Experiences on the Iron Curtain Trail in Poland

15. April 2015 zur Übersicht

Letter to the Polish state secretary Katarzyna Sobierajska.

Madam State Secretary,

this year, in 2014, we remember the beginning of the First World War 100 years ago, the Second World War 75 years ago as well as the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain 25 years ago.
It is now ten years, since the eastern enlargement of the EU has begun. All these dates are connected, because without World War I we wouldn't have had World War II and without World War II we wouldn't have had the division and reunion of Europe.

The scholar and statesman Wilhelm von Humboldt once said: "Only those who know their past have a future." We all want to create our future positively, so we have to deal with our past. That's why the European Parliament supported the "Iron Curtain Trail" in 2005 with a large majority from every Member State and every group. The European Commission organized workshops in Sofia, Sopron and Warsaw on this issue, in which all involved states took part. Many states work successfully on signposting and bike-friendly implementation.

The Iron Curtain Trail - also called EuroVeloRoute 13 (EV 13) - runs at a length of 10,000 kilometres from the Barents Sea at the Norwegian-Russian border, along the western border of the former Warsaw Pact States to the Black Sea at the Turkish-Bulgarian border, crossing 20 countries of which 15 are nowadays Member States of the European Union. On this trail you can literally experience history, politics, nature and culture. I wrote three books about this project, brought out in German and English by the Austrian Esterbauer publisher. You can find maps and route descriptions, pictures from the time before and after the fall of the Iron Curtain and stories taking place on that time.  You are invited to get an overview with the copy enclosed.

Due to the planned book revision by the publisher I cycled this year the "Iron Curtain Trail" from Gda?sk to ?winouj?cie and was surprised that I couldn't find any signpost with the Logo of the EV 13 or the EV 10 (that is an 8,000 kilometres route called "Ostseeküstenradweg", Baltic Sea Coast Trail, crossing nine countries and being identical with EV 13 in Poland). Even on the corresponding maps I couldn't find the logo of that route - while it is indicated for the EuroVeloRoutes in Latvia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria and Serbia. Only the "R 10" is indicated but ends in the maps at the border to Germany. And that is even the case when the bike-friendly expansions of rail track sections like in Kolobrzeg are co-financed by the EU.

Regardless the missing signpost there were serious lacks of bike-friendly realization. Of course I don't expect all tracks to be asphalted and signposted. But especially in cities and at important intersections where one might assure to be on the right track signs are missing.

Track sections where you have to get off your bike and walk the bike are even worse. They are inacceptable as bike tracks. I often got the impression, that bike tracks are just signposted to avoid bike tourists from disturbing cars on the road. Bike tracks sometimes were in such a bad condition that they are not even worth calling walk trail. To give an example: for a three kilometres section close to ?eba we needed three hours, because we had to push our bikes on a path annoyingly full with sand.

On this tour we met bike tourists not only from Poland and Germany but from Italy, the Netherlands and France. And we often heard their complaints: "Biking - yes! But in Poland nevermore."

This experience makes me writing to you.  Bike tourism in Europe booms for two decades now and is annually growing by 20%. It is of special interest for coast regions as it is not limited to peak seasons. And as bike tourists are - despite the widely held belief - not "poor people", they are interesting also from an economic point of view. The infrastructure costs are low while the benefits are very high. Many studies show that that bike tourists spend more money on one day than car-equipped tourists do. The EuroVeloRoute 6 in Serbia increased its annual bike tourist number from 500 in 2008 to 13,000 in 2013 only through a better signposting. Regarding the fact that without the Solidarnosc movement in Poland the Wall in Berlin and the Iron Curtain in Europe wouldn't have been torn down 25 years ago we have to avoid a negative image of Poland in this project.

 To give you a precise idea of what I experienced I want to name all the sections that are unreasonable and lead passionate bikers to great frustration:

- the section from Krynica Morska to Gdansk is not signposted at all, one loses the track easily and at some parts you only find a way through fields

- the track from Gda?sk to Gdynia is well maintained and signposted. But in the north of Sopot ends at a stairway which is despite the existing pushing-aid hard to overcome with heavy luggage.

- the first section on the peninsula Hel from Hel to Jurata is a bumpy path which has to be renovated

- the track from Karwia to Debki is partly very bumpy but not sandy

- the route from Lubiatowo to ?eba described in the book on map 8 is in a very bad condition, where we had to push our bikes for three kilometres three hours through the sand. Here is an urgent need for renovation. A track renovation along the Baltic Coast and north of Jezioro Sarbsko would be desirable.

- from ?eba to Kluki the route on the 214 is not the best one due to heavy car traffic, the route between ?arnowska and Ga?  is for its sandy sections in a very bad condition

- from Smo?dzi?ski Las to Smo?dzino the route was recommended to us by bike tourists. But we couldn't find the start in Smo?dzino so I can't say anything about the Baltic Sea Coast Route. They also told us, that the track on the north side of Jezioro Gardno to Rowy is acceptable. But we couldn't find the way from Smo?dzi?ski Las. So we cycled via Smo?dzino, Wysoka and Retowo at the south side of the lake. Of course I would like to know more about shorter alternatives.

- a new bike track from Ustka via Starkowo to Marszewo is planned how it is indicated in the maps. It would solve the initial difficulties faced on the route

- the route from Jaros?awiec to Dar?ówko is at the beginning needing treatment, because of the wooden planks and sections full of sand. After that it's a pleasure to cycle on the dyke.
But I don't understand why they used tiles with holes when they rebuilt the dyke track. The tracks on the dykes for the Elbe e.g. were asphalted. But the dyke gap at the river connecting the Kopa? Sea to the Baltic Sea is annoying. One has to push his bike through loads of sand what is distressful and which is very unpleasant when you have to carry heavy luggage.

- Between D?bki and Lazy on the Spit the route is said to be interrupted. A private owner - we were told - should have interrupted the bike track. I don't know any details about that however I would be interested in a solution for that problem.

- after Mielno and just before Plesná there are very sandy sections, they should be reconstructed

- the section between Ustronie Morskie via Ko?obrzeg to Mrze?yno is in a very good condition. Unfortunately the signposts are missing, especially in cities

- from Mrze?yno to Pogorzelica it is pleasant to ride on a former military route, if the path foreseen for cyclists would be - like it's the case in housing areas - asphalted. Also the signposts are scarce.

- the track along the steep bank between Rewal and the church ruin of Trz?sacz should be signposted and renovated

- from Pobierowo via ?uk?cin to Dziwnów there are missing at the beginning the signposts and if necessary renovation for the coast track, because it's difficult to ride on the street which is heavily frequented and offers at some points sandy places

- The track from Mi?dzyzdroje to ?winouj?cie is an imposition. Although it is signposted it shows again and again very sandy sections where you have to walk. Here as well you find the need for renovation.

When you come from Ahlbeck you can ride on a marvellous bike track across the border along the beach to ?winouj?cie and then onwards on the little-trafficked Uzdrowiskowa to the car park at its end. The track from there to Fort Aniola is a little bit arduous. From Fort Aniola to the ferry and from the other side of the Swine to the rail crossing the track is fine. The track along the new LNG plant is also acceptable. But turning tight into the forest the bike tourist gets nasty surprises. The route is well signposted as "R 10", but the bumpy track with numerous sandy sections makes life hard for bikers and they leave ?winouj?cie with bad memories. My impression was that the Saint James pilgrim's path was simply indicated as cycle track without taking the necessary modifications into consideration. And in the city the signposting lacks in many cases.

For not supporting the above mentioned consequences and for being able to recommend this route in the new edition of my book you find enclosed I would like to ask you to renovate this 10 kilometres section bike-friendly. For this purpose a co-financing of the European Union up to 85% is possible.

I kindly invite you to contact me for further questions.