There are many places in the world where different landscapes meet in one spot, and one can take advantage of what it has to offer. Flensburg and the surrounding area is one of them. You have the city that is located on a body of water known as the Fjorde, which leads to the Baltic Sea. About 5km to the north, there are rolling hills and forest. And to the west you have flat farmland surrounded by forests. Coming in from Denmark through the village of Ellund, I biked through one kilometer of forest followed by another kilometer of farmland until I stumbled into a quiet town of Handewitt, located roughly seven kilometers west of Flensburg. The town itself is surrounded by vast amounts of farmland, yet going through the city center by bike, it resembled a city that has long since been modernized, thanks to rows upon rows of red-brick houses lining the streets no matter where you go and upper class families owning high class German cars, like Audi and BMW- not the household name of Volkswagon and Opel, which most middle and lower class families own.
Coming in at sundown, Handewitt was totally asleep. Nobody was on the streets. Even the church located on the hill and providing a blick of the town of probably 4000 stood empty even though the lights were on. And even when the soft white fluorescent street lamps flamed on to provide safety on the streets, no one was driving around on the streets. The only sounds I could carry in were that of the herd of cattle on the west end of town, settling down with its calves for the night and cars traveling along the main highway going to Flensburg, which makes a tangent over the north end of Flensburg. What a good way to describe a town, which can pride itself in partnering with neighboring Flensburg to form the handball powerhouse SG Flensburg-Handewitt.
But silence can be its only beauty. Sometimes towns that are that quiet can also present its true colors which one can enjoy. Many of the towns have suffered from scars as a result of traffic congestion, noise and people who sometimes disregard the wishes of the town’s inhabitants to respect its environment and significance. Tourism has taken its toll on many places to a point where they do not look nice anymore, thanks to too much development and degradation, and too little nature and to a certain degree lack of natural sounds which make them special- not just the voices of the town’s past inhabitants let alone the flora and fauna that exist, but the silence that calms the nerves and makes the places much more comfortable to visit. All one needs is silence, listening to just the wind rustling the trees, the wild animals wandering the streets, and maybe a couple people talking about the past-or the future. This is what made the visit to Handewitt very surreal.
Leving the town for the route back to the hotel, 10 km away to the east, I happened to bike past a couple of restaurants and had an opportunity to eavesdrop on the topic of Atlantis and the end of an era. People were discussing the good times of the past and worrying about what the future holds. The year 2011 was to become the year to end all eras and the start of new ones. Atlantis was the reference to the Space Shuttle program by NASA, which has come to a successful end. With each quote from those talking about it brought back memories of growing up with the Space Shuttle program, how some watched the launch of a Shuttle live in Florida and lit the sky in the wee hours of the morning, how they watched from their tellies how the Shuttles contributed to the development of the International Space Station, which still encircles the Earth and watches over us day in, day out, and how two Shuttle disasters (1986 with Challenger and 2001 with Columbia) raised concerns regarding costs to maintain these vessels and make them safe for travel. The one from 1986 I watched live from the resource center of the elementary school I was attending in MN, but watching the live launch of Discovery at the beginning of 1988 for the first time since the disaster showed the willingness of the US to pick up the pieces and move on, looking ahead to the future. This was the next question that was posed by the group discussing it over Aquavit (a typical local liquor), Pott Rum, and Flensburger beer. Some say the Europeans will take over and NASA will cease to exist. Others say the opposite will be the case. In either case, once the Space Shuttle program is finished, the remaining three shuttles (Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavor) will become part of American history and a plan has to be made to continue flying into outer space, even if the US is hampered by an enormous deficit.
It is almost like biking without headlights, which I discovered while leaving the conversation and the quiet town of Handewitt for the robust town of Flensburg. Going without headlights can be a dangerous tact, but there was no choice. One has to do it even if it meant following the bright fiery yellow sodium street lamps lining the main highway to achieve that task. Sometimes one has to think about the future and battle through the handicaps in life to achieve the goals, taking advantage of the whatever opportunity that lies ahead. NASA is working on that with hopes to have another person in outer space in 3-4 years, and when that happens, a new era will start and the past will be laid to rest, leaving its legacy that the next generation is expected to follow. And when I head to my destination at the hotel on the east end of Flensburg, I will remember my visit to Handewitt, the Night of Atlantis, and how I managed to make it back in one piece, preparing for the next day of adventures ahead of me.
THE AUTHOR OF THE FLENSBURG FILES WOULD LIKE TO DEDICATE THIS IN HONOR OF THE ASTRONAUTS OF ATLANTIS, DISCOVERY, ENDEAVOR, CHALLENGER, AND COLUMBIA WHO RESHAPED THE WAY WE SEE THE WORLD BEYOND OUR BOUNDARIES. YOU MADE A GREAT DIFFERENCE FOR CIVILIZATION AND PAINTED THE PATH FOR FUTURE SPACE FLIGHTS WHICH WILL TAKE PEOPLE TO PLACES NOT SEEN YET, EMBRACING THE UNKNOWN AND MAKING LIFE BETTER FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO COME.