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The Other Wall

Blankenstein to Hof
Written 14.7.10

I got an early start this morning, taking care to warm up properly before I started the first few climbs. The next two hours saw me stumble up to Hirschberg with a combination of riding and pushing. Here, I took on a 20% grade, advertised as the steepest section of the tour. Maybe it was because I was expecting it, but I didn’t think it was quite as difficult as some other sections I’d faced. I stopped for a snack and rest in the shade at the top, then continued to Juchhoh and Modlareuth, the famous divided village.

Modlareuth was called “Little Berlin” by American troops stationed there because it was the only other German city split by the border. Despite its tiny population (58 today), an extensive “anti-fascist protection barrier” was installed here. The wall was built in stages, beginning as a wooden fence in 1952, then barbed wire and additional fortifications were added until a fully fledged concrete wall was erected in 1966, just five years after the construction of the Berlin Wall. Since the wall was flattened in 1990, a very good borderland museum has served to educate visitors on the history of the village.

Despite reunification, the village still serves as a bizarre, tangible example of the ongoing differences between eastern and western Germany. The town has two mayors, two postal and telephone codes, and two different car registrations. And according to a pamphlet from the museum, “you can tell which side of the stream people come from by the way they great you: “Gruß Gott” on one side and “Guten Tag” on the other.

I spoke to a women who worked at the museum and lived in the western part of Modlareuth during the division. I asked her why the GDR built a wall comparable to the one in Berlin for only 58 people. She explained that it could be explained by the ancient border between Bavaria and Thuringia that ran through the town. I wasn’t quite satisfied by this answer, or completely sure that she understood my question, but it was getting late and long distances ahead demanded that I press on.

I left the village in the direction of Münchenreuth, up a pretty good hill. At the top, the road gave way to gravel and dirt but I remained undaunted; the road was perfect for a mountain bike adventure. However, after a few hundred meters, it became apparent that I was accidentally in the middle of a construction site where steamrollers, bulldozers, and forklifts busily moved dirt around. I could see the village I was headed toward, and determined to avoid a long detour, so I decided to keep going, pushing my bike on the side of the sandbox, trying to look unassuming and confused. One by one, I passed pieces of heavy machinery and burly construction workers who scrutinized me, but didn’t yell or say the word “verboten,” which I took as approval to continue. I made it to Münchenreuth, proud of my shortcut, and continued to Feilitzsch and Trogen, where I struck out 5 times looking for a place to spend the night. I only found worn down buildings and people who told me “nicht übernactung” when I arrived at the addresses for gasthouses. Annoyed, I had no choice but to head for Hof, a town of about 50,000 where I figured it would be easy to find a hotel. After an hour, I settled on a place by the railroad station.

Hof was a little out of my way, but the good thing about bigger towns is that finding spaghetti is 10 times more likely. I found a nice Italian restaurant and quickly made friends with the owner when we discovered our mutual passion for biking, and I showed him my funny tan spots on my hands from my bike gloves. He then insisted on bringing me free orange juice and cooked me a delicious dinner. We discussed cycling in the area until I could no longer stifle my yawns and returned to my hotel.

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