The Brand-New Neanderland Hiking Trail

The German love of hiking and nature paired with German efficiency and organization is a formidable combination.

The Neanderland Hiking Trail (NeanderlandSTEIG) is a 240-km loop of hiking trails encircling the city of Mettman and the Neander Valley area, all of which is all east-northeast of Düsseldorf. It was opened only in 2014, which means all the signage is brand-new (and well-thought-out). It has its own thorough, informative website (apparently only in German so far). The trail is divided into 17 different sections, each with its own GPS map, and there’s even an app, which appears to have at least some English features.

neanderlandSTEIG wanderkarte

The way is marked by small red badges affixed to (or painted onto) trees, poles, or signs along the way, so you rarely have to consult a map to make sure you haven’t lost the plot. Almost all of it is within forests and pastures, sometimes on broad paths, sometimes on narrow, almost-overgrown single-track. The path enters cities only at the beginnings and ends of each of the 17 stages, to allow you to catch a bus or a train back home.

What the path shows is how much nature there is in this part of Germany. This might come as a surprise, since the Rhein-Ruhr region is the most densely-settled area in all of Europe. However, the key word is densely: there’s a clear demarcation between compact, circumscribed built-up areas and forests and pastureland. If you don’t allow sprawling suburbs to develop, you can pack a lot of people into a small area, and leave the rest for farming and nature.

I’m doing the trail on my cross bike, which usually works out pretty well. Especially in the northeast portions, there are lots of hills, but they’re not particularly brutal. There are a few gnarly passages, with tons of tree roots and undergrowth, so sometime you just have to portage the bike. But by and large, the trail is quite ride-able, and a skilled mountain-biker could probably do all of it. So far, I’ve only ridden three sections of the trail in full, and each has been memorable. I plan to assault the rest of it over the coming months. Here’s a picture gallery (taken during Stages 4, near Velbert, and 12, in South Düsseldorf) which helps explain why:

 

Dorm-Room Bullshit Sessions, Lovingly Filmed

http://cineuropa.org/en/videoembed/348080/rdid/345445/

Above is a trailer for a German movie, ‘303’ (link here if the embed doesn’t work). The English-language description is:

When biology student Jule finds out she’s pregnant, she sets out for Portugal to find her boyfriend Alex, who works on an organic commune there. Traveling in a Mercedes ‘303’ bus, she picks up hitchhiker Jan at a gas station outside Berlin, who’s traveling to a Spanish fishing village to tray [sic] and find his biological father. They’re both passionate and not very diplomatic, very interested in world affairs and philosophy, and while they’re “on the road”, they have impassioned and deep conversations about capitalism, human nature, love and relationships and the meaning of life. They trip becomes an emotional roller coaster, which finds them falling in love with each other? [sic]

Middle-class kids who inexplicably have months of free time on their hands conversing earnestly about “capitalism” and “the meaning of life”?

Alas, my pressing schedule will not afford me time to see this film.

The Viking Claw

According to a 2001 study, Dupuytren’s Contracture is:

“…an ancient affliction of unknown origin. It is defined by Dorland as shortening, thickening, and fibrosis of the palmar fascia producing a flexion deformity of a finger.”

This is what an advanced case looks like:

Bildergebnis für dupuytren's contracture

I have this in my right hand, although nowhere near as bad as this guy; one of my fingers just bends a little. It’s painless. It will get progressively worse, and one day I’ll need surgery, but for now, it’s just a slight nuisance.

What I did not know until yesterday was that Dupuytren’s contracture seems to be a genetic sign of Viking or Scandinavian heritage:

In his 1963 book, the Australian hand surgeon John Hueston wrote, “Dupuytren’s contracture is virtually confined to people of European descent” (). Its highest incidence is recorded in Iceland. As expected, the incidence is also high in Scandinavia: In a Norwegian study of 15,950 citizens, DD was present in 10.5% of men and in 3.2% of women (). In a large 1962 review of published figures, P. F. Early arrayed the countries of European stock in order of incidence of DD: Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. He also commented that the incidence in Australia, Canada, England, and Wales was similar since their populations are of basically English stock, which may itself represent a diluted strain of Danish (Viking) stock (). The incidence in Sweden is matched in Edinburg. Two different studies by James and Ling in Scotland showed such a high family incidence that DD was described as inherited through a single autosomal-dominant gene of variable penetrance ().

In a study in the French port of Toulon, 60% of the general population had brown eyes and 40% had blue eyes, but 80% of inhabitants with DD had blue eyes. The latter individuals were traced to the families of Breton and Norman sailors in the city’s history ().

DD is relatively uncommon in Spain, Greece, and Italy, except for Greece and Italy’s northern Adriatic Coast, which was penetrated by a northern genetic invasion during the Austro- Hungarian Empire.

I first learned of this yesterday, when a relative visiting a Viking museum in Norway sent me a photo in which this link was noted. The text next to the display had almost a note of pride, as in: Look how far we got despite our crippled, claw-like hands!