Lightning Strikes! / Almindingen Forest / WWII and Bornholm

I have returned to Helsinki after a ten-day cycling trip in Bornholm. The return flight from Copenhagen to Helsinki started out very rough and shortly after we took off, the plane was struck by lightning. I had a window seat and saw a red flash envelop the plane. Eventually the plane rose above the storm and then the pilot announced that yes indeed, we were hit by lightning. Glad we didn’t lose a wing over the Øresund!

On Thursday I cycled east to Bornholm’s second-largest town, Nexø (population 4.000) and rode back to my hostel in Boderne, a beach town in the south, through the island’s large central forest, Almindingen. Cycle trails wind through Almindingen, most of them gravel and only some of them paved. It was a quiet and peaceful ride as I was the only cyclist who crossed the forest lengthwise (its longest single trek). I didn’t start my forest trek till after 18.00 and I knew it was going to be a long ride. I figured it was going to take at least two hours and I had to be certain I could find my way out before it got dark. No one was going to put the lights on when the sun went down. Some of the Cykelvej signs were not the usual long green style, and were small square bicycle-icons only. It was never obvious where the Cykelvej led, as often I would coast down a hill, come to a crossroad, and discover that the trail didn’t continue down the same descent, but veered to the left or right along the crossroad. With only a little front headlight and under total darkness, I don’t think I would have been able to see these small icon signs. Lostness [1] was a certainty.

During my ride I encountered many rabbits and deer lounging on the trail. The deer did not move until I got very close, then they took off like a flash, kicking their hind legs and bounding off the trail into the woods. They were the only other life forms I saw in the forest, so I wonder if they would have been able to change a flat if I found myself unable to ride out of there? [Note to self: Craig should really, really learn how to repair a flat tire.] I arrived at the junction to turn south to Aakirkeby, and exited the forest after a 125-minute ride.

During World War II, Germany occupied Denmark, including the island of Bornholm. When the Germans surrendered in the spring of 1945, the German naval commander in charge of Bornholm refused to surrender to the Soviets, insisting upon capitulating only to the British. On 7 May, while the people of Bornholm were celebrating the war’s end, Soviet aircraft dropped bombs on Rønne and Nexø, killing ten people. Five of these deaths came from one family, and the only survivor was the family’s youngest member, a toddler girl. I wonder where (who?) she is now, 59 years later.

The commander still refused to surrender and the next day, 8 May, the Soviets dropped incendiary bombs, levelling almost half of the two towns. A night evacuation of both Rønne and Nexø saved lives and although the damage was worse after the second bombing, no lives were lost.

Yesterday while I was in Rønne, the town remembered the tragic event of 59 years ago, and I went on a self-guided walking tour, visiting the places that were destroyed and rebuilt, and also the places that were ruined and never rebuilt. Danish flags were at half-mast. I also visited the public memorial on the grounds of the city administrative building.

Tomorrow I go shopping in Helsinki one last time, then I fly home to Toronto on Tuesday at 09.45. I go to work the next day, and I will be wearing two new things: a Bornholm T-shirt, and a sunburned face.

[1] Abstract Scrabble nouns in context!

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