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To Get to the Other Side

A journey through Europe and its anarchist movements

Between the Weser and the Ems

Lonely days of biking past stubbly fields, rivers and canals, land stretched flat and low towards the elusive sea, which suggests itself in the salty air and drunken earth though it hides far beyond the horizon.  I navigate from one village to the next with a compass and list of waypoints copied out the night before.  Bike all morning in a serene trance digesting dreams and birdsongs, roadside visions, tender thoughts of friends; stop around noon to fill up on bread and apples and cheese.  I cycle through the afternoon heat with angry strokes, pushing past the fatigue and soreness, cursing cars that cut me off or fill my lungs with smoke, reviewing all the failures, all the disappointments of the year gone by, and finally by evening fall into a sort of peace that floats through the last twenty kilometers and does not transcend the pain and weariness but forgives them, knowing they’ll be back

There’s something to be said for solitude in an isolated world. Alienation does not necessarily build walls between us and others, so much as damage our ability to relate. Alone on the road, far from anyone I know, I am left with the sounds of the world the thoughts in my own head, no matter how much distance I put between one night’s dreams and the next. What I get to know most in this shifting world is myself. Maybe that will be a good place to start to find others.

Sometime late in the glimmering of twilight, I reached Bremen. One of the punks in Hamburg gave me the address of a friend of his. When I showed up on her doorstep that Friday evening she invited me in before I even had a chance to ask if I could stay, then proceeded to feed me, show me the old town, and take me to the main anarchist social center, also a former squat now legally owned by its activist tenants.  I was taken in by such a feeling of welcome and possibility, I thought about staying longer, but something I could not explain in any rational way was pushing me on. I was not ready to stop yet. So the next morning I packed up my bike again, eased my protesting fundament slowly back onto the seat it spent most of its days pressed against, and rolled out over another bridge, another river, more fields, into another unknown.  She had drawn me a map out of town, but neither she nor anyone else had any contacts in Nederland.  Lacking any particular reason, I was heading to Groningen, with no plan other than to try to meet folks when I got there.  But it was another two days away.

That day I almost made it to the border.  I ended up resting my bones in Leer, a small city nestled in the crook of the Leda and the Ems, watching a gibbous moon rise over construction to the sound of swallows and crows.  The border was a dozen miles away, but all day I had to convince myself I was still in Deutschland.  The old folk in Ostfriesland speak a strange dialect, its own language really, and everywhere the accents, the spelling, the architecture were all different.  Old buildings still bore inscriptions in either Friesen or Plattdeutsch, and I could hardly understand it.  The differences are dwindling with time, or more accurately under the onslaught of a homogeneous culture that blares forth everywhere from the same TV screens.  But for now it felt like a different country, and without the state, without the imposition of borders and the concomitant homogenization it would be a different country, one of many, each flowing seamlessly into the next.