Via Regia 2015

Day 19, May 22 (Gotha to Eisenach)

Last day. And cut my plan short by two days because of the train strikes. Made reservations a few days ago just to be sure. Plan to spend two extra days in Copenhagen.

Today amounted to 18 mi and 1000 ft climb (29 km and 317 m), much through blossoming trees and lush forests and some great views of towns below. Arrival at Eisenach was by train (as per plan, since they wanted you to take the 5-min train ride to avoid highway).

At Eisenach, am staying at a very Spartan Lutheran hostel that’s part of a charity / care facility. Made up for the Spartan side by splurging at the Wein Haus (bottom right of pic), still a part of the original entry into the city now being renovated. Of course, Luther had a connection and hence large statue.

Day 18, May 21 (Erfurt to Gotha)

My first time to any of these towns in the former DDR, and they give me an impression of still struggling to go from the state economy to a market economy. Impressions derive from the many restaurants and stores that I find closed. During DDR times, there was little emphasis on refurbishing historical buildings, but lots of effort has been made in the last 25 years to turn that around. Therefore, many of the beautiful pictures owe their beauty to recent infusions of funds!

Erfurt’s cathrdral was most impressive even though it was too early to go inside. The other buildings on cathedral plaza and the massive stone foundations of the cathedral were equally imptessive. Just had to add the IKEA presence (my second on the Via Regia). 

The next two pics on top became cmon sites along the way, and the bottom two pics are of the Augustinian  Cloister Hostel where I’m staying here in Gotha (dating back to 1258, but heavily renovated into a modern single-room hostel facility) and my view down to the old arcade. 

Day 17, May 20 (Stedten to Buchenwald to Erfurt)

Took over 30 pictures at Buchenwald. Which do you pick and what do you say? It was very moving and I spent over 3 hrs, half on a guided tour.

Buchenwald was the third largest concentration camp, based on the Dachau model (near Munich). For men only, it was a work camp to support the defense industry, including making parts for the V2. The Americans knew that so they heavily bombed the camp–nothing of the factories remains.

Whereas some of the work camps coaxed inmates to take a shower for disinfection, here they were told they’ll be measured for something, then shot in the neck from behind (See pic with two doors).

Some 250,000 inmates passed through here between ’37 and ’45 when Patton’s Army liberated the camp; of those some 56,000. perished. Here they had their equivalent of Dr. Mengele, a Dr, Otto, who performed unimaginable operations, all without anesthetic (shown is his operating table). After the war, he himself was found guilty and executed at his own camp. The camp was also used to train SS troops for six-month sessions whereafter they were sent to other camps–Buchenwald, alone, had some 136 subcamps! The two-story bldgs with cars in front were their quarters. The gate in the pic was the entrance to the camp and the gate inscription “For each his own (what he deserves).” Also shown on the bottom right are the commander’s   quarters–all the original buildings.

Day 16, May 19 (Eckartsberga to Stedten)

Went 28.1 km (17,4 mi) to get to a hostel and be closer to the next day’s goal of Buchenwald on way to Erfurt. Had the church all to myself on this wee town of Stedten with some 150 people. Interesting pics along the way include: use of horse-drawn plow; Buttlesdtedt church (not where I stayed–just interesting); wheel used to press plants that were used for blue dye (before indigo came along); picture of church where I slept.

Day 15, May 18 (Rossbach to Eckartsberga)

Easy day of 12.6 mi (20.3) and 770 ft climb throughout the morning. Arrived at the church at about 2:00–preacher’s house was open, so I left my backpack off and went searching for food. Nearly everything was closed, so I ended up walking another 3 miles round trip to a store.

The hostel was good–everything you needed was there and this morning the local bakery served coffee at 7:00 and goodies, too.

Interesting pics along the way: a sign you’d easily miss from 20 ft away and the farmer’s way of fixing pot holes (works for tractors but not walkers). Also, the end product of the rapeseed plants.

Railway strike is on and I will have to adjust my plans. Will try to catch bus instead of train–we’ll see.

Day 14, May 17-cont (Naumburg to Rossburg)

Only walked 14+ km (9 mi) today, but what an adventure. Naumburg has a fantastic cathedral where I spent several hours–I didn’t want to leave, so I had lunch just outside the cathedral; it’s also a world heritage site.  The cathedral dates back to the 13th century, an excellent late Romanesque showpiece. But Naumburg Castle itself dates back to around 1000 AD when one of the most powerful men of the eastern Holy Roman Empire, Margrave Eckard I of Meissen, erected his residence here. Again, primarily because this was the crossroads of important trading routes that needed defense.

Although I wanted to achieve more mileage today, as I passed through Rossbach, I noticed a St Michaels House, a youth training and education center with 60 beds and more mattresses. I couldn’t miss that. I stopped in and the lady in the kitchen set me up, then even prepared coffee for me and cut me s piece of cake intended for tomorrow; she gave me the pilgrim room. What a reception!

The pics are from the cathedral and of the St. Michaels House:

Day 14, May 17 (Freyburg to Naumburg)

At less than 10 km (6 mi), I’m actually already at my scheduled goal for the day and it’s only noon. I’ll go a bit farther and be into tomorrow’s schedule. This morning (Sunday) was full of cyclists in the wine valley along the Unstrut (known as the Unstrut Wine Road). I encountered one vineyard after the next planted on steep grades. And just before Naumberg, I crossed the Saale by ferry (the Unstrut becomes the Saale).

Here are some pictures from this morning that hope to capture the picturesque scenery. The view into the town is still Freyburg and the church is from there as well. Dixieland Jazz sign is for Lucille–yet another venue for her favorite music. The close up of Noah is one of many biblical scenes under the high wine estate–it’s “proof” that Noah was the first vintner with grapes in his right hand!!!

Can’t believe that 2/3 of my journey is over at the end of today. So far, it’s been a marvelous adventure: a snapshot of how the DDR (the former eastern Germany) has evolved over the last 25 years, an immersion into over a 1000+ years of history into this part of Europe and a kingly protected road (the Via Regia) that leads directly to Santiago (known here as the Jakob’s Weg=Camino de Santiago).

Day 13, May 16 (Merseburg to Freyburg)

Last 24 hours was about being full of opposites: sun in the morning today and drizzly in the PM; couldn’t find any internet in the morning or last night and tonight I have two (both free); must have gotten lost about four times today, but found my way each time; slept in a real pilgrim style last night (no shower and no laundry) and splurged in high cotton tonight at a wine lovers 3-star hotel on the vineyard slopes of Freyburg (just showered and did my laundry). 20 miles with a blister on the ball of my foot made me do it!!!! I’ll be good tomorrow again.

I promised myself while on some beautiful serene forest paths that I would take the first place to save myself some steps–I really didn’t have such a nice place in mind (although the outside isn’t much to look at because of external work). A huge banquet was in progress with DJ and a live band to boot. The picture brings out the contrast.

Day 12, May 15 (Leipzig to Merseburg)

Covered 50 km yesterday, 22+ by streetcar to get to the other end of Leipzig and 27+ to get to this beautiful 1000-year old city of Merseburg. The hostel is where the organ used to be in  another church, the Neumarkt Church that dates back to 1188.

Along the way in the small town of Horburg, I passed the tearing sandstone Madonna that dates back to the 1250s. She so upset one of the 17th century Lutheran ministers that he had it “destroyed,” but the pieces were later reassembled in the 1930s. The forest paths were decorated with blooming wild flowers.

Only one young couple here with me and the llamas three of us just barely made it into the cathedral built in 1015—tour groups flocked in and out all the while someone played the organ majestically for us, adding to the spirituality of the setting. BTW, Luther preached here in 1545!

And then you have Hugo looking over the church where the two of us slept–I actually felt honored to be there.

Day 11, May 14 (Leipzig–Ruhetag)

Saw and heard so, so much–an amazing city. Picked only three themes: first, one of the many “Passagen” that were used to let the carriages into the court to avoid people getting rained on (nowadays the passages in Europe are filled with shops!)–this one (Mädlerpassage) has Auerbachs Keller in it where Göthe composed Faust–this one is for you, Ruta–it’ll bring back memories of your thesis!!!!

The second one is the Historical Events Forum that chronicled the years between 1949 (start of the DDR) and  1989 (the peaceful revolution). It was so well documented with pictures, sounds, clips, etc.
And last but perhaps most importantly the churches, Nikolai and Thomas. Bach was music director for both and peaceful processions were conducted between the two. Then on Oct 9, 89, it all crumbled–that day alone will move you! Nicolas is on top in the quad shot and Thomas on bottom where I heard a recital practice, that added to the emotion.

Back on the road tomorrow!