the other regions in Germany are less beautiful, I just happened to enjoy the steep parts of Germany.
Once you enter Germany, you'll find yourself in a small town called Bad Schandau. From here you can take a train (or a bus) to Dresden, which is, by all means, a visit worth making. Bad Schandau is one of the many "nature towns," hence the title "Bad." The town is petite and well known among the people from the region, plus it is also home to an amazing castle on a hill.
After Bad Schandau, you will slowly start to make your way west. I was making this part of my journey in early November, which meant that the weather was cold and very wet. I did have some hours of sunshine during the walk, but I learned to rely on the act of walking to keep me warm. My hands were normally freezing cold, but sticking them under my armpits seemed to help. In hindsight, purchasing some hand warmers would have been a wise choice.
Because I doubt that most of you remember this tidbit that I mentioned in my post in January, I think that it's important for me to admit that I strayed away from the E3 for about 100 km of the hike. For those who don't remember, allow me to explain.
Back in Leipzig, I got into a bit of a bike crash after testing whether or not a bike could ride in the tram lane (as it turns out, no, you can't). Unfortunately for me, I had seriously damaged my shoulder (maybe a sprain, or a tear, not entirely sure) and was a serious amount of pain during my walk. Carrying a backpack with a broken frame was difficult enough, but when I added hiking up some serious mountains, I was utterly miserable.
I was lucky enough to have some Advil, but it wasn't enough to help me completely forget my shoulder. Because of the pain, I made a habit of avoiding the largest of mountains in Saxony in favor of less steep climbs. The hike was still challenging and beautiful, just not a legitimate part of the E3.
It is also worth mentioning that the German team who created the E3 really took their time and effort to lead the hiker on an amazing journey through their country. Every so often I was hiking to beautiful vistas, bizarre and ancient rock formation, memorials dedicated to the dead, and other fascinating sights. All the while hiking through some of the cleanest parks that I have ever seen. The Germans take pride in their Nature, and it certainly shows. I would even start to feel guilty if I threw some orange peels into the woods. Ah, ich liebe Deutschland.
One difficult aspect of walking across Germany is that finding places to camp is a bit of a challenge. Wild camping is strictly verboten in Germany, so you'll have to be discreet when scouting out a camp site. I usually was able to camp in the mountains or in the woods when I was far, far away from a village or a town, but the closer you are to civilization, the more likely you are to get caught by a citizen.
From my experience, most citizens that catch you are unamused and warn you about notifying the authorities. Luckily there were enough kindhearted folks who were willing to let me camp in their backyards or in a field, but not speaking German does make it difficult to be convincing. I've been told by other Germans that it's easy to wild camp, but I believe that it's much easier when you can talk your way out of trouble by using the native language.
While the E3 takes you through some amazing parts of the E3, I was a little disappointed by how much of the trail was paved. This isn't to say that there wasn't natural dirt or more biologically friendly trails in Germany, it's just that you will spend a significant amount of time walking on pavement, which means that your boots will start to fall apart much faster than normal, and your feet are going to be in greater pain. I was missing the hiking trail in Slovakia and even in Poland; paved streets were a rarity, now the pavement was becoming the norm.
While walking on pavement is not nearly as pleasant as walking on nature trails, there are a few benefits. First off, I hardly ever encountered stinging nettle or overgrown sections (dagnabit I hate that bloody nettle), which means you'll have time to focus on the nature around you rather than where to place your feet.
Another benefit is that pavement usually means that you have a direct way to walk into a town for supplies. After a certain point, I gave up on carrying kilos of food and instead would visit a supermarket to buy a cheap beer and enough food for the day.
A typical breakfast would usually be a pretzel, some coffee, and a piece of fruit. Lunch would be some meat and bread, maybe with some peanuts, dinner would be a can of chili or ravioli, a snickers bar, and a beer. I would occasionally treat myself to a schnitzel or to a full meal as a way of motivating myself during those difficult days of hiking. A beer was and still is, my main motivation to keep walking.
When you are walking across Germany, be sure to remember that the weekends are quiet. Friday night is the last proper night for going out in the small towns, which means that on Saturday families are preparing for Sunday, where not a single shop beside the gas stations are open. So, while I did say that I wasn't carrying much food on my back in Germany, I did have to resupply on Saturday to make sure that I wouldn't go hungry on Sunday. Restaurants are typically open on Sundays and closed on Mondays, but you won't necessarily be walking through villages that have a local restaurant, plus eating out or buying food from the gas station quickly becomes expensive.
Once you complete your hike in Saxony, the E3 will take you into Northern Bavaria, aka Franconia, only then to take you along the border of Franconia and Thuringia. The mountains are starting to get smaller, and the forests are changing in vegetation. I also noticed that were more birds as well. Granted, I entered Franconia in April, which is the season for birds to be out and about screaming for sex.
While 'twas the season for birdy love, I did walk past a number of parks that had signs that read "Vogelpark," or, in English, "Bird Park." Whenever you see one of these signs, it's a wise idea to look up. You'll more than likely spot several eagles or falcons. In total, I saw close to fifty birds of prey during my walk in the middle of Germany. I suppose Germany is a country for bird lovers.
After walking along the border of Thuringia for a week or so, you'll eventually arrive in the Hesse region in Germany. The only way you can tell that you've crossed into another region is by listening to the local dialects. I made an effort to learn some German during my walk, and, many times, I began to more or less understand what people were saying. Then I would cross over into another region, and be just as confused as before.
I greatly enjoyed walking in Hesse. The people are relaxed, but best of all, Hesse is the greenest state in all of Germany. The forests are beautiful, and there are plenty of rolling hills to stroll across. The mountains have significantly dropped in elevation, and they aren't very difficult to hike over. The inclines aren't so steep, and the silence in the hills is blindingly beautiful.
Not long after entering Hesse, you'll soon be exiting it. I believe that it took me about a week of walking to get across Hesse in total, but I'm sure many other hikers could do it faster. After exiting Hesse, you notice the forests are starting to become thick again, and the trails are now dirt roads that take you over hills that don't seem to end. You've finally entered one of the more picturesque states in Germany: the Rhineland.
For those of you who know your history, the Rhineland is a contentious location that has been traded back and forth and has been one of the causes for the great German ressentiment. For those of you who know your wine, the Rhineland is Germany's Napa Valley. I'm sure you can already tell which part of the Rhineland that intrigued me the most.
Now it's time to continue hiking over hill after hill and sweating until you can't sweat anymore. But it's all worth it because you'll eventually see one of the more beautiful sights in Germany: The Mosul River and the hundreds of acres of vineyards that adorn her like the olive branches that rest on top of a classical Greek hero's head.
The next few days are spent in bliss as you meander through the green hills and quiet forests. Every few days the magic of the silence is interrupted by the sounds of the autobahn, or from the sounds of lumbermen hacking away at trees in the forests, but just as soon as your serenity is disturbed, it returns.
After only 100 miles, you find yourself turning around and looking back at the fields of wheat and grass waving in the wind. The sun shines on your head, but not with malicious intensity. You smell the sulfur wafting in the wind. The grapes and vines are sharing their scent. While you become lost in the scenery of what is behind you, you forget to notice that you're walking on a road that leads to another bridge over another river. The other side looks no different that what you've been walking through for the last several days, but then you see the sign that reads: "LUXEMBOURG."
Over six hundred kilometers later, you've finally hiked across Germany, and it's time to explore another country.
Journal Entries: March 27 - April 27
For those of you who have extensively followed my travels via my satellite tracker, you might have noticed that my location didn't progress along the E3 for quite a long time. As it turns out (well, I suppose this is rather obvious), I have the terrible tendency of getting distracted when I should be walking. I personally don't have anything against delaying my journey, the adventure lasts longer that way.
After spending 90 days in Morocco, I was finally able to return to the Schengen zone on a new visa. On the 90th day of my visa in Morocco, I left the beautiful Arabian land by taking a flight back to Germany. I arrived in Frankfurt am Main (well, I technically arrived in Frankfurt, I still had to take an hour-long bus ride to actually get to the real city) with little problem, and I could feel the joy seeping through my pores. I had finally gotten back to Germany, and tomorrow I would finally be able to join my sweet and beloved E3. Oh god how I had missed her.
Lucky for me, I found a train going from Frankfurt to Nuremberg and a connecting train to Hof. I had previously reached out to Toby and company (the generous Couchsurfing hosts I had stayed with back in November), so that meant that I had a place to stay for the night. After several hours of sitting on a train, I was back in familiar territory, this time with much nicer weather.
That night I was able to see some cheerful faces and share some stories. The folks back in Hof were happy to see me, and were excited that I was about to continue my journey. We spent the night going out to a pub and enjoying a few brews, but soon it was time to go to bed. Toby was going to take me back to the town where I was forced to abandon the E3: Rehau.
We started off early in the morning. Toby had to get to work, and I had to get back to walking. After dropping me off in the middle of town, Toby smiled, wished me all the best and then drove off to start his workday. I was finally back. I navigated my way through Rehau until I found the trail marker for the E3 and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. I felt my eyes welling up with tears of joy. Oh E3, you really know how to make a fella feel at home.
For being the end of March, the weather in Rehau was surprisingly warm. Gone were the frozen trees, and in its place were newly emerging buds. Spring was just beginning to arrive, and I have to admit, hiking across Germany feels much nicer when you're at the end of winter, rather than at the beginning.
I cannot recall much of the trail for that first day. My mind was entranced by the present moment, and I felt as though the world was revolving under my feet like a treadmill. All I had to do was simply lift my feet. The forests were quiet, and my feet sunk into the soft dirt paths.
While I was in a state of absolute bliss, I was still capable of paying attention to my body. I was very aware that my leg's muscle mass had shrunk a significant amount in Morocco, and I was not about to repeat the same mistakes I made when I first started the hike. I was going to start with hiking at a slow pace and for short distances, then I would eventually start adding more and more kilometers. I just needed my body to adjust.
Several hours of pleasant hiking later, I had arrived in the small town of Selb. I arrived sometime around lunchtime, and the sleepy town of Selb was just starting to wake up. Figuring that I ought to rest my legs for a spell, I sat down in the center of town and pulled out my ukulele.
I soon found out that the Germans are some of the finest appreciators of music. Even though I was not playing anything very impressive, I seemed to get a fantastic response. Within ten minutes, a petite woman of around 75 approached me and complimented my music. I, in my broken German, thanked her for her kind words. She asked me what on earth I was doing in Selb, and I responded accordingly. She was quickly put into a state of shock, then gave me 20 euro for my journey. I then learned that shock transmits from one person to another much like a yawn, for my hat almost fell off my head. I thanked her profusely, then continued to play once that kind woman walked away.
No less than 10 minutes later, yet another petite woman approached me. She had short hair that was dyed to have an amber hue. Her rounded glasses magnified her hazel eyes, and she too was surprised that there was a foreigner in the village. She asked me a question in German, but I must have looked terribly confused, for she soon asked me that same question, this time in English. "How the hell did you arrive in Selb of all places?" Once again, I shared my story. As soon as I finished, and without missing a beat, the woman invited me to join her and her family at her home. I quickly accepted the offer.
The woman introduced herself as Bernadette and she too understood what it meant to be a foreigner in a different land. She originated from France, but, after tiring of the French lifestyle, she moved to Germany to pursue a career. After spending several decades in Germany, she discovered the small town of Selb and became smitten. She soon met her partner, a kind gentleman who sold jewelry, and they started a family. All of this I learned within 10 minutes of meeting Bernadette. It turns out that Bernadette is a very open-minded woman who greatly enjoys the fine art of conversation.
I spent the rest of the day enjoying Bernadette's hospitality. She quickly offered me a niçoise salad, some fine french cheese, and a very tasty beer. After a quick lunch, Bern had to return to work, so I went off to go explore the beauty of the woods.
Upon returning from I the woods, I finally had a chance to meet Bernadette's family. All of whom were positively delightful. Her son and her daughter were as cute as the dickens, and her partner was an amazing cook. We spent the evening chatting about life and culture, all over a few fantastic local brews and local sausages. While Morocco is a wonderful country, I still prefer the German priorities: good beer, good bread, and good pork.
I spent the night in their garden shed, and sleep came easily. My first day on the E3 was an absolute success, and I couldn't wait to continue my journey.
I awoke the next morning to fresh coffee and a proper German breakfast. Meats, cheeses breads, fruits...all laid out for me to enjoy. After breakfast, I thanked Bernadette and assured her that I would someday return. Then I went back to the walk.
The rest of the day disappeared quickly. My legs were starting to get back into walking, but I knew that I had to fight the urge to push them to their limit. It was only the second day of walking, and I didn't want to see them burn out after a few weeks. After crossing mountain after mountain, I arrived in the town of Wunsiedel.
I felt like an alien coming out of a ship. As I entered the moderately size town, I could tell that heads were turning, and people were pondering just what in the hell was a guy with a goofy mustache doing in their town? I smiled, said hello, and found the town center. Figuring that I might have some luck making some more dosh, I pulled out the ukulele and began to play. Alas, no one was interested in donating to a sweaty busker.
As I put away my ukulele and put on my bag, a Turkish man yelled out to me from his kebab restaurant. He had saw me playing and noticed that no one had donated a single coin. He must have pitied my situation, for he soon pushed a menu in my hands and told me to order whatever I wanted. I responded with the few Turkish words that I could remember from my first days of walking, and the Turkish gentleman beamed with pride. Soon I was devouring a humongous kebab and sipping the famous Turkish çay.
After stuffing myself silly, I thanked the man and started to go on my way, then he handed me a Turkish pizza. "For later," he said. I thanked hime again, and went on my way in search of a campsite.
I saw that the E3 had me go up the one mountain in town, so I climbed the mountain and hoped that I would be able to find a spot to sleep. It was still the middle of the afternoon, and I had plenty of time. Upon reaching the top of the mountain, I saw that there was a small cafe, the ruins of a church, and "bird park" filled with giant birds of prey. Maybe this wouldn't be such an ideal place to camp after all. My legs were feeling tired from the day's walk, so I sat down at a bench, and began to play.
No less than five minutes into playing, I heard a voice come from inside the cafe. It turns out there were several gents inside, all of them smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. They asked me what I was doing, and, like I've done before, explained my story, then asked if there was a place to camp. The fellas in the cafe quickly invited me in, opened a beer, and we began to try and communicate.
It turns out that all of the fellas are a part of a local club called der Hundlinger. They have matching jackets, and they're responsible for Wunsiedel's annual event called Collis Clamat, a medieval festival where the Hundlingers build catapults that are 16 meters high, and then proceed to launch flaming rocks at a fortress they rebuild every year. Pretty badass, if I do say so myself.
The gents in the cafe were quick to show me their catapults and their launch site, and even quicker when it came to refilling my beer. After looking for a place to camp, one of the guys invited me to stay the night in their clubhouse in the middle of town. I gladly accepted, and off we went to the clubhouse.
I had originally planned on only staying the night, but I ended up staying in Wunsiedel for five days. Each night and each day, several of the guys from the Hundlinger crew wanted me to join them for some reason. Whether it was showing me the local brewery in town (which, coming from a beer geek, was one of the most beautiful sights that I have seen in a long long time), or just to show me the local pub (where one gent donated 100 euros to my walk), and even to join them for a birthday party for a gal that I didn't even know. I had an amazing time in Wunsiedel, and I hope to someday get back there to see the gang again. All of them were such wonderful guys, and all of them were the cause of some very painful hangovers.
During my stay in Wunsiedel, a gal I had met in Morocco, named Hannah, messaged me asking whether I wanted to visit her in Berlin. The thought of going to Berlin sounded amazing. I knew that an old friend of mine, from my university days, also lived in Berlin, and I couldn't see the harm in leaving the E3 for a few days. Besides, Berlin was only a few hundred kilometers away, and I had the autobahn.
I departed Wunsiedel with a sore head and a happy heart and made my way to Weißenstadt. The weather was awful that day, for the German countryside was tired of having proper heat. In one weekend the temperature dropped from a beautiful 24 degrees to 11. Ah well, so it goes in Germany. As my mother would say, better to have bipolar weather than bipolar friends...
In Weißenstadt I began to feel the start of the walking pains. My joints were getting stiff, and I needed to find a place to sleep. An older Nomad in Morocco had once told me of a trick that he used to use when he was in Germany. You're supposed to walk to the town hall, explain that you have no money, then mention that you're just passing through. Apparently, the town halls typically find you a place to sleep, and may even give you a meal ticket for the evening. I figured it was worth a shot, and I went to what I thought was the town hall.
It turns out that I had mistaken the tourist office for the town hall. I gave my spiel and mentioned that I had a tent. The woman, a very kind and gentle woman, politely smiled and pointed out that the local campsite was closed until the summer season. But she gladly recommended a little BnB in the village and gave me a tourist package of several maps of the area, and mini packages of their local bread. Well, alrighty, I suppose.
This wasn't an exactly large town, so plenty of people already knew that I was there, and camping in the woods didn't seem like a viable option. I politely accepted the bread and took her advice. The BnB was a pleasant little spot, and they offered a large schnitzel for an affordable price. I suppose this is what the 100 euro donation was for. While I was eating by myself, I managed to strike up a conversation with the two waiters.
It turns out it was a family run joint, and the two waiters, both originally from Croatia, were a couple. We got to chatting, and soon they were buying me several beers and refusing to let me pay for my meal. When they saw that one of my socks had several holes, they donated a pair of their own socks to my journey. The next morning, I played them a few songs on the ukulele, and the two of them ended up giving me a very generous donation for my travels. It was the first time where I actually made a profit by staying at a Bnb.
The day's walk was wet and cold, the weather was starting to get worse. But, in the meantime, I had some amazing woods to walk through. Rock formations were everywhere (it turns out I was walking through a popular bouldering spot in Germany), and the pines were beautiful and floral. Who cares if my boots were wet, I was happy. Before I knew it, I was in the town of Münchberg.
Once I arrived in Münchberg, I made my way to a stationary shop in search of a pen. I was going to hitchhike to Berlin, and I needed to make a proper sign. The shopkeep of the stationary sign ended up giving me a beautiful thick felt tip marker for free. He told me that he used to hitchhike when he was younger, and he was happy to help out the new generation of nomads. Travelers, they tend to take care of their own, even when "their own" happen to be complete strangers. I soon found some cardboard, wrote "Berlin" in big letters, then I headed off to the main gas station that was next to the autobahn.
It turns out that hitchhiking in Germany isn't terribly difficult. Sure you may have to wait for a while, in this case, 1.5 hours, but you do eventually find someone who is going in the same direction. It may take you multiple hitches to get where you want to go, but you'll eventually get there. It's also quite common to run into other hitchers on your way. Nearly all of the hitchers are great at offering advice and swapping stories, so you never feel completely alone.
Two rides later, I was in Berlin. My second ride was stupidly ideal: it turns out that the gentleman who gave me a lift was a professional tour guide for Berlin, so the entire time we were driving on the autobahn he was pointing out buildings, famous rivers, notable towns and other such trivia. For a trivia junky like myself, I was more than pleased.
Unfortunately for me, Hannah wasn't responding to my messages (it turns out she fell asleep after spending hours working on her Master's program), and I had no idea where to go. My tour guide asked me where I should be dropped off, and all I could think of was going to the punk district. He knew just the spot and dropped me off at a bar that he frequented back before the wall fell down. He wished me luck and drove off.
Now I was in Berlin with no place to stay, in a district that I knew nothing about other than that it was punk oriented. I decided to go inside the pub (named "The Madonna") and see if I could get any advice. Soon I was drinking a beer and rolling a cigarette when a man approached me asking for some filters. I gave him a few, laughed about my broken German, and clearly surprised the dude. Not many tourists come over to the Madonna, so he invited me over to his table where he was sitting with a friend. We then proceeded to chat about life, philosophy, metaphysics and the physics of Buddhism for the next five hours. It was an amazing chat.
Pretty soon, Derek, the gentleman, and I had become good friends, or at least friendly enough for Derek to invite me over to his house and sleep in his daughter's room. One thing I've learned, if you just meet someone and can carry a 4-hour long conversation without a break, and in the meantime cover Buddhism, morality, Western philosophy and physics, chances are you can trust that stranger. We spent the night smoking away and drinking wine, all the while chatting about some of my favorite subjects. That night I slept like a log, content from the booze and the conversation.
The next morning Derek offered me some breakfast and we traded numbers, just in case I wanted to meet up again. I now had another contact in Berlin. I had managed to get in touch with Hannah, and we were able to rendezvous in Görlitzer Park.
Hannah and I were both excited to see each other again. It's not often that you get to meet another philosophy geek, especially one who adores Adorno, so we spent the next several days wandering around Berlin, drinking beer in the park, chatting about life and travel, and making sweet, sweet music. Hannah is a fantastic guitar player which made jamming all the more enjoyable. After a few days of enjoying each other's company, it was time for me to meet up with my old friend Malte and his wife Audrey.
There is a special pleasure when you see familiar faces. Regardless of the location, or the changes in our faces and bodies, you can see the same eyes that you connected with years ago. The physical world doesn't seem to matter because the human spirit takes over. Audrey and Malte were a joy to behold, making my visit with them fly by much too quickly. We spent the next few days together, catching up on the past, and exploring another district in the meantime.
Soon it was time to leave, Audrey and Malte had their own busy lives going on, and it was time for me to get moving. I called Derek to see if I could stay with him for another night, and we repeated our first night. This time with some other fine friends of Derek's. We chatted, laughed and philosophized. During my last night in Berlin, I realized that I needed to go back and stay for a longer period of time. Something about that city matches my own vibrations, and I'm starting to look into a Master's program. Wouldn't be a bad place to be, I have to admit.
Seeing how I was so close to Leipzig, I decided to extend my break away from the E3 for a little bit longer. I was longing to go back to that amazing city and see all of the fine human beings that I had met during my last stay. I had messaged Tina and Michael that I was going to be passing through, and the both of them were more than happy to let me stay in their apartment. I soon was making another sign, and I went off to hitch to Leipzig.
Once I entered Leipzig, I felt a renewed vitality. The streets weren't as cold as they were back in November, and I could see that the citizens were responding well to the climate. No one appreciates warm weather than those who live in frigid lands.
I first met up with Michael at his place of work, an outdoor equipment shop (seems fitting enough). We embraced and laughed about seeing one another again, but Michael had to quickly revert to being professional. He was at work after all. After purchasing some new socks and some trekking poles (I had destroyed my first pair), Michael directed me towards the cafe Tina was now managing, and we made plans to see each other later in the evening.
After meandering through the streets of Leipzig, I finally found Tina and the cozy cafe tucked away in a block of flats. Much like my meeting with Michael, we laughed and embraced. Lucky for me, we were the only people in the cafe, so Tina was able to be much more candid.
Eventually, Tina was able to close up shop, and we were off to the flat that I loved so dearly. Lily, their cat, was just as skittish and strange as ever, but all was good. I felt, for the first time in over a year, like I had finally come home.
We spent the next evenings as we had on my previous visit. Late night chats that wandered through whatever we thought was puzzling or exciting about the world were common, and many of Michael and Tina's friends' faces that I had only met once before, reappeared. It's funny, I realize that I made more friends in Leipzig in a matter of a few weeks than I did after spending over a year in Michigan.
A few days of bliss go by, and Michael mentions that Wayste was going to be going on tour for a week and that there was an empty seat in the van. It didn't take long for me to respond with a resounding "hell yes." This was an opportunity that I couldn't afford to pass up. E3, you were going to have to wait for now. It was time to experience what it's like to be a traveling musician (all without the responsibility of actually being a musician).
The rest of the group, Manu (vocals/guitar) Johnny (drums) and Rico (cinematographer) were more than happy to let me be a part of the tour and assured that I would be intruding on the process. In return for the journey, I would watch over the merchandise table and help out with loading and unloading band equipment. So I was a roadie, but an excited roadie.
The next week was a blend of incredible stimulation and utter boredom. The majority of the time is spent sitting in a car, waiting until you get to the next town and the next venue. Each time you arrive at the new venue, you basically have only enough time to set up equipment, figure out the lineup for the bands, eat some vegan meal (hardcore punk attracts a lot of activists and conscientious-minded folk), then listen to some killer noise.
Wayste was on their spring tour with the band Earth Moves, a powerful post-hardcore quartet out of England. While our introductions in Wiesbaden (the 2nd day of the tour) was a pleasant one, all of us began to bond throughout the rest of the week. All of the gents at EM are hilarious folks, and each evening we would stay awake until the wee hours drinking beer, geeking about music, and all in all being dorks.
A quick introduction to the week on tour: ear plugs, free beer, overconsumption of soy, a broken van, a quick save, kudos from strangers, a torrent of noise, hundreds of cigarettes, man-cuddling, farting, super promoters, authentic punk venues, breaking the law by making noise on Good Friday, an explosive Easter Sunday, and general silliness. God damn, it was a fine week.
Sooner than later, the tour was over. The last show was in the basement of a dilapidated prison, and soon Earth Moves were back on their way to the U.K. All of us commented on how fast the week went by, and all of us promised that this would not be the last time that we meet. I sincerely hope not.
After the rush of the tour, it was time to come back to Leipzig and time to unwind. So much life had happened in a short period of time, but now it was time to come back down. After reflecting on the time, I realized that I had spent close to a month in Germany, and I had only walked a measly 150 km. It was time for me to get back to the trail, but first I had a concert to go to in Berlin. Christoph, Michael's brother, had an extra ticket to a singer-songwriter named John Smith (original, he knows). I couldn't just say no.
Now that the concert was over it was time to say my goodbyes, it to depart. My first day of hitchhiking failed miserably, but the second day was a success. After several hours of getting stuck in the rain, a Russian woman took pity on me and drove me back to Münchberg. Even though we couldn't speak any of the same languages (she spoke Russian, French, and German), we managed to communicate as well as laugh at the propaganda that each of our countries created in an effort to combat the other. Those damn Commies just have to be so darn pleasant...
Once I arrived in Münchberg, I contacted one of the Hundlinger gang, Chris. He was excited to see me again, and he offered me a place to sleep for the night. I gladly accepted the hospitality, and soon I was repeating the same process as we did nearly a month before. The next morning we awoke, and my heart sunk.
Chris had warned me that his town (about eight kilometers away from Münchberg) was known as little Siberia, because, as I soon found out, the weather happens to be completely unpredictable. Sure you may have 25 degrees in March, but then you may have snow at the end of April. The E3 was not too happy that I had left her for nearly a month, so she decided to punish me with snow and frozen rain. Yeesh.
That day, April 27, was a miserable day. I somehow managed to get off track to Münchberg and ended up walking an extra 15 kilometer over hills and through puddles. By the time I had reached Münchberg, I was frozen through. My trench foot had come back, and I was unable to find a place where I could take off my socks and warm my feet. The only place that was willing to take me in for the night was a church that had a bunker for guests, and I spent the next several hours trying to warm my feet and dry my boots.
April 27 - May 25
The next few days of walking were filled with luck and serious foot pain. The cold had soaked into my boots, and I was desperately trying to ignore the fact that I needed to just stop and take care of my feet. While I had some troubles with my feet, I did have some incredible luck as well.
During my walk, I would encounter people in the woods who would be, of course, surprised and impressed by my story. Many people, as it turns out, were very generous in terms of food, as well as money. One farmer, out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, donated 50 euros for me to go to someplace warm and drink some of the local beer. Later that day, I managed to find myself in a small town, where, as luck would have it, a Lass of 19 or 20 was walking by me. I asked her where would be a cheap place to dry my feet, and she showed me the way to a little pension in the town. It was the right price, and I had a chance to soak my feet in the shower for as long as necessary.
Later in the evening, when I went to the main room for a beer, the Lass and a friend of hers walked in, wanting to have a chat. The two of them were a sight to behold, both filled with the vibrancy of youth and the sweetness of mead. It is also worth noting that both of them were incredibly cute. We spent the evening chatting away, and they both invited me to join them for dinner the next evening in a town not too far away. I gladly accepted. A free meal with two beautiful ladies? How could I refuse?
The next day I managed to keep walking, and we rendezvoused at a town that I had stopped in. They were kind enough to ignore the smell of my unwashed clothes, and they took me away to the neighboring town of Kronach to experience "the festival of lights." The festival was pleasant enough, the old town was decorated in a barrage of light fixtures and light sculptures, adding a modern twist to the antiquity of the stone town. The girls managed to fix me up with a place to sleep that night as well, so I was well taken care of.
Such generosity was not exclusive to my first week back on the trail. Nearly every other week I was walking, someone was there to help me. Whether it was the couchsurfers I found in Coburg or Fulda, or the strangers who let me camp in their backyards, I managed to have some very good luck.
Of course, I did have some challenges. The trench foot did take a toll on me, and I did have to spend a few nights sitting alone with my feet in a bucket of warm water. I did get a chance to make the most of it though. I began reading Carl Jung and listening to Alan Watts, both of which made the cogs in my brain start turning in new and exciting ways.
For one, I've come to respect the unconscious mind with awe and humility, all the while recognizing that my sense of identity is, like the rest of humanity's world, absolute and utter fiction. The world we exist in is real, but the rules, the norms, the structure, all of it is just a greater part of the mythos that our minds habitually create. The only real reality is seen once the mind stops the act of considering, and, like wu-wei in Daoism, acts by not acting.
In other words, the mind begins to act like the ear or the eye, I as a conscious being cannot will my eyes to see or force my ears to hear, they simply do. Occasionally, the mind acts in a similar matter. Nothing is forced, the mind simply is, and it merely receives the world as the world is. There is no judgment, there is no focus, there is no consideration. The brain turns off.
So, why on earth am I getting into such strange territory? To be honest, it's because I enjoy talking about the world as such, and it tickles me pink when I can see that the thoughts in my mind are changing. Also, I may (but most likely not) have tasted that one experience which the mystics and spiritual folks call "enlightenment," so there is that.
I don't mean to say that I am enlightened. Definitely not. However, I did have an experience on the trail that I cannot deny as being incredibly strange and truly profound that has shown me that there is something all of our minds can experience. I imagine it is what the Romantic poets in the 19th century call an epiphany, or what the ancients described as the muses, but, for our sake, I'll just call it an awakened state of being.
So, here's the rundown of what happened.
Opening the Third Eye
During my walk, I occasionally listen to podcasts to occupy my mind and help my sense of self, disappear. On many occasions, I listen to Alan Watts while I'm walking simply because each lecture has hundreds of thoughts that give me days of material to meditate on.
On this particular day (I believe it was May 8), I was listening to Alan Watts describe a very Kierkegaardian critique of Western religion. Now, Mr. Watts isn't critiquing the message or the belief in Western religion. He is critiquing the abuse of power as well as the blind nationalistic-like religiosity that many people (either those in positions of power or those who are not in power) seem to adopt.
At one point in the lecture, Watts jokes about burning our symbols as an act of relinquishing and purifying ourselves. Of course, he isn't saying burn every version of the symbol, but, once a year, make a symbolic burning to remind ourselves that the physical objects in our lives are not the same thing as the divine and ought not to be confused as such. This would be a way of cleansing the unconscious mind.
I soon got stuck with this thought and spent several hours pondering while my poor feet carried me forward. At some point, it hit me.
Mr. Watts joke about making a purifying fire once a year reminded of an incident in Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot. In one amazing scene, the heroine Nastasya Filipovna throws 100,000 rubles (about $2.5 million today's money) into a fire. She acts in defiance of the egoism and pride in her situation, and it is a beautiful moment of the psychological struggles of the characters in the novel.
After thinking of Ms. Filipovna, I began to see, in my mind's eye, moderate fire in which I took a copy of every significant text I could think of including: the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the lessons of the Buddha, the book of Dao, The Brothers Karamazov, Fight Club, Plato's Republic, The Anarchist Cookbook, The Communist Manifesto, The Wealth of Nations, the Constitution...give thanks and respect to the text, then put it into the fire.
Once each text has been placed in the fire, I took every flag from every state and every nation, from the United States to North Korea, from Wales to Morocco...I acknowledge each flag as just a symbol, recognize its importance to identity, then peacefully put them in the fire.
I then take a copy of the pictures our modern idols. Whether it be a photo of Elvis, Karl Marx, Chairman Mao, Barack Obama, Ivan the Terrible, Sid Vicious, Mohammad, Kurt Cobain, Queen Elizabeth, Siddhartha, Moses, Yeshua, Queen Victoria, myself, and so on and so on...only to recognize the power of these images, reflect on them and then put them in the fire.
After the photos, I follow Filipovna's example and begin to burn a single note from every currency and began to place it in the fire.
I meditated on this thought for what may have been hours, but it felt like it was only a few seconds. Suddenly, in a rush that I can only describe by using the language of psychedelics, I began peaking.
I felt a cool rush go through the inside of my skull, and eye felt as though part of my scalp was being pulled back. My eyes widened, and my body shuddered. I was stone cold sober at the time, but this felt like I was going back to my DMT experience.
The strangest part of this experience was that the voice in my brain, that voice that's in all of our brains, it changed its tone. It became quieter, but not dampened. It became softer and it felt clean. My eyes were opened wide, and every image that passed through my brain like a drop of water in a river. Everything was, as Thom Yorke sings, in its right place. I was in a state of beyond ecstasy. All forms of pain and all forms of pleasure disappeared. My mind knew that it was seeing the world as the world, and not as what my ego saw. Breath felt as powerfully refreshing as drinking a glass of cold water on a hot day.
Reading through my last paragraph makes me chuckle because I forgot to include that, while everything was in its right place, I felt like a part of me was trembling from the sheer sense of overwhelming power the world and the universe has. During this moment I remember that my feet felt as though they were floating an inch above the ground, but I, as "I", couldn't tell what to do next. My body kept moving forward, and my mind finally relinquished its sense of control and allowed the body continue its path unperturbed.
Several hours later, I entered a town to find some water, but I was still shaken in this sense. It was now beginning to feel uncomfortable. My brain felt strange, my voice was different, my eyes were still wide, and I felt as though I had a third eyeball that my mind was using to perceive the world.
Now a significant amount of time has passed since then, but I'm still puzzled by the experience. I no longer feel as uncomfortable and I no longer feel like my brain just grew another eyeball, but my mind still feels different. The voice in my head, I suppose my conscience "sounds" dramatically different.
It's been a lot of time since the experience, and I've grown accustomed to my new self. This version of me happens to do very well for itself and seems to have an odd attraction to serendipity. All in all, it's peculiar. Certain details are much clearer to me now, and other worries are muted. I still get irritated, and I still get frustrated. But now I feel like it is perfectly fine to yell and curse when you happen to walk through a bunch of stinging nettles. I still have a lot of work to do, and I'm still obsessed with self-improvement, but I now know with certainty that I'm on the right path.
After the intense experience of waking up, the rest of the journey seemed to fly by save for a few moments. I ended having more card troubles, this time some hackers got ahold of information and began purchasing Uber rides, meaning that I had to cancel my card and wait in Wiesbaden until I could get a new one. It wasn't a great experience, but at least Wiesbaden is large enough to walk around. I ended up spending several days in Wiesbaden, and by the end of it, I was sick and tired of the city. As soon as the card arrived, I was off.
One moment that I'm incredibly thankful for, is that at the end of a long day of walking in the hills, I found myself in the Rhineland, hungry, tired, and desperately looking for a place to camp. As I was walking along the river (around 21:00 hr), I happened to walk past a man from Syria. I tried using my German to ask if there was a place to camp, and instead of pointing me in a direction, this kind fellow told me to follow him to his home.
Before I knew it this man, named Muhammad, began preparing a meal for the both of us to eat, and he directed me towards a shower. Soon we were chatting about our separate journeys. He might have been impressed by my tale, but his story left a deeper impression on me. While I couldn't understand everything, what I did understand, was heartbreaking.
Soon his roommate had joined us, then several other refugees (I guess the village is a transplant village) joined us. Soon we were chatting about life, their struggles, their dreams, and the possible future. All of these men had a unique story, and all of them were so incredibly giving and hospitable. I felt overwhelmed by their generosity, but I really enjoyed spending my two nights with them drinking tea, playing Arabic card games and chatting about life as they saw it.
To put it lightly, life in Germany is better than a life in Syria, but it still isn't easy. Many of the locals are hesitant when it comes to refugees, and the difference in cultures is creating a huge divide.
From what I understand, each person who has fled to Germany is required to learn the German language in a year, otherwise, they will be sent back to wherever it was that they were fleeing. Many of the men, young and old, have family members elsewhere in Turkey, and each of them is working as hard as they can to learn the German language in order to finally start working a steady job where they can save some money.
Germany has been offering plenty of social services in order to help integrate the waves of refugees, but, like all human projects, the process isn't easy. From what I noticed, the divide from religion and customs make integration fairly difficult. For example, the primary location for socializing in Germany is the pub. The majority of Muslims that I've met avoid alcohol and see no reason to walk into a bar.
So...not many Muslims socialize with locals save for when the locals go out of their way to integrate the newly arrived refugees into the town. Some refugees are lucky, but many are not. And the fact that Muslims also avoid pork while living in a country whose cuisine is pork dominant..oof. Things just couldn't be simple.
After spending two nights with the gentlemen from Syria, it was time for me to leave. They walked me to the ferry that would take me across the river, and soon I was back to the walk. The grapes in the mountains were gorgeous, but I didn't have much of an opportunity to try the wine (it seems ironic that I happen to go to the wine region in Germany and I hang out with guys who don't drink).
However, as serendipity would have it, I happened to walk past a small village where, after asking for some water, I was invited inside to enjoy an oven baked pizza, some fruit, and of course, some wine. Oh lord, I was so happy, and the wine was so good. The generous couple gave me a bottle to take with me on my journey, and I was incredibly grateful. Just when you start to have the craving for something, the universe provides.
Several days later, after walking through more forests and more mountains in the wine regions of Germany, I realized that I was getting closer and closer to Luxembourg. My last day in Germany was overwhelmingly hot, but the fact that I was so close to finishing kept me going strong. Just hours before I was to cross over, another group of folks, several Italians and a few Germans, invited me to join them for a glass of Brut and a quick snack. After stopping for a few hours, I was on my way with the wind at my back. Soon I had crossed over into Luxembourg, and I wasn't looking back.
As I've learned in since leaving Germany, the trope that Germans are cold individuals with no sense of humor is an absolute fabrication. I haven't laughed so hard, or been so well taken care of by total strangers. Even with all of the examples of friendliness and generosity, I'm still missing the multiple cases of people taking me into their homes, feeding me food, providing me water, and even donating money to the cause. For all of those folks who I haven't mentioned in this post, a humbly thank you, and please know that I still think of you fondly.
P.S. My apologies for the length and delay of this post, I'll be sure to edit it down once I get a chance to really go through this post again.
P.P.S If you enjoy my story, consider making a donation via the "Buy Chris a Beer" button. I still have a few months to go, and anything helps. Cheers, and I'll be sure to update the site as soon as I can.