After England and Holland the change in the communicative climate in Germany is rather noticeable to us. Never since the beginning of our trip in the Lake District have we come across so many grumpy faces. People tend to be curt and our smiles are seldom returned. On the big square in the town of Rees an elderly couple crosses our path. Hinting at our loaded bicycles they enquire about where we’re heading. Both of them have travelled to Switzerland before. The man remembers an episode on Lake Geneva: At Chateau de Chillon an American apparently declared, shaking his head, that he really could not understand why they would have built the beautiful castle so close to the motorway. Some Germans do have a sense of humour after all…
In Düsseldorf we stay with Chris, Tine and her little girl Nele who lets us have her room for a couple of nights – though we have to share it with four pretty rats (formerly destined to be reptile food). At Tine’s flat with backyard also live the cats Peo and Miri as well as the gentle dog Line. Tine’s partner Chris, an independent spirit and gardener with his own patch of city garden where he has built an earth house without the help of a digger, prepares delicious scrambled tofu for our breakfast. We interview Tine who works for «Menschen für Tierrechte – Bundesverband der Tierversuchsgegner» and accompany her to her office where we can work comfortably on our blog. Later on we take fresh water to the loft of the building where the NGO «Stadttiere Düsseldorf» looks after its own city pigeon cot. Tine takes the freshly laid eggs out of the nests and replaces them with gypsum eggs. This is probably the least intrusive form of birth control for at least some of the city pigeons. Also, the pigeons get suitable food in this sheltered cot and medical care, should they need it.
We cycle further upstream along the Lower Rhine past Chempark, a large chemical industry site, where some 10’500 people work for 60 firms. The German chemical multinational Bayer also has an important plant here. According to Bayer, the company has «handled» some 144’471 animals in tests for medication, crop protection agents and industrial chemicals in 2014 alone.
We continue on to Köln, where we spend the night near the cathedral and cycle to Koblenz via the town of Remagen the following day. The path on the banks of the Rhine is dominated time and again by restaurants, panoramic terraces and beer gardens by the names of «Anchor» and «Rhine View». People appear to have a predilection for meat dishes in innumerable varieties here. Thankfully we find an expat Calabrian’s Italian restaurant in Remagen where we eat the best pasta of our journey so far.
Along this part of the Rhine we observe graceful Canadian geese who mostly move in small groups. We also spot some seagulls and cormorants. However by and large we see considerably fewer animals on this stretch of the river. We struggle with bumpy cycling paths criss-crossed with tree roots.
It rains in Koblenz and we get on the train to Karlsruhe, not least because we miscalculated the overall distance of our trip by a good 200 km. The clouds hang low as we travel along the «romantic Middle Rhine» protected by the UNESCO. What of it: Loreley doesn’t get us high and we just ride by… 😉 Just as well, as on our arrival in Karlsruhe a young pigeons who needs rescuing…
After Karlsruhe we travel through the Alsace. In Lauterbourg, the easternmost town of France, the landlord of the hotel tells us about nightly border and drug traffic. The landscape is stunning, wetlands and woods, lakes and many water birds. We have now reached Strasbourg and are about to continue upstream on the French side of the Rhine.
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