East Germany, Sweden and Denmark

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Choosing the tour

While planning my June, 2015 cycletouring program, I noticed that the Backroads Company of Berkeley, California just started to offer these two interesting itineraries.  The German tour ended about 48 hours before the Scandinavian one began and I could easily travel between the two. 
Although I had cycled in Germany before several times I had never made it to the exciting city of Berlin.  Since one of these was my 35th tour with this amazing company I was given a huge discount on one of them.

Impressions of East Germany

The first tour was in the former East (Communist) Germany.  It began at the historic Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall.  Right from the start I was impressed that the countryside backdrop for our cycling was much brighter and more colorful than the typical drab and depressive stereotypical Communist 1950’s newsreel setting of Eastern Europe. 
If any poverty still exists was difficult to detect.  For example, the shopping mall in Dresden which I visited didn’t seem to be much different from any modern American mall. The people we encountered (and the drivers!) were friendly and courteous although many didn’t speak English. 

The Route

The tour essentially headed in a southerly direction from Berlin, stopping at the site of the important Potsdam World War II Conference among the allies.  It ended in the city of Dresden, called the “Florence of the Elbe”.  On both tours, if our hotel was in a high traffic area, we were shuttled outside the congested area, thus eliminating junk miles.
Much of the cycling was done on paved, cobbled or hardpack trails and 90% of it was flat.  We covered about 500 miles total on the 2 tours.  In Sweden we used lightly trafficked roads more.

A Bit Cool

Unlike the June tours I have mostly taken in Southern Europe., the weather was mostly in the 60’s Fahrenheit.   There was light rain in a day or two on both tours, but most of the time it was partly to mostly cloudy.   The arm warmers and light jacket were sufficient and I wore shorts.  The light fleece vest I bought was used only for dinner.   I could see why our luxurious hotels had indoor pools and spas, unlike in Southern France and Italy when I could look forward to jumping into an outdoor swimming pool or laying out beside it.  Since I did not have this to look forward, I was in no rush to finish my cycling early and therefore I did most of the extra loops.

Encounters with the Force of Gravity

On the first day cycling in Germany two of the tour members fell.  A woman suffered a fractured elbow and she and her husband had to fly home immediately for surgery. I was a bit luckier. Riding at about 17 m.p.h. I had a blowout on my front tire and fell.  I had some bloody bruises on my face and a black eye but I continued on the tour and by the time I returned home I was fully recovered.

People Make the Difference!

What made this trip superior to others were the guides/tour leaders, co-riders and encounters with locals!  Backroads has a very stringent employee selection and training program.  For groups of 9 to 25 cyclists, we had 3 or 4 VERY capable leaders and support people. They were from Germany, Austria, England, Poland and the U.S. and worked very well together.
For the first time in all tours I had the opportunity to meet Backroads’ president and founder Tom Hale.  He was primarily interested in my impressions of the leaders.  I concluded that his priority with this important factor is what sets Backroads apart from its competitors. These Backroads employees have to have diplomatic, mechanical, linguistic, culinary and customer relations skills.
On the first day of each tour it became apparent that another tour member and I had  compatible cycling styles and strengths and we would wind up cycling the whole week together.  We could each check the landmarks on the (excellent!) directions Backroads distributed  so if we missed one or two we could quickly  return to the correct route. 
In 2015 this old cyclist has been very fortunate to have had great co-riders in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and New York who are strong, very in-synch and just plain lovely!  I have also been blessed with a body which has quickly overcome 3 recent minor accidental injuries and a wife who “lets me” and supports all my cycling! 
I try to engage the local people I run into in conversations.  If in doubt about the directions, a compliment I receive about my clothing or bike or a brief exchange with a hotel or restaurant employee I use it as a possible segue into a broader discussion. The tour guide of a Copenhagen walking tour, Christian and I had a talk which morphed into a wide range discussion of bicycling, world politics, and his family and future marital plans.

Demographics and Dollars

The cost of each 6 day, five night tour is between $4500 and $5000 plus any single room supplements, air fare, some meals, alcohol and  gratuities.  Included were use of a well maintained titanium bike(battery powered ones –used by 2 of our group), SUPERIOR hotels and most meals (also excellent+), support by two vehicles, guided cultural stops, castles, museums religious sites, botanical gardens and architectural venues.
There were about 3 solo travelers on each tour. The remainder was groups of friends and relatives and couples.  The remainder ranged in age from 30 to the seventies except for one gentleman who was in his 80’s! I hope I can follow him and have many more of these memorable experiences!
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