Even though the days are gradually starting to get longer again, winter continues to bestow us with cold nights and icy winds. It takes a little more willpower than usual to head out for that long Sunday walk that feels so good once you do it. Dressing warmly is the order of the day! That was a whole different story for Witali back in the summer when he first set out. And it didn’t end with the Sunday walk…
The project that I wanted to start in April of last year was actually called the 1,000 km break. And actually, my route on foot from Einbeck, Germany, to Riga, Latvia, would have been 1,800 kilometers instead of 1,000 kilometers. Actually, my pre-COVID plan was to walk from Cologne in Germany to Edinburgh in Scotland and well...all in all, there were a lot of things I wanted to do last year that ended up turning out very differently.
That’s actually quite a mouthful, isn’t it? But for me, that sums up this year pretty well.
Image: Witali Bytschkow
Let’s start from the beginning
The year before last, I wrote here about how I wanted to go barefoot more during my tours on foot across Europe. After all, one of my lifelong projects is to eventually have completely circumnavigated Europe on foot. At any rate, I can already say that I’ve covered 5,300 of the roughly 15,000 kilometers. What I wanted to do was to expand this project in April to include the Cologne – Edinburgh route.
When COVID started casting doubt on whether it was a good idea to start off, I was forced to change my plans at short notice.
My new route was to lead from Einbeck, the heart of Germany, to Riga, the Latvian capital. The tour started on July 4.
This time, I took a different approach regarding two aspects of the trip than I had on my previous tours (4,300 km through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, and Portugal). This time I incorporated barefoot walking and was also open to having companions along the way. It is this very sense of freedom that is fundamental to a tour such as this: freedom from too much dead weight and baggage, and freedom from any need for special equipment, too. Even in terms of having a trail companion, I left it up to chance to see who would join me when and where. All the same, by the end of the tour, 21 people had joined me.
I had three different pairs of shoes with me: one pair of flat hiking shoes, my Wildlings, and my body’s own shoes, my feet. I kept trying to add more and more stretches of barefoot walking, which meant I was paying even more attention to my feet, my body, and the act of walking itself. When the terrain or the heat prevented me from going barefoot, I used my minimal shoes, and when there was steady rain and rocks on the trail, I used my hiking shoes. I’m still feeling my way along in a gradual, ongoing process. Nonetheless, I discovered during the tour that this triad was a pretty successful combination.
Each morning I decided which pair I would start out with, and then switched around depending on the terrain and what I felt like doing.
Image: Witali Bytschkow
On foot across Germany
The route took me from Einbeck through the Harz National Park, over the summit of the Brocken mountain at an elevation of 1,141 meters, followed by a short stretch on the border patrol path crossing the former East German/West German border to Magdeburg. While surrounded by fields in the vicinity of Magdeburg, I headed through pine forests on sandy ground towards Berlin. The upside of sandy ground is that it feels like a king-size bed for your feet. The downside in the summer is that the sand got so hot in places that I had to take each step quickly, otherwise I would have gotten heat blisters. When it did get too hot, my airy Wildling Tanukis stepped in to protect me.
After about 300 kilometers I arrived in Berlin, the German capital. When you have 300 kilometers under your belt and then suddenly stroll through this capital of nearly four million residents, the hustle and bustle of the city seems so unreal. Everything appears to be rushing past you while you feel as if you are looking down from above onto an anthill teeming with life and commotion. This image made me really happy for some reason, because I was deeply grateful to simply be able to go my merry way.
The term “strolling” could hardly be more fitting in this context because I was strolling about leisurely with no particular destination in mind. Although I did have the goal of crisscrossing Berlin from west to east, which took almost three days on foot, it also gave me time to observe and let go of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Image: Witali Bytschkow
On foot across Poland
From Berlin I traveled to Frankfurt (Oder) across the border into Poland. And despite the fact that I haven’t seen the coast in the north, nor the mountains in the south, I’m already absolutely thrilled after covering 600 kilometers through the middle of the country: Historic old towns with their vibrant buzz of artsy cafes and bars lend Polish cities a unique atmosphere. Nestled among the landscape are a number of lakes that can only be reached by passing through dense pine forests. The tranquil beauty of nature left me awestruck! But first I had to get used to the monotony of the pine forests.
Even though the sandy terrain that is also prevalent in our neighboring country is perfect for barefoot walking, there was one small catch. Since it was already quite warm that early in the year, there were a particularly large number of mosquitoes, and there’s nothing more unpleasant than having your foot covered in bites. So, for protection from the mosquitoes, I had to tuck my feet back into closed shoes.
After I had already become well acquainted with the Polish pine forests and had explored the picturesque cities of Poznań, Bydgoszcz, and Toruń, the coronavirus situation shifted quite suddenly. Until then, Poland had seen a rather mild progression, but things changed in early August. The border crossing into Lithuania was subject to a 14-day quarantine and it became increasingly clear that the tour would be impossible to complete at that point.
Image: Witali Bytschkow
Then, just before reaching Masuria, I decided to head for home. It didn’t feel right to keep walking, so I ended the tour after exactly 1,000 kilometers.
All in all, it was a pretty wild 1,000 kilometers, through some very uninhabited parts of Germany and Poland.
But now, I still have the most exciting part of Poland to look forward to. I was told so much about Masuria during my journey. I am also very much looking forward to Lithuania and Latvia. It’s possible that the tour will continue in 2021. My feet are already itching to go.
Thank you very much for your fascinating travel account, Witali!
If you would like to find out more about Witali's tours, you can listen to his livestream (in German) 5,300 km on foot across Europe on the 7th of February 2021. You can even experience barefoot walking in connection with nature for yourself on his mindful guided walks. You can find more information on the homepage of Walkaboutyou.
Cover Image: Witali Bytschkow