Growing up as a teenager in the 1980’s the cold war and the Soviet threat was very real indeed. The whole system imploded at the end of that decade and the Iron Curtain that separated Western Europe from Communist bloc for decades was drawn aside. This physical and ideological border stretched from the Black Sea all the way up to the Barents Sea on the Finnish border with the USSR. This continental wide border is now the route for Eurovelo 13 (EV13) a 10,400km trail that passes through 20 different countries, countless monuments and a huge variety of landscapes of the countries that once were opposed.
It was this route that Tim Moore sets out to cycle. Not on a fancy bike though, oh no, the one he has chosen is a two geared, tiny two wheeled shopping bike. His velocipede of choice is a MIFA 900, a bike made in the GDR with broadly similar attributes to that of the Trabant. For some mad reason he was starting on the Russian Norwegian border in the midst of an Arctic winter.
Ambitious? Definitely, but what could possibly go wrong…
The route he takes is littered by the long forgotten and sinister paraphernalia of a once impenetrable border; razor wire, rusting towers and abandoned checkpoints. Cycling on the snow on a properly prepared bike is hard enough, but riding on this remnant of the GDR it is really tough going. He is kept in high spirits by the kindness of strangers, sleeps in hotels and hostels and occasionally peoples spare rooms. His tenacity to keep pedalling is matched only by his addiction to the Magic Man energy drink with its warming addition. He meets all sorts of characters on his journey, all affected by the change as the region changed from Communist control to modern Europe and free borders.
I have read all of Moore’s other books, so I was really looking forward to this. He manages to dream up some quirky and unusual travels, walking across Spain with a donkey, locating those that have had the ignominy of getting ‘nul points’ in the Eurovision and rediscovering his inner Roman in the re-enactment world. He is ever so slight nutty, and this makes for very funny moments in his travels. His self-depreciating attitude means that he rubs along with most people he meets, and give us a series of amusing anecdotes too. It was well worth reading as have been all his others. It didn’t quite reach French Revolutions though which is still one of the funniest book I have ever read.