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London to Auschwitz: Day 17, Nürnberg to Weiden, 100km today, 1570km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 17, Nürnberg to Weiden, 100km today, 1570km total

Today involved a lot of rain, un-sympathetic people, a rear wheel puncture and not being able to find a place to stay with wifi!

Ingenious ways to try to dry my clothes (and fail)
Ingenious ways to try to dry my clothes (and fail)

I found a lot of my clothes were still damp despite my efforts to dry them with the room’s air-con system. Without any sign in the sky of rain I set off slightly moist.

I first visited the rally arena where Hitler address many of his supporters in Nürnberg. The vast size of the place was incredible although now it appeared abandoned with graffiti all over (my favourite displaying: “Fuck Nazis”).

Where the soldiers and supporters would have gathered, there are now fields with football posts. The whole thing looked out of place in the modern town but served as a reminder of where Hitler gave his speeches. Next door was a “Documentation Centre” which holds a lot of documents from the Nazi regime. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore, although with the crap day that I’ve had I wish I did now!

The ominous looking platform where Hitler addressed his Nazi supporters
The ominous looking platform where Hitler addressed his Nazi supporters

Heading off out of town the clouds started to close in on me. It wasn’t long before they caught me and drenched me through again. This time with a side wind to make sure my right cheek would feel the full force as I slowly crossed more fields and forest tracks.

After about two hours in the soaked saddle I needed a break and so pulled in to the side of the road. I rested my bike on the wall and hid from the rain underneath the balconies from the floors above. An older lady from the garden adjacent came running up to me yelling “Nitzch! Nitzch!” (or words and gestures to that effect). I was confused standing there holding an apple sheltering from the rain from the rain. She ran up to my bike and pointed at my pannier bags. I said in a proud English voice “I am English and have cycled here from London!” expecting her to be impressed. She looked me in the eye with anger and yelled “NITZCH!”. She then tried to rip my bike off from the wall (apparently it was the bike leaning against her wall that was offending her) but the weight of the bags held the bike down so she couldn’t actually move it. To be fair the bike was soaking and the frame and I were quite muddy too, but this was an outside wall where it was raining! Was she scared of a bit of mud from my bike? I pulled the bike off the wall and discovered not even a wet patch. I showed her this with a smile but she was not impressed.

Still smiling I tried to ask if she spoke any English. “NITZCH!” she said in disgust and walked away. I couldn’t believe that I had been this offensive and was saddened that I have been met with unfriendly encounters like this here in the Bavaria part of Germany. Thoughts went through my mind whilst riding on through the hills and rain. What should I have done or said to make the whole event less painful? I still don’t know.

Cool statue - anyone know what it says?
Cool statue – anyone know what it says?

I finally pulled up to the next town where I planned to stop for some warmth and nutrition. I saw a bright yellow sign and pulled in to the “Teppan King” asian restaurant. The restaurant had a huge hallway and I rested my bike in between the door frame as I took a moment to shelter from the rain and try to dry off.

An older asian man came running up to me yelling. What have I done now? I know I’m wet but I’ve not even come inside! I hadn’t realised my front wheel was just over the front door and a small amount of water had formed a puddle just inside his hallway. He screamed at me to take my bike out. Having reflected from the incident before I calmly tried to neutralise this situation by again introducing myself in English. However he snapped back at me: “I don’t care if you are English, look at my floor!”

I remarked that it was just a bit of water and would easily be mopped up – in fact I could do it once I dry off! He stormed off angry. Just moments later he came back with a mop and aggressively passed over the puddle I had caused. One sweep and it had disappeared. I smiled with excitement that my unintentional mess was indeed temporary. But the man kept mopping, the whole hallway in fact, even places I hadn’t been, and then behind the sofa! As if I might have snuck some dirt around there and ruined the atmosphere for his empty restaurant. He angrily looked at me when I finished and he walked back inside.

Reflecting from thoughts of why and how the Holocaust happened I have been trying to work out if better education and experience could have prevented the events. After these two rude encounters today it was reinforced to me that you can’t change the world in a day.

I realised that I could reach the concentration camp of Flossenburg but would be uncomfortably wet to walk around; therefore I decided to delay until tomorrow morning bright and early (after a conference call from the McDonalds’s wifi!).

Fixing my puncture
Fixing my puncture

Coming into the final town I got my first puncture of the trip. Composing myself still in the pouring rain I took the wheel off and replaced the inner tube without too much hassle. The wheel was fine for the 5km further to the bunk house.

DAY 18, WEIDEN, GERMANY TO PILSEN, CZECH REPUBLIC, 115KM TODAY, 1685KM TOTAL >>

London to Auschwitz: Day 16, Würzburg to Nürnberg 100km today, 1470km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 16, Würzburg to Nürnberg 100km today, 1470km total

Today was another incredible day on this amazing cycling trip across Europe.

My target was Nuremberg, which lay 100km away and with just one road to take me there (or so the map said). I wanted to visit the Nuremberg Trial room, which is closed on Tuesdays, so I had to get there early today.

Waking up at 0600, I was eager to hit the road but it was already bucketing it down. I somehow managed to motivate myself and was packed and out of the door in minutes, but it wasn’t long before I was soaked to the bone. Better yet, the road that was marked as suitable for cyclists on the map had somehow turned into a motorway! Evidently I had missed the ‘no-cycling signs’ – were they even there? I therefore found myself pedalling as fast as possible to the next exit on the hard shoulder. Not fun. The alternative was to walk the wrong way down a motorway which would have been more dangerous, especially in the dark. Eventually I found a path that would take me in the rough direction I wanted so I followed it, wasting valuable time and making me rather demoralised about the whole thing.

My legs were soaking after the first bit of rain
My legs were soaking after the first bit of rain

After hours of cycling in the rain, soaked, cold, tired, I finally reached my destination at about 1300. The place I had thought about cheating to reach by taking a train. The journey today was mentally tough, but all my troubles paled into insignificance when I reached the court rooms.

Through a series of posters, videos and audio clips, I was fed the summation of the abominable atrocities, abhorrent war crimes against humanity and of the peace at the end of World War II.

The courtroom where the Nuremberg trials took place
The courtroom where the Nuremberg trials took place

The first thing I did when entering the museum was walk into the court-room. Immediately I felt the emotion from the place. I have never had this happen to me before. Perhaps my subconscious over the past few days was suppressing emotions as I slowly cycled across Germany; but now I found myself standing there, the very same room so many evil people who were responsible for so many deaths stood awaiting the court’s sentences.

21 people were tried here. Göring, Donitz, Hess, Raeder, Von Ribbentrop, Keitel, Schirach, Kaltenbrunner, Sauckel, Rosenberg, Jodl, Frank, Von Rapen, Frick, Seyss-Inquart, Streicher, Speer, Funk, Von Neurath, Schaucht, Fritzsche.

Most received a sentence of death by hanging. A few got lengthy prison sentences and 3 managed to be acquitted. These sentences were given to the defendants over a year after the end of the war.

They were tried for:
Conspiracy
Crimes Against Peace
War Crimes
Crimes Against Humanity

There was a call by many to “liquidate” those who clearly had involvement, but the idea of a fair trial prevailed. Indeed the consensus after the trial was that it was fair and just.

A detailed view of the 177 others prosecuted and 12 follow up trials
A detailed view of the 177 others prosecuted and 12 follow up trials

There were many pieces of evidence that were examined for the trials; some of which were mentioned at the museum. One that stuck in my mind is of a German commander saying that “the lowest German is 1000 times better than any of the people here [in the Ukraine].”

I was in Kiev to trace my family history a few years ago and visited the site of Babi Yar. All of the Jews of the town there were rounded up and shot on top of a hill; the bodies pushed down a ditch and buried over. In some of the follow up trials people were called to take responsibility for such events. Paul Blobel was prosecuted for Babi Yar and the suspected 33,000 deaths there, although other reports suggest up to 3 times as many people were slaughtered in this way here. Blobel was hanged after being found guilty.

The clothes that were discarded from the tens of thousands marched out and killed at Babi Yar in Kiev,  Ukraine
The clothes that were discarded from the tens of thousands marched out and killed at Babi Yar in Kiev, Ukraine

There were also trials for the camps of Auschwitz where the highest number of murders had taken place, and for another camp in Majdanek where conditions were reportedly even more horrendous and unspeakable. These happened over 20 years after the war ended and so evidence was a lot harder to gather.

IG Farben, the chemical company that supplied things like Cyclone-B gas and organised the Auschwitz camp were mostly given short sentences – if at all. Some even obtained successful positions in the pharmaceutical industry after the war.

The doctors who tortured patients and killed many through their tests (e.g. giving them hypothermia to study the affects) were also prosecuted, with some being sentenced to hanging but some eluding even a prison sentence.

A map showing just how many other war crimes have been reported gloablly
A map showing just how many other war crimes have been reported gloablly

At the end of the visit to the museum, there was a display with a summary of reports of war crimes – those crimes being against more than 1000 people. The map shows the true extent of the horrors.

I wanted to point out that this journey is to learn about Europe’s recent war history and honour those killed in them. I could (and probably will) write about many other events that have happened since, and even some that are happening now. However my current journey’s purpose is to learn about and understand better WWII.

Tomorrow I am continuing to Flossenburg concentration camp.

p.s. I have just finished the day by going to an independent cinema on a “Gay-Filmnacht” to watch a movie entitled “The Butler” which is a hollywood story about the history of civil rights for black people over the last several decades in America. I think this part of the world has definitely come on a bit…

DAY 17, NÜRNBERG TO WEIDEN, 100KM TODAY, 1570KM TOTAL >>

London to Auschwitz: Day 13, Engleheim to Frankfurt 50km today 1250km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 13, Engleheim to Frankfurt 50km today 1250km total

Today was a very relaxed day. Only needing to complete 50km before my friend Mathias got off work at 1900 led to a chilled pace on the bike. Waking up at 6am I saw the weather forecast updated from being an absolute downpour expected when I went to sleep, to no rain at all for the entire day! I decided a lie in would be acceptable and went back to sleep relieved.

Yesterday was very reflective and yet filled with extreme happiness. Perhaps I have an endorphin addiction (in fact a few of my friends say I do) and that kicked it all off; or perhaps it was a real experience. Either way, today involved a slight come down from it all. I had expected heavy rain and was ready for it last night; this morning’s forecast caused a complete change of mental state expecting it to be completely clear. Feeling great I set off wearing more than sufficient clothing to stay warm. Then the heavens opened and it started raining cats and dogs; within an hour of setting off I was drenched to the bone, leaving me feeling a bit crap.

Rain isn’t really an issue by itself. When you exercise in the rain you stay warm (think football or rugby); also things dry out and no worry about my possessions locked away in waterproof bags; as long as you don’t sit in wet clothes for an extended period it is absolutely fine for your body. However there are still a few issues whilst cycling:

1) Brakes don’t work so well which can be an issue if you ever need to stop.
2) Manhole covers, painted road markings and of course the many tram lines in Frankfurt all become very very slippery. In fact Loren (my American friend) managed to fall off his bike on one of these very tram lines and scrape his whole leg.
3) When travelling fast you get a big line of water (or in my case mud) up your back. It also comes off the front wheel to hit you in your face: so it’s difficult to see.

These things lead to quite an unpleasant experience even when prepared for it. Nonetheless I shall not be broken!

An eagle statue overlooks the oncoming clouds on top of a vineyard
An eagle statue overlooks the oncoming clouds on top of a vineyard

After reaching Mainz I stopped for a cappuccino at a busy breakfast bar. I managed to sit next to a lady who told me she met an Englishman who had cycled through her town a month ago. He was from London and on his way to Istanbul (she said he was called Jake M…). I wonder how many conversations like this are missed because we sit one seat over or go to a different breakfast place.

Continuing on in the rain I shortly arrived at the skyscraper filled Frankfurt and immediately met heavy traffic. Snaking my way through the cars I narrowly avoided several close calls on the slippery tram lines by regaining control of the rear of the bike. Eventually I reached a cafe where I would immediately disrobe and put on all new dry clothes stored away in my panniers.

I then met Mathias at his apartment; after a quick shower we headed out for a traditional Frankfurt meal. Applwoy is a cider like drink that is a little sour. Normally mixed with Fanta, or in our case fizzy water, we took a 5x300ml jug (1.5L for those who can’t math). This accompanied our Frankfurt schnitzel with special herb and cheese sauce which I inhaled.

Applwoi and Mathias in Frankfurt
Applwoi and Mathias in Frankfurt

Mathias is a friend of a friend who I only met today; however it is extremely nice to meet someone so friendly and hospitable. Travelling alone is difficult when in a different place each night, but this was a great change of routine. We got on really well and because he has a rugby match in the morning we can both get a much needed early night. Interactions like this make travelling worthwhile!

DAY 14, FRANKFURT TO ASCHAFFENBURG 45KM TODAY 1295KM TOTAL >>

London to Auschwitz: Day 5, Caen to Évreux 125km Today, 545km Total

London to Auschwitz: Day 5, Caen to Évreux 125km Today, 545km Total

Another physically and emotionally demanding day. After being woken up early by the pouring rain I weighed up my options. Asking around I learnt that a bus from outside where I was staying went directly to the Memorial of Caen. Many people had spoken highly about this museum but I wasn’t sure I would have time. Taking the rain as a sign I decided to hop on the bus (in full lycra and cycling cleated shoes) and visit this museum that was immaculately presented and informative.

Caen Memorial
Caen Memorial

The visit reiterated the importance of my chosen route in explaining the history of the war. The treaty of Versailles (where I am heading tomorrow) carved up the land in Europe and forced reparations on Germany which slowly killed their economy. Hitler was a man of propaganda and blackmail; quickly he gained more support as the country suffered by promising to solve the situation by removing the problem of the Jew’s attempt at world domination. Soon he was in charge.

After just 20 years of peace, Hitler had taken Germany into neighbouring land without much resistance from the other European countries because no-one wanted war again. It was only when Hitler invaded Poland that war was declared. However German troops took France by surprise and caused Pétain to make a deal with the Nazi’s not to divide up the country.

German occupied land before the declaration of war
German occupied land before the declaration of war

Hitler wanted to invade England, but decided to focus efforts on Moscow, with the idea that if Moscow fell, the Allies would likely give in. Russia was surprised by this move, but managed to repel the attack despite not being prepared. Then the Japanese made a surprise attack on the American port of Pearl Harbour, causing America to declare war on Japan. Immediately Hitler declared war on the Americans thinking they would be distracted for a while. But really it was Germany first.

We all know the atrocities of the Nazi’s during this period towards the Jews. An account that I did not know about was that the Germans killed two thirds of approximately 5 million Russian Prisoners of War (POWs) in just 6 months. The museum also touched on the Japanese torture of the Chinese that I have only recently heard about (perhaps I will learn more on another cycle trip). Horrific stories of child rape and stabbings with bayonets were recounted in detail. Tough to understand.

To finish off the museum tour, the liberation was described which reminded me of the importance of this journey. Then came the trials of Nuremberg. I am passing through Nuremberg later in the trip for this reason. 9 months of trials and 11 months of waiting for the sentences saw 12 condemned to death. The night of the sentencing Goering (the military leader of the Nazi’s) took a cyanide pill and died. The others were hanged and then cremated at Dachau. 3 men in the trials were found not guilty.

It was an incredible museum that I highly recommend. I decided to support the museum further by purchasing some badges that I have put on the side of my pannier bags and a British flag that I hope to take from Normandy to my final destination of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Badges on my bag
Badges on my bag

Due to spending so long in the morning at this museum I only managed to set off on the bike at 1300. Giving me just about 6 hours of sunlight for 120km of riding. But fortunately it was just one road all the way. Things were looking good until I got out of Caen just five minutes into the journey; the seriously strong headwind started blowing me backwards. It reduced my speed and reduced my morale; I felt that I was just fighting the wind, going nowhere.

My morale was lifted when I saw that the road I was on was actually called the Liberation Road (Rue De La Liberation). This allowed me to push on to Lisieux, my planned lunch stop.

Rue De La Liberation
Rue De La Liberation

Lisieux was the most odd place. Not one person smiled at me for the whole time I was there. The drivers were awful nearly hitting me on several separate occasions as well as just being rude. People seemed to be distant and unfriendly. Perhaps everyone was depressed because no-one knew how to drive or park properly!

Staying positive about the trip I remembered the good things in life, putting a smile on my face and making people look at me strangely. I continued up the steep hill out of the unfriendly town and stumbled across a cemetery for the Allies. Since the famous American cemetery was closed yesterday due to ridiculous budget cuts, I didn’t know the German one existed, and the British one was too far out of the way, this was the first cemetery I had visited on the trip. It was extremely moving once I started to comprehend what each one of these stones represented. It represented a man, normally around my age (early 20s) who had gone to support his country in this tragic war; never to return. Some graves were even nameless.

Cemetary Desir
Cemetary of Desir

After another 70km non-stop of oncoming headwind I made it to Évreux at about 1900 before the sundown. After showering, I wandered around this small town and decided to treat myself to a rather large McDonald’s meal still contemplating not only the physical endurance of this trip, but the emotional part too. I am about to pass out ahead of the ride into Paris (via Versailles) tomorrow, and looking forward to a “rest” day on Saturday.

DAY 6, ÉVREUX TO PARIS, 105KM TODAY, 650KM TOTAL >>