From my lovely Appleslounge guest house I made my way back to the Elbe and then headed south along the western bank, heading for Hitzacker and then on to Schnackenberg, where I crossed over on the ferry to the eastern bank.
I haven’t fully worked it out yet, but along this part of the river, from Schnackenberg north for some 50 miles or so, was where East and West Germany met, and the river was the border. As I cycled along, especially on the eastern side, I notice quite regularly little memorials to people who had died trying to make the crossing of the river from east to west during the Cold War period. The East Germans employed a small fleet of very fast speedboats to patrol the river border. Pictures I’ve seen make them look like something from Thunderbirds, very 1960s. If they saw someone trying to swim across the river - a perilous venture in itself - they would simply go at full speed at them and over them, kill them, and leave them floating in the river for the currents to deposit the body wherever. I guess they would shoot them along the land border fence or wall. Still, it does seem particularly cruel and vengeful just to ram them as they were swimming rather than fishing them out and putting them in prison. After the reunification of the east and west some of the river border guards were tried, but none was found guilty of murder because they could’t prove that they intended to run over the fleeing swimmers. Now, I have written a few lines about Pritti Patel and her desire to stop present day Channel crossers, but in the interests of the varied political and societal views of my many readers, I have thought it prudent not to publish my views ! I’m sure you can imagine what I would say. And, I will also avoid any comment about our Super Breeder Prime Minister Boris who has been in the news today for getting Carrie pregnant again. It’s not an image I particularly want to dwell on.
Back to Germany. I have sensed that the eastern side of the Elbe, which was once East German territory, is not as tidy, developed and prosperous looking as the old West German side of the Elbe, even after 30 plus years of reunification. Still nice, but not as nice as the west. A fellow traveller told me that as I get further south along the Elbe and deep in to old East Germany, many of the small towns and villages are still suffering from economic decline and the young leaving for the cities.
There was much fighting along the Elbe in April 1945 as the Americans and British pushed on towards Berlin. The Elbe will have been a natural defensive barrier, and I have noticed many memorials to Germans who died defending places along the river. They appear to have been mainly Volkssturm troops, like a German version of a Dad’s Army Home Guard, who were roped in during the last days and weeks of the war. Many of the names are either very young or very old, those who were not serving already, and were called up in desperation to defend the Fatherland. I guess they had no option.
I made my way, after some 80 miles, to Havelberg where I am tonight in a pretty nondescript pension / guest house, nowhere as good as last night, but welcome at the end of a long day and especially so after having been rained on heavily in the last hour of the ride by a thunderstorm that was passing through. I’m going upmarket tomorrow in Magdeburg where I’m staying in a Mercure, a touch above my pay grade and my usual Ibis. Well, you’ve got to live, haven’t you ?!
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