Rough Sleeping

I was waiting for dark so I could pitch my tent. But it was late June, and dark was taking forever to come. I had biked all day and though I could have made it home on the train system, I was intentionally camping outside. Corona gave me a reason to get out of the house, and also to avoid people.

Germany doesn’t have public land where you can just walk off and spend the night by yourself. At least not legally. But the fines are low and no one is checking, so people do camp. Still, I felt like a criminal. So when I found a secret spot I looked both ways down the bike path before sinking into the trees like Homer Simpson or Trump’s first press secretary.

Then the wind and rain came, a welcome squall that cooled me down and also calmed my paranoia. No one would be out biking now. But through the night I heard at least two more bikers go by in the dark. And a hedgehog. And the cows peed really loudly.

And then it was 4:30am and the rising sun ended my short night. To avoid being noticed in the morning light I broke camp and got on the road. It wasn’t a good nights sleep, but at least you make good time this way. I was back in Berlin by 9am. On the way back I passed tents that were pitched right along the bike path, the campers happily snoring away. I guess they knew something I didn’t!

A few weeks later the short, uncomfortable night’s sleep seemed romantic again, so I decided to head back out. This time south to Jüterbog. The bike ride down was delightful, at least partly along the "Fläming-Skate": hundreds of kilometers of off-road paths that are smooth enough to inline skate along. I had a nice meal in Jüterbog in the shadow of the old defensive walls. They once guarded the tiny city center against the many threats from outside (mostly Christians with different ideas and different zip codes, which at that time meant they’d torture, rape, or kill you). They were nice walls.

Then I dragged my tired bones up the little hill out of town to a big forested area that I had scoped out via Google Maps. It was called Zinna forest and it was a quiet dark part on the map where I could pitch my tent in peace. A sign at the entrace warned me of various stuff falling on me and so on, blah blah blah, but I was already planning to break the rules by camping, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I didn’t run into anybody, it was the quietest German forest I’d ever been in. I went deep into the middle, left the trail behind, and found some excellent trees to tie my hammock tent between. Then I went to sleep to a lullaby sung by a billion birds.

In the morning I left the forest by continuing onward. Along the way I found some odd formations: ditches, odd bits of metal, craters, etc. When I was at the other edge of the forest and I saw that same warning sign from the night before. In fact, the warning signs were posted every 50 meters or so. They said “Military Training Area, Keep Out, Danger of Death”, or something to that effect. I should have read a little closer :) It turns out the place has been bombed by the Prussians through the Soviets, which makes it a lot of bombs. There was a forest fire here recently and they couldn’t fight the fire because of all the unexploded bombs.

I felt pretty lucky to be in once piece as I biked home at 5am, and I was back in Berlin by 9am. I took a nap on my own bed which to the best of my knowledge is not explosive.