2. Mainz – Speyer – The long journey begins

Copy of travelogue with picture of Hermann

On Sunday morning, June 12, 2022, the journey begins in the footsteps of Hermann Gütlich. A family member who, because of his adventurous attitude to life, left a personal will in the form of a travel report from Mainz to Milan and who has been a source of inspiration for me to live his adventure in a modern form. When putting on my bicycle bags, a number of hotel guests wonder where I am going with all that stuff. When I answer “Milan” and I show the copy of the travelogue I made, which bears Hermann’s photo from 1860, I see different facial expressions; interest, amazement and admiration in two men. Their wives, however, turned away, disinterested, and already walked to the car. At the end of the trip I will return to the same hotel so that the hotel owner says goodbye to me with a joke and says: “see you soon”……

I selected the hotel for its location. When I drive down the street in a southerly direction, I am immediately on the right route to Milan. Fully packed and bagged, I slowly start my bike with 25 kilos of luggage and a short shiver of excitement goes through me because the months of preparation for the trip no longer counts, but the pedaling will determine my rhythm for the next few weeks.

It is still early and the sun is already burning down on me mercilessly. It will be a warm day with a temperature that, according to weather forecasters, can rise above 30 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, the weather gods have mercy on me by sending me a nice cooling breeze. However, it is a headwind that dampens my joy.

Exactissima Palatinatus ad Rhenum Tabula – Ioh. Batista Homan, Nernbergae (1710-1715)
The Gerauer County

After an hour of cycling I arrive at a viewpoint where I can have a good look at the origin of our family: the Gerauer County! The area stretches to the left from the corner where the Main and Rhine converge to Frankfurt am Main in the distance and Darmstadt on the right. Gross-Gerau is located in the middle of this area and the Gütlich family has settled there since the end of the 16th century and has not left since. Over the centuries, its spread to other areas has been limited. As a result of the bloody battle during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), almost 90% of the population in this area has disappeared due to massacres by soldiers, combat actions and diseases such as the plague. Around 1635 only 8 people lived in Gross-Gerau!

From 1640 the Gütlich family lived only in Gross-Gerau and nearby Bauschheim. They were farming families and they naturally stuck to their land. When there was not enough land for all the farmer’s sons, the family spread from the second half of the 18th century to Darmstadt and also to the Netherlands, thus creating my family branch.

Along the Rhine

After these musings about the family past, I continue on my way. The route to Milan is characterized by a long, sometimes winding road along the Rhine. I choose the “Rheinradweg”, a route along the banks and dikes. The advantage is that there is little walking and cycling traffic on the route at this time of the year. But because of my departure on Sunday, there is a lot of recreational traffic, so I have to be careful. The massive oncoming traffic is striking. I suspect this has to do with the fact that they all prefer to recreate with the wind. During a rare stopover on a terrace, I ask my fellow terrace friends about this. They confirm this and say to take the train back home. Recently, a 9 euro ticket on public transport has become available in Germany to compensate for the rising energy costs due to the war in Ukraine. During my stage tomorrow, I tell this story to a fellow cyclist from Hamburg, who then says scornfully that since the introduction of the cheap public transport ticket, the trains look like cattle trucks……

Target for today is Speyer or Spiers. I want to build up the journey slowly because without packing I think it is already far, but with packing it is heavy. The stiff headwind and the high temperatures are playing tricks on me. The relaxed oncoming traffic with the wind at their back in my field of vision does not help my mood.

Many factories are located along the Rhine so that the supply and removal of raw materials can easily take place. First I come to the Ludwigshafen harbor works and the BASF factories. The entire city relies on this venture because there is a lot of employment. But this also means that I always have to drive around those large factory sites instead of straight ahead along the Rhine…

Speyer – Technik Museum

After Ludwigshafen it is only a short while before Speyer shows up and I can finally rest in the hotel at the Technik Museum. Jets, submarines, even a Boeing 707 float optically in the air around the hotel. A special environment to spend the night and with a satisfied feeling about the first, quite difficult stage I fall asleep.