A hike through Southern Europe: The start or Rheinburgenweg
Atze and little Atze
The start was painful: For quite a while I had been suffering from a dislocation in my upper column resulting in headaches and even vision problems. A visit to my chiropractor had hopefully cured the problem but the long bus trip from Berlin to Cologne resulted in a tremendous headache. (But now, several days into the trip the problem has hopefully disappeared for good.) Then a short train trip along the Rhine and I met my hiking friend Werner who had inspired me with the idea for this trip. As he had done a bike trip this year as well we had a lot to talk about our bicycle experiences and my upcoming trip. But Werner was soon to have another long distance hiker as a guest: Jürgen aka Atze and his dog were finishing the 1,100 km hiking trail "Weg der deutschen Einheit" (Trail of German Unity) from Görlitz to Aachen. As a Triple Crowner I know how important seemingly ridiculous trail rituals can be and so Werner and I planned a little greeting committee for our "thruhiker" friend. We went to pick him up in Aachen (doing some last minute equipment shopping for me on the way) and surprised Atze with a German flag poster - and a bottle of beer. Of course the moment had to be captured with various photos and even little Atze (Big Atze's dog) was made happy with sandwich scraps. Now Werner's nice home was turned into a private hiker hostel but his wife put patiently up with all our hiker talk and we were even rewarded with some great food.
Me at the German Corner
Next morning came my moment of truth: the start of my hike. The few days in Berlin had been so chaotic between change of gear, chiropractor and meeting friends that I had not really realised that I was to start a 3,800 km hike. But after a hearty breakfast it was time. Werner drove me to the "Deutsches Eck" (German corner), the confluence of the rivers Mosel and Rhein. A very touristy spot dominated by a huge statute of the German emperor. Atze documented the whole event with photographs and before I became aware the two were gone and I was on my way along the river Rhine in Koblenz.... I did not get far that first half day. I was totally out of hiking shape and had to make adjustments to my backpack - which was another nuisance. I started in warm summer weather but carry already all my warm winter gear. I don't know when to expect the drop in temperature and did not want to trust my valuable winter quilt into the unknown hands of the French mailing system. Therefore my backpack is one kg heavier than normal and much bulkier.
My first refuge
But my first day ended nicely. When I studied maps and guidebook in a village an hour before sunset a man came up to me. "You'll never make it to the next town now, but there is a hut about one km from here." And for sure after twenty minutes I reached a spacious and clean hut. I did not think twice and spent the night there on the table. I was a bit worried about late night visitors but no one disturbed my sleep, not even the faint noise from the nearby Rhine valley with its several train lines and highways. Only the next morning I saw the sign with "no camping" - too late.
Rhine bend at Boppard
On my second day I had only 8 km left on the Rheinburgenweg and was rewarded with fabulous views over the bend in the Rhine near Boppard. The fog lifted soon and I beautiful summer day emerged. While I hiked down the steep slope into Boppard tourists were swaying above me in a lift - this is a touristy area and there were definitely more people taking the lift than hiking up. And of course on top there had been plenty of cafes and restaurants with views of the famous Thine bend. But I left the Rhine and headed Southwest on the Hunsrückhöhenweg.