Grenzerfahrungen: The Iron Curtain Gravel Trail
In his latest film, ‘Grenzerfahrungen’, Edinburgh-based filmmaker, adventurer and Apidura Ambassador Markus Stitz explores what borders mean and how they have changed his life in this follow up to ‘No Stone Unturned’. ‘Grenzerfahrungen’ (‘borderline experiences’) documents his 700km ride along the former Iron Curtain to create the Iron Curtain Gravel Trail.
Markus, who was born in the town of Heiligenstadt in the Eichsfeld region, experienced the division caused by the former border first-hand as a child. He grew up in the German Democratic Republic and turned ten in 1989. This marked the year when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November after thousands of people took to the streets in Leipzig and other cities to demand their freedom. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the inner German brought an end to the Iron Curtain, which divided Europe for more than 44 years between the end of World War 2 and the end of the Cold War.
‘As a 10-year-old child, I couldn’t really grasp the significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which has been one of the most important events in my life to date. I have travelled across the world on a bike and made Scotland my home in 2009, which would have not been possible without the fall of the Iron Curtain. My grandparents lived in the 5-kilometre-access-zone running parallel to the former border in East Germany, but I had no idea of the fortifications when I visited them as a child. My father, who sadly died in 2015 when I cycled around the world, travelled almost daily in the area for work, and had much greater insight into the history of the Eichsfeld region. His love for the area inspired me to cycle along and close to the European Green Band, which has since become one of the most untouched and wild areas in Germany. I was really pleased when Schwalbe UK, one of my longest standing supporters, commissioned me for a film last year after they had seen ‘No Stone Unturned’. As my film about Kyrgyzstan is, this documentary is a very personal account, and I hope it inspires many people to experience this important chapter of European history on two wheels in the future.’
Researching this part of his German history and retracing the former border is an idea Markus has had on his mind for a while, but it took a pandemic to finally make it happen. 2020 confronted him, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in his youth, with the restriction of his civil liberties. Although for totally different (and understandable) reasons, a lack of the freedom to travel brought back the memories of his childhood. Growing up in East Germany, options to travel were restricted to the countries on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. Anything that lay to the west was unknown territory until November 1989.
The Iron Curtain Gravel Trail spans 687km from the Dreiländerstein to the Dreiländereck, packing in 11,300m of elevation. It is designed to be ridden on loaded gravel bikes, but is equally fun on mountain bikes. After successfully mapping bikepacking routes in Scotland since 2017 ‘Grenzerfahrungen’ inspired Markus to share his route on www.bikepackinggermany.com, which the professional route planner hopes to build into a new bikepacking resource for Germany.
Markus tells us that the route is designed to be split over eight days, combining outstanding natural beauty and history with great gravel tracks. It’s designed to be tough but achievable for anyone on a gravel bike with wide gearing and carrying enough equipment to stay in huts or bivvy overnight.