Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cycling through eastern Germany - Elsterwerda

Before I actually hooked up with the Elberadweg (Elbe Bike Path), I passed through some less touristic towns. One of them was Elsterwerda.

I spent the night in the Hotel on Denkmalsplatz (Monument Square). Since there was no monument in sight, I asked around and also looked at Wikipedia to see what the deal was - and found a gold-starred entry in German for the town, including a photograph of the original (restored) monument.

The original one commemorated the dead in the Franco-German War. It was destroyed in a storm and restored, but later replaced by an anti-Nazi monument, which later gave way to a statue of Karl-Marx (all of this in around 100 years). Marx was put in a park in 1994, and since then there has been no Monument at all at Monument Square - not even the bushes are there anymore. There is no trace.

The building in the picture at Wikipedia is the hotel I stayed at. Its history is as varied as the monuments. After several people tried to keep the hotel alive, a Vietnamese family took it over in 2003 (the GDR had a modest Vietnamese population out of solidarity with fellow communists). It seems that the chef, the father of the family, has had a stroke, for the restaurant is now Greek, and the Vietnamese family has set off a tract of the hotel as their own living space, as I found out by losing my way and stumbling on the elderly man with very slurrred speech in a wheelchair. The Greek restaurant obviously lacks the money to remodel, so you eat Greek in a Vietnamese ambiance (I actually ordered something Indian when I realized the "Greek" cooks were Indian).

At breakfast, the Vietnamese lady who runs the half of the hotel that's left (and I seem to have been the only guest and was the only person in the restaurant, too, when I left) asked me the usual questions: where are you going, how far do you cycle a day, etc. But unlike the perfunctory chatty politeness of most hotel receptionists, her interest seeemed genuine, as though she were trying to fathom being out there on the road just going for going's sake, not knowing where you will sleep the next day. Or maybe I just read too much into it and imagined her to be trapped in her situation with a floundering hotel to run and a sickly relative to care for.

Whatever the case, a lot of people are just trying to hang in there.

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