2010-10-19 48 8
I reached a geohash in Germany!
Between Mönsheim and Weissach in a copse of trees by one of those German multiuse paths that have bikes and joggers and also (if today is an accurate example) dogs, goats, tractors, smart cars, airplanes and mud.
- Robyn on an orange rental bike I shall hereby call Fahrvergnougat.
With the assistance of the extremely knowledgeable Ekorren, I formulated the following plan.
- Buy a Baden-Würtenberg-Ticket and then after 9:00 am take the train south to Niefern-Öschelbronn, and bike to the point.
- Bike north to Mühlacker, take the train to Maulbronn West, and visit the historic monastery at Maulbronn.
- Bike back to Maulbronn and get back on the train and go somewhere, taking advantage of the all-day ticket to jump off the train if an interesting journey became available.
If you don't like long expedition reports, you can just read the section headings.
 Robyn finds the bike path
I took a couple of tries to find the bike path to the local train station. It turns out that the official bike route goes through a corporate parking lot placarded with "beware of the forklift" signs. Mind you, I just assumed they were warning me about forklifts because they had pictures of forklifts and impressive-looking German words with Zs in them. Perhaps they were advertising forklift lessons. Anyway, once I went past the forklift signs, up a trail at the back of the lot and around a sharp corner, I was beside the train tracks, and quickly found the station. My next challenge was to buy a ticket to Niefern-Öschelbronn.
 Robyn goes somewhere on the train
I could see a ticket vending machine on the island between the sets of train tracks, so I took the bike through an underpass and up the stairs to the centre platform to use it. I had been briefed not only on the train information in the Planning section above, but that ticket vending machines have a "translate" option. My German being almost entirely limited to the things the enemy yelled at one another in American movies about WWII, the translate option was going to be a very good idea. It was a touch screen. I pressed the Union Jack at the bottom of the screen, and the screen changed to a different one, with four large, coloured buttons, all labelled in German. I chose one of the ones that had the syllables "Ticket" on it, and was presented with a screen that looked like the form I have to fill in to pay my income tax, except in German. I did recognize a word down the bottom: Hilfe: Help.
Another customer came towards the machine and so I said "Hilfe, Bitte." I showed him the name of the ticket I had to buy and he pressed the right buttons for me. I put in the €20 note and the machine gave me a ticket with a shiny gold stripe. Yay! Now all I have to do is figure out which train to get on. My benefactor doesn't recognize the name of the station I am going to. I guess I probably have to change trains at Pforzheim to get there. I go back down the stairs and up the other side to the platform where there are schedules and more people. I look first at the schematic map of the train system and I can't find Niefern-Öschelbronn or Mühlacker anywhere. I find a fellow traveller who speaks English with a lovely English accent and he's not familiar with the towns, but indicates Eschelbronn on the transit map. Now in Canada if the place you wanted began with one letter and the train you were considering went to a place that began with another letter, it would be the wrong train. But this isn't my country; it's not my language. If ss can sometimes be ß, then maybe Ö is sometimes E. Ö is after all a form of OE. He tells me that I have to get on the next train north from here and then at Heidelberg transfer to the S5 train in the direction Eppingen, but disembark at Meckesheim to take the S51 one station to Eschelbronn. According to him, is that S51 may be a bus, but how far is one stop going to be? I can bike it. This train is going north, and I want to go south, but Heidelberg is a big centre and it makes sense that it might be quicker to go north and transfer to a train that is going where I want to go, rather than wait for one that is going to stop in the right places. I thank him and get on the train.
The train has a loudspeaker announcement and a display telling us what each next stop is. The German word for next is just like English, only about eight letters long and with an ümlaut. (I don't know if ümlaut is supposed to have an ümlaut, but it would be disappointing if it didn't, wouldn't it?) Eventually the next stop is Heidelberg, but it's Heidelberg something and Robyn is just barely smart enough to realize that Heidelberg will have lots of platforms and trains, so this is just another station on the outskirts. Robyn gets off at the real Heidelberg, which has lots of platforms and trains, and tries to interpret the departure schedule to determine what platform to get S5 at. She asks someone, who finds it and Robyn gets on that train.
Inside the train the GPS can't receive enough satellites to fix a position, but at Meckesheim Robyn disembarks and it quickly finds one. Fifty-one kilometres from the geohash. This is not one stop from the correct Öschelbronn. Robyn studies the train map some more and determines that the place she is going is not on the map at all. It might be possible to get there from here on a southgoing train, but there is no guarantee. At this moment a northbound train arrives and Robyn gets on it, to go back to Heidelberg and reset this mission. In Heidelberg Robyn finds an information counter, usefully labelled "Service Point" and shows the man there the names of the places she needs to go. His English accent isn't as beautiful as the first man's, but his directions are much better. He gives her a printout that shows exactly how to get to Mühlacker. The printout provides more German vocabulary Robyn, like the word Die Bahn, which clearly mean train, and some words that mean things like origin, destination, connections and time. There is half an hour before the train, so Robyn uses that time to buy a map of Baden-Würtenburg and to pick up some tourism information on Heidelberg.
 Robyn goes to the right destination on the train
The train goes through the countryside, past the Necker river and through all kinds of towns. In Canada the railroad was built across the country, along a route surveyed to reach the mountain passes, avoid the worst of the swamps, and cross the rivers at points where it was feasible to build bridges. Towns grew up around the railroad, anchored there by the grain elevators and the source of supplies. I am conscious as I pass the German towns that they were all here before the invention of the steam engine, and that the railroad was a radical change, these almost two-hundred year old brick tunnels and railways embankments were built to accommodate the structures of the existing towns. No town is centred on its railroad station here.
A woman gets on and asks Robyn if she is going to Mühlacker. Robyn says ja, then the woman continues to talk to Robyn. Robyn makes a "sentence" containing the words Ich, spreche, Deutsche and nicht, possibly in that order or maybe in a different order. She puts them in a different order almost every time. It's the only sentence in any language that the worse the word order, the better it conveys its message: the speaker doesn't speak the language corresponding to the words in the sentence. The woman talks to Robyn anyway, and knows some English, such as "What is your name?" Robyn answers that and responds with "and yours" but that is ignored and the woman goes back to German, telling Robyn she has two children. Either two or three. Robyn gets zwei and drei mixed up under pressure. Robyn tries to join the conversation with an enquiry about Herr versus Fraulein but that doesn't seem to be what the conversation is about. The woman asks Robyn her name again. Robyn says it more clearly this time, then after a pause asks the woman for her name, with exactly the same English phrase as the woman used. When the woman responds by repeating the phrase again, it occurs to Robyn that there may be more than a language barrier preventing communication here. Robyn smiles and nods.
The train stops in Mühlacker, and Robyn disembarks and has to figure out where to go next. Her GPS just shows about 12 km to the geohash as the crow flight, and does not show roads. She needs to find Weirnsheimerstraße to start going south from here. She goes to the nearest roundabout, but nothing is promisingly named or particularly big-street-like. She goes to a nearby bicycle store. (There's an inner tube vending machine outside: nice!) Robyn summons some German words. "Bitte ... wo ... ist ... straße ... für ... Mönsheim ... mit Fahrrad?" This should mean something like "Please where is road for Mönsheim with bicycle?" plus the additional information, encoded in the carrier of accent and delivery, of "I don't actually speak German." Bicycle shop man understands both messages and says in English that it is "difficult" to get to Mönsheim by bicycle. He tells her she has to go through a little town called Pinoche, that isn't on her map, then to Weirnsheim and south to Mönsheim. Robyn knew this bit, except for the existence of Pinoche. It's the getting to the right road south that is the challenge. He points out the road to take and says to go straight and stay on the road and then I have to take a Fusgang, which he doesn't know how to translate into English. Robyn pretends to know what a Fusgang is: Fus as in Fusbol is foot, and gang as in gangway is some sort of path/route, so a Fusgang is going to be a pedestrian way of some sort. He says it's between tall buildings, then I have to cross a river, and then I will be on the right road. The directions work very well, with the Fusgang in question being a cobblestone pedestrian mall. It ends at a plaza with bicycle direction signs, none of which points to Weirsheim, Mönsheim or Pinoche. Robyn waylays a pedestrian who indicates the correct direction, adding the information that it is an Autobahn, not a bicycle path. In Canada "Autobahn" references "the" Autobahn, the German super highway with no speed limit. "Fahrrad okay im Autobahn?" asks Robyn and the man confirms that the road is "bicycle okay." International travel must have been a lot harder without the word okay.
The path from the plaza leads onto a road, which shortly goes over a bridge and onto Weirnsheimerstraße. Robyn has long been a fan of going to X on X street, and while there is a little bit of that left in Canada, in Germany there is a beautiful pattern of the road between X and Y being called Ystraße for the first half, then switching over to being called Xstraße, as the inhabitants of both communities simply call it "the road to [the other one]." Robyn approves.
 Robyn bikes uphill in the rain
Robyn does not approve of the next fork in the road. Not that there is any doubt that the left fork is the main road, and the one going in the right direction for the geohash, but the left fork clearly leads to a road so steep that it is a series of uphill switchbacks. Robyn studies all the places signposted on the right fork before reluctantly starting up the steep road to the left. Perhaps when bicycle show guy said "difficult" he wasn't referring to directions to the main road south.
The road is fairly narrow, and quite busy with large trucks. They aren't as large as North American eighteen-wheelers but they are lane-filling Volkswagen and Mercedes transport trucks roaring up and down the road along with passenger vehicles. Robyn is crawling up the hill in low gear and then she notices an astonishing thing. When there is no shoulder on a narrow twisty road and vehicles coming both ways, the ones behind her slow down and wait for the opposite direction traffic before passing. It's as if German drivers acknowledge her existence as a vehicle and a human being. It's so amazing that the hill doesn't seem that bad. At the slow rate of climb, Robyn can watch each little reflective post go by in slow motion. Some of them have little telephone-shaped stickers on them. If Germany can have drivers that yield the lane to cyclists, Robyn is willing to believe that they have posts next to the highway that are also telephones, but continued observation reveals that the posts with the telephone sticker also have arrow stickers. If you break down here, you look at the posts to see which way is the nearest telephone. Uphill is the nearest telephone and after a few more switchbacks there it is in a clearing off to the left. It's labelled something like "Nurzeg" which is enough unlike "telephone" that it must mean "Emergency Use Only" or "Highway Patrol" or something, with Germans generally considered smart enough to recognize the fact that it's a telephone. In North America I'm sure they'd have to explain that it was a telephone, and give directions as to which end to talk into.
The road continues up a long way, then goes down for a bit past a bunch of trees with white stakes, and into Pinocle. There is a lot of construction here, so Robyn waits patiently in line behind cars for the light to turn green. There's just one lane of traffic going through town, so they have set up a temporary traffic light stopping all the southbound traffic while the northbound traffic comes through and then vice versa. In Canada this sort of operation requires two people with radios and double-sided handheld signs. They coordinate with the radios when to switch over between holding up the sign to read "STOP" or "SLOW." Perhaps in Canada getting electrical power for the traffic light would be too difficult. Robyn doesn't mind stopping here for a bit of a rest, as the road is going up again.
It goes up some more out of town, with occasional sidewalks, but not a real bike route. There is a road that is marked with the pictures of a bicycle, small car and 6t axle that seems to lead towards the geohash, but there's no destination marked on it at all, and Robyn is too wary to take it. She rides up the hill some more and then down a long steep hill that she regrets needing to come back up later. At the bottom of the hill is Mönsheim. Yay! The geohash is a little ways southeast of Mönsheim. It's also pouring rain now. Robyn doesn't know how to talk about weather in German, because it's not something they do in war movies. "It's raining" and "it's foggy" would be good additions to Robyn's vocabulary. Also "wet" and "cold" and "windy." Despite the lack of vocabulary, Robyn bicycles on, choosing a direction from Mönsheim's central roundabout that seems sort of southeast. Unfortunately, when Robyn reaches the "No Mönsheiming" sign (actually it's a "you are now leaving Mönsheim" sign, but European signs signifying the end of an area or restriction display the name or symbol with a red slash through it, like the Canadian "no smoking" sign) it is accompanied by a sign indicating 5 km to Iptingen. Iptingen is north of Mönshiem. Back down that road and back up a steeper road, in the direction of Weissach. Under three kilometres to the geohash now. This is going to happen.
While riding uphill, Robyn notices an even steeper uphill road branching off to the left, the same direction as the geohash, and named Weissachstraße. It's marked with the clown hammer sign that signifies a dead end here, but if it once went to Weissach, there's probably a bike route out the end of it that still goes there. Something Robyn has learned already about Germany is that if people were once allowed to walk or ride along a path to somewhere, it takes more than road construction to eliminate that access. The road proves to be a very dead end, as there's a cemetery there, but there is also a bike path out the end of the road. It comes out alongside a motorway. Less than two kilometres to the geohash. Uphill.
The fields to the left, in the direction of the geohash, are unfenced and not planted with any crops, just grass. Less than a kilometre from the geohash there is a paved bike path branching off from the road over fields, roughly towards the geohash. If it doesn't go directly to the hash, it will at least go within stupidity distance, so it's a no brainer. This is really going to happen. The path is, of course, steeply uphill. Following it, just as Robyn finds the direct path to the geohash veering off to the right, there is a right, unpaved side path. Also, of course, uphill. And it's raining quite a lot now. Two hundred metres to the geohash. At one hundred metres away, the geohash is downhill, off the path. Robyn parks the bike and follows the GPS arrow. There's already a path here.
 Robyn walks through brambles to the geohash
The route goes across the field, and then into some longer rougher grass on a bank that was possibly too steep to be mowed, the area of trampled grass continuing down the bank, fifteen metres from the geohash. It still looks as though someone has been here recently. But there's no way there's another geohasher here, is there? Robyn reaches a bank of brambles. It is a tiny impediment, just one layer of thorns, and clearly other people have pushed through here before, but it's almost as if there is a rule that there must be thorns in the last twenty metres of any land geohash. Robyn pushes aside some of the thorns, scrapes through others and steps down the bank to the hash. There's no one else there. It's under a row of old apple trees and there are apples on the ground, which Robyn arranges to create a hash marker. It's raining too hard to have much in the way of a celebration, so blurry pictures are taken, and that is all.
 Robyn looks for a shorter way home
Robyn retraces her steps up the bank to the bike and rides back to where that trail meets the paved one. The paved trail might continue back in a shortcut towards somewhere Robyn wants to be. Or it might go the wrong way entirely, like the road Robyn picked that went to Ipptingen. A couple is out walking in the rain with umbrellas, so Robyn asks them. "Excuse me," she says, "Could you please direct me to the nearest train station where I could catch a passenger train?" Yeah, right. In her dreams. Robyn says, "Bitte. Wo ... Bahn?" Please. Where. Word-that-seemed-to-mean-train.
"Bahn?" says the man, as if Robyn has asked for directions to the cow, he asks something that is clearly "Which Bahn?" Robyn wants to say ANY Bahn, and thinks that the term might be "keine Bahn" or maybe that means "no Bahn" which would be really surreal. Instead Robyn makes ch-ch-ch steam train noises. How will travellers ask directions in the future when no one remembers steam trains? The nice people give Robyn elaborate directions, than may be to a train station. Or maybe it's to the autobahn, as it occurs to Robyn that Bahn is an all purpose word for road, not just railroad. For all Robyn knows she's assigned the wrong gender to Bahn and accidentally asked for directions to a bath. They point to the road I was on before and left. Right would take me back the way I came. There is a suggestion in the stream of directions that I go up a road to "haus." They may be inviting me to wait out the rain at their place, which would be glorious, and very much in the spirit of geohashing, but I really don't have the language skills. I thank them and go back along the path to the road.
Once there, I consider going left, but I decide to stick to the devil I know. There is one long uphill stretch but it is mostly downhill to Mühlacker and I know I can get a train there. I turn right and go back down the hill, past the cemetery, through the centre of Mönsheim, and up the long hill. It's not as long as I feared, and I'm soon at the top. I search for a way that avoids going all the way down to the bottom of the town before I have to go back up and I find a bicycle route marked for Pinoche. The bike route signs eventually disappear, but I zigzag around trying to simultaneously go not too far up or downhill and not too far from the direction of Mühlacker, and eventually re-emerge on the road, right by the white-staked trees. Score one for bike routes! It's only a short uphill from here to the looong downhill to the train station. Everything I passed on the way up goes by in high speed on the way back. I'm back on the bridge across the river, it's called Enz, in no time. There's a red light there and I look up through the rain to see a castle, an actual stone castle high above the town. If you're German this is far less remarkable than seeing a moose, but it was quite stunning for me. It was behind a house that is probably built before the French first came to what is now Canada.
 Robyn goes home on the train
I find my way back to Mühlacker and then can't find the plaza where I came out of the Fusgang. I've suddenly connected words from signs with words from the buses that passed me downhill on the way out to the geohash. Mühlacker Bf. Mühlacker Bahnhof. I don't just know how to say train. I know train station. I ask an older woman walking in the rain. "Bitte, wo ist Mühlacker Bahnhof?" I`m making real sentences now, I`m sure of it, because she points and says "link" and "Bahnhofstraße". I now know the word for left, that's link. And by association I spontaneously know that the word for right is recht. I practically speak German now! If anyone asks I'll say it's because of my link with the Tardis. I find the train station and the nearby bicycle store and go in to say thank you, but it's a different guy who doesn't speak English. I tell him "Herr ... morgan ... Hilfe ... min ... danke ... hem" and I grin triumphantly. He seems to understand something from that, which means he must have his own Tardis, because lacking any kind of training in German grammar I was making up my own dative pronouns. Maybe he will tell the morning guy that a happy wet girl said thank you for his help. Or maybe he will tell him to look out because a crazy wet girl was coming to kill him in the morning. Or perhaps he knows about crazy people and was just smiling and nodding until Robyn went away.
Robyn goes to the train station and studies the timetable. The words Wiesloch-Waldorf, Robyn's home station do not appear anywhere on the departure schedule. This is odd, because the train coming here went right through Wiesloch-Waldorf, actually stopped there. Robyn goes inside to the information counter and the man there gives her a printout showing her train departing at 16:59. Robyn goes back to the posted schedule to figure out how he did that. The 16:59 departure does not list Walldorf in its destinations, but it has a footnote "O" beside it. The O footnote is explained in German, French and possibly English, but it's still not quite clear what it means. Thus footnoted trains stop at all stations, perhaps, but it wasn't that clear. The train was seven minutes late, and it did pass at least one station without stopping, so there must be different classes of station included in the all stops. I'm guessing there are no request stops in Germany, where you pull down the signpost, or at night set out a flare, to get the train to stop to pick you up.
Once on the train, Robyn realizes that she has not entered a car like all the others she has been on, with a row of folded up seats where she can park a bicycle, but is instead trapped in a little foyer. On one side is a narrow door that goes into an area with larger, fixed seats, and in the other direction is a narrow corridor to a narrow staircase to the upper deck of the train. Robyn starts to back off the train to board by a different door, but trains don't stay at the station long here, and she doesn't want to get left behind. She can stand for a few stops, or switch cars at the next stop. The train leaves. The door in front of Robyn has a sign in four languages, two of which Robyn speaks, explaining that the door is not operational. This allows Robyn to learn the word for door (Tür) she could also learn the word for "not operational" but it was long and unnecessary, as Robyn already knows the word "kaput" (opposite "okay") and doesn't need extra words meaning the same thing. Because the door is kaput, Robyn cannot go forward out of this car, only backwards. This is a problem, the next station has a platform on the side with the broken door. Robyn's own station also has the platform for northbound trains on that side. If there is a station with a left exit between here and home, Robyn can get out and switch cars, but what if there isn't? For two more stations, the exits are on the right and we've passed the last big station that might have multiple platforms. Robyn carries her bike through the door and down the corridor, apologizing to people with "recht Tür ist kaput." One of them explains something to her, and moments later she realizes that it was probably, "you could have got out at the next station and changed cars" because the very next station has a left exit. Robyn sees it and makes an expression that is supposed to mean, "Ah now I see, if only I had known!" but probably makes the guy think she is a crazy woman. He makes a phone call that includes the words "Fraulein" and "Fahrrad." Robyn imagines that he is reporting her to the train police. Robyn gets out at Walldorf and rides away, with no train police in pursuit.
Robyn arrives back in Walldorf, wet, cold and happy.
 Comparison of Germany and Canada
 Ways in Which Germany is Just Like Canada
- Just because someone speaks perfect English doesn't mean they know what they are talking about
- Rain is cold and wet
- A rental bicycle includes a lock
- There are narrow, twisty, hilly roads with no paved shoulder
- Sometimes a bicycle route directs you out into the middle of nowhere and then abandons you with no further signage
- Crazy people start conversations with strangers on public transit
 Ways in Which Germany is Not Like Canada
- It's possible to rent a bicycle in a small town
- When you rent a bicycle, a helmet is not available
- Drivers change lanes to pass a bicycle, or wait behind for an opportunity to pass
- Robyn can expand her vocabulary by reading road signs
- When you have been riding for hours in the rain and see a castle looming over you, you are not necessarily hallucinating
| Robyn earned the Globetrotter achievement