Hell of a hot night & disturbed sleep all round despite both room and bathroom windows being fully open. Still, the day looks bright and sunny when I wake (around 0700 – I had a lie in). I decide to adjust my chain but cannot locate the socket drive converter for the torque wrench (I've brought far too much stuff) that I thought I'd brought for this very purpose. Looked more carefully at the chain and decided it didn't really need adjusting anyhow with only 5mm more slack than nominal. I'll monitor it over the coming days.
Breakfast is served in a huge room and is set out in the buffet style. There's vast amounts of it and virtually no guests. We spend some time debating whether or not we are in the old GDR and decide that I must be wrong as this town is handsome and also reasonably affluent looking.
We set off out of town going North (ish) to go East again and we're almost immediately out onto nice roads. The road over some small mountains, down and through Kronach is good fun. Kronach isn't ugly but is semi-industrialised and there's a lot of traffic. We stop in a shaded area at the bottom of a hill to drink water, look briefly at maps and marvel at the idiot taxi driver that tried to get in front of me as I came down the hill. As we leave town the traffic increases, with a high proportion of that being lorries. This is the road to Hof, which we skirt. As we go on, the road gets better and the traffic gets a bit lighter. In fact, for a while the road becomes seriously good for an open and wide 'A' road equivalent. The area's hilly, so there's quite a lot of the up and down stuff and as its a fairly major road it wiggles but has had these slightly smoothed out, meaning that there's a lot of long and really rather fast bends. The traffic that remains is enough to insert some overtaking related frustration but this too is just a challenge to enjoy. I start to pick up to really quite naughty speeds, which was fun :) At one point there's a large hotel in the chateau stylee off to the left. It looks like the sort of place proudly announced in 30s newsreel as "Herr Goering's favourite mountain retreat" or something similar. As it happens, shortly afterwards we see a road-sign for Berlin.
The roads become smaller and more twiddly, which is nice. We stop for an earlyish lunch at the town of Markneukirchen, just after we've seen the first of what turns out to be a theme for the remainder of the day: road closures. This particular one is a slight bugger as we'd planned to take that road but its no great problem. We have a very nice lunch on the roadside outside a bar. I didn't go in. Jerry did and came out laughing his head off: apparently this rather pleasant little bar was a heavy rock bar inside, playing the sort of grungy late 80s metal that disappeared in the UK, well, 10 years ago at least. The mix of architecture round here is quite interesting. Opposite the bar is a bus-stop and a house that looks sort of nice but also sort of creepy.
We debate it for a while but decide we really must be in the GDR now. Cool! This is part of what we came for, after all.
As we try to leave town, there's a slight problem. More road works. There's a bloke with a red sign stopping us going up the one remaining lane of the road & a lorry coming down. We wait & proceed when the red sign is swapped for a green one. Two thirds of the way out of the village is what can only be called a crossing point. The first section of the road works ends with another chap with a sign. There's a 10 yard long area where there are two lanes and then more road works and another chap with a sign. This would be fine except section 1 has let us up the road and section 2 has let several huge lorries down their section. We're supposed to get round each other in this tiny area between the two works. We end up pulling off the road and onto some grass to avoid becoming pate under the lorry wheels.
Our (slightly amended) route takes us to within a mile or so of the Czech border and then along it for quite some way until we turn North again. The scenery is really lovely - lots of forest, but also a fair amount of meadows and grassland with small copses dotted around.
Its a good job the scenery is worth seeing as we get to see an awful lot of it, certainly more than we expected. I reckon that 50% or greater of the roads we want to use are unavailable to us. This puts quite a demand on my already ropey navigation, although its good for teaching me to make it up as we go along. We are forced to deviate off-route over and over as the roads are either ripped up and in use or just plain closed, forcing us to deviate way off course. One of the most irritating things is the way there is no prior warning of the road closures and no detour information when we get to a road block. We get close to Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz intending to carry on for a good number of miles but instead find that a short distance later the road goes down into a valley and just stops half way up the other side. Not closed, you understand, just not there. We turn right - the only thing we can do - and go off course again towards Wildenthal.
At Wolfsgrund we come down a hill and just before a blocked off bridge are sent left to go round the village on the other side. We have to wait for a set of lights to go in our favour and as we do so two lads on scooters ride over the bridge (there's a small pedestrian section left open) and past the bollards & off. I want to do that, I really want to, but the lights change before I can seriously consider it & so I pull away instead.
This stopping is causing a problem. There's often traffic at the stopping points, its very hot and because of all the trees there's no real breeze. We're slightly over-heating as we wait & the bikes aren't exactly remaining cool, particularly the Capo.
At some point, probably in one of the many queues for temporary traffic lights, the Capo overheats slightly. I only find this out when we stop for fuel and I notice coolant has come out of the bottle and streaked the side of the engine & frame. As the temperature hasn't reached the actual top of the gauge, I blame this partly on the heat and partly on the fact that the thread is a bit iffy on the coolant bottle top. I top the coolant up with finest Evian (it doesn't take that much) and resolve to keep an eye on it. As it happens this doesn't reoccur during the remainder of the trip.
As we approach Zschopau, the road we are on becomes reasonably back-road like and skirts along between a river and some houses in a very pleasant and tree-lined sort of way. The sky has become overcast and for the first time is vaguely threatening rain. Over a small hill and along by a flyover and we're into what is essentially just another small (and quite attractive) town. The main difference here, however, is that we're looking for a factory that closed some years ago and has since been partially demolished.
Now I know you're going to ask why on earth we should be doing that. The answer is twofold. Firstly, this trip is about visiting places that are intrinsically interesting but not conveniently located so that it is unlikely I'd visit them otherwise. Secondly, for many years I've been an MZedder - an owner, rider and occasional racer of the main Cold War industrial product of this town: MZ motorcycles. MZ are now owned outside of Germany, have thrown away their heritage and moved from Zschopau. The old factory has mainly been demolished. A pity.
Anyhow I'm ahead of myself. We wend through the town with nothing to guide us as to where the factory might have been. We stop in a car park and discuss, just as a light drizzle starts. After a slight conflab about the way, we cross over the bridge and head to the edge of town and the dual carriageway where a huge and isolated chimney rearing out of the trees suggests we may be looking in the right direction. The first turning leads us past a couple of slightly military looking factory buildings and then to a rather grim looking set of tenement style blocks. Clearly not the place. A quick shouted discussion startles a lady in her 50s who is going to her car: clearly she wasn't expecting English speakers. Jerry nips up the now unmade road as it heads out the back of the tenements to go for a piddle while I turn round. We go back towards the town for a few yards and then turn up the side of a garage. This rather poor condition road to nowhere in particular looks a bit more like it and indeed despite no signposts at all, actually is it - or rather what's left of 'it'. We bimble down a slope and park up at the back of the site. Despite it being mostly gone, I am still struck by the place. In this little valley 10s of 1,000s of utilitarian but rugged motorcycles were produced. This is where Walter Kaaden, one of motorcycle engineering's real greats, developed the revolutionary expansion chamber and created GP winning motorcycles on a budget of 3s, 11d or thereabouts. This quiet place is where the first 200 bhp/litre motorcycle engines were born.
The curious tranquility up by the lake and boiler house is an interesting comparison to the sadness of the demolished part of the site. The buildings still in use are pretty sad looking too. As we leave, Jerry notices one of the buildings on the side of the valley has a load of trophies in the window. I stop but can't see what they are for. The building is now a smart looking medical centre.
We leave, joining the dual carriageway out of town, picking up speed and conscious that there's a way to go yet and its 3 in the afternoon already. The kilometres click away, separating us from what was for me at least a fairly dispiriting experience: so much history should be celebrated somehow and not just abandoned or demolished. But then look at Meriden...
We reach Chemnitz as the rush-hour comes on - not that its bad by SE England standards. Its difficult to know what to say about this place. As we ride into the town itself on the left is a burnt out tower; on the right are a series of boarded up, graffitied, 3-storey tenement buildings. They were obviously once reasonable enough buildings, perhaps pre-WWII. Now they are grim and somehow very Iron Curtain. It doesn't get any better. As we approach the city centre it all becomes very 90s-modern, very glass and steel. No habitation that I can see, just lots of corporate nasty set in one large block with what looks like the bus station smack in the middle.
On the way out of town we see a bunch of black, purple & red haired Goths heading into some run down building for whatever reason. Probably to take vast quantities of drugs and listen to grindingly down music to go with their grindingly down city. Can't say as I blame 'em. Getting a really good smack habit is probably the only thing really worth doing in a place like this.
As we leave the town I see a derelict building on the side of the road that seems to somehow sum up the place. We stop and both take a picture, its such a striking image.
As we put some miles between us and Chemnitz, the roads pick up, the sky shows some blue again and we crack on towards Colditz.
Not too far from Colditz village, I become concerned that I can't see Jerry behind me. I'm used to him being at a distance but I'm closing on the end of a 1 km straight & he should be visible by now. I stop and wait for a minute. Still no sign, so I turn round & amble back, slightly (but only very slightly) concerned. On the bend at the other end of the straight there's a small copse and what looks like one of the roadside shrines you see so often in France. And a black BMW. He's stopped for a widdle again... As he walks out of the trees he grins and says "I had me headlight off!"
One of the ad-hoc rules of riding together that Jerry & I have adopted is that if you're following & you want to stop, you turn off your headlight. This works well when Jerry's leading as the Capo has bright headlights and I tend to ride quite close behind him. This doesn't work so well when I'm leading as Jerry's BMW doesn't have a large or overly bright headlight and he tends to ride 1/4 to 1/2 of a mile behind me. I just plain can't see if his headlight is on or off.
Within the half-hour we're riding into the outskirts of the town of Colditz. Actually its more like a good sized village than a town. We come in through a slightly low-industry area and stop at some traffic lights at a bridge. Our GPS has a map of the place, ish, but we don't really know exactly where the castle is - but we're determined to go there first.
The lights change and we cross the bridge. I'm slightly aware from reading for this trip, other reading and generally growing up in a certain period in Britain that seemed obsessed with 'the War' that the castle is somewhere in the middle, but as we cross the bridge we get a proper view. Its smack in the middle, looking down from a ridge.
Its not hard to ride into town when aiming for the castle but as we get close its a bit harder. We arrive at a curious junction where there are two single lane roads in front of us, one looking much less used than the other and with a no entry sign unhelpfully positioned between the two, another road steeply going uphill to our right with a Trabant coming down it and what looks a lot like the road back out of town to our left. As I pause, unsure how to proceed, a long-haired and bearded head pokes out of the Trabant and enquires "you looking for the castle, yeah?" I nod and he jerks his thumb in a vague 'over there and up' sort of way. I decide this means straight on (ish) and take the left of the two roads in front of me, being slightly put off by the cobbles on the other. This basically means I'm riding a wide motorcycle the wrong way down a narrow one-way street. Bugger.
At the end of this road (mercifully close as its short) is the village square and some youths registering sullen surprise at the appearance of a large, red motorcycle. They are even more surprised (but no doubt equally sullen) when I do a quick lap of what I later discover is only one of several squares and spot a 'castle this way' sign. I promptly ride that way. Its not a one-way street this time but it is terribly windy and terribly steep and damply cobbled. At the top, I pull out into a car park to find Jerry sitting on his bike and grinning to himself. Turns out he went right where the Trabant driving beard had come from and rode straight here: here being the gates of castle Colditz itself!
We park up for a moment and feel rather happy at actually arriving at our first proper stop, deep in the heart of what was Very Foreign Soil not too long ago.
A brief inspection of the castle gates tells us there's a 10:30 tour tomorrow so we decide to look for somewhere to stay. Jerry declines to ride back down the road I came up (to my relief) and we go back the way he came, take the other one of the two roads from that junction and arrive back in the square. There's a rudimentary tourist information centre but it is closed. The few display items outside are all in German and seem to have no references to hotels that we can determine. The road out of the square is at the bottom, away from the castle. As we ride out we see a very clever bit of marketing: "Hotel - English spoken ----" and we turn down an alley and into a courtyard.
A tall and very blonde chap in his 30s wearing a dark red smoking jacket and (naturally) smoking a pipe comes over from where he had been chatting and enquires if we are looking for rooms. We are indeed and for a fairly minimal fee we acquire two rooms (well, gives Jerry a rest from my snoring) and secure, garaged parking for the bikes. We are staying in what appears to be the only hotel in the actual town, Pension Zur Alten Stadtmauer, and we have met our host, Ralf Gorny. Nice chap.
Our rooms are excellent and after taking advantage of the en-suite facilities we go out into the light drizzle to eat and have a well earned beer or three. Our host has told us how to find the one bar/restaurant in Colditz - and cautioned us that the town choir are practising there that evening!
The one bar/restaurant is low-ceilinged, dark, slightly worryingly empty at 7 pm and run by a big bosomed blonde-plaited woman in her 50s who speaks just about enough English to deal with us. First order of the evening: beer. And jolly refreshing it is too, so we have another.
We are presented with the menu which has slightly worse than usual versions of the bad-English translations for most items - but at least it has them so we don't completely have to point & guess. The menu is helpfully grouped into sections: 'Breakfast', 'Daytime' and 'Evening'. Another beer while we decide? What a good idea!
We make our choices. Jerry, ever the rebellious type, decides he wants something from the daytime menu. As he points out his choice, a broad grin covers the blonde's face, stretching from plait to plait. Silly boy! Her entire manner laughed "you Englisher fool! Does it look like daytime? Of course not. This is deepest, darkest Easternmost Germany - you can't go ordering from the daytime menu in the evening, not here!" All that from one amused grin and a ruffle of his hair (such as it is - he had a clippers cut before we left England). The page is firmly turned to the Evening Menu. Jerry chooses again like a Good Boy.
After she's gone I announce that I think she has a soft spot for him. Probably between those enormous bosoms and were she ever to get her wicked way with him he'd surely suffocate. Another beer is needed to take away the chill that has shivered down our spines at the thought of her bearing down <
The food's basic but very tasty and in just right sized portions. As we eat the choir drift in and we notice a very curious thing. As each person or small group (never larger than 3 - old habits die hard, I guess; more on that later) comes in they go from table to table, knocking once on the table with their knuckles and nodding. The people at the table knock back. No words are spoken during this ritual. Another thing I realised later is that the people may be all effectively together as they are all locals to this village and just about all there for the choir practice too, but they sit in very small groups at different tables, these groups slowly expanding as the place fills up. Another old habit? Some months later, I get an explanation.
And so we sit there, getting fairly pissed on Colditzer beer. Every so often the choir all get up and go into the next room and there's a short blast of solid, loud German song, getting slightly more off-key as the evening goes on. The pattern seems to be one song then back for a beer then off to sing again.
About 10-ish, mindful that we're, ahem, slightly intoxicated, that a hangover tomorrow would be unbearable and that the Hotelier bade us return before 11 (although he's given us a key to the side door, the explanation of which key to use on which door before or after which time was confusing before the beer, never mind now), we decide to go for a walk round the village. The rain's stopped and the only light in the square apart from the sparse street lamps is from an ice-cream parlour cum coffee shop. Coffee. Now there's an idea. In we go only to find that they've stopped serving. Curses.
Still. feeling very pleasantly sozzled we amble round the streets below the castle for half-an-hour or so, discovering several other squares (deserted), some nice & a few ugly buildings and the 'ring-road' we came in on, which was closer than expected.
As we walk, talk and sober up a bit, it dawns on us that there are a significant number of what look a lot like relatively recently abandoned buildings - houses and apartments in the main. Now I bet you're expecting that these are the post-war GDR concrete eyesores (like the awful school building) but no. These are attractive, 19th Century or pre Great War buildings. They aren't abandoned in the British (or Cheminitz) sense - boarded up, vandalised, covered in graffiti, perhaps a little burnt out. It just seems as though they're not in use anymore. This may not be appalling in the same way as a burnt out wreck but its somehow rather sad. I suspect that people just can't afford to live in these houses any more. They're probably too expensive to run on the average income round here. Its a shame because as these fine old buildings fall into real disrepair, they'll really become too expensive for anyone to use and they'll be ripped down, taking away part of the character of the place.
As we get back to our hotel and after we relatively quietly negotiate the problem of the doors, I am overcome by a sense of amazement. I am staying in a hotel less that 500 yards from Colditz castle in the heart of East Germany. How absolutely cool as cool can be is that?!
Image of route
Mapsource .gdb file of track