When I walked my bicycle out of the train station after having arrived in Flensburg, the heavens opened and the rain welcomed me into yet another border region of Europe, where the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein meets the south of Denmark. Salt, ships and sea breezes characterize the coasts and the port towns where inlets connect markets to northern and Baltic waters. In fact, all three of the German cities through which I had passed on my way north–Hamburg, Kiel and Flensburg– are part of this region. Although Hamburg is its own city-state, it is Germany’s largest port and like the other two cities, it shares an important maritime relationship with Denmark, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and England. I could hear the difference around me as I wandered the wet streets, listening to the voices of Dutch and Danish tourists on my way to find a map of the city.
During my ride with Micha and Niela between Hamburg and Kiel, we had discussed my plans to cycle through Denmark. “What’s the weather usually like?” I had asked Micha, who had driven extensively through Denmark and southern Sweden.
“Oh, it’s very windy. It rains fairly often, but the wind just comes and blows it away. It doesn’t last long.
I kept his words in mind as I trundled my bike under yet another portico and fished around in my backpack for my rain pants. By the time I had pulled them on over my boots, the rain, which had been pouring down just moments before, had slowed to a drizzle. I watched the people along the shopping street spill out from doorways and out from under banners back into the street as the clouds scudded by overhead and revealed bright swathes of sunshine behind their gray shoulders. This interplay of rain and sun continued as I passed through the byways of Flensburg and lingered in the Museum Havn, where old sailing ships were docked and small signs explained their construction and design.
Not wanting to leave without a taste of the local food, I bought a Fischbrötchen from a small kiosk where a woman prepared toasted bread rolls with mayonnaise, a pickle, lettuce, and your choice of fish. By the time I had found the bike path signage for the route into Denmark, the weather had grown quite sunny and warm. I stopped at a bakery to change into my cycling clothes, and prepared to cycle as far as I could before the weather changed its mind.
It felt so good to ride towards another border. There’s something about the border regions, the places where one culture, language and history merges with another, that draws me, not just geographically, but also in terms of personal identity. Perhaps even more so. I had a fascinating conversation on board the ferry with two other cyclists related to this topic as we discussed the history of Poland’s shifting borders, the patterns of Ukranian migration and the current Russian attitude towards outsiders. One cyclist was Russian, the other Polish, and both had cycled through Denmark and were headed for the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Our adventures were in many ways parallel. But I’ll have to save that for another time. As I cycled into Denmark, I passed through a forest just outside Flensburg and within a few kilometers, I had come to the border where two cyclists outfitted with touring equipment rounded the bend and approached me.
“Excuse me, but is this the way to Flensburg?” The woman asked me, peering at me, her shoulders hunched. She wore rain gear as well, and her panniers were waterproof. Mine were not. A man accompanied her with similar gear.
“Yes, there’s a road just over there that goes through the forest and takes you into Flensburg.”
She squinted at the highway just ahead of us, probably wondering which was the more efficient course to take. “But how far is it?”
“It’s just a few kilometers. Are you coming from Denmark and going into Germany?”
“Ah. I’ve just come from Germany and I’m heading into Denmark.”
“Oh, so you’ve just been that way?”
“Yes, it’s really just right through that forest. You’ll be in Flensburg in ten minutes.”
“Oh, good. Thank you.” The man and woman leaned forward and pushed off, pedaling their lumbering bike towards the forest path I had indicated.
And I took a photo of the flags, glanced at the darkening sky, and continued into Denmark. Within minutes it was raining again, and I hadn’t gone twenty kilometers before every inch of me was soaking wet through to the skin. With a rueful sigh, I finally pulled over towards a sign that promised a campsite within two kilometers , but when it didn’t appear and I spied a convenient farmer’s field with a forested windbreak and protection from the road, I pulled over and unpacked. Mercifully, the clouds abandoned their rain dance and the sun came out again for the evening while I settled into my tent. I put on whatever I had left that was dry, pulled my rain gear on over that, and let sleep come. It was Wednesday evening. I had two more days to ride as far as possible. The ferry left Hirtshals harbor at 3:30 on Saturday. I would try to get there Friday evening, and although I wanted to be able to say that I had cycled across Denmark, south to north, I estimated that I would most likely finish by taking the train.