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East Prussia, Suwalki & Lithuania

A Winter Journey through Central Europe

Karl Brodowsky, cycled 2003-11-14 through 2003-11-23, written 2004


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For reasons not to be discussed on these pages, in the year of 2003 one week of my vacations came to be in November. This is off course slightly outside of the warm season and unfortunately even outside of the time when the children have vacations. Furthermore it has been really necessary to be gone, in order to actually take these vacations. So it was an obvious opportunity to go on a bicycle tour. Within nine days including the train to the area where I am cycling and back a lot can be done. Relatively soon the decision had been made not to go to Scandinavia and so this came out to be an opportunity to see some of the eastern parts of Central Europe, for example Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland or the Baltic states. Off course I was especially interested in seeing East Prussia and its southern (Polish) parts, where my ancestors had lived. It seemed possible to combine this with a visit to Lithuania. Off course East Prussia had been known for its extremely cold winters and it is known that Lithuania is even further to the north and east, so probably at least not warmer. And November is already belonging to the winter in these areas. On the other hand I had done quite a few bicycle tours during the winter in Germany. And the real winter months in East Prussia are more like December, January and February, while November is more like the kind of winter that I know from areas further to the south and to the west. Off course it is a good idea to have a thermos can in the luggage and to fill it with hot tea or coffee. On the other hand I did took neither a tent nor a sleeping bag, but traveled with rather light luggage.

You can imagine that East Prussia has an area of about 38000 km², which is about the size of Switzerland. It is not quite obvious what the exact area is, because there are three small regions that can be counted as part of East Prussia or not: The Memelland, which is the area north of the river Memel (Lithuanian: Nemunas), with about 3000 km² had became Lithuanian, a small area in the Southwest had became Polish and a small portion of West Prussia, which became mostly Polish, had become part of East Prussia, all after the first world war. So you have eight possibilities to calculate the area, but maybe this does not matter too much for now. Today East Prussia is divided between three countries: 60 % in the south are Polish, 30 % around Koenigsberg (German: Königsberg, Russian: Калининград) are Russian and 10 % in the North (Memelland) are Lithuanian. So even the Southern part is so big that I could only see a small part of it during this week.

Lithuania with an area of about 65000 km², which is slightly more than the size of West Virginia. Off course I could really only see a tine part of Lithuania without dedicating the hole trip to this country. That would indeed have been an interesting option to which I actually intend to come back to in the future. Other than the usual assumptions Lithuania is not really in the Eastern part of Europe, but actually pretty much in the middle. Calculations of the center of Europe yielded a location in Lithuania, not in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany or the Netherlands.

The landscape in this area is mostly hilly with many lakes. It has been formed during the ice age. The highest elevations are slightly more than 300 m above sea level.

During the middle ages the area which became later East Prussia was populated by a Baltic people, the Prussians. Their language was Prussian, which is related to Latvian and Lithuanian, but not to Estonian. It disappeared about 300 years ago. During the end of the middle ages attempts were made to perform the "crusades" not only towards Palestine, but also towards areas in Europe, where the Christian church had not been established. So knights from Germany conquered an area consisting of East Prussia, but also most of what is today Latvia and Estonia. Lithuania had combined itself with Poland to form a huge state, which at times reached down to the black sea. Later Latvia and Estonia came under Swedish and under Russian rule. But a German minority remained in these countries and their members often had influential positions within the society, while in Lithuania a Polish minority remained in a similar position. During the end of the middle ages the state established in the area that became later known as East Prussia must have been quite attractive, because it drew many people from Germany, Poland and Lithuania. You can still see signs of this by looking at name of Germans who have East Prussian origin.

In spite of the different heritage of its inhabitants, who were even joined by people from France and Austria because of the greater religious freedom in later years, most of the East Prussians considered themselves to be German. After the first world war elections where held in the southern parts of East Prussia in order to decide if this area should become Polish or remain German. Apparently more than 90 % voted for remaining with Germany. In the town of Treuburg (Polish: Olecko) the vote was even unanimous, with no single vote for Poland. So East Prussia remained German for a few more years. But after the second world war the southern parts of East Prussia came under Polish administration anyway and are now accepted as being part of the Polish state. A very sad story is the compulsory removal of most of the German population from East Prussia (and West Prussia, Silesia, Eastern Pomerania and other areas), which was done in such a cruel and brutal way that more then two millions were killed.

A small number of the original inhabitants, especially member of the tiny Polish minority, whose members had already voted for Poland in the 1920s, remained in the southern part of East Prussia, while the northern part, coming under Soviet administration, was made almost unpopulated. Many new inhabitants came to East Prussia from Russia and Poland, to some extent even from areas that Poland had lost to the Soviet Union after the second world war. Many of the remaining Germans, who had now become a minority, left their old homeland and went to the west, but some are still living there. In some cases people have even moved from Germany into the Polish part of East Prussia. The population number of East Prussia is nowadays almost the same as before the war, but the people are more concentrated in the cities like Koenigsberg (German: Königsberg, Russian: Калининград), Allenstein (Polish: Olsztyn) and Lyck (Polish: Ełk), leaving the rural areas less densely populated. Some smaller villages, especially those near the new border between the northern part, that became part of Russia after the end of the Soviet Union and the southern Polish part, have only very few inhabitants or have even been abandoned.

Because this text was originally written in German and I do not know the English names for most of the places, I am using the German names, where they exist, unless they have been invented between 1933 and 1945. If these German names contain letters that are not commonly used for English texts, I changed these to a transcription with letters from the alphabeth used for English, adding the name with the German spelling on the first occurance. In addition to that I am adding the Polish, Lithuanian or Russian name of the place, at least when I mention the name for the first time. Maybe I could use English names that are directly derived from the current Polish, Russian and Lithuanian names by just writing these names with the 26 letters commonly used for English texts.

Train to Lyck

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Traveling to East Prussia has become somewhat easier and more doable compared to my first trip to that area in 1988. There are train connections across the border from Berlin to Stettin (Polish: Szczecin) approximately every two hours. These trains are transporting bicycles. From Stettin to Byalistok there was a night train, which was supposedly transporting bicycles. It stops in Danzig (Polish: Gdansk), Marienburg (Polish: Malbork), Elbing (Polish: Elbląg), Allenstein (Polish: Olsztyn), Rastenburg (Polish: Kętrzyn), Loetzen (German: Lötzen, Polish: Giżycko) and Lyck (Polish: Ełk). Because the train was moving at surprisingly low speed, I planned to get off in Lyck, in order to avoid the necessity to get up in the middle of the night. Unfortunately the ICE-trains in Germany do not transport bicycles. Because of this a connection within 24 hours is only possible without having a bicycle along. So I had to take the first night train from Zurich (German: Zürich) to Berlin, but I had almost a day to see Berlin, which is said to be worth a journey by itself. Surprisingly I could even by a single ticket for all the way from Basel on the Swiss-German border to Lyck. My Swiss rail pass covers the stretch from Zurich to Basel. The ride in the CityNightLine to Berlin goes well and I have some hours to cycle around Berlin. In the late afternoon my train leaves for Stettin (with change in Angermuende (German: Angermünde)). In Stettin I can already find my train, which happens to be quite long. Off course the first car is for my bicycle and the last car is where I have the couchette reserved for myself. It is slightly special to me, that you cannot walk through the train. The connection between the cars is not open for walking through, which is only possible during stops over the platform. Having finally stored my bicycle in the right place, the conductrice of the couchette car asks me to get my bicycle to the car where I am staying, while the conductor of the bicycle car asks me to leave it there, which is OK for me. In the morning around 7:00 (am) we still have not arrived in Lyck, because the train is more than an hour late. But on the other hand it is very nice riding the train through an icy and foggy landscape. It still feels like a dream.

Two night trains, some hours in Berlin:

Day 1: 2003-11-16 (7)

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Lyck (Polish: Ełk) is supposed to have terribly much motor traffic, but on this early Sunday morning around 8:00 (am) all the car drivers seemed to be sleeping and I had the highway N 16 towards Augustow all for myself. The road was dry and in a good state, but the country was all white. This way I like the winter. Once in a while I passed through some small villages and somewhere I had to make a left, in order to get to Suwalki (Polish: Suwałki) and beyond to Lithuania. Because I saw many Lithuanian and Latvian trucks, I could assume being on the right way. But from Dreimuehlen (German: Dreimühlen, Polish Kalinowo) the Lithuanians continued on the N 16, while I turned north on the N 661. This is a tiny allay with very little traffic and closed to big trucks. It too me to Reuss (German: Reuß, Polish Cimochy), from where I took the N 655 to Suwalki.

Suwalki is quite a town, that is actually covering a huge area. It started long time before I came near to the center, where several four lane highways could be found. From there I took the national highway N 8, which has wide shoulders in this area, but it is on the other hand quite curvy and hilly for a major highway. This area looked very different from the area where I had started and it had even become a little bit warmer. I came through one or two forests, but mostly across fields to Szypliszki. On the last seven kilometers from there to the border the shoulder of the highway was packed with trucks waiting for the border procedures on their way from Poland to Lithuania. Estimated by the number of trucks that where coming from the other direction they might be spending about a day on this border. Interestingly these were mostly Lithuanian and Latvian trucks, mixed with some from Estonia and Poland, few from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Finland. These were all modern trucks from Scania, Volvo, MAN and other producers. Surprisingly quite a few of them seemed to be transporting junk cars to Lithuania. Possibly you can get them for a song in Germany after an accident, but still get them repaired in Lithuania with the lower average income. The other side of this story is that the rail connection from Lithuania and the other two Baltic to the rest of the European Community is either going vie Byelorus or via some zigzag-line bypassing Byelorus, but in any case with a change of gauge. In combination with the excellent long distance highways in Lithuania this is telling quite a bit about the direction where the transport policy is going in this part of Europe.

I could easily overtake all the trucks. The border station was huge. The highway got many lanes. Other than typical Swiss-German border stations it was really required from everyone to show the passport. And a little bit later the next checkpoint wanted to see it again, totally four or five times. The first guy who took a look at my passport asked me, what I wanted to do in an uninteresting country like Lithuania... At least it sounded like that. But that could not stop me.

In Lithuania the highway became an interstate highway, numbered A 5. Fortunately bicyclists may use all highways in Lithuania. This one was a brand new highway, replacing the old A 5. It was mostly a freeway with wide curves, not passing through any villages. European Community money has been spent on this highway, connecting Warsaw (Polish: Warszawa) via the Baltic states and a ferry to Helsinki. Places that the highway should have touched according to my 2003 map of Lithuania, especially Kalvarija, did not seem to exist, because they were bypassed in great distance and could only be seen on the horizon. Lithuania was rather flat and had huge free fields. Far away there were always houses and small forests. I was moving quite fast and soon I met the exit for the westbound national highway N 200, where I had to go more than half a kilometer of detour, because the ramp made me take a huge loops prior to passing under the interstate highway. The N 200 was a smaller paved highway, going through woods and marsh land and even some villages. Once I saw a horse cart coming from the opposite direction. At some time the branch to Vilkaviškis came, but it was only a dust road, which I did not really want to take for 25 km. Some kilometers later the N 185 would allow me to go there as well and I expected it to be paved, which proved to be true.

A few kilometers before reaching Vilkaviškis I crossed the interstate highway A 7 from Koenigsberg (German: Königsberg, Russian: Калининград) to Vilnius and Moscow (Russian: Москва). In Vilkaviskis (Lithuanian: Vilkaviškis) there was supposed to be a reasonably priced hotel according to my internet research efforts and I had to find it. Off course the people who I met on the road where very nice and helpful. Actually their Lithuanian was very good, better than mine, to be honest. I hardly knew any word of Lithuanian. It is very important in Lithuania, that you never start a conversation with Russian. But on the other hand it is very clear that you end up with Russian, if your Lithuanian is not sufficient. Almost everybody seems to know Russian as foreign language and almost nobody would know German, English or any language that I would be able to use with some ease. Unfortunately my knowledge of Russian had been mostly forgotten, at least I did not really make it to the hotel with the first description, but I had almost passed through the place without having found it. Instead there seemed to be a police office, where I tried to ask again. The policemen where very nice and very helpful. Off course they knew Lithuanian and if that really does not do even some Russian. One of them drove to the Hotel and I just had to follow him to find it. Off course the lady in the reception of the hotel knew Lithuanian as well. But somehow she found out what I wanted and we even found out how I could pay the hotel with my credit card. She even showed me where I could put my bicycle for the night. I never understood the point of these registers of "bicycle friendly hotels". It has never been a problem in any hotel to put the bicycle in a safe place for the night.

The room was pretty small and needed some sense for the old eastern block style, but at least it had its own bathroom. The heating could not really be regulated and it was not really very warm. Even the blanket was a little bit too short. But with some warm clothes on top of my sleeping clothes I could actually sleep quite well. In the morning I could even get some breakfast. Surprisingly this was no bread, but salad. At least somewhat healthy. I think that I will need to refresh and extend my Russian prior to going to Lithuania again. ;-)

Day 2: 2003-11-17 (1)

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Because of the border station I had to go back using partly the same highways as on my way to Vilkaviškis. Off course it would have been much shorter to go via Virbalis (LT), Ebenrode (Russian: Нестеров, RU) and Goldap (Polish: Gołdap, PL), taking a few kilometers through the northern Russian part of East Prussia, but the effort for getting a Russian visa and for the actual crossing of the border is commonly considered quite high, so that the detour around Russia probably pays even in terms of travel time. For my trip with just a week for everything the Russian visa would not have been worth the effort without making use of it for the whole time. Anyway I could still create a variant by taking the interstate highway A 7 to Marijampole and changing to the A 5 there. To the right it would have been 153 kilometers to Koenigsberg, to the left it would have been 178 kilometer to Vilnius. Off course the map was wrong again and I hit the interchange with the A 5 long before actually reaching Marijampole. This time the way to the border seemed to be quite long. I had head wind on both highways and even some rain. Some time around noon I had passed the four checkpoints without problems and I was back in Poland. It proved to be a good idea to go to a restaurant in Szypliszki and eat a good meal for something like 6 CHF (4 EUR).

While I was eating it started to snow. The snow on the shoulders of the highway was still fine for cycling, but the central parts of the highway became more and more a pain in spite of the snow plows. The vehicles using the road actually made the snow melt and freeze again to ice, having forms like the line that the tire was following. Even though I had spike tires, it was not easy to cycle there. But I was really glad to have these tires. When I came to Suwalki again it was already getting dark. From here there where three possible highways towards Treuburg (Polish: Olecko). I had already used part of the southern one on my way from Lyck to Suwalki. The northern one was slightly longer. So I chose the one in the middle. Following the road signs to Allenstein (Polish: Olsztyn) I came on the right way and finally managed to leave Suwalki. This area was quite hilly and finally I was cycling mostly through forests again.

Suddenly on the left a small lake turned up and the highway ended on another highway and I was in Treuburg. This is the place from whose vicinity about half of my ancestors are coming. I had always heard a lot of this place and now I was suddenly there. I had already organized my stay for the night in Dullen (Polish: Duły), a small neighboring village of Treuburg. So I just went to the center of Treuburg, called to Dullen with my cell phone to tell when I would be arriving and to ask how to find the last few meters. About five kilometers west of Treuburg I had finally arrived there.

Day 3: 2003-11-18 (2)

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In order to make good use of the day, I left Dullen already around 7:30 in the morning. The area was very nice. The highways were all boulevards, with trees on both sides, often birch trees. In this area there where some lakes, but rather little woods and more fields. Once in a while I came through a village. A farmer was still working with horses. The weather on this day was warmer and the snow was almost completely gone. Once in a while it rained a little bit, but most of the time it was dry, sometimes with clouds and sometimes with sunshine.

I had my first major break in Loetzen (German: Lötzen, Polish: Giżycko). I wanted to buy something to eat, which was actually not so easy. There where many stores with colored advertisements. It was easy to find places for buying vacuum cleaners, stereos, computers and a lot of stuff. But the stores where they were selling food were far from obvious. I neither new the Polish words nor the label of typical stores, so I had to take my time to find them. On the other hand, I eventually did find a way to buy something to eat. I found a place near a canal that was connecting two lakes, where I ate my lunch. After that I took a look into the castle and then I continued towards Rastenburg (Polish: Kętrzyn). This time the highway went mostly through forests and it was quite nice again. Rastenburg is a very beautiful town, which I actually liked slightly better than than Loetzen. I had another break here, but it started to become dark.

When I left Rastenburg again, it was already quite dark. To Bartenstein (Polish: Bartoszyce) it was supposed to be some 44 Kilometers, when I left Rastenburg. Fortunately my light worked well all the time. To be on the safe side, I had two independent lighting systems. One is built into the bicycle and uses a generator that is integrated into the front wheel to produce electricity. The other one consisted of a set of battery lights, which I could attach to my bicycle, but the built in system was actually doing well. Bartenstein is quite a big town with huge highways, especially the national highway from Warsaw (Polish: Warszawa) to Koenigsberg. I made a call to the people where I intended to spend the night and I told them that I would be arriving at their place about two hours later around 21:00. I even asked if there is anything special about the way, but I was told that it were easy to find, if I just had a map. Petershagen (Polish: Pieszkowo) is between Landsberg (Polish: Górowo Iławeckie) and Heilsberg (Polish: Lizbark Warmiński) and there seemed to be an obvious paved highway, which would connect Bartenstein almost directly with Petershagen. So I just continue on the N 512 in the direction of Landsberg and intended to make a left shortly after Spittehnen (Polish: Spitajny). Unfortunately this highway did not turn up and I was getting surprised how I could have overlooked it, even in the dark. Soon I reached Tolk (Polish: Tolko), the next place. From there my map showed a way to correct my error of having missed the shortcut highway to Petershagen, a small road moving south, which would intersect with the correct highway, prior to leading through some tiny villages. These villages did turn up, but no highway to Petershagen. Through a network of small roads with many branches I tried to find my way through the darkness and I did actually hit a slightly bigger road. I heard something beside me and it turned out that this was another bicyclist without light. In spite of the slightly difficult communication, which neither worked with hands, because of the darkness, nor with words, because of the lack of a common language skill, I managed to find out that making a left on this road would eventually take me to Petershagen. It almost looked as if I had crossed this magic shortcut highway somewhere between Tolk and the place where I was now. Maybe they had recently built a long tunnel which looked like an intersection on my map? I could hear that the Polish bicyclist was trying to keep up with my speed on his simple bicycle without light and without luggage. He seemed to be going to the next village. I continued, now sure that I was on the right highway to Petershagen and I made a short break somewhere. When I continued I could hear the bicyclist (or another one) for some time again, until I was alone again. The highway was a very narrow paved boulevard. Unfortunately the asphalt looked like a carpet that has been put together of many small pieces and it became quite a stressful and rough ride, especially in the dark. Again and again I passed villages or farms with some lights to the left and to the right of the highway. Finally, about the time I had planned, I arrived in Petershagen. It turned out that my bilingual map was wrong and the shortcut highway really started in Tolk, just half a kilometer after the road I had taken. The reprint of the map from 1937 accurately showed the real locations of the roads. Almost nothing had been changed in the last 70 years. Off course there was no new tunnel.

Day 4: 2003-11-19 (3)

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On this day I left again quite early, shortly before 8:00 or so, to make some use of the daylight. Landsberg was reached soon and from there I intended to take a highway that is slightly approaching the Russian border via Kanditten (Polish: Kandyty) and Lichtenfeld (Polish: Lełkowo) to Eisenberg (Polish: Żelazna Góra). In this area there was nothing going on. The fields were often unused and the people in the villages seemed to have time for anything and money for nothing. On this day it was raining very much and many fields were under water. In Eisenberg the highway ended. It was most obviously possible to make a left and continue that way to Braunsberg (Polish: Bŕaniewo). A tiny road continued to the right. Soon it went through a boulevard and passed underneath a brand new bridge. Further on it would be a dead end, but to the right it was possible to reach the bridge. Making a right again across the bridge was the way to avoid the other dead end, which was the strait continuation from the bridge to the left. This was a wide concrete highway, slightly worn out by the years and hardly without any recent importance for traffic. Obviously this was one of the first Interstate-highways ("Reichsautobahn") connecting Koenigsberg with Elbing, built in the thirties when this area was German. Towards Koenigsberg this is now a dead end, because the border to Russia cannot be crossed. I tried it anyway all the way to the border. Soon I saw a sign that the road was closed to all vehicles, which I ignored. Here I could already see grass on the highway. After another one or two kilometers there was a fence and some meters of the highway were totally gone underneath grass and bushes. This was the Russian border, which can now be crossed some kilometers further to the west between Braunsberg (Polish: Bŕaniewo, PL) and Heiligenbeil (Russian: Мамоново, RU). The new bridge indicates that there are some efforts to repair this highway and probably open a new border station. Today this is no interstate highway, no autobahn, no motorway any more, but just a normal national highway (N 22) having the added value of being almost totally car free, because it leads nowhere but to a few farms near the border.

I went back from the border across the new bridge towards Elbing. Somewhere there was a major highway reconstruction work, due to which the highway was totally closed. Using a stretch of cobble stone road and some other minor roads I managed to cycle to Braunsberg. By the way, this was the first of these bad roads, that are feared so much among bicyclists and they should remain rare for the remainder of the trip. I wanted to stay overnight in Braunsberg and it was off course getting dark already. But it was still early and I wanted to see the "Haff", which is a bay divided from the Baltic Sea by a long and narrow peninsula, called "Nehrung". So I just cycled to Frauenburg (Polish: Frombork) and there I found my way to the harbor. In Braunsberg some of the roads were flooded up to 30 cm (1 foot) deep and I had to go through this water. The highway to Frauenburg is very nice. As far as I could tell in the darkness, it lead through woods growing in a wet ground with many creeks and small lakes.

Having returned to Braunsberg it was not so easy to find an adequate location for making a phone call because of the heavy rain. At least it turned out that I had to go back nearly to the end of Braunsberg towards Frauenburg to find the place where I was staying for the night. This one I had already organized from Schaffhausen. The distance I had covered on this day was rather short, so it might be called my day of rest.

Day 5: 2003-11-20 (4)

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On this day I had to start thinking of keeping the distance to Lyck in mind, where I wanted to catch my night train on the following Saturday. So I decided to turn south pretty soon and to skip the interesting things that I might have considered worth while seeing in West Prussia and Western East Prussia, for example Marienburg (Polish: Malbork) or the Nehrung of the Haff. On the national highway N 54 I cycled through forests until I reached the N 22 again, which had slightly more traffic here, but could still be considered almost empty. Off course there were bus stops, branching forest paths, other bicyclists and even quite a lot of pedestrians. Actually I had seen quite a few other bicyclists on the roads and even quite many pedestrians. The exit for the highway to Preussisch Holland (German: Preußisch Holland, Polish: Pasłęk) had once been built like a real exist with no left turns. Having so little traffic now it had been considered more convenient to allow left turns in order to save a few meters of detour.

The tiny highway zigzagged through many villages in an area that was pretty flat. Preussisch Holland (German: Preußisch Holland, Polish: Pasłęk) could be seen long time before I got there, because it was located on a hill and even has a city wall, part of which could still be seen. In this area it is funny that the church towers are not necessarily as high as possible, but rather ad wide as possible.

In Preussisch Holland I had off course again the usual difficulty finding the right shops, but surprisingly I succeeded again. After a little walk through the town and a short break I used my bicycle again. This time I found the big and well built national highway N 7. It goes from Danzig (Polish: Gdansk) to Warsaw (Polish: Warszawa). In this area it was consequently equipped with wide shoulders and it was pretty decent for cycling in spite of the higher traffic load. It followed the paths of the old boulevards most of the way, leaving them just for bypasses of some towns and some minor straitening.

After a few kilometers I made a turn to the right into calmer boulevards again and I went to Saalfeld (Polish: Zalewo). It is interesting to observe that this Saalfeld (under its Polish name "Zalewo") has become a partner town of the German town Saalfeld in Thuringia. In Saalfeld I turned south again and cycled through forests in the vicinity of the eastern bank of the Geserich-lake. Most of the time the lake was some kilometers away from the road, so I could not see it. But since I had once cycled round this lake in 1988, it was kind of fun to use the same highway again for part of this day's trip.

Soon I reached the branch to Weepers (Polish: Wieprz) to the right, where I had stayed overnight in 1988, and then in Schnellwalde (Polish: Boreczno) the branch leading to the right towards Deutsch Eylau (Polish: Iława) and to the left towards Liebenmuehl (German: Liebenmühl, Polish: Miłomłyn). This time I took the left. Somewhere I was supposed to see an old canal (German: "Oberländischer Kanal" Polish: "Kanal Elbląski") which is crossing a lake on a dam. I wanted to see this and I even came to the side road that lead through a village to this lake. Unfortunately it was not easy to recognize much of the dam save the canal. This could have been the other side of the lake in an hilly area like this as well.

In the evening I cycled parallel to the canal for some kilometers. This canal is maybe comparable to the Goeta-Canal (Swedish Götakanal) in Sweden. It is a relatively small canal, built in a time when it was getting more and more obsolete to run a canal for these small boats due to the competition with the upcoming railroads. This does in no way diminish the fact that this canal is an excellent sight, which can even be navigated on with tourist boats. One specialty is the fact that usual locks are not in use, but rather some carriage on rails, which can take the boats across a dam between the two water levels. The energy for this mechanism is coming from water power, which is actually true for conventional locks as well, if you think about it.

In Liebenmuehl it was already getting dark when I came back to the national highway N 7. I used a rest area for a break and it was already hard to recognize, who was having a break in the same place as well. Another person seemed to exist and she knocked at the car of someone who was having a break there as well. Together they drove to the darkest spot of the area.

For the following night I had not organized anything. Osterode (Polish: Ostróda) seemed to be a little bit too early for staying overnight, because I intended to spend the night thereafter somewhere northeast of Sensburg (Polish: Mrągowo), but I wanted to avoid the city of Allenstein (Polish: Olsztyn), especially the traffic of Allenstein. It seemed attractive to me to bypass Allenstein way south, so I had to stay somewhere southeast of Osterode. I just took the bypass of Osterode, which was off course still the N 7.

A little bit south of Osterode I came through a deep valley. The highway had three lanes for the slopes, two up and one down. Some time later, when I was already thinking about a place for the night, I came to Hohenstein (Polish: Olsztynek). I had assumed that I would find something right away, but there would have been enough time to continue towards Allenstein or Neidenburg (Polish: Nidzica), if necessary. Shortly before I reached Hohenstein, there was a hotel right besides the highway. It was actually quite a challenge to find the entrance. I could star for 50 PLN (17 CHF or 12 EUR). The room was small and the furniture would not win rewards, but I slept well. Off course there was a place within the building for my bicycle.

I could have integrated Elbing, possibly Marienburg or even the Nehrung into this day, if I had planned for staying in Osterode and cycling via Allenstein. But it is always important to leave something for the next trip, which could take me from the area around Lyck, Treuburg, Suwalki or even Vilnius through East and West Prussia, Pomerania to Germany. That would also be something like 900 kilometers, so it could have been distance-wise an alternative to the tour that I was actually doing.

Day 6: 2003-11-21 (5)

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I cycled through the town Hohenstein (Polish: Olsztynek) and quickly found the highway to Ortelsburg (Polish: Szczytno). Now I came through an area with many woods and lakes. There were many camp grounds and it is not too hard to imagine that a lot is going on in this region during the summer time. Considering the landscape this may well be the nicest part of the whole bicycle tour. Here in the south of East Prussia with its many lakes it is possible to go on canoe trips. Boats can be rented during the summer, even for one way trips, if this is properly arranged. Actually all these lakes were frozen from October till April or so in the older days, but this time I could still see liquid water in November. Probably it would have been possible to swim. Maybe even without a magic increase of the number of bicycles or pieces of luggage. But since I traveled only with light luggage, I did not want to try this out.

In Ortelsburg I had a nice break and took a look at the town. It was really nice to come through all these nice towns. From Ortelsburg I took the rather direct route to Sensburg, which was partly passing between fields and even going across some hills.

In Sensburg (Polish: Mrągowo) I had a longer break, which I used to eat something. Also I wanted to make a phone call in order to tell that and when I would arrive at the place where I was staying for the night, ask how to find the house and stuff like that. Somehow I saw the sign of a bicycle shop. Because my rear wheel did not really run so round, I went to this shop. They tried to recenter the wheel. It was kind of funny, because the owner of the shop and the guys working there only knew Polish, but somehow we managed to communicate. Unfortunately the rim was slightly damaged and could not be repaired. So they sold me a new rear wheel with a better rim. Including all the work this cost me around 145 PLN (55 CHF or 35 EUR), which was a fair price, that is probably taken from local people as well. Maybe I should get my next bicycle repair done in Sensburg. Including the price of the train ticket I might still save some money.

For the last part of my trip from Sensburg to Zondern (Polish: Sądry) it was already dark. I passed through one village after the other and almost got the feeling of being already past Zondern. The people where I was staying were running a private farm museum, for which even German signs saying &Bauernhausmuseum" or something like that existed. At least I could easily find the way to Zondern and within Zondern. This is really a village with some inhabitants. But I did not have to lock my bicycle, it would almost be embarrassing to the neighbors. Only because of the weather I was asked to put it into the garage.

Day 7: 2003-11-22 (6)

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For the last trip to Lyck I could have taken a rather direct route via Rastenburg or Arys (Polish: Orzysz). But it seemed to be more interesting to go further south again via Johannisburg (Polish: Pisz). Instead of cycling back to Sensburg I continued to Rhein (Polish: Ryn), which was not situated near the Rhine river, but at least near a beautiful lake. lag. From there I went south and then took the N 16 in westbound towards Allenstein, which was leading me away from Lyck to Nikoleiken (Polish: Mikołajki). This highway was the most important east-west-connection, of which I had been warned because of its heavy traffic, but this national highway was rather a small road with very little traffic. Off course it was a boulevard with trees on both sides, as almost all the highways and roads in this area.

In Nikoleiken I had another break and then I cycled west of the Spirding-lake south through some forests, turning more and more east, until I was cycling towards Johannisburg (Polish: Pisz) when I was south of the lake. Johannisburg has a nice church and some old houses.

Until Johannisburg it had been mostly woods, but now I was cycling on boulevards again. Until I came to Gehlenburg (Polish: Biała Piszka) and even a little bit beyond that there was still daylight. In Gehlenburg I had my next break.

Shortly before Lyck (Polish: Ełk) the highway merged with the national highway N 65 from Byalistok. Because of this there was now slightly heavier traffic. Besides the road more and more drunken guys could be seen stumbling, sometimes lying for some time and then going again. For the Polish this did not seem to be uncommon at all. In Lyck the highway got four lanes and because I tried the bypass towards Augustow and Suwalki I entered the center of Lyck from the same side I had left it a week before.

Lyck now seemed to be a much bigger town with heavier traffic, more inhabitants and even more houses. At times when everybody is awake, this town leaves a totally different impression than at times when still most people are sleeping early in the morning on a Sunday. I got the bicycle ticket for the train back home first. It is unfortunately impossible to buy this in advance, it has to be bought in the country where the trip start. Off course station names like "Zurich", "Schaffhausen", "Basel" where totally unknown. They could only sell me a bicycle ticket to Stettin, where I could easily buy another one for the rest of the trip.

After that I still had a couple of hours for seeing Lyck, having something to eat and getting back to the station on time. To my great surprise I was able to see two churches from inside, which has not happened before on the whole trip, because all churches were locked or guarded.

Somewhere in the west of Lyck I bought some canned beer, in order to sleep more easily on the night trains. And I ate a warm meal for dinner. With some minor detours I cycled back to the station and I went to the platform about half an hour prior to the scheduled departure.

Train back

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The train should stop for about 15 minutes due to the change of engines. Off course the train was again quite long and the cars were ordered in a way totally unrelated to what one would have expected from their ordering on the way to Lyck. With some walking I could find the car for putting my bicycle. The conductrice suggested that I should take a seat in a compartment in the same car, but I had reserved a couchette, which I intended to use. After having found the right couchette car, we were already approaching the time when the train was supposed to leave. The conductor wanted to see my tickets and I gave them to him. The train ticket, the bicycle ticket and the reservation for the couchette. But this guy started to shout and did not want to let me into the train, because he assumed that my bicycle ticket was missing. When he had finally realized that he had it already, he started to doubt that I had shown a ticket for myself. He refused to hand the tickets back to me, which would have allowed me to show them to him in detail... Somehow I managed to calm him down enough to let me enter the train with my luggage until the departure, saving my bicycle the trip without me to Stettin. Maybe he actually realized that I had shown the right tickets while being in the train. At least he did not bother me any more, after I had shown him all the tickets from my way to Lyck and for my way further within Germany and to Switzerland.

The ride was actually pretty nice and I even managed to get some sleep. On the next day, with about an hour of delay, the train arrived in Stettin. This still left me enough time to buy the bicycle ticket for the remainder of the trip and to catch the connecting train to Angermuende. Basel, Zurich and Schaffhausen seemed to be unavailable destinations again, but in an outburst of creativity the lady from the Polish railroad suggested to sell me a bicycle ticket to Karlsruhe as the best possible approximation.

With one change in Angermuende and one in Halle/Saale I reached the beautiful city of Leipzig when it was already getting dark again. There I had some hours time to have a look at the city. With the CityNightLine ? -train I could go directly to Zurich during the next night, where my vacation ended.

Two night trains, stay in Leipzig


Even in November it is worth while going on a bicycle tour, but it is important to be prepared for the darkness and the weather. I think that I will go for more bicycle tours in that area. Maybe from Lyck or some other railroad station in that area, that can easily be reached or even from the airport of Vilnius (Lithuania), to Germany. And also further through Lithuania and the other Baltic states. For my first bicycle tour in this area it was really a great idea to see some of Lithuania as well as some of southern East Prussia, but for the next time I would rather not want to combine these two, unless I had much more time.

Because of the low traffic density, southern East Prussia is even a good idea for bicycle tours with children.


Here I have collected a few links of other bicycle tours which went at least partly through East Prussia, including the Lithuanian Memelland. Off course I have collected a lot of links to bicycle tours through Poland, Lithuania and other countries.

  1. Baltic States [Thomas Driemeyer 2002]
  2. Through the Baltic Region: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia [Hans Jürgen Stang 2000]
  3. Around the Baltic Sea [Catherine McCammon 1996]
  4. Around the Baltic Sea (route, gallery, home) [Erik Straarup 1998]