I think it is fair to say that I could have outrun the Hungarian Civil Guard members who were laying in wait on the back roads near Szekszard in Tolna but even I knew better… as I traveled further east the one striking observation I have is that Policemen’s hats get bigger, I mean the cap size, enormous, like some overhanging sunshade. The car was lovely and in fairness so were they – more interested in the bike and my passport than anything else and seeing as I responded to the request for “papers please” with the correct documents they let me go. With a parting wave i noticed the lack of door trims and the fact that the boot was held shut with a bit of string and a bungee – least I could have done is given them a rocstrap…
Sometimes it is the first bike you had, sometimes it the one you did a special trip on or the one you made another personal connection with, sometimes it is a bike you lusted after as a youth. I have always loved the angular style and square ‘in your face’ engine of the old and original K Series bikes from BMW. I found this, an unpainted aluminum tanked, 1989/90 K75C in Berlin this week… The bike was propped up under an industrial unit balcony, being protected from the worst of the winter elements, and after almost 30 years it looked like it would have coughed into life. From memory and new, it would have had about 70bhp so not much chance of me getting a (read ‘another’ German) speeding ticket, even if I had persuaded the owner to part with the flying brick…
Laying in the grass trying to cool down but no shade for miles as I reached the top of the plateau from a road off the Col de la Madeleine. I decided to follow the tracks of the famous 1920 hillclimb route as I snaked the sixty odd kilometres between the French and Italian borders through the edges of the Vanoise National Park on the SP212 and into Novalesa. Easy on the CRF1000, but i wondered how the original hillclimb enthusiasts managed in the 1920s on such sharp includes with unforgiving and unprotected edges?
Hewn from the soft chalk, I wandered on my own through rough cut tunnels and chambers carved through the rock by labourers overseen by the German Army, the sound of running water never far away and despite the outside heat in the open air there was a cold chill and damp which quickly penetrated down through my jacket into my bones. An eerie place, yet I could not help but be in awe of the massive civil engineering efforts that were delivered at a cost of 1000’s of lives to create La Couple. The huge bunker was built by the Todt Organisation between 1942 and 1944 and was the base for launching the V2 rockets against London. The complex was bombed mercilessly by the Allies and the scars of the high explosive detonations can be seen in collapsed chambers and offset concrete caps and arches. La Coupole was abandoned during the summer of 1944, after the Normandy landings and is now slowly being reabsorbed back into the tranquil french countryside.
I found these iconic statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels whilst looking for shade (and an ice cream) in the Marx-Engels-Forum which is a great open park in Berlin, a place for relaxation, surrounded by fountains and picnicking families. Whilst much of Berlin has been rebuilt, the site of these two great memorials is on the land in past occupied by the Old Town quarter which was heavily bombed during allied air attacks when most of its buildings reduced to ruins. For some reason after the war, the ruins were cleared but nothing replaced them and the open space remains. Despite the peaceful facade, the Marx-Engels Forum has been the subject of public controversy, with some saying it is an unwanted reminder of austere past times stepping past the political arguments, I welcomed the shade and respite and pondered on George Santayana’s wise words “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” as I ate my decadent western ice cream.
Riding south from Ravaniemi on the E75, I spotted a small side turning leading east marked Tervola and slipped quickly of the rough north south route, into the unknown. The brilliant sunshine glimmered of the the new bridge over the Kemi, as I stopped in the shade of the Kirk. Finland’s wartime past is not widely publicised but knowing the Russian pacts and advance from the east and the Finnish resistance and the earlier Lapland War, the number of German and Finnish war graves with similar dates reinforces the strategic importance of this river crossing in 1944.
Tirpitz was the largest battleship in the German Kriegsmarine and a sister to the Bismarck, built in 1939 and named after the deputy admiral Alfred von Tirpitz Freiherr. In March 1943 Turpitz was berthed in Kåfjord in Alta with the role of threatening Allied convoy traffic in the Barents Sea. The Germans built a massive navel base in Altafjord, as in addition to Tirpitz the battleship Scharnhorst and cruiser Lützow were stationed in Alta – a total of 20,000 German troops lived the in areas I have been exploring on the bike over the last two days. It has been fascinating to see the object of attraction for Easy Elsie, stumble across historic artefacts and sobering to remember the tragic loss of life on both sides in this conflict.
I am not sure why I did it… but riding west on the E20 from Skara out of the corner of my eye I saw something in the hillside and rode for a while arriving at Kinne-Vedums. This masterpiece of 12th Century building is as fresh and dominate as the day it was erected by the Master Stonemason Othelric. I wandered a little in the immaculate grounds seeking shade in the shadow of the surrounding trees and took refuge in the quite calm of the cross vaulted ceiling and frescoes from CG Hoijst and Johan Laurell comissioned in 1754.
If you get a chance go to Bletchley Park. Its a haunting place that was the location of the UK Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), and perhaps most famously the site that allowed Dilly Knox and the team including Alan Turing to build the Bombes which helped crack the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers. I had to double check my facts after my first visit as I just could not believe that in the UK homosexuality remained a criminal offence until 1967. Turing committed suicide on June 7th 1954 after begin persecuted for being gay. It is little recompense that the UK government officially apologised to him for the “the appalling way he was treated”, but on the 24th December 2013 Turing was pardoned posthumously by the Queen – its not the finest moment for our democratic system and tolerant culture – live and let live.
Stumbled across some excellent street art last weekend in Little Blackall Street in Shoreditch,London EC2. Turns out this little alley supports displays from RUN, C215, 616, Swoon and Alice Pasquini as well as Pichi and Avo, some of the original work is covered under hoardings but even those have been enlivened. Did a bit of digging and found some “whose watching the watchers” art on display and when I checked on street view I found this – the irony is not lost on me…