July 1945 - from Neustadt to Breddin

"Another day begins. The day is hot again, so hot that my poor Gerlinde can hardly sit up from exhaustion. They keep saying a train will come, but it doesn’t. We live off begged bread and water. […]

In the evening we decide to leave the station. We walk for 2 kilometres, and then arrive into Neustadt itself. I drag myself forwards. Then the axle on the pram breaks. The wheel without a tyre has worn down too much. […] "

I walk around early, and finally get to see some of the horses this town is famous for – fields of them. Neustadt was the royal breeder for Brandenburg, and they still keep this tradition going.

I also find what might have been the old school building she was put up in. The current primary school is too new to have been around in ’45, but there is a boarding school here, and this building must be 150 years old. I don’t want to look too suspicious standing around here, so the drawing is quick, but I get a good look at the yard behind, and it looks like it could well have been the setting of Inge’s experiences here.

22nd July - Neustadt to Breddin (and on to Bad Wilsnack)
"We meet the mayor. He is a kind man. He can’t do much, but does what he can wholeheartedly. He walks us through the village, knocking on different doors, and getting milk, bread, potatoes and some flour for us. Then he takes us to the school, where we are allowed to spend the night. We don’t remain alone - many others arrive.

At 8am the next morning, I find a pram outside the door that the mayor found for me! It is an old but sturdy pram, I still have it today."
"The second night I suffer in the same way as Gerlinde, and in addition I need to be sick constantly. The school room has since become a mass accommodation. […] The next night I sleep alone with my children on the upper floor. […]. We stay another night, until I feel ready to walk again.

We wander into Breddin and beyond into a tiny village. We don’t get much further. For a long time, we sit on a big stone at the edge of the village. We’re exhausted. Frau Neumann is also unwell. The village is full of Russians. No one can put us up. It’s already getting dark when an old lady and her neighbour bring us home with them. We have landed well. I am given fried potatoes with bacon, bread with lard and goats milk. Ingelein can finally have a warm bath again. Gerlinde gets a warm bed. […]"
"We stay until lunchtime next day. Then we go back into Breddin. We want to stay at the station until a train comes. […] We reach the station in the evening, and again find ourselves sitting on a platform amongst many refugees. We both get worse.

I begin to have such bad fits, that a Breddin woman takes Gerlinde, and sends a doctor, who actually comes. He brings with him the pharmacist, and a woman from Hamburg. I am not allowed to travel on. […] with the help of the doctor and the woman from Hamburg – I’m brought to a room belonging to the latter. […] I sleep in her bed. […]"
The walking is fast, mainly because of the mild sense of fear that occasionally creeps through. These days are about learning where I feel safer, and less conspicuous (though I am noticed everywhere I go). These are days when her journeys were also filled with fear – for her children mainly. She also didn’t encounter much friendliness as in the earlier days. I am finding similar – not an unfriendliness, but people feel more closed off to me than in the earlier days of walking, even though there are smiles, but they are more reserved.
I come to Breddin, the first town I approach without a church steeple announcing it at a distance. And I wander slowly into the town, past an old and interesting church. So she stayed in a smaller village one night, then came back here and was terribly sick, and cared for by some local people. Hard to know which of the houses she may have stayed in, but I take a few photos of houses that look interesting to me.

I feel tired and have a want to get moving, so I don’t spend long at the station, just enough to get a sense of it and take a few photos. In the churchyard on the way, I found some documentation of the town as it was during the war, and am interested, as I have been in many places on the route so far, in comparing the past with the present.
Arrival into my host town – Bad Wilsnack – is suddenly sunny and bright. I wait, but the bus doesn’t show, and I decide to walk the 5k to my hotel, which again is situated way outside from the main town. I choose the faster route, on the main road, and on the way a friendly couple stop and give me a lift – they are staying at the same hotel. Everyone at the hotel is friendly and helpful, but I spend a good hour trying to figure out how and where I can eat, as I don’t want to go back to the main town, and nowhere will deliver food here.

In the end, the head waiter at the hotel restaurant kindly makes space for me (they are fully booked) and finds me food. Relief, what a relief. Walking without food is a really tough challenge, and I’m glad I don’t have to face that tonight. It makes me appreciate (as I have every day on this trip) what the conditions of my grandmothers journey would have been like, and how much more difficult a day would have been if they didn’t get enough food.

The same as Inge, my main concerns each day are: is there coffee? Which route today? What feels safe? Where can I eat? What’s the bed like? (For her it was also: is there a bed? Plus, of course, many many more concerns).

After a quick jump in the sauna before dinner, I sleep like a baby.
Today I walk 18km on my own for the first time. Parts feel wonderful – the freedom of the open road, the feeling of my body moving me forward. And parts feel – uncomfortable? Being a woman alone, on a deserted track with no houses or people anywhere to be seen – I’ve also yet to come past another walker on this trip – it just makes me think, perhaps overthink.

Before coming, I was impatient with this way of thinking.If I was I man I wouldn't need to worry - so why should I? But, here we are. The felt reality is different than the at-home optimism.

When I was planning, at home, I also didn't know how empty this whole route would be - or how unusual a walker would be for people living here.
Neustadt itself
Possibly the old school building
When I’m on smaller tracks, I find myself wishing for stretches of more open road, where I feel a bit safer. When I’m on the roads, I pine to be back on the more deserted tracks.
Highlight of the day:
Storks nests and storks flying overhead