BIKE ADVENTURES

All-night-long bicycle ride to the Polish border and Prenzlau

112 kilometers through the wilderness and darkness

Slava Shestopalov 🇺🇦
5 a.m. Magazine
Published in
10 min readSep 16, 2023

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© All photos by Slava Shestopalov

I always wanted to ride somewhere at night, especially during the August heatwave, but I was waiting for clear, rainless weather. The time came on Friday. Instead of hanging out with friends, I bought a pack of banana-cereal bars, charged two 1600-lumen headlights and a power bank, and headed to the train station.

22:06. It was just me and a couple of other people on the platform.

I took a train from Berlin to Eberswalde, which I’d already explored in daylight in May, and was one of just a few people onboard. When we arrived, everyone probably rushed home, while my adventure was only about to start. The railway station featured a statue of Gustav Zietemann, the author of the local specialty — Eberswalde Spritzkuchen — glazed deep-fried pastry in the shape of a doughnut.

23:20. Gustav Zietemann’s statue in the hall of the Eberswalde railway station and my trail bike.

I quickly passed the almost deserted town to its eastern outskirts. Street lights became rarer and dimmer until they disappeared, and I dove into sticky and humid darkness.

00:29. A fir forest east of Eberswalde.

I managed to find my way only on the third try, as Google initially led me to a river bank and impassable thickets with myriads of insects and bats flying in front of my headlight. Eventually, I was heading about 12 kilometers to the first object on my route — Niederfinow Boat Lift (1927–1934).

00:39. The old 1930s boat lift and a new 2020 lift in the background.

It’s the oldest functioning boat lift in Germany, which helps ships overcome a 36-meter elevation difference on the Oder-Havel Canal. This river canal opened more than a century ago to allow navigation between Berlin and the Baltic Sea port of Stettin (nowadays Szczecin, Poland).

00:42. The inside of the boat lift. It takes around 5 minutes for a boat to reach the upper level.

The lift was impressive, not to mention the fact I saw such an engineering wonder for the first time in my life. But I still had a lot of things to see and went further in the direction of the German-Polish border.

01:16. Sunflowers looking at the street light pole in Liepe.

Although a substantial part of my route went through the forest, soon I reached a residential area — the village of Liepe. The road was winding between hills on the one side and a dark valley and canal on the other; the village houses stood on different levels on stone-walled terraces.

01:30. Terraced landscape of Liepe.

Suddenly, one building caught my attention, so I stopped and pulled off the road to get a closer look. The half-timbered village church of Liepe was initially constructed in 1713, but, unfortunately, it burnt down in the Second World War and was rebuilt afterward. But despite the current church is not very old, it contains a 1686 bell.

01:27. The village church of Liepe.

After Liepe, I rode through Oderberg, but I didn’t find anything very interesting there. The closer I got to the border, the more stars I saw in the sky, as there was almost no light pollution.

02:01. Starry August sky above an apple tree.

Much of my route went through apple orchards, and falling apples in the dark sounded pretty scary. I even saw an owl swooping down a few meters from me and a hedgehog crossing the road in front of my bike — I almost ran him over!

02:32. A road along a dike near the Oder River and the border with Poland.

Then I reached Hohensaaten, the closest settlement to the Polish border with a system of canal locks.

02:40. Hohensaaten lock on the canal.

Finally, I was at the very state border riding along a dike (or a very narrow peninsula — it was hard to tell at night). I heard the lapping of water on both sides. Then in almost complete darkness I spotted numbered black-red-yellow border posts. Poland was just across the river.

03:01. My bicycle near a German border post.

A photo cannot convey the beauty of the sky I saw. It was full of stars, I even recognized several constellations, for example, W-shaped Cassiopeia, and found the North Star.

03:15. Germany on the left and Poland on the right. And look at the sky — the Great Bear constellation (a.k.a. Ursa Major or Big Dipper) was right above me.

So, yeah, I made it to the border as I had originally planned and now rode northwest towards Angermünde — a small town with several beautiful ancient buildings. Soon I found myself among fields covered with dew. Wind turbines hummed above my head. The sky was still very dark but started turning slightly pinkish on the east.

04:29. Fields on the way to Angermünde before sunrise.

Suddenly I was going downhill! The road rapidly descended, and I unwillingly raced down it, trying to avoid deep mud puddles and fit into sharp turns. Below is what it looked like.

04:37. Bumpy field path and the Orion constellation above the horizon. I’ve rarely seen the Orion because it usually appears in the early morning.

I don’t know how long I rode, but I finally reached Angermünde. The town was sleeping, while the sky gradually turned ultramarine. Angermünde has a population of only 14,000 people. The history of the town began in the early 13th century with a now non-existent castle at the crossroads of trade routes, a Franciscan monastery, and the Church of St. Mary, which I’ll show to you in a minute.

04:54. Seems this is the home of a Deep Purple fan.

As I reached the main street of the town, I saw a huge Gothic temple emerge from behind the trees. It was the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, a surviving part of the Franciscan monastery. The church was fenced and undergoing renovation. Later I learned that despite extensive demolitions and misuses, it still contained original roof timbers from 1440! Nowadays it plays the role of a meeting hall.

05:00. Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Angermünde.

Another beautiful Brick Gothic building I stumbled upon was the 15th-century Holy Spirit Chapel, the only remaining part of the Holy Spirit Hospital, located just outside the old town walls. The present-day chapel has a Baroque half-timbered tower with a lantern, which surprisingly doesn’t spoil the overall impression, unlike many other Baroque-altered buildings in Germany.

05:13. Holy Spirit Chapel of Angermünde before sunset.

It was my favorite time for architecture photos — the so-called “blue hour” roughly 30–40 minutes before sunrise. At this time, street lights are still on, but the sky is already blue, hence gorgeous juicy colors. Then I rushed to take a picture of the third Gothic church in the town — St. Mary’s — and see the only surviving medieval defense tower.

05:20. The tower of St. Mary’s Church and Gunpowder Tower with a stork nest on top.

St. Mary’s church was initially built of fieldstone in the 13th century and later substantially extended in the Brick Gothic style, making the church tower 53 meters high.

05:37. Angermünde’s Market Square, with St. Mary’s Church visible behind half-timbered buildings.

The town began to wake up from its sleep, and the lights went on in the bakeries. I enjoyed the early morning serenity on Market Square and was thinking about where to watch the sunrise. Luckily, there was a perfect spot within a 5-minute ride — Lake Mündsee.

The sun appeared on the horizon and was reflected in the lake. The reeds seemed to be on fire. While adoring the view, I ate a sandwich and drank a can of beer I had brought with me in a backpack.

06:07. Gorgeous sunrise over Mündsee.

Meanwhile, the sun had already risen, and I had only a few hours of freshness left before the heat set in.

06:53. Sunny fields.

It was the “golden hour,” precious hours with mild, pleasant sunlight. I saw some people outside and greeted them: Guten Morgen!

07:08. A funny road sign for drivers to watch out for bike riders.

The sun gilded everything around me — barns, houses, and tree tops — and I felt as if I was in an old good Disney cartoon.

07:53. An interesting barn with crosses in some village north of Angermünde.

Although my destination was Prenzlau, an ancient town 100 km north of Berlin, I decided to take a small detour to see an old Dutch-style windmill in Greiffenberg. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century and after years of decay restored comparably recently. The mill is well-visible from afar, so I noticed it when I was several kilometers away.

07:37. Greiffenberg Mill during the morning “golden hour.”

The sun began to burn mercilessly on my back, and I cycled the remaining 20 kilometers to Prenzlau without much pleasure. The water in my flask ran out, and I was so happy that I decided to ride at night and could catch its chill and tranquility.

As I approached the town, I recognized the silhouette of St. Mary’s Church of Prenzlau. But although the church was clearly visible from the other side of the lake, I still had to pedal there for a good forty minutes.

09:31. Prenzlau cityscape across the lake Unteruckersee.
The view of Prenzlau in 1652 (Wikipedia). St Mary’s Church is in the middle on the left.

Several interesting facts:

  • Prenzlau was founded by Polabian Slavs in the 7th century and first mentioned as “Premyslaw” in 1187.
  • In the Middle Ages, Prenzlau was a heavily fortified town with walls, moats, four churches, and a monastery. Nowadays Prenzlau is 180 times smaller than Berlin, but back in the 13th century, they were of similar size and significance (Berlin started as a union of two villages on the opposite river banks — Berlin and Cölln).
  • As a garrison town, Prenzlau was ravaged several times throughout the 17–19th centuries in the Thirty Years’ War, the Seven Years’ War, and the Napoleonic Wars.
  • During the Second World War, there was a prisoner-of-war camp south of Prenzlau. When the war ended, Prenzlau’s heavily ruined center was rebuilt with large, uniform panel houses.

St. Mary’s Church is one of the most ornate churches of the Brick Gothic style in northern Germany. The initial temple was built in the middle of the 13th century, but rebuilt in the 13–14th centuries. What I liked about this church is its authenticity since its layout and exterior almost hadn’t changed since the Middle Ages.

St. Mary’s Church of Prenzlau.

Not far from the church, stood the signature remnant of Prenzlau’s medieval fortifications — Middle Gate Tower (Mitteltorturm). This tower inspired the design of the Neo-Gothic Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin, which connects the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain famous for their techno parties, graffiti, and nightlife.

The signature Middle Gate Tower of Prenzlau.

And here is my older photo of the bridge in Berlin for comparison:

My photo of the Oberbaum Bridge in August 2020. Back then I didn’t even know the origins of its design, not to mention the idea to go to the source of its inspiration on a bicycle.

But there were more towers in the town, for example, the Witch Tower (Hexenturm) and Stone Gate Tower (Steintorturm). What I liked about both of them was their distinct Gothic character, without many later additions and decorations.

The medieval Witch Tower and Stone Gate Tower in Prenzlau.

I was surprised by how much of the medieval heritage was still preserved in Prenzlau.

Gothic St. Jacob’s Church with a Classicist tower top.
The ruins of Old St. Nicholas Church. Unfortunately, it was torn down in the 18th century.

It was close to 10 a.m. The sun was shining almost vertically, and I could hardly find shade. It seemed I visited everything interesting in Prenzlau and could go to the railway station. On my way to the station, I passed the last landmark of that day — the Stettin Gate Tower, after the name of the Baltic Sea port of Stettin (nowadays Szczecin in Poland).

The Stettin Gate Tower amidst the end-of-summer heat.

But I couldn’t just leave this beautiful town. Because of an accident on the railroad, the next train came an hour later, and it was extremely overcrowded. At every station, new passengers with bicycles got on, so I spent an hour and a half standing in the crowd. But the adventure was totally worth it, and this small inconvenience was a good price for a ton of impressions and photos.

Like historical architecture? Then follow my Instagram with architecture photos every day — from 🏰 Gothic to 🏢 Modernism.

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Slava Shestopalov 🇺🇦
5 a.m. Magazine

Design leader and somewhat of a travel blogger. Author of “Design Bridges” and “5 a.m. Magazine” · savelife.in.ua/en/donate-en