On the first weekend of september 2013, I decided to do what I had been planning for a few months. Most of the people that heard me talking about that considered this idea to be really foolish but I had to try it. And that weekend will be always on my mind as the weekend I walked from Berlin to Poland.
Even though I had planned this short and weird trip, most of the things you are going to read here are proof of my naiveté and the fact that I never traveled by foot before. So, I may sound stupid and I may say that everybody that plans to spend a weekend doing this is a little stupid. But, let me start with my story.
My trip started a little later than I expected on that sunny saturday in september 2013. My idea was to lead Berlin from Erkner so I could save myself some time and some strength before getting my feet on the road. After some problems with delayed trains, I started to walk from Erkner to Słubice around nine in the morning. The first part of the walk would be along the old post road between Berlin and the cities east of it.
The First Day Walking to Poland
The first hours of walking were not as exciting as I expected and it was hard to be excited about what I was doing. Mostly because I was walking in the middle of nowhere. For a few hours, I was walking in the middle of a forest without seeing anything besides what looked like the same tree over and over again. And I kept listening to some weird sounds that were not a part of the music I was listening. Most of the times, these noises made me wonder about being attacked by wild boars far away from any help. But, the most dangerous thing I saw along the way were spiders and tiny snakes.
The first thing that got me excited was when I stumbled upon Störitzsee. When I saw that weird looking lake, I knew I was on the right track and things would be fine. Then, I knew my plans were working. I had to cross the Spree on a tiny bridge at Mönchwinkel and cross the big forest at Braunsdorf.
When I was training to do this walk, I was walking on city roads. This time I was walking in the middle of a forest, on a sandy track covered with plants. For a while, I thought it would be a great idea to walk inside the forest. At least I could avoid the sun and walk on the shade, I thought. But, the forest at Braunsdorf changed my mind since the pathway there was covered in spider webs and small insects. It was annoying but it wasn’t a big problem.
The big problem appeared when I left the forest and started looking for a bridge that google maps told it was supposed to be somewhere it wasn’t. Ah, I did this trip with my cell phone as my only source of direction, smart right?
So, this bridge wasn’t there and this is not something you want to face when you are tired and wondering why are you walking to Poland. I needed to think and I needed to think fast. My 3G connection wasn’t working well and I was tired. After walking around for a few minutes, I sat down on the grass, had a sip of water and started thinking about what could I do now.
I just finished walking more than an hour without seeing anyone. I could walk west and try to find a road and cross the river. It would be a long walk and it would make my way to Berkebrück almost impossible. But it could be done. I could walk east and try to find some bridge crossing the Spree next to Fürstenwalde. Or I could just try to call a taxi and go home. I ended up deciding to go back some kilometers and see if I did something wrong.
Suddenly, I was the luckiest guy on the planet. There were some women riding horses and I approached them with my broken down German and asked about a bridge. They spoke to me in English and told me I wasn’t far from a bridge and I should walk some 20 minutes and get there. After a few minutes, the path in front of me turned into a well-defined track and my 3G connection was strong again. There I was crossing the Spree and reaching half of what I planned for the first day. I was on my way to Poland and nothing could stop me now.
I arrived at Fürstenwalde feeling like the greatest man ever to walk among mankind. I was on my way to Poland and I was right on time. I even saw a group of old people cycling around the track I was in and it made me even more excited to be there. I had walked a little over 25 kilometers and there was another 7 km in front of me until I could rest my feet and sleep.
But these last 7 kilometers proved to be the worst part of the day. I wasn’t in the forest anymore and the sun was on top of my head, burning my brains. There I was walking among Fürstenwalde and all the people on cars looked at me with weird faces. After a while, it started to piss me off and I was getting more and more annoyed and it lasted until I saw the sign with Berkenbrück written all over it.
I found my way into the Bürgerhaus Berkenbrück where I was the only person staying. I will always remember the look on the woman’s face there when she asked how did I get to the place from Berlin without a car or a bike. I got to my room and it was almost 4 o’clock in the afternoon. There were no blisters on my feet and I wanted to rest for a while. On the first day, I ended up walking close to 40 kilometers and I still had to walk something similar to this on the next day.
The Second Day Walking to Poland
I woke up Sunday morning, more excited than normal and, after a huge breakfast, I started my second and final day of walking to Poland. On this second day, I wasn’t walking on inside forests anymore. This time I crossing small cities. Briesen, Jacobsdorf, Pilgram, Rosengarten, and Frankfurt am Oder was on my way until I crossed the bridge to Slubice and I was on my way.
Sunday’s walk started well on a tiny road surrounded by trees and that was great until I reached Briesen. There, Google Maps started behaving weirdly again and I lost my way. I was close to the Briesen train station and all I could see was the train tracks, debris, and yellow flowers. My pathway was supposed to be somewhere there but… I couldn’t find it. After trying my luck on different tracks, I found my way on some concrete tracks that looked like they were built a long time ago and seemed to be used by, what I think, were tanks. I didn’t think much about it and continued walking.
Now, I was walking in what I think was somebody else’s farm. While I walked, I could see some mustard fields, some cows and lots and lots of windmills. The ground was a little wet and I could see some footprints from deer and other animals. And here is where I first saw some tiny signs that later I learned pointed the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Between Jacobsdorf and Pilgram, I walked along a bike lane and, a few times, I had to stop for a bike. Most of the time, I was completely alone with my music and it felt like I was right on time with my plan. When I got to Pilgram, I found the worst part of the trip.
When I decided to walk to Poland, I tried lots of different routes on Google Maps. My idea was to avoid big roads and the risk of being run over by some car. I didn’t want to have to deal with something going terribly wrong somewhere I didn’t know. Everything was kind of ok online but the road from Pilgram to Rosengarten didn’t have any place for me to walk on. This road was a small one, without a bike lane or anything. And I had to go on that if I wanted to reach Poland.
I know that the kilometers between those two towns were the worst for me. It was the only time I was really worried about something happening and when I reached Rosengarten safe and sound, I finally relaxed I realized that I just crossed the 25 kilometers mark and Slubice was almost there.
Those last kilometers were tempting since I could see some buses on the road and they could deliver me really close to where I wanted to go. It was kind of hard to watch them go by and think about what I could do but I just closed my eyes and kept going. When I got to Frankfurter am Oder, I decided to buy some ice cream and it made things even better.
This part of the walkthrough Frankfurt am Oder is really hard to explain. I knew I was close to Poland and I knew this would be over soon. I was walking faster, taking fewer pictures and, when I saw a sign pointing how close I was to Slubice I felt like screaming really loud.
When I saw the bridge that stands between Frankfurt am Oder and Slubice, I can easily say that almost cried. I had spent my last two days walking to Poland and it was amazing. I can hardly describe how I felt when I saw the Oder under me and I knew I was walking where Germany meets Poland.
When I reached where the immigration office used to be and I read Willkommen, I felt like the greatest man alive. That feeling of accomplishment, relieve and tiredness is really hard to put into words. Even writing this a year later is somewhat emotive to me.
But I was tired and I needed to rest for a while and think about what have I done. I sat next to the Oder on the polish side and stared at the buildings on the other side. There were some people fishing and there were some ducks. I don’t know how long I was there but, after a while, I decided to call my wife and say that I was in Poland and that everything was alright.
I don’t remember what I talked to her but I remember when she asked me if this call would be more expensive than a normal one just because I was in another country now. This was the point where I realized that this walk only meant something to me and that it was time to go back home.
I walked through Slubice for a while and decided to find my way to the train station in Frankfurt am Oder. The train did in less than an hour what I walked in two days. Next time, I will take the train.
This post appeared first, and in portuguese, at Viagem Criativa. And you can see all the pictures I took while walking below on Flickr.