Crossing the Iron Curtain on a Blat to Würzburg

Dave the motorhome’s accidentally stumbled on a freebie car park close to the centre of Würzburg in Bavaria (known here as Bayern), Germany (N49.79896 E9.91916). We’re alongside 3 German motorhomes, and there are one or two others spread about the huge car park here. There’s a pleasant parking area alongside the Main river for only €3 a day. However, we couldn’t resist a cheeky glass of local white on our walk back from town, so we’re staying here!

Dave basking in sunshine in the free car park here in Würzburg. We can hear a band playing and are  just a short walk from the Main river.
Dave basking in sunshine in the free car park here in Würzburg. We can hear a band playing and are just a short walk from the Main river.

Talking of wine, we sank a glass or two of the stuff yesterday. I read Slaughterhouse Five, which is quoted in the Lonely Planet as a great book to read about Dresden and the fire storm created by Allied bombing of the city in 1945. I’d not drunk enough wine though. The main character turned out to be a time-travelling fella who was, from time to time, abducted by aliens. It was all supposed to be symbolic, trying to get across the inevitability and pointlessness of war, but was inevitably misunderstood by me, making my reading of the book pretty pointless. It’s a classic novel, so I’m told, but for me nigh-on completely failed to cover the story of Dresden’s demise in any way my small brain could comprehend; I’d have been better off reading Wikipedia. It was only 99p on Kindle, so I’m not complaining, much.

We consulted the map once I’d done moaning about how I couldn’t understand a great deal of the book I’d just read virtual cover to cover. Hmmm, the Czech Republic’s just there (pointing out the window), we could nip over for a day, grab some fab low cost beers and slink back into Germany un-noticed the day after. This morning, sobered up, we saw sense. It’s €15 for a week’s vignette, allowing us to use the roads. We might be able to avoid the roads which require the sticker, then again we might not. Also, Czech doesn’t use Euros and there are few aires. Now we understand why practically no-one goes to Britain.

Instead, we pointed Dave West and, erm, blatted. For those of you not of British descent, I’m not sure if the verb ‘to blat’ means anything. Or for that matter, ‘to nail it’, ‘to hammer it’, ‘to gun it’, ‘to boot it’, ‘to make progress’ or ‘to shoosh it’. A few similar terms apply more closely to motorbikes: ‘to wring its neck’ or ‘to pin it’. Some terms are in the negative: ‘to not spare the horses’ or ‘to not hang about’. They all mean to drive fast, with a slight maniac edge, perhaps even at somewhat illegal speeds. Since we were in old lumbering Dave and on the, generally, limitless autobahn, breaking the speed limit wasn’t likely, but we nevertheless blatted.

On the way to the autobahn, these little stuck on green arrows freak me out. You can drive through a red light if you’re going right, which feels very weird.
120kph? Dave dreams of 120kph
Good day for blatting.

If you ever happen to be in need of crossing central Europe in hurry, Germany is the way to go. The autobahn’s are free, fast and compared with Blighty, empty. We came across loads of road works, some minor and just marked out with a truck shouldering a massive Get Left/Get Right sign, others more serious beasts. None slowed us down much. For large parts the roads were, although designated motorway, dual carriageways in UK parlance. Overtaking trucks required a special technique: get up close, peer in mirror to try and detect even the tiniest dot of a following car in the distance, pull out, get back in before said dot of a car hammers it past you: THERDUMFFFFF! Flinch time.

Minor repairs were done on the road with no big fuss, just a massive sign, few cones if any, and somehow BMWs doing 200kph didn't hit anything?
Minor repairs were done on the road with no big fuss, just a massive sign, a few cones if any, and somehow BMWs doing 200kph didn’t hit anything?

As each of these bullets sped past, Dave seemed to go into reverse. The sensation was enhanced by a numbing video loop of countryside. Wheat field, trees, wheat field, trees, corn field, wheat field, trees. It felt like we were getting nowhere. For 400km we did this today, setting off at 9am and halting at 5:30pm. You can make serious progress across Germany, we crossed 4 degrees of longitude today.

A huge brown sign offered us a bit of respite as we approach the border with Bayern: the Deutsch-Deutches museum at Mödlareuth. Dave pretty much legged it off the motorway all by himself, desperate for a rest and a change of scenery. We pulled into the car park of the place, shared with a clumsily-made Soviet T43 tank, gave Charlie a leg stretch and nipped into the wee village. Mödlareuth, we quickly learned, had once been a hot spot of the Cold War, having been neatly sliced in two by the Iron Curtain, the barns and cow shit on one side were socialists, those on the other capitalists. Ha! The story’s a daft one, terribly serious and also terribly stupid at the same time.

Mödlareuth today.
Mödlareuth during the cold war. George Bush senior came here and announced ‘I am a Mödlareuther’, a bit melodramatically?

A 30cm side stream which flows through Mödlareuth was, since 1810, an administrative border. No-one cared, it meant nothing until the Stupid White Men who ran America locked horns with the Stupid White Men who ran the USSR, and up came a fence, a big one, 4000km long and chopping the tiny town in half. Much like Berlin, but on a wee scale, so it became known as ‘Little Berlin’.

A 200(ish) year old stone which marks the border next to the tiny stream. The wall ran close by.
A 200(ish) year old stone which marks the border next to the tiny stream. The wall ran close by.

On the Eastern side guards roamed, dogs barked, automated search lights fooled folks into thinking the police were about and massive iron road blocks stood ready to spike or crush any car trying to sneak past. On the West side folks came for a look-see, it was a tourist attraction, and still is. Today a museum’s spread about across several buildings, populated by smiling ladies who do their best to understand our awful German.

These iron road blocks would catapult across the road if anyone attempted to leg it to the ‘fascist’ West.
The Berlin wall transported here. We forgot to bring our hammer to chip off a bit.
The spoils of war. British and US soldiers are still here in Germany.
Someone’s ID card, in German and, I assume, Russian.
A spontaneous show of love for good old Stalin. Hey, you, hold your stick up straight or it’s the gulag for you!
The Iron Curtain line around this part of Germany.
The GDR. We know it as ‘East Germany’ as the Western press wouldn’t use the name GDR, since it was about as democratic as North Korea.
The wall coming down in 1989.
Up until 1989 child-like watching happened from either side. Anyone caught waving from the Eastern side to old neighbours in the West was liable for a punishment though.
The captions in this bit of the museum were in German, but we imagine these were escape shoes for climbing the wall, or very badly made ice skates?
The wall’s fallen! So what?

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A video played out in English for 20 minutes, just to us two. In it a German fella explains how the authorities told him he and his family could no longer live near the wall. He had half an hour to pack, or something like that. They conferred and decided to leg it across to the West instead. We’ve no idea how they came to this conclusion, that the West would be better than the East, surely they’d been bombarded with propaganda for years? Later on the wall came down, a gap was opened and folks could walk through. No-one looked too happy to me, perhaps because it was snowing and looked bloody freezing.

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Onwards we blatted. Our €50 of fuel from yesterday was gone, burned up. A petrol station just off the motorway had us bleeting: it’s the cheapest diesel we’ve seen for the past few days, €1.39 a litre. We filled up Dave, I knocked back an espresso and on we went, blat-a-mundo.

110kph is fast, for Dave. Good job I topped up his oil before we left.
Go Dave go! Whoa Dave, no, not so fast you Dirty Old Man!
Charlie passed the last hour with a juicy bone.

Finally we arrived in good old Würzburg, missed the turning to the motorhome stellplatz and saved ourselves a few Euros with the error. The rain we’d been pushing through evaporated and the sun shone. Huzzah! I’ve been here before, some years ago with work. I remember little of the place, just an ongoing frustration with the senseless politics which accompanied my pretty wage. Walking into the city I recalled the place had been bombed flat. Like Dresden the Allies employed a deliberate tactic of first bombing out the roofs of homes, then dropping hundreds of thousands of incendiary bombs. Würzburg was chosen as it had a medieval centre, which would burn well. The result was horrific, 5000 innocent non-combatants were killed in the most painful ways imaginable. The same took place in British cities of course, which doesn’t make any of it any more meaningful.

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Women rebuilt Würzburg, since the men were either dead or in POW camps. They were called Rubble Women (Trümmerfrauen). They did a fabulous job, as despite being 90% rubble when my forbears left it, it now stands proud again.

Würzburg after being area-bombed in WW2. Source: Wikipedia


Vineyards comb the sunlit slopes. The old bridge across the Main supports a crowd of post-work tipplers, people supping cold glasses of local white at €3 for 25cl a go. In the city a group of 4 nippers formed a string quartet, lapping up the deserved applause. Modern trams caught us out as we tried to walk the cobbles avoiding folks on bikes and in cars. At an ice cream parlour the chap in front of us practised his Italian. It was, is, all very pleasant. Just not was pleasant as it was before 16th March 1945.

Seen on the back of a huge barge passing under the old bridge: we’ve a spare wheel, these guys have a spare propeller!

We’ve got word from Jacui and Marc that we can meet them in Friday, so are all excited about our re-union with those guys. Tomorrow we’ll blat somewhere else, not sure yet though.

Cheers, Jay

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