Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650

Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

September 28, 1999

A Surprise in Czech, BMW's in Berlin, and Oktoberfest
-- Story by Erin --

When we left Prague and started riding out into the countryside it was already four o'clock in the afternoon and we had no idea how far we would go before finding a place to stop for the night.  Our friend Jakub in Prague had recommended a few routes to take and things we might want to see on the way to the German border.  So we followed the route that lead into the mountains and along a scenic river. 

Something you notice immediately after leaving Prague is how different the towns look, more like what you might expect to see in the aftermath of the communist era.  Whereas Prague looks and feels like the big cities of western Europe, the rest of the country is struggling to rebuild itself.  This does not mean however that everything looks run down, just that you don't see much that is new.  One thing that Jakub suggested we try to see was the prison camp, or Small Fortress as it is formally called, in a town called Terezin.  I had never thought that I would ever see a concentration camp, and frankly had never wanted to.   The pictures I had seen in print and on film was, I thought, enough to make it's point with me.  But, Jakub had said that this was an interesting place and well worth the visit.

We managed to arrive at this place at about 5 p.m. and hurried to the entrance to see if we could still enter before it closed.  As we drove into town we saw it immediately, it's strong walls, it's "moat" surrounding it, and the guard towers above it.  There is a long, tree lined drive that leads up to the entrance with a Jewish and Christian cemetery to the right as you approach.  In the cemetery there is a large Star of David and crucifix separating the two burial areas.  It is a very moving thing to see, especially as we arrived and the setting sun cast a golden light on everything.  We had arrived so late in the day that we were the only one's there.   A nice older man, and I presumed the caretaker, at the entrance let us in (without charging us the entrance fee), gave us a pamphlet in English and suggested the route we should take within the camp's grounds so that we would finish by closing time.  I thought this would be a moving experience, but it was made even more so as we walked around through the different cell blocks and chambers, all alone.  Standing in these rooms, seeing the wooden bunk beds (stacked 3 or 4 high, like bookshelves with people sleeping side by side, several hundred people in one block), the hygiene rooms, medical examination rooms, the holding rooms for those about to be executed, you could sense the horror that went on inside them.  It was something I thought about and saw in my mind for days later.  I will never forget it.

Typical of what prisoners passed through 16 people slept to the right of the ladder -- Several hundred in the room

The pamphlet said that some 32,000 people came through this camp, mostly Jewish Czechs but also Poles, Hungarians, Germans, Yugoslavs and even some British and French prisoners-of-war.  At least 2,500 people died here due to bad living conditions or torture.  The camp was originally a fortress which was built around 1850, and was designed to defend against invasion, but has almost always been used as a prison.  It has deep underground passageways, 500 meters of which we traveled.  Everywhere around the camp now there are plaques, statues and sculptures to remember those who suffered there. 

Give this a moment for picture resolution to clear

When we left we thanked the caretaker for letting us enter and he closed the big doors to the fortress/camp and we all left together.  I watched as he walked the long tree-lined road back to town and then turned down a side street.  I wondered how long he must have worked there and what it must be like to be him. 

As we drove out of the small town that surrounded the camp we noticed that the whole area around this town was once a fortress too and that this part of the Czech Republic was once, many hundreds of years ago, a very important military defense area. 

Not soon after leaving this area we started to enter the mountains and noticed how beautiful the mountainsides were dotted with small summer homes.  The mountains were divided by a narrow river which we drove along for some time.  Finally as it was getting dark we decided to call it a night.   We found a room at a place along the river, which cost $12.  This place also had a rooftop restaurant where we enjoyed a German style meal, good beer and great views all for a grand total of $6.00!  Yes, that was the price for two dinners and 3 (half liter) beers.  After dinner we decided to take a walk through town.  We found another restaurant, this one had a real "New York" motif, where we shared a dessert of chocolate fondue with mixed fruit and a cappuccino.  If we stayed in the Czech Republic we could stretch our budget a very long way indeed!  As we walked back to our room I thought this would definitely be one of the most memorable days of the trip.

Saturday (the 18th), we woke early and got back on the road to see more gorgeous and surprising scenery.  We were not disappointed.  Our morning started out by continuing through the beautiful small towns in the mountains along the river.  Slowly we worked our way higher into the mountains turning down small half-paved streets in tiny towns, following our GPS hoping it was taking us in the right direction.  We were definitely rewarded as we saw small farming villages in clearings in the deep forests who obviously never see strangers rolling through town on big BMW motorcycles.  Little kids ran up the road to wave to us and their elders just stopped their conversations or chores and stared at us for a long time.  The biggest surprise however came when we wound our way around a bend in the forest and came upon a small teepee village.  Yes, that's right, I said teepee village.  It was not an exhibit but a real, living village.  After we had passed it and we had driven several hundred meters down the road, Chris decided to turn around and go back to get a picture of it.  When he stopped in front of the teepees a man started to come out of the tent.  Chris panicked for a second thinking the man may get mad and come after him.  But, the man smiled and held up his hand to gesture "wait a minute."


When he came back out of the tent, he was wearing his chief's headdress full of bird feathers.  Chris took the picture of the man who was smiling proudly.  He got back on the bike and waved his thanks to the man/chief.   These are the types to surprises we encounter on the trip that make it all worthwhile!

Coming out the other side of the mountains near the German border we were again surprised by the sight of a sudden mass of people, shopping stalls and traffic that broke the quiet peacefulness of the surroundings we had just left.  Most of the people and cars were German and obviously there to do some serious bargain hunting.  We also noticed a line of cars coming out of a gas station that stretched down the street at least 300 meters.  It turns out, gas in the Czech Republic is 25% cheaper than in Germany.  We fought our way through traffic to the border.  As we broke free of all that traffic and zoomed our way towards the city of Dresden, we noticed the traffic going in the direction of the Czech Rep. was backed up for miles, literally!  Obviously, Saturday is a big shopping day.

We arrived in Berlin in the early evening and stayed with a friend, Gisela, who is the aunt of our friend Martina (whose wedding we went to in July in Garmisch -- Got that?).  Gisela opened her home to us, which is a beautiful and big flat in the city's district known as Kreuzberg.  Her neighborhood is a mixture of trendy young people and immigrants.  That night we enjoyed delicious Thai food and margaritas.  The next day we went sightseeing down the famous Unter Den Linden where all of the big museums are and where stands the Brandenberg gate.  At one time I'm sure it was noticeable which side was on the East and which was the West, but not now.  So much has been done to restore the beautiful buildings and monuments that it's almost impossible to tell the difference.  The difference however lies in the minds and attitudes of the people, we were told. 

Artistic Shot?

Our main reason for going to Berlin was to visit the BMW motorcycle factory in Spandau.  On Monday, September 20th we drove through the security gates and joined our tour group, consisting of about 30 Swedish men who are all BMW car dealers.  (They were at the motorcycle factory as part of a complete tour of the BMW factories in Germany.)  The tour took about an hour and a half and we saw everything from parts being fabricated to the entire assembly process.  The highlight for me personally  (unfortunately, no cameras are allowed in the factory) was being able to do some hand-drawn pinstripping on the tank of an R1100R.  Of course, the technician promptly wiped it clean with paint thinner and re-painted my section!  I guess I'm not cut out for that particular job.  After the tour we were treated to a nice lunch in the factory cafeteria and then given brochures and cool pins.

That afternoon after the factory tour we decided to head south towards are next big destination-----Munich and Oktoberfest!!! 

Marlies und Erin

We arrived in Munich on Wednesday afternoon, and immediately proceeded to the festivities where we met Chris' best friend Jens (the guy in NY who helped us ship the bikes to Morocco).  As Jens works for Lufthansa, he was able to get a cheap ticket for himself and one of his friends to come and meet us for a few days.   We tasted the Oktoberfest brew, then quickly left to meet our friend Sziszi, and park the bikes -- no drinking/driving for us!

Oktoberfest was great fun (gee, hard to imagine).  Our friends Ted and Bridget from NY came, as did Martina's parents Reiner and Marlies (from Garmisch), Mike Matzer (BMW F650) from Munich, and Christian Lehnen (BMW R100GS/PD) came from Cologne for the weekend.  While we were partying and having fun, Mike had arranged for our bikes to be checked out at his local motorcycle dealer, Karl Maier BMW, before we head out from the comforts of Europe.

Inside a tent

The beers were plentiful, the locals wore their lederhosen, the oompah bands did an excellent job of getting us up on the benches for all day dancing and singing, and the bar maids/frau also brought us the best roasted chicken ever tasted.

Oktoberfest runs for 2 weeks, ending on the first weekend in October.  If you've never been, it is an experience that should be tried.  But don't plan on going anytime on Friday or Saturday, as the 9,000 person capacity tents are filled (all 10 of them!), the doors are closed, and no beer is served outside of the tents.  For those not interested in beer, Oktoberfest also offers all the big rides from Great Adventure, carnival games, and souvenirs galore!

Sziszi was an exceptional hostess, and we were sad when we departed her place on Sunday.  We rode back to Budapest where we will spend the rest of this week.  On Saturday, October 2nd, we head out to Greece via Romania, Bulgaria, and FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

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