Berlin to Budapest Part 1: 150km of loud singing and 50km of argh

In Berlin, Cycle routes by Claire

I cycled from Berlin to Budapest this summer, which was interesting because I’d never cycled for more than a day by myself before. It is 1000km and goes through five countries. I did it by myself. My general style of riding, I’ve found, is to see if things fit in my bag the night before, sing to loud bad music as I ride, eat my weight in spaghetti, hope for the best and know that everything will be basically fine. It normally works out well. Here’s part one: the first 200km from Berlin to Dresden.

The first ride that left me thinking about how close Berlin is to other countries was when I rode with a friend from Berlin to Dresden. It’s about 200km and we ended up pretty close to the Czech-German border after a day’s ride.

“It made me wonder how ridiculously far it would be easy enough to go”

Having done it, it all felt pretty effortless – not on the day but by morning I was less tired and more stoked about the whole thing. The ride was my longest I’ve done on my fixed gear and we did a lot of basic errors, like casually underestimating how far 200km is, leaving late and finishing the whole thing up going through the woods in the dark whilst I talked loudly to ward off danger, pausing to snack when my brain started talking like a sulking toddler. But you always turn the hard bits into a short comic book-like sequence in your head and forget them. And these are easy things to fix if you do the ride a second time around.

It made me wonder how ridiculously far it would be easy enough to go. It was too easy to look at the map and realise how everything is basically just a bit down the road, and then a just bit along from there.

Now it is two months later, and it the start of the first ride. The same ride to Dresden – just as simple with some slight modifications like a bike bag and a bunch of new ‘firsts’. In exciting news, my things fit in the bag – which is always cool to discover on the day you’re leaving.

The way to Dresden is largely one long road south from Berlin. Despite that, I like it. Brandenburg, the state Berlin is in, is pretty green in general, although the fields can feel a bit slow sometimes but it’s a nice enough mix. The long roads can be a bit of a headfuck, but luckily Mo from Keirin knows Brandenburg like the back of his hand and pointed out a couple of ways to make it more interesting, which largely involved adding extra miles on but were definitely worth it. It also helped that it was a sunny day in May instead of the start of March with Berlin just rediscovering what sunlight is – and I did it on my road bike. Hello freewheeling and gears, I love you sometimes.

“We have the first of many small and strange conversations in German on the road. They do some nodding at my bicycle.”

I stop at the same cafe as last time, which is about 1.5 hours down the road out of Berlin and that’s been enough time for my head to have some good conversations with itself. Hello negative self talk! My head is busy thinking about the entire 1000km trip instead of just today’s 200km. Coffee, banana and a small break fixes that. The bakery is shut, but the owners are having a BBQ on the porch and are super friendly. We have the first of many small and strange conversations in German on the road. They do some nodding at my bicycle. I like that it is not particularly special. Of course, to me it is.

The rest of the ride is spent belting out singing to very bad pop music and vastly improves. Later when people ask if it was the ride was a real mental challenge and hard on my head: it wasn’t. Just the first few hours where I wondered why I was doing it. For the rest of the ride, it all made perfect sense, even when it was hard.

Elbe looking stunning, me looking like a wizard

The route goes west through villages and towns, where everyone seemed to be collecting flowers and riding in big groups down country lanes with sound systems, which I still can’t explain what that was about. But it was lovely, albeit Germanly weird, which I always find endearing.

200km later the route spits you out onto the Elbe towards the end which is beautiful. Very green. Crazy calm. You see Dresden coming into view from a while away, and it’s stunning. The slightly blackened buildings are beautiful even from far out.

Dresden Frauenkirche and the joy of modern art

Dresden is pretty stunning

I stay in Dresden for a day. Because I like Dresden. It’s beautiful. And because my legs would like a day off before doing the next 800km, just to make sure they’re happy. After all, this ride is a holiday.

One of the things I love about cycling is the way that sitting on a petrol station forecourt with a piece of bread and a drink can suddenly become one of the most brilliant moments. Some of my favourite rides recently have involved me sitting in a petrol forecourt, gurning gleefully at a 90 cents beer whilst talking happily with bread in my mouth. This sudden new appreciation for the most fundamental basic things feels priceless. Now, I’m in Dresden for the day and sitting at a hipster cafe demolishing cheesecake and coffee in much the same way. It is no 90 cents giant bread. But it is a nice place to people watch.

It is the Friday after a Thursday’s national holiday in this part of Germany. Everyone is jolly and chilled out as they usually seem to be, and Dresden is busier than normal.

After yesterday’s ride from Berlin here, I am nervous about my right knee which already feels a bit crunchy, have picked up some plasters for sudden blisters, and am working on what is turning into a three-tier leg tan, sat reading William Seabrook’s Asylum (which is excellent). I have a really satisfied tiredness – the type people say is in their bones. My bones feel like they would like a mainline drip of spaghetti.

This city is good for art and funny surprises, and later I meet Tom from ULock Justice Crew in Park Alaunplatz to ask him about cycling in Dresden.

Dresden Neustadt (new town)

Dresden Kunsthofpassage

More Kunsthofpassage, and the drainpipes play music when it rains, apparently

“Ist das alles oder ist das night alles”? Probably not, she thought, taking a delighted selfie and neatly segueing into part two

ClaireBerlin to Budapest Part 1: 150km of loud singing and 50km of argh