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Mahring to Eslarn

A thunderstorm pounded outside, rain lashing at my window. Groggily, I rolled out of bed to shut the window and listened to the tempest. I pictured myself trying to bike through the storm, getting blown over by the wind and soaked with cold water. I eventually fell asleep for another few hours, fearing that I would be unable to continue right away in the morning. When I woke, the storm had stopped, but ominous clouds still hung in the west, and occasional rumbles of thunder gave me pause as I packed. I decided to leave anyway and try to outrun the storm on my south-easterly route. Greta, the cook, insisted on waking Tereza at eight so she could see me off, and the bed-headed, kindhearted woman hugged me and wished me well. I went down the stairs, looked back to wave, and left the house.

It was a misty, cool morning and steam rose from the wet forest, dissipated through a few weak rays of sunshine. I was riding on a gravely path that took me right next to the border and I kept the Czech Republic on my left, and the sun on my handlebars for several miles. The terrain was hilly, but not impossibly so and I found a rhythm of up and down until I arrived in Eslarn in the early afternoon.

I was exhausted by the time I got a room and took a nap before exploring the town and getting a snack. It was Saturday, and everyone seemed in a good mood. A group of villagers were hard at work painting a house baby blue. I smiled and told them it looked good, with a thumbs-up. I ate dinner in the pension restaurant, where the innkeeper’s Bayern accent was so thick we could hardly communicate. I tried to strike up a conversation anyway, asking about the trophies displayed behind the bar. I was impressed to learn that they were all his, for soccer, and shooting. Then, he disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later with a woman. She spoke excellent english and introduced herself as Nina. We hit it off right away and spent the evening chatting over a glass of wine.

We had a lot in common and discussed travel, the USA (she spent nearly a year in Florida and Boston), plans for the future, and of course, Germany’s division. I was excited to speak with someone so close to my own age about our generation’s perception of the former border. She admitted that she didn’t know a lot about the subject, and that Germany, eastern and western, was just Germany to her. She noted that there were some economic differences and lingering stereotypes but they had no hold on her and were beyond her experience. I shared some of my findings and agreed on the challenges of understanding something before our own time, but relevant to older generations. I was really struck by her comment that the border came down “so long ago.” Perspective is everything-these twenty one years have been my whole life, but a blink of an eye in history.

It was wonderful to have such a pleasant and diverse conversation but I was forced to excuse myself around 10 in the interest of getting some sleep. We wished each other well just outside the restaurant and I jogged across the street to the pension, since it was raining again.

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