A SHORT JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY
North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany and Holland
Part 1 Borken to Tolkamer on the Rhine
Following our journey through France and some rest days in Zurich with friends we took a train to Borken near Essen in Germany to visit a long-lost friend who once lived nearby to where we live in Australia. Richard, our Borken friend, is a master potter and was involved in setting up the Pilliga Pottery on the edge of the Pilliga Forests in NSW some thirty years ago.
The train journey from Zurich to Borken took around seven hours with a change of trains at Essen. At Essen we couldn’t find platform 8 from where our departure for Borken was scheduled. After asking a local it turned out one platform can have two numbers. Platform 7 was at one end and platform 8 at the other. Confusing for those not in the know. The regional German railway system has a rather useful ticketing system when you don’t have time to buy a ticket, as was our case when we had to find the correct platform. Once on the train the guard checked the cost of the trip, took our passport numbers and then we paid at the destination station. If you think you can abscond without paying, the railway authorities track you down and you have to pay an additional 60% on top of the fare. It is best to pay immediately you arrive at the station if you want to avoid any future stress.
It was a joy to meet with Richard once again. He is an alternative thinker, a colourful and discerning person and his approach to life is: Approach life from the mind of a beginner. Try not to judge. Accept life as it comes. Let go of whatever it is you are holding to. Trust life as it unfolds. Be patient with yourself and others. Be mindful of gratitude. Always be generous. If we all lived by these core beliefs the world would be a much more harmonious place.
Richard is no longer involved with the Pilliga Pottery. He returned to Borken, the town of his birth, after having satisfied his urge to live in Australia. He is still manipulating clay, specialising in water coolers with filters.
Borken is a regional town (pop. 41000) 10 kilometres east of the Dutch border in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany. In the town centre I joined in a students’ Climate Justice rally while Bev was at the dentist. It was an enlightening encounter, being with passionate young people who were determined to bring the effects of climate change to the attention of politicians and the masses generally.
The Friday For Freedom (FFF) global climate strike movement began in August 2018 when fifteen-year-old Swedish school student Greta Thunberg sat on the steps of the Swedish Parliamentary building in Stockholm demanding a change of attitude towards climate change. To begin with, she was alone but was soon joined by other young people who were tired of society’s unwillingness to see the climate crisis for what it is: a crisis. Their demand for action ignited an international awakening, with students and activists uniting around the globe to protest on Fridays. Millions of people now protest for climate change action.
If the reader is a climate change denier, it is time to think again. We cannot continue to pollute the planet because the wellbeing of future generations is at stake if we do. There is only one planet, there is no Plan B.
During our visit, Richard took us to the Hoge Veluwe National Park across the border in Holland. The park comprises heathlands, woodlands and miniature desert-like sand dunes, something we did not expect. One thinks of Holland as a flat watery plain, not a land with undulating sandhills. The park is approximately fifty-five square kilometres and the topography was created during the last ice age, however the sand dunes may have been caused by human utilization of surrounding lands.
There are a total of 1800 White Bicycles for visitors to the park to ride. Following are some images of the park for you to ponder.
I have extracted a couple of photographs within the park from the web as the day we visited it was low contrast, not conducive to taking bright shots of the unusual sand dunes.
The population of the Netherlands is approximately 17 million and distributed among these 17 million are 23 million bicycles and 2 million e-bikes, a very good ratio indeed. Cyclists in Holland are not required to wear helmets as the authorities claim they have created a safe riding environment, even though between 2009 and 2019 around 200 cyclists were killed.
Holland rates high in the cycle-friendly stakes and it is due mainly to the fact that the topography of Holland suits cyclists, it’s basically flat. Twenty-five percent of Holland’s land is below, or at, sea level and the highest point, called Vaalesberg, is 322 metres above sea level and is in the foothills of the Ardennes Mountains. The Vaalesberg is also the location of the intersection point between the countries of Germany, Belgium and Holland.
Another attraction in the park is the Kroller-Muller Museum, one of the most popular museums in the Netherlands. Its features are a sculpture garden and an art collection that boasts almost 90 paintings and more than 180 drawings by Van Gogh, the second largest collection of his works in the world, as well as works by modern masters including Monet, Seurat, Picasso and Mondrian.
Van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter who was up there with the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In just over ten years he created about 2200 artworks, including 860 oil paintings, most of which date to the last two years of his life.
According to Wikipedia, there is a difference between the work of impressionist and post-impressionist painters: ‘Post-impressionists extended impressionism while rejecting its limitations: they continued using vivid colours, often thick application of paint, and real-life subject matter, but were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, distort form for expressive effect’. All this might sound a little confusing to an amateur like me so I thought the best way to compare post-impressionism with impressionism was to search the web for a painting done by both schools of the same subject. But alas it appears no paintings exist. However, I was able to find similar paintings for the sake of comparison.
In the above two photographs, am I correct in suggesting it is possible to see the difference between impressionism and post-impressionism art? I’m not sure.
Van Gogh died at the age of 37 after a long mental illness. During the dark times of his life he cut off his right ear and presented it to a prostitute friend. She was not appreciative of the gift and fainted on the spot. Van Gogh died a troubled man in 1890 and it is generally agreed his death was an act of suicide.
Bev and I spent hours in the art gallery and following are a few of the precious Van Gogh drawings and paintings that we warmed to.
Outside in the lush green museum gardens was a collection of sculptures by prominent artists and the most impressive for me was The Needle Tower by American sculptor Kenneth Snelson. The tower didn’t look much from a distance but when one entered the tower and looked up it was a different matter. The tower in the Kroller-Muller Museum gardens is the second of two, the other is in Washington DC.
The tower sculpture is made from aluminium tubes in compression and they are held in tension by stainless steel cables threaded through the end of the tubes. If you have the desire to learn about the mathematics involved with creating the tower, go to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tensegrity
Jews adopted the star in the 19th century as an emblem of Judaism in imitation of the cross of Christianity. During the occupation of Europe by the Nazis, Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David which they stated represented martyrdom and heroism. The designer of the Needle Tower in the Kroller-Muller Museum gardens suggests his work is not symbolic and he often includes six-pointed stars in his work.
Another piece of sculpture of note in the museum gardens is the Floating Duck by Hungarian-born Marta Pan (1923-2008). The windblown duck gently drifts around a pond and I have to admit I didn’t know the sculpture represented a duck until after I did the research for this posting.
Marta Pan’s sculptures represented nature and she was concerned with balance, symmetry and geometry. She often designed and built pieces that were site-specific. In the case of the Floating Duck, it suits the pond where it drifts. To stop the duck from making landfall it is tethered with a wire rope under the surface of the water and it was calming to watch it drift around in the breeze.
Among a number of interesting sculptures in the gardens is the Igloo by Mario Merz. It is constructed with thin sandstone slabs attached to a steel tube structure. To me, the igloo is a half geodesic dome. Geodesic domes are based on triangles and they can therefore support heavy loads.
Art-speak to me is incomprehensible sometimes. For example, Merz is quoted as saying: ‘The igloo is a metaphor, a symbol of a sheltered spot, a home in which people live together as equals, a prototype of habitation from the time when people still lived in harmony with nature. It is a house between time and space, a mythical hut and a home for nomads’.
In the early 70’s local potter Geoff Walker designed and built a dome/gallery near our village. His calculation ratios were to the 6th place and he describes the construction as ‘a 3 frequency, alternate breakdown five-eighths dome with wood struts, metal hubs and ferro-cement skin’. Very technical!
In the garden were two sculptures using objects that had relevance to Australia, 44-gallon drums and a corrugated iron water tank.
To Australians, the 44-gallon drum is an icon. All over Australia there are thousands of ‘44s’ waiting to be recycled and reassembled into sculptures such as the one in the museum gardens. During WW2 there was a rush to build roads from the southern parts of Australia to the north and these roads were known as defence roads. Due to the terrain, these roads needed to be sealed with bitumen which was transported to various sites in 44-gallon drums. As a consequence, there are many WW2 drums waiting to be collected and turned into works of art.
The above photograph was taken in the village of Pilliga north west NSW. Australian outback villages and settlements might not have classical architecture to attract the traveller but the buildings do have a certain down-to-earthiness about them.
Who would have thought it? A rainwater tank as the centre point of an artistic creation? There are few rainwater tanks in Europe and it’s because rainwater does not need to be stored and if it were the water would freeze rendering the tank useless.
Often corrugated iron and 44-gallon drums were used in combination in Australia and the following photograph shows the result.
The process of corrugating flat sheet iron to give it strength was invented in England in 1829 and from 1850 onwards it began to appear in Australia. Corrugated galvanized iron suited early users as it lent itself to improvisation of structures that could be described as ‘good enough for the bush’. If you were not sufficiently financial to buy corrugated iron it was possible to flatten 44-gallon drums and use them for roofing and cladding. To flatten a drum was arduous work. The top and bottom of the drum were removed and the remaining cylindrical tube was split from top to bottom, placed in a fire and heated to red hot. The red-hot drum was then rolled out flat. It was hot dirty work but once flat and placed in position as a wall it would last more than a lifetime.
The most important aspect of ‘galvo’ (a colloquial name) was the easy collection of rainwater, which was not so easy from roofs that preceded it such as thatch, bark and wooden shingles. Corrugated iron was one of the many products sent to Australia by imperial Britain and by the mid 1880s Australia was its largest customer with eighty brands. The most popular brand was Blue Orb, the royal orb giving the iron prestige. Corrugated iron was not popular in England as it did not blend into the local landscape compared to thatch, stone and slate.
Following our sojourn with Richard, we departed Borken on our bikes. Richard rode with us to the edge of town and set us on the bike path to the River Rhine. We were heading for Arnhem in Holland, scene of Operation Market Garden during World War 2 and its ‘bridge too far’.
The ride was reasonably straightforward, although without a detailed map there were certain directional difficulties. The largest city we encountered on the way to the Rhine was Bocholt and finding the way out of the city presented problems, however a couple of cycling locals came to our assistance and said ‘follow us and we will show you the way’. The city of Bocholt (population approximately 73 000) is located on the German side of the Rhine and every citizen has one or more bikes. The city is designated a bicycle city and there is a vast network of convenient cycleways throughout. In summer foreign motorists are warned to take care because of the number of bicycles on the roads. Between 2005 and 2006 the city won the title of ‘most bicycle-friendly’ city in Germany.
If you want to have a party and still cycle you mount a machine like the one in the above photograph. Partygoers sit opposite each other, pedal and socialise as they go.
We rode through some beautifully maintained farms and somewhere crossed the border into Holland. There is no end to the amount of money spent on making farms not only efficient and productive but fun as well.
Many people use the word hemp when referring to cannabis. Despite what people think, the hemp plant cannot get you high. Hemp, cannabis and marijuana are all terms used for the Cannabaceae family of plants. The stalks of the hemp plant are used to make food, textiles and building materials. Marijuana is used for recreational purposes or to make medicines. Hemp does not make you high because it contains almost nil THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, a crystalline compound and the main active ingredient of cannabis).
At day’s end we began looking for a pitch for the night and on our map were a couple of small tents marked. The size of the tent on the map usually indicated the size of the camping site. Small tents usually signified a mini-camp on a farm. There were only two caravans at the camp and no one in authority about so we pitched our tent and thought the owners would catch up with us sometime. A lady appeared from one caravan and offered us shelter under the annexe of her van if it rained and the owners of the second van came to us with two foldup chairs.
On past occasions, I have mentioned how society has lost the ability to look after our fellow man but this was not the case here. The owner of the camp came to us late in the day and spoke at length. She suggested if it was raining the next day to go over to the house for breakfast!! Now, this might sound pretty ordinary but nowhere in our travels have we met such an accommodating campsite owner. This is what I call looking out for one’s fellow man. They seem to have that ability in Holland. It was not raining the next day so we didn’t take her up on her offer but we did take morning tea with her and the other residents of the camp. It was a long drawn out affair with lots of travel talk and we learnt about the residents’ children, grandchildren and other loves, a totally enjoyable encounter.
As we rode towards the Rhine my thoughts drifted off as to how lucky we were to be there, but my thoughts were dragged back into reality when we came across a 1942 RAF World War 2 plane crash site. Following are the details.
In Holland, an obvious way to mark an historical site is with a bike.
Tree roots often push the macadam upwards making a traffic-calming bump, not comfortable at all if hit at speed. Whoever is responsible for shaving off these bumps, we thank them.
There are sixteen long distance cycling routes throughout Europe and the idea to set up these signposted routes was the work of the European Cyclists Federation. The federation’s duty is to ensure governments maintain the cycleways and that includes making sure the routes are smooth and safe to ride.
Up until November 2019 more than 45 000 kilometres of bike paths were in place and when the Eurovelo network is complete there will be 90 000 kilometres. One of the long-distance routes in Europe that Bev and I would like to journey along is the Eurovelo 8 which runs for over 7600 kilometres from Cadis in Spain to Cyprus. The next photograph shows one minuscule section of the Eurovelo 8 and following that is a map of the Eurovelo routes just in case you decide to do a ride. It’s easy, just do it.
By lunchtime we had reached the river Rhine at the town of Emmerich. Sitting in a café we met Jack and Christina from Arnhem and they suggested when in Arnhem to contact them and they would show us around the city, an offer we gratefully accepted.
Over lunch we watched river traffic and seeing long river barges is not common for us. The only river in Australia where one could see such watery activities would be on the Murray River (the border between NSW and Victoria). Small barges and paddle steamers used to ply the Murray and its tributary, the Darling, carrying goods to far-flung outstations but today no such activities happen. What steamers there are carry tourists, mostly on day trips. Go to Archives June 2013 to read about the Murray and Darling Rivers paddle steamer traffic.
From Emmerich there was a well-defined bike path although there was a section of extra, large cobblestones intent on loosening every nut and bolt on our bikes. By the end of the day we started to become desperate for a suitable camp. We went into one recommended but it was a grubby place and one resident told me ‘no tents allowed’ even though I could see no reason for such a rule. Not to be deterred we rode back to Emmerich Tourist Information (over the nut-loosening section of cobblestones for a second time) and we were told to go a further two kilometres and there ‘you will find a camping area’. We rode the two extra kilometres and couldn’t find the camp, and after asking a local it was suggested we ride another two kilometres and ‘you will find the camp’. Finally, we found a mini-camp on a horse farm.
At the camp we had a chat with a couple of young blokes who said they would love to do what we’re doing, I thought to myself why don’t they do it, they live here with bike paths all around them!
Our camp dinner is worth a mention: bread, creamed cheese and pate, carrot and water. Bev was not all that fussed about the menu and for breakfast, half a banana, sardine and water, not totally satisfying. It is hard to find grocery stores open on a Sunday.
On this diversion to Holland I decided to take sandals rather than shoes, and not carry a fleece jumper. My thinking was we were heading into summer and it would surely be warmer. This was a bad move as it turned out to be freezing and I had to resort to stuffing a newspaper down my front to protect against the cold wind and having no shoes meant wearing socks and sandals. My grandfather told me if you are cold when riding a bike to stuff newspaper under your shirt. He was qualified to give such advice as he was instrumental in setting up the first military bicycle battalion in England just prior to WW1.
At home I would not be seen dead wearing sandals and socks but in Europe I thought it would not be out of place because from memory Germans have been wearing this combination for years. I have been under the impression it was a German phenomenon but not so. According to historians, evidence of wearing sandals and socks together has been found in England in a 2000-year-old ancient Roman archaeological site. When the Germans adopted the fashion is not clear but there is a suggestion that when mountain climbing in summer they wore socks with trekking sandals to avoid getting blisters and the trend spread from there. There is a web page called DW Series and in it I found a cartoon by Miguel Fernandez which I include for your amusement. The cartoon has been posted without permission of the author. It’s not that I didn’t try to get permission but I couldn’t track him down. If Miguel or DW Series want me to remove the cartoon from this blog I will do so following a request. The DS series web page has some very amusing cartoons, I suggest you go there and have a look.
That’s the end of this post. Bev and I hoped you enjoyed it. Make a comment if you wish. In the next post we continue our ride along the river Rhine in Holland and make it to Arnhem, the location for a disastrous operation during World War Two.