by Dante Zappala
Follow the road out of Berlin down towards Wittenberg. Just before you get to the town of Treunbrietzen, make a right. You’ll rumble over cobblestones and cross a one lane bridge. Hang a left. Take the first dirt road you see to the barn with the solar panels on the roof.
It’s been two years since we last visited, but I’m still able to find this place without much worry. Tante Brigitte’s farm in old East Germany is my little patch of paradise. The road to it is a crystal clear memory.
We’re on what has become a biennial pilgrimage to my wife’s country of origin. After staying with her aunt on the farm, we’ll see her parents and her sister. If we’re lucky, we’ll find her friends who are sailing up the Havel and spend a day or two on the boat.
We traveled a full 24 hours to get here. The flight from JFK was three-and-a-half hours delayed. The airline lost our car seats. The kids mastered Subway Surfers on the tablet somewhere along the way.
The sun works overtime in Germany in the summer. We arrived past nine, but dusk extended her long arms and offered us some spare light as we set up the tent for the kids. We sat for a late dinner, our first meal of the day, and dutifully devoured Brigitte’s famous kartoffel salat.
A converted stage coach by the chicken coop serves as the guest quarters. By the time my head hit the pillow, I’d stopped accounting for what time it really was or how much I’d actually slept on the trip. It was easier to hit the reset button.
Sunrise beckons at 5 a.m., but exhaustion kept me from rising until a good bit later. My body hurt in just about every place. I thought pounding out a hard twelve miles the day we left would help me sleep better on the plane. It didn’t really work out that way and the last thing that I wanted to do at that moment was run. But I carried a heavy obligation to lace them up.
We traveled on a discount airline that charges for checked bags. To save a few bucks, we limited ourselves to four carry-ons for our three-week tour. I dedicated a good half of my prime luggage space to running gear. I have to defend that choice by running at least once every day that we’re here.
I headed out on the path through the neighboring woods. I recall it’s about 3 km to the next village. When I get there, I realize that simply turning around isn’t enough of a run. I see another path I vaguely remember and so I take it. Trees line one side, a cornfield on the other. Curious bugs and butterflies follow by my side, clearly amused by my presence. A rabbit the size of a small deer jumps across the path.
And then I get to the end of the trail as I know it. The tractor tracks start to fade and the distinct memory comes to me that this is as far as I went the last time I was here. If I turn now, I’ll probably get 10km in. But I’ve got a marathon coming up and this won’t cut it. I can see a way through the fields. I should press on.
We’re born travelers, I tell myself. Humans traversed nearly the entire land mass of the earth by foot. Running in foreign places is what we do.
As I approached this old boundary, my body had long stopped aching. The jet lag had burned off in the mid-morning sun. I mitigated any nerves I harbored with the confidence of the miles I’ve been accumulating recently. Even if I get lost, I can run quite a while and my German is just good enough that I think I’ll manage a ride back.
I found a new path through fields of sunflowers, all standing at attention. Approaching an hour on my watch, I fell into what we call the zone. Running engages all of your senses simultaneously, unleashing the wonders of imagination and creativity. The flood of thought washes the beaches of the mind clean. The rhythm rakes the sand smooth. The further you go, the cleaner the canvas becomes.
I emerged from the zone on the back roads of Treunbrietzen. I knew exactly where I was and navigated easily back to the farm. My guess is that I totaled around 16 km for the run. My universe got a little bigger by about the same margin.
With a few weeks of travel ahead of us, I’m looking forward to exploring Germany by the most traditional means available.
Today, I’ll load up on roggenbaurnbrot, wurst und bier. Tomorrow I’m sure to wake up a bit earlier and discover where the other roads lead.