23rd October 2010
Day 11 - Hitzacker to Lauenburg 60km

Woke up with no particular hurry as the estimated distance to cycle was a little lower today. I opened the window and to my complete shock and surprise there was sunshine and blue skies!!!

Cycling in sunshine makes a world of difference. After being punished by the weather for days there was at last the chance to enjoy some of the cycling! I headed up the river but avoided the Elbe Radweg (cycle trail along the river Elbe) as the lady in the tourist info place recommended I use a different route to avoid more hills. After about 2 hours relaxed cycling with only a few steep climbs I stopped in the little riverside town of Blekede for some soup and a gloriously good cup of Earl Grey sat in the sunshine - you just cant knock a good cup of tea :-)

The next two hours were spent cycling along the dykes that protect the small towns and villages along the Elbe from flooding. I could also cycle so much faster without the wind battering me down, and the ride was really enjoyable.

I arrived into Lauenburg just as the weather was slowly starting to turn, and so relaxed for a few hours in my hotel before heading out for a bite to eat. The rain had already well started by the time I got back, but undeterred I was in bed and asleep by 11pm (as is normal on these trips having to be up at 7am each morning).
By the way I am writing this in a bar in Hamburg, and the music was great until... Der Flieger Song, which is now playing!!! I can only picture the wonderful Cristina Martinez Martinez dancing with all the actions in the Murcia Oktoberfest video she sent me! (see u in murcia x)

24th October 2010
Day 12 - Lauenburg to Hamburg 41km

Woke up at 7am to find a small hurricane beating the hell out of my hotel window and knew that today might be a hard one... Rain and fairly high winds (40km+) did their best to annoy me, but my legs feel so much stronger and so I won the battle :-)

By 1pm I was about 15-20km outside of Hamburg and arriving at the Neuengamme Gedenkstätte. Over half of the more than 100,000 prisoners incarcerated there died, and they were spread out amongst more than 80 sub-camps, as well as the main camp itself. Most of the Neuengamme prisoners were involved in the production of bricks, and there was a large brick making  factory on site, as well as several weapons and ammunitions factories.

Neuengamme, like most of the other former concentration camps yet again became a prison after it was liberated... Two modern prisons were built literally in the middle of the former camp, the second of which was only finally relocated in 2006 and the buildings destroyed.

One of the saddest events surrounding Neuengamme was the sinking of the Cap Arcona. It was sunk on the 3rd of May by the British Air Force along with two other ships and is regarded as one of the worst shipping disasters in history. Over 10,000 prisoners from Neuengamme and other sub camps in and around Hamburg were forced onto these ships in the Bay of Lübeck. The British, believing the ships to be military transports, sunk all three ships with the loss of thousands of lives. The British pilots said they had no idea the ships were full of concentration camp survivors, but some reports suggest that the military command knew about this, but failed to pass the information on to pilots...

25th October 2010
Day 13 - Hamburg

Today was a well needed day off! I jumped on the S-Bahn and had a little wander around the city. Walking down by the docks was so nice, and the sun was shining for most of the morning. Had a really bad pizza for lunch and then headed off to a big music tech shop to buy a new microphone. I needed a USB mic so I can record some video blogs! The evening was spent pottering around on the web (when it worked with the slow WLAN) and eventually gave in to sleep at around 11... zzz...

26th October 2010
Day 14 - Hamburg to Bergen 103km

A days rest makes a world of difference! Today would be a long trip, but I felt undeterred and headed south toward the Elbe river. Along the way I passed the Neuengamme Gedenkstätte again. In the beautiful morning sunshine and viewed across the fields it reminded me of when I arrived into Fürstenburg (seems so long ago!) when the sun was setting and I cycled past Ravensbrück. I remember thinking then that how could so much pain and suffering be caused in such a beautiful place?

I crossed the Elbe on a little ferry again (which was kind of fun!) and cycled along the Luhe Radweg, which follows the little river Luhe from Winsen to Bispingen. From there I cycled directly south finally arriving just after 5pm. A really long days cycling... Over 6 and a half hours actual pedaling. However, my hotel and the restaurant inside it was the weirdest thing. All I could hear was English accents! They were all British armed forces based in a nearby military camp.

27th October 2010
Day 15 - Bergen to Bad Fallingbostel 56km

This morning I visited the Bergen Belsen Gedenkstätte. During WW2 it was a POW camp, and around 20,000 mostly Russian soldiers were killed there. In 1943 the SS took over much of the camp and turned it into a concentration camp. At least 52,000 men, women and children died, most of which perished in the last few months before it was liberated by the British. When the British soldiers finally entered the camp on April 15th 1945 they faced around 60,000 emaciated survivors and around 13,000 unburied bodies. The BBC reporter Richard Dimbleby who was there that day said this afterwards...

"...Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which... The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them ... Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live ... A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.

This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life."

The site now has a really good (and brand new) museum. With video testimonials from survivors, text and pretty horrific photographs it illustrates what Bergen Belsen truly was. Hell...

Walking around the grounds was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. There are no original building left, just mass graves. Grave after grave, some with 800, 1000, 2500 and even 5000 bodies in each fill up most of the site.

But the most sickening thing about walking around outside was having to listen to the constant sounds of warfare. Next to the site is an enormous NATO training ground and a British military base. All I could hear was the sounds of helicopter gunships firing rockets and dropping bombs, all maybe no more than a kilometre away. It was really unnerving, and to be honest, quite disgusting. The explosion were enormous. Ironically on one corner of the site was a "House of Silence" where people can go inside and contemplate. Well, its silent if you can ignore the British armed forced blowing the crap out of stuff just round the corner.

As I cycled away from Bergen Belsen I was forced to wear headphones and listen to music. Although I really didn't feel like music at the time it was the only way to drown out the sounds of the explosions. They lasted about 2 hours more... I also discovered a WW2 cemetery, where the bodies of over 2000 allied servicemen are buried. Such a strange place, seeing row upon row of gravestones. Oh, and all through the sound of explosions not so far away...

28th October 2010
Day 16 - Bad Fallingbostel to Oyten (Bremen) 75km

Started a little late today, getting on the road at about 10:15am. Travelled on cycle paths that run along the main road down to Walsrode, and then cross country the rest of the way. Little village after little village I kind of zigzagged across the hills, with only cookie break stops in a few places along the way. Wind wasn't too bad but there was this very Welsh valleys light sprinkling of rain the whole way.

The only thing that keeps me going in these times is my mp3 player! I have mostly been listening to;
Michael Franti/Spearhead, Kings of Leon - Only By The Night, Antonio Serrano (amazing jazz harmonica player), Marcin's ultimate 80's pop collection (awesome!), Fred Wesley (über funk on trombone), the sound track to the film Garden State (never seen the film, but the tunes are great), and a few other things. When arriving finally to my hotel it was a pleasant surprise to find my room had a mini kitchen, so took a walk to the supermarket and got to make fresh pasta for dinner!

29th October 2010
Day 17 - Oyten to Cloppenburg 82km

Just what I needed! Blue skies (a bit hazy) and sunshine for the day. It really makes so much of a difference! Headed straight into the city of Bremen, travelling for some time along the river which runs through it. After turning south I skirted around the airport and then followed cycle paths for most of the rest of the way. This part of Germany really seems to cater well for cyclists! There were a few nasty hills along the way though. With a bike this heavy (all the bags on it...) even little inclines make quite an impact, and some were pretty steep. To give an example: Normally when I get to flat ground with no wind I can happily make 20-25km distance every hour, but with hills and strong wind that can drop to 10-15kmph, and multiplied over 5 or 6 hours cycling that unfortunately makes a massive difference.

I rolled through several larger towns and was able to use the supermarkets to grab some things for dinner. My hotel tonight is a bit more expensive than usual so I must compensate by not eating out. I bought some funky bread and a bottle of ridiculously cheap vino rosso from an Aldi and cycled onwards. I'm gonna try and catch up with some admin tonight (photos edited/film reviewed/back-ups made).

Tomorrow... Holland!!!

30th October 2010
Day 18 - Cloppenburg to Emmen 112km

A long days cycling... Heading west I cycled hard and fast, and the weather held out for most of the way.

I stumbled on another KZ! A sub camp of a much Bigger one? It was right at a junction where a cornfield now stands and a simple stone memorial...

Just before I reached the Dutch border the rain started. I got absolutely soaked... Once I crossed over into Holland (!) I followed the ever so straight canals, and ever so straight roads, over really flat land... to Emmen! Only to find the town (at only 5pm on a Saturday) completely dead? Turns our everything is like this in this part of Holland, closing at 5pm on Saturday but not opening until 1pm on Monday...

Found a Bed & Breakfast through an advert at the closed tourist information office, and cycled over. A really nice place to stay! I felt so at home within half an hour that I decided to stay an extra day to get some rest. My legs are feeling exhausted and when your body starts complaining its best to obey... I will carry on going on Monday.

31st October 2010
Day 19 - Emmen

A glorious breakfast!!! I ate like a king, with fresh bread and salami, a massive fresh apple and kiwi fruit mix up (not tinned stuff!) and a proper cup of tea with freshly squeezed orange juice. Spent the day trying to relax, watching some TV, editing some photos, doing backups and did my clothes washing. Quite a productive day :-)

1st November 2010
Day 20 - Emmen to Assen 66km

Cycling through Holland is SO different from Germany. Its flat, flat, flat!!! Although it was pretty cold I was cycling about 4-5km faster than I was in the north of Germany, and over a whole day that makes a hell of a difference. There are cycle paths on EVERY road, and distance markers at every junction. A bike friendly country :-)

Todays destination was the Westerbork Camp, actually about 10km north of the little town of Westerbork and about 11km south of Assen. Although Westerbork was to become an infamous Nazi deportation camp for Jews and Gypsies it was originally set up by the Dutch Government to deal with the ever growing numbers of Jewish refugees, many of whom were streaming across the border from Germany. Unfortunately after the German Army invaded Holland on the 10th of May 1940 everything changed for the refugees. At this point there were only about 700 people on site.

Until the end of 1940 the roughly 140,000 Dutch Jews were able to live fairly peacefully. With the introduction of the Declaration of Aryan Origin this enabled the Nazis to deprive all Dutch Jews of their Jobs. By the end of 1941 nearly all the Jewish people in Holland would be forced into Westerbork, and from July 15th 1942 the trains started transporting people to what they thought would be labour camps in eastern Europe. They were actually being sent mostly to Sobibor and Auschwitz for their extermination. Westerbork was - unknown to its inhabitants - a transit camp, from where 102,000 people would be transported to their deaths on 93 trains, leaving every Tuesday.

To maintain stability in the camp and to avoid panic Westerbork was run almost as a village, with its inhabitants allowed recreation time, sports, there was a school on site, and there were regular musical shows, all to disguise what was actually happening. Although the water was unfit for consumption, the food was adequate enough to keep the prisoners alive, but the Barracks were something else...

"One lives and dies in the same bed as one eats, lies ill or awake in, due to the crying of so many children through the night, or because one is wondering time and again why almost nothing is heard of the many thousands of people that already left this place." E.Hillesum, Twee brieven uit Westerbork.

Anne Frank was one of the many inhabitants of Westerbork. She was eventually sent to Auschwitz on the 3rd of September 1944, and then with her sister transferred to Bergen Belsen a few months later, where they both would eventually lose their lives in March of 1945, just a matter of weeks before the liberation of that camp.

One of the most interesting things about the memorial site now - apart from the really good museum on site, is that the site now holds a Radio Telescope Observatory. So unlike many of the other sites I have visited (that were prisons afterwards) Westerbork has been put to good use, to further mankind's understanding of the things around him.

Stayed In the town of Assen for the night, and bought myself a Dutch Sim Card;