At the beginning of 2020, the coronavirus as an international pandemic forced our globalised world to a kind of standstill. We spent more than two months with curfews and contact restrictions. And of course, we were still in an extremely privileged position. For most of us it was never really about existential matters, but about the measure of our own prosperity and our own longing. It is also this longing that brought us here. For in mid-May, numerous measures were relaxed and travel is once again possible under important hygiene conditions.
So now we are sitting in Hamburg and have a week's road trip through Germany ahead of us. We accompany the mountain bike pros Jasper Jauch and Monica Gasbichler on their way from north to south.
We meet Jasper's roots near Hanover in the Deister, discover the Harz Mountains and dive into the underworld in Thuringia. Via Regensburg, we then reach the Chiemgau and the Kampenwand, at the foot of which Moni lives and grew up.
In doing so, we will deal with three very different levels. As storytellers of this story, we are of course interested in everyone, but above all, we are interested in whether and how the crisis has an impact on our outdoor sports. Do we change our behaviour? What influence does the crisis have on the people we meet and how have they experienced the last weeks and now the loosening of measures. But it is also about a very individual and personal story. We follow Jasper at important stages of his life and get to the bottom of the question of the meaning of roots. And of course, we deal with longing, because nothing else has brought us here. Here to the port of Hamburg.
After ten weeks, which we spent almost in isolation except for video conferences, this road trip is a departure. We arrive in Hamburg in the early afternoon and have to drive around the entire city centre because everything has been closed off there because of a demonstration. But it is also the day when many businesses in Hamburg open again. Harbour tours are possible, the landing stages open little by little. And so Dave and I sit on the stairs at the Elbe. On one side the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, on the other side the Landungsbrücken. The weather changes every ten minutes, the wind blows with a stiff breeze and we feel somehow... free. That sounds pathetic, it feels that way, but it just fits. That is also the reason why we wanted to start in Hamburg and not at the sea. It's not so much about the freedom to go out, because we can do that on land. It's more about cultural freedom. The freedom to explore, to travel around and to exchange personal experiences again. And so Hamburg is the gateway to the world for us and a gateway for us as well. The gateway to our journey. This is how we experience Germany from north to south. With campers and mountain bikes. From Sea to Sky.
Welcome to our little journey - From Sea to Sky.
Chapter I Of roots: In the Deister.
The Deister, with its intensive beech population, sandy soil and a considerable difference in altitude of more than 150 m, is the home of the Hanoverian biking scene. Jasper also has his roots here. Here he learned to ride fast and technically, here he learned to bite, to measure himself and what intensive friendships mean. It is still, besides his family, these people through whom he is connected with this region - and they with him. So we are invited to join him as soon as we arrive with the words "Jasper's friends are my friends too", and what would sound pathetic in other contexts felt very true. And so we spend this first evening of our journey on a terrace on the outskirts of Hanover, drinking beer and barraquito - and if it wasn't the distance, it would be a normal evening on a road trip.
The next morning we meet Hilde at the edge of the Deister. Hilde is a 54-year-old glass maker for whom sport is more than just a leisure activity. He lives for biking, surfing and paragliding. Almost 15 years ago he met Jasper in the forest. Jasper still thinks that he has probably never collected more trail kilometers with anyone than with Hilde. He enjoys climbing uphill as much as he enjoys challenging and fast trails downhill. It is an almost childlike joy of playing that speaks from his riding. He is obviously enthusiastic about new things and about younger people. You can see how happy he is to have gone his way for Jasper, even if it just separated him from him.
But now we are here, together in the Deister. We drive up through these old beech woods along narrow paths. We pass a devil's bridge and a lookout point which Hilde has always left behind. From here our view wanders far into the Siebengebirge. But the real highlight is the path for which Hilde left the view. Steeply and technically the path circles through steep rock faces. A mixture of almost alpine terrain and old quarry. Unexpected to find something like this here and at the same time very impressive.
Impressive seems to be the right word for the Deister anyway. For us, it feels as if we are at a full-grown trail centre. Besides the "normal" biking clientele, since the virus spread, there are more and more families exploring the Deister by bike. Whether this is good for the sport and the Deister is not yet clear. With increasing frequency, the pressure on sensitive areas also increases.
If you ask Hilde about the virus he gets thoughtful. For him, the crisis has rather brought an upswing. Many people want to renovate their houses and apartments, and that's where he and his company come in. And since he mainly goes biking besides work, he had no problems here either. His sister, however, is economically threatened by the crisis. Her bus company has been at a standstill for months, she doesn't receive any state aid and so the future seems uncertain.
While I am writing these lines, I am already sitting in the Mathiasbaude above Sankt Andreasberg in the Harz mountains - the next stop on our journey. While we are talking with Ronny and his buddy Markus about the national park and tourism in the Harz mountains, my thoughts still circle around the day in the Deister. This little trail paradise, this place of longing for so many people from the surrounding area and this warmth we were allowed to feel. But also the uncertainty about the effects of COVID-19. This mixture of a privileged point of view, of leisure pressure and economic abyss. There is no easy solution and no easy answer, and maybe that's all right.
Chapter II Harz: Of change.
Our night in the Harz was quite stormy. In our sunlight-camps the wind and the water drops on the roof did not affect us very much. Nevertheless we all trudged out of the camper the next morning rather sleepy to get our coffee as fast as possible.
Shortly after breakfast, we made an appointment with Jan Zander. He runs Trailtech - a mountain bike travel company with a full focus on the Harz Mountains. #hammerharz
is his motto. Jasper still knows Jan from the early days of his career. Together they have produced videos and Jan's edits were especially popular with mtb-news. Meanwhile, he produces a lot for Nicolai Bikes and builds tracks in the MSB-X Trail in Sankt Andreasberg.
With this broad set up, he also gets through the crisis well, according to his own statements. He has focused a bit and wants to continue the step of not wanting more growth with his companies. Things are going well for him and he wants to keep everything at exactly this level. Having time for his daughter and family is simply more important to him.
Today, on the day of his umpteenth 29th birthday, he will show us a few highlights around Sankt Andreasberg. Jasper and Moni are especially keen on the bike park and want to have a blast - but we still want to explore the surroundings a bit. The mountain meadows around Sankt Andreasberg are a protected landscape area and are mowed less frequently than comparable meadows. This increases the diversity of species and in early summer the blossom splendour. Not too much of this can be seen today. Too much we were rewarded with the finest Harz weather - squalls, now and then sunshine, cold, but also no rain. You have to be an optimist.
We cross over to the national park on an altitude trail. In the distance, the Brocken lies in the fog, as so often. But you see the Wurmberg where the Bikepark Braunlage finds its home. In total there are five bike parks in the small area of the Harz Mountains. Arrived in the national park a rich mix of green and brown dominates the landscape. The ground is dominated by green bushes, the paths by brown needles, which are wonderfully fluffy to ride. At the end of the path, we come to the Brode rocks. According to the legend, three hikers approached a witch too intrusively and were transformed into loaves of bread, which in time became rocks. To us, they seem to be completely harmless and yet the surrounding rocks offer a variety of gadgets. The fact that one can still cycle on narrow paths in the national park is also thanks to Jan. As a national park partner he has done his best to make this possible and so there is currently a good cooperation and the forest walk can be observed directly from the inside. Especially for us, this view is exciting. After all, we know such a change 20 years in the future in the Bavarian Forest National Park.
We leave the National Park, take a turn to the Oderteich - a historical dam and then return to Sankt Andreasberg. Finally, we have had enough of the bike park and trails. The bike park builders have really let off steam here - there are countless lines and junctions right from the start. The portfolio ranges from moderate flow trails to technical enduro trails so that Jasper and Moni get their money's worth. Although it was pouring with rain continuously the day before, the trails are in a good and above all dry condition. The curves have just the right dimensions and even jumps can be found again and again. The few meters of altitude of the mountain were fully used.
Jan leaves us in the late afternoon to celebrate his birthday with his family. For this, cabin host Ronny comes back from his own bike park session and pokes the fire. Perfect to get warm again and finally get something to eat. To be on the safe side Jan has left us some Schierker Feuerstein - a local speciality. And so Ronny will tell us some more stories from the Harz Mountains and we can also contribute one or two anecdotes.
Chapter III Saalfeld: From the underground.
Our morning in the Harz Mountains starts unexpectedly sunny and calm. Actually it would be a good moment to stay here for a while, but we are already expected in Thuringia.
So we say goodbye to our host Ronny, the landlord of Matthiasbaude, and his dog buddy. While driving I think about his enthusiasm and hospitality, but also about the fact that he hasn't had any income for six months now. For winter he took over the lease of the Baude but waited in vain for winter business. He urged the park operator to open it on nice weekends. The sparse bikers were however rather a drop on the hot stone. Ronny is confident that from now on it will go steeply upwards. I wish it to him.
We leave the Harz mountains and drive over country roads to Thuringia. As before Hanover, we are welcomed by a landscape that obviously shapes Germany. Wavy formations, mostly orientated at long river valleys, a lot of green, a lot of agriculture and the landscape becomes distinguishable only by the villages. While there was still a lot of clinker around Hanover, we came via the Harz Mountains to the half-timbered regions, which also continue here to Thuringia. Additionally, the older, plastered, but not painted houses, as I also know them from my childhood around Dresden.
We reach Saalfeld in pleasant early summer temperatures. If it would be different, it would not have any influence on our tour. After all, today we're going underground. We meet Lucas and his girlfriend Jana. Jasper and Moni both know from the racing circus. Lucas has been riding successfully in the downhill elite class for years, has his own racing team and offers adventure bike tours in Saaleland, i.e. mountain bike tours in an old ore mine. At the age of 21, he injured himself and in this break he had the idea to lead tours, but in the mine. He contacted the non-profit association that runs the Kamsdorf visitor mine and after a while, he was allowed to lead tours and also adapt the tunnels to his needs. So over the years, with a lot of manual work, a widely ramified trail network with waves, riders, jumps and steep descents were created.
We receive our instruction from Lucas to not get lost, and honestly, this is the first moment when I feel little jitters. It leaves a sinking feeling in my stomach to think about wandering around alone and disoriented down there in the darkness. But get rid of that thought and go down into the depths. Already the entrance tunnel, which is still illuminated, impresses me. This long passage, which was the daily way to the underworld for hundreds of workers. For us, it is now the entrance to a unique experience. After five minutes we reach a junction. From here the flow sections begin. Waves, riptides and fast changes of direction dominate this section. Orientation? I lost it completely at the entrance. So we stick with Lucas and we're shielded by Jana at the back. Jana works for Alutech. There she does downhill and enduro racing and takes care of marketing. She is also feeling the effects of the Corona crisis. The inquiries and the interest are increasing, but the ordered tube sets come from China and were simply not produced in the past weeks. This leads to supply bottlenecks, which cause problems despite increased demand.
Again and again, we encounter rail and tool remnants. The remnants of the old mining industry can be found at every corner. In the lower brines it gets more demanding, partly steeper and more technical. Slowly we start to sweat, even if it is only ten degrees down here. But there is no wind, no warm breeze that could refresh us. Instead, red water runs down the walls. The washed-out ore that was laboriously worked out of the limestone layers in former times.
At the moment Lucas is at a standstill. Only on June 1st, he is allowed to lead tours in the mine again and if he will still be racing this year is written in the stars. Fortunately, he can work at a friend's who tunes suspensions for mountain bikes. And so he also looks quite optimistic into the future. After all, he has his mine. Smiling, he realizes that he always wanted to go out into the wide world and explore. But since he has the mine, he has also developed a certain attachment to his homeland. This also physical occupation with it has simply welded together.
After the tour, we blink and return to the daylight. Our eyes first have to get used to the brightness for a few minutes. Back from this lowland, the path now leads us into the Thuringian heights. Jana and Lucas guide us to a stand below a reservoir of a pumped storage plant high above the valley. The view is impressive and the perfect place for campfires, cooking together, frisbee throwing and philosophizing. This is exactly how we imagined this trip before. The perfect combination of work and time together.
Chapter IV Regensburg: From the new generation.
Almost wistfully we get out of our campers in the morning. Lucas and Jana are already sitting in the sun and watching the fog that completely envelops parts of the valley. The last breakfast at this really unique place. We leave the Thuringian Slate Mountains and turn around the Thuringian Sea shortly before the highway. An accumulation of reservoirs on their slopes are waiting for us, as I found out on another trip almost ten years ago. But the Thuringian Sea also hosts the Sun, Moon and Stars Electro Festival. This one, like many other festivals, will not be able to take place this year. No music, no exuberant atmosphere and no other world this year at the Thüringer Meer. For the fans, but also for the cultural scene, this is a bitter setback and it is still questionable if and how it will recover from this.
Our path now leads us further and further south. Past the Fichtelgebirge to Regensburg. Here we meet Max Gast and Valentin Schleicher. Max is a BMX and mountain bike trainer in racing and has founded RacingSkillz together with Jasper. They offer camps and coachings for young riders and want to support them in their racing ambitions. Of course, they also want to show them the fun of it, but also the hard work and discipline that is necessary. Both consider these to be important values and try to strengthen the up-and-coming racing generation in Germany - a racing career can be an alternative to an influencer career if they have their way. Valentin is German youth champion in Enduro. He lives in Regensburg and leads us along the trails around Naab and Laber in the east of Regensburg.
It's been almost ten years since I last biked here. Even back then I liked the fact that the community gave its trails name here. We rode the Ho Chi Minh and others whose names I can't remember. Today it will be the Snakeline. We pedal slightly uphill up the slope and see the trail to our right in a hollow path again and again. Playfully it circles through the forest and comes up with some massive jumps and hips. You can tell how happy you are to be able to let off steam here. Max, besides the coaching, can finally just ride his bike again, Valentin can switch off his head between the exams and Jasper and Moni are also visibly impressed. And so we work our way down the snakeline. Curve by curve. Jump by jump. Also a bigger hip and even a road gap we find here.
After the Snakeline we cross from the Naab to the black Laber. Valentin talks about his intensive preparations for the racing season. With Max he has probably tried everything from basic to HIT training, intervals and gym and so he is visibly satisfied with his condition. Now only the first races should start. For him Corona was above all a time he spent a lot and intensively on the bike. Valentin is currently in the middle of his A-levels, right between maths and German. He is annoyed about the lack of mediation by his school and teachers during this time. But of course, he also sees that his focus in the last weeks was probably more on two wheels than on the Abitur.
Valentin has promised us another highlight here at the black Laber and so we start out of the forest along a narrow path with a view of the surroundings. Lightly exposed and interspersed with rocks, it runs through a wonderfully blooming hillside meadow. We are once again quite excited about the variety and especially the trail density that it has here. Somehow all these non-alpine areas seem to us to be very ideal biking areas. Maybe even more ideal.
On the still trail-rich way back to Regensburg, Max and Jasper talk about their first youth camp this weekend in Steinach, Thuringia. Young riders* aged between 12 and 18 will participate there. They will discuss lines, hone their riding technique, but also talk about ways to deal with the pressure and strain. It will be a very practice-oriented training. Close to reality and with lots of experience. It's good that they are taking care of it. But I'm also surprised that BDR doesn't play its role more strongly here. Young talent work is and remains a socially relevant task, regardless of whether it's racing or popular sport, and it would simply be a pity if the racing scene in Germany didn't develop further.
In Regensburg, we say goodbye with far more positive thoughts. After all, we had a great day on the bike. Valentin says goodbye for learning, Max for coaching and we take off for our last stop. Off to the Chiemgau.
Chapter V Chiemgau: From arriving.
The journey from Regensburg to Chiemgau flies by. The moment comes quickly when we cross the Irschenberg, the Chiemgau basin opens up in front of us, and the view of the Alps is revealed. Moni is always thrilled by exactly this spot and this view because then she knows that she is back home again. For Jasper, who still lives just before the Irschenberg, it is the lake behind the house. Admittedly we have already had excessively kitschy weather today for this arrival. It is early evening, the sun is flat, the sky is blue and the lush green landscape is bathed in a romantic light.
We drive through Frasdorf, Moni's home, further and further uphill. The perspective slowly opens to the Kampenwand in the background. From here we ride idyllically alongside roads to the Bikepark Samerberg. Here Moni works and is affectionately called "boss". Typically Bavarian. The park is already open again, only the lift is not running yet. Nevertheless, the parking lot is still quite full. We are welcomed from all sides. Work colleagues of Moni, younger drivers who recognize Jasper, acquaintances from the industry. It feels good to be here, but it also felt very good to be at all the other stations. We had the privilege to be welcomed and accompanied by very open and pleasant people. This "return to civilization" could not have turned out better.
One last time we unpack the bikes and take the road to the middle station. In the lower part, there is a small bench in an open area with a view into the distance towards Wendelstein and over the green meadows. A last interview with Jasper and Moni about arriving, coming home and what it is like to be on the road. Just at that moment, Moni's colleague Louie passes by with his cargo bike - a crate of beer on the loading area. We are supplied with the local Flötzinger Bräu. There we are again with unpredictable pathos, which fortunately is not one.
For the last time, we roll through the park, over those routes that Moni knows almost by heart. So we literally drive into the sunset and end up with our campers. Louie joins us that evening and this trip ends very unpretentiously. We are all enthusiastic about the different bike communities we met, we are impressed by the trail variety and the different landscapes. Now we are happy to have arrived again, just like we are already looking forward to setting off again. It was exciting to see that the people we met are looking optimistically into the future, even though they may be massively affected by the crisis. They seem to be aware of their privileged situation, but probably they are also simply characters who have learned to deal with difficult situations.
And so the next day I sit in the camper on the way to my home and have an exhilarating feeling of gratitude in my stomach. I am thankful for all the people we met, for the conversations and riding together, for the time Jasper and Moni took to accompany us, for the insight Jasper gave us into his past and his career, and that Moni took us to her bike park family in the end. I am also thankful that we can do such trips through Germany again despite Corona-related restrictions. For us, it's all about processing - both internally the experiences and editorially the material for our documentary "From Sea to Sky". In it we will give an even more intensive insight into the areas we visited, the situation of the people and of course about Jasper and Moni. I myself am especially looking forward to the next trail tour - because the joy of mountain biking has awakened a lot in me again on this trip.