As I have written in my activation report for Klínovec, a summit in the Czech Republic, I am trying to activate places outside my home region DM, Germany – Low Mountains in SOTA or DA in POTA. With the May 1st being a public holiday, the long weekend provided a perfect opportunity for an activation a bit further away.
After a while looking around, I chose Brissetish Kopf (FL/VO-126) in France. The summit was close to the German border, hasn’t received much love with only 8 SOTA activations and was also a POTA spot for F-1697 Vosges du Nord Regional Park and WWFF Parc Regional des Vosges du Nord, FFF-0035. That promised enough QSOs for me and provided chances for chasers.
The small cluster to which the arrow points are the Vosges, actually the northern Vosges (Vosges du Nord). The cluster south of it are the higher part of the Vosges. The Vosges are a range of low mountains in Eastern France, which continues as Palatinate Forest on the German side of the border, with the highest summit being 1,424 m / 4,672 ft.
I started my journey quite early, leaving around 8am. During the drive I could not help but had to tease Thomas (K4SWL), who spent quite some time in France and, as far as I know, enjoyed it.
The French region Alsace, through which I had to drive to the Vosges, is quite interesting. The region was disputed over several hundred years between Germany and France and changed back and forth between the two. Many place names are still German, or sometimes a mix of French and German. After the World War II, the region returned to France – hopefully the last change.
I used Google Maps to drive to a parking place close to the summit, but my first attempt ended here:
Not sure why Google meant to show me this – thanks for the 30 minutes detour.
Roughly a half hour later, I arrived at Climbach, the small village next to the summit. Based on findings, the area is populated since the Middle Stone Age, that ranged from 280,000 to 25,000 years ago.
I live very close to the Swabian Alb (also known as Swabian Jura or Schwäbische Alb in German). The Swabian Alb is a mountain range in German region Swabia. It ranges from Bavaria in the northeast 200 km / 140 mi to the Swiss border in the southwest.
The Swabian Alb is a high plateau, which falls slowly to the southeast but with steep cliff-like edges to the northwest. You can follow the northwest edge of the Swabian Alb by looking at the map of the SOTA summits at sotl.as.
The topology limits the possibilities to cross the Swabian Alb, so the course of the routes are more or less unchanged since thousands of years. I live close to an old Roman road. And where an important road was, there isn’t a castle too far away, since the medieval noblemen were quite keen to get its share from passing people and goods.
During the Cold War, important passes received mechanisms to place explosive charges. In case of an advance of the Soviets and its allies, it was planned to blow these roads up, as there was usually no alternative way around.
First Activation: Plettenberg
The Plettenberg (DM/BW-046) is a summit at the edge of the mentioned Swabian Alb, about halfway between Stuttgart and the Swiss border. It’s 1002 m / 3287 ft tall and has a quarry on top.
As I have mentioned in my two previous posts, I have visited my family on the other side of Germany. On the way back, I wanted to make a “tiny detour” and activate a summit in the Czech Republic. I like all kinds of numbers and statistics, and that includes my SOTA stats. My goal is not being number one or be in the top region somewhere, but seeing it progressing and developing satisfies me. Until July last year, the upper right pie chart was only light blue, i.e. I had only activated summits in region DM, Germany – Low Mountains. So I use every chance to push the light blue back.
After some concessions, my family agreed and the way back increased from 6 hours and 583 km / 362 mi to 8:30 hours and 732 km / 455 mi.
On the drive to visit my family, I noticed that I forgot my wallet, so I had neither an ID card nor my driving license. In many regions of the world, it would be probably very difficult to cross an international border two times without papers. However, many countries in Europe have signed the so-called Schengen-Treaty, which led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen Area.
The Schengen Area consists of 27 European countries with a population of over 400 million, who have abolished border checks. However, random inspections still happen. The worst case would be a control in the Czech Republic and the official requirement to go to the German embassy in Prague for new papers.
As expected, the border crossing was easy and it could easily been overseen.
If you missed that sign in the photo, you only note that the town names have changed to Czech, as Czech names are quite different. After the border crossing, the summit is just minutes away, and you can drive up to the very top – pretty convenient for a 10+3 points summit.
The summit Klínovec (OK/KA-001), also known as Keilberg, is the highest mountain in the Ore Mountains, located on the border between the Czech Republic and Germany. With a peak reaching 1,244 me / 4,081 ft above sea level, Klínovec has been a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and tourists, and is the most important winter sports area in the region. The mountain has a rich history that includes mining activities for silver, lead, and tin in the dating back to 2500 BC, and it has evolved into a popular skiing and hiking destination in recent years, attracting visitors from both countries. According to reports, the peak has attracted people for hundreds of years, with the earliest observation tower erected in 1817. Continue reading SOTA in the Czech Republic – When everything goes wrong→
One of the prominent landmarks in the Park Sacrow is the Heilandskirche, also known as the Church of the Redeemer.
This neo-Romanesque church, completed in 1844, is a striking sight with its red brick façade, white stone accents, and tall tower. The Heilandskirche is overlooking the Havel River and offers panoramic views of the surrounding park and river.
During the time of the Berlin Wall, the Heilandskirche in Sacrow was located near the border between East and West Germany. The church was in the “No Man’s Land”, i.e. behind all East German border barricades – see photo from 1972 below with the Berlin Wall – preventing anyone from visiting.
After the years of decay, when the bad condition became too obvious from the West Berlin side, citizens of West Berlin tried to stop the further decay. After long negotiations between church authorities and the government of East Germany, the exterior of the church building was restored in 1984/85. Today, the church looks as beautiful inside as it looks outside.
With the border between East and West at the middle of the river, the whole area was a kind of border protection zone, only available to locals or those with a special permit.
The park is close to the Glienicker Bridge, also known as the “Bridge of Spies” from Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster, on the opposite of my position the day before.
As mentioned in my previous report, I have grown up less than a mile away from this famous bridge, in Potsdam, i.e. Soviet controlled part of Germany.
In my opinion, Steven Spielberg told the wrong story. There is another, more interesting story related to this bridge. It is the story of the Military liaison missions. A few British, US and French army members were allowed to roam freely in the Soviet controlled part of Germany and, vice versa, a few Soviets in West-Germany. These members of the military liaison missions had immunity from all German authorities. Since East Germany was frontline to the western world, the Soviet army had their most advanced technology there and the mission members’ task was it to spy, for example with this US Military Liaison Mission vehicle – note the license plate.
The uniformed, but unarmed mission members drove military-green cars with a special license plates – here a British mission car on display in a museum. For me as a child, those cars looked like from another planet.
The Glienicker Bridge border crossing wasn’t open for public, but only for those mission members and diplomats. The French and British mission houses were close to this bridge in the Soviet controlled part, the one for the US was some miles away.
French Mission House today:
British Mission House today:
Just imagine these two buildings with a huge British and French flag on top, in proximity to Soviet military installations behind the Iron Curtain.
It did not always go as smoothly as it could. The image below shows the Soviets handing over the corpse of Major Arthur D. Nicholson to the US authorities on the Glienicker Bridge. Nicholson was shot down in 1985 by a Soviet sentry at a Soviet army base in East Germany.
In 1984, Philippe Mariotti, a member of the French Mission Militaire Francaise de Liaison died after the East German Secret Service has set up a trap and rammed Mariotti’s car with an army truck.
The British BBC aired an interesting documentary about the British mission The British Commanders’-in-Chief Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany (BRIXMIS) called “The Brixmis story”. If you find the topic interesting, there is a lot of stuff on YouTube when searching for Brixmis or USMLM.
The holidays seasons like Christmas or Easter provide an opportunity to return to the family. So I drove across Germany to Potsdam, where I have grown up, during the extended Easter weekend.
Potsdam is a historic city located in the state of Brandenburg, Germany, next to the capital Berlin. It has a rich history dating back to medieval times, when it was founded as a settlement on the banks of the Havel River. In the 18th century, Potsdam became the residence of the Prussian royal family and was transformed into a center of arts, architecture, and culture. The famous Sanssouci Palace, built by Frederick the Great, is one of the many palaces and gardens that reflect the city’s royal heritage.
Close to the Sanssouci Palace, the Neue Palais, a grand palace, is located. It is a magnificent example of Baroque architecture, with its grand façade, opulent interiors, and beautiful gardens, and it was used as a guest residence for the Prussian royal family. Later William II, German Emperor and King of Prussia, made it to its main seat.
Potsdam was also a significant location during World War II. During the last days of the war, the 12th German Army tried to break through the Soviet blockade around Berlin, which caused fierce fighting close to the city.
Less than a month before Germany’s final surrender, 1700 tones of bombs were dropped causing destruction of a large part of the city center. Still a lot of dangerous stuff from those times is found during construction works until today.
The city also served as the site of the Potsdam Conference in 1945, where leaders of the Allied powers met to discuss the future of post-war Europe – here with Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman and Josef Stalin during July 1945.
Before I started the trip, I checked which ham radio programs offer outdoor activations in the region. The whole area is more or less flat, so not SOTA summit within a radius of a one-hour drive. Also, no POTA park existed, so I thought suggesting two would be good, for me and POTA :).
One new park later accepted by POTA was the Babelsberg Park with its Babelsberg Palace. The palace was the summer residence of Prince William, later German Emperor William I and King of Prussia, and his wife.
From the park, you have a good view to the Glienicke Bridge, probably better known from Steven Spielberg’s movie “Bridge of Spies”.
The Bridge of Spies connects Berlin (formerly West-Berlin part) with Potsdam, (formerly East Germany), hence formerly the Soviet and Western (US, UK & France) controlled parts of Germany. The bridge was used as an exchange for spies between Western and Eastern powers. Probably most prominent was the CIA pilot Gary Powers, who was shot down over the Soviet Union with a U-2 spy plane in 1960. Below is an image of the beginning of another spy exchange in 1986.
You may, or may not, know the situation when you are invited for the birthday of your mother-in-law and the whole day is just a chain of meals. As the SOTA activation of the Wasserberg the day before was rather short, I needed to escape and do something outdoors. An antenna test at a nice POTA location would be perfect.
When I started with amateur radio, many fellow hams told me that a real ham must build its own stuff. This is not easy when you have 10 thumbs like me. However, from time to time I try smaller projects. When I am operating portable, I usually have a 10 m / 33 ft mast with me. I have a 30/15-meter- and 12/17-meter band antenna, both with coils and shorter than my mast, and a homemade 10-meter band antenna which I can raise vertically on my mast. A mast with one of these wire antennas can be used on most of the locations I have visited.
However, I was missing something for the 20-meter band. I have a 10 – 80-meter 5 band antenna that covers 20-meters, but raising it as a sloper with a length of app. 24 m / 79 ft is tricky sometimes.
So, I thought it would be a good project for me. As a half-wave for 20-meters is exactly the length of my mast, and I did not want the feed point at or too close to the ground, I wanted to add a short coil. I had a finished 1:49 mini-impedance transformer from K6ARK available from a project I’ve never finished. So, I just needed a screw, a cable and a piece of a PVC electrical conduit.
I have cut the PVC electrical conduit in three parts, one for the coil, one for the upper-end to allow easier mounting at the mast, and one for a simple strain-relief. My wife was a bit nervous when I used her best knife for cutting it, not sure if she worried about me or her knife. The dimension of the coil is based on pure guess. Bringing the whole antenna then into resonance was easy – just cutting step by step. After completing, the antenna still looks a bit makeshift.
So, I used an opportunity between two meals to leave my mother-in-law’s birthday and drove to the next POTA park, which is the Kaltes Feld (DA-0410). However, this time I did not go to the SOTA southern activation zone for Kaltes Feld (DM/BW-659), but to the opposite direction, where I have not been before.
The weather was nice, and the way was without any ascent. Behind me, a bit higher, was the SOTA summit Kaltes Feld and on the right the SOTA summit Bernhardus (DM/BW-848).
Nearly a week has passed since my last activation and the AWS–the Activation Withdrawal Symptoms–started to kick in. Furthermore, I received an antenna during the week which I wanted to try. However, the weather was unsettled, and showers were forecasted over the whole weekend. This did not prevent me to try at least an activation with the new antenna.
So, I started to the Wasserberg (DM/BW-664) on an early Saturday morning. The summit has a height of 750 m / 2460 ft and a wooded peak. The parking place is already elevated, so there was only 1.6 km / 1 mi left to walk with an ascent of 166 m / 540 ft.
The peak is wooded, but you can enjoy the view at the beginning of your hike, just after parking.
The trail is well-developed and easy to walk, except for the high incline at the beginning.
You come along something that looks like an old wall, but it is probably a place where stones have been taken from in earlier times.
The forest still looks like winter, and you can see the landscape through the trees
But if you look close enough, you see that the spring is not too far anymore.
Although the way to the peak diverts from the well-developed trail half way, I followed the way to visit the Wasserberghaus (it basically means “house on the water hill”, with “water hill” being the name of the hill).
If you have read my previous activation reports, you may remember that the temperature was more often than not below 0° C / 32° F. I am tired of the winter. So I was very pleased when the weather forecast indicated 18° C / 64° F on a Saturday.
In one of my previous posts (How I found the best antenna for my SOTA/POTA activations) I have outlined, that I like using the 30-meter band for being reliable on short and medium distances – in my case, Central Europe. However, I wanted to try an activation with an antenna that is more appropriate for DX. The wire winder for my 30-meter antenna had plenty of space left, so I decided using a commercial 12/17-meter band wire antenna that I have discussed briefly in the report linked at the beginning of this paragraph.
The day before, I built a 20-meter end-fed with parts that I found in my basement and a tiny 1:49 transformer from K6ARK. I added a short coil, so the feed point wouldn’t be at or too close to the ground when using my 10 m / 33 ft fiberglass mast. I know it needs some polish.
The Limburg is a conical summit about a 30-minutes drive from my home. It can be activated for a couple of programs like SOTA (DM/BW-110), POTA (DA-0203), WWFF and COTA.
The Limburg is, or better was, a volcano; technically, a volcanic vent of the Swabian Volcano, a volcanic area of 50 km / 31 mi radius with over 350 volcano vents. Seventeen million years ago, it produced massive gas and dust explosions. Be careful when ramming your antenna groundspike into the ground ;-). So it became a steep summit, elevated around 200 m / 650 ft over its surrounding area.
Earliest traces of population around the summit date to 3000–1800 BC.
After a rainy and windy Friday, the weather was expected to improve a bit the next day. The temperature was still forecasted with around 0 °C / 32 °F, but no rain was expected. So, my friend Jochen (DG1PSI) and I thought we could operate outside. We have chosen a summit called Bernhardus. The summit is next to “Kaltes Feld” on the opposite side of the valley, where I was a some days before. With an 1.2 km / 0.75 mi trail and an ascent of 124 m / 440 ft, it is not the hardest summit around.
We had an appointment for 10 o’clock. The parking lot was still empty at the time, but the weather seemed a bit more difficult than expected. We have asked some other members of our local ham radio club if they want to join us. But surprisingly, no one wanted to get up early on a Saturday morning, hike and operate a radio in freezing temperatures.
As mentioned, the summit was near “Kaltes Feld”, on the opposite side of the valley. You can see the SOTA activation zone of “Kaltes Feld” on the left, the glider airfield in the middle and some miles in the background another SOTA summit called “Stuifen”.
The peak was easy to reach and invites enjoying the beautiful view.
I wasn’t sure if I should write a report about this activation. It was “average” at best. But I thought it might be worth to share that not all activations are perfect, with stunning views in an enjoyable environment.
I am a relatively new ham and completed my first exam in mid-2019. It took me a while to get my head around all the things that the new hobby is offering. My first successful portable activation was in May 2021 on the SOTA summit Michelsberg (DM/BW-855) – here is a picture of my most recent activation some weeks ago:
This first activation was in the middle of the Corona pandemic. The good thing during the Corona time was certainly the possibility to work from home. Before Corona, I did commute roughly 65 km / 40 mi (oneway), which took me in total 2–3 hours daily. During the first two years, I was in the office two times. In the third year, I was there more often, maybe once every two months.
Two weeks ago, my employer announced a “return-to-office” policy, so the “sweet life” was coming to an end.
After the first disappointment, I thought that this may offer me the chance to work portable at new locations. The next SOTA summit is around 20 km / 12 mi away, but a POTA park begins 2 km / 1.2 mi from the office at the pin in the map below. The park is basically all the green wood in the center of the map.
That comes in very handy, as POTA, with the possibility to operate next to my car, does make it easier than hiking in suit and tie to a SOTA summit.
The Nature Park Schönbuch, POTA DA-0008, located southwest of Stuttgart, is a wooded area of 156 km² / 38,000 acres. In 1972 in became the first nature park of the federal State of Baden-Wuerttemberg. The park is an important recreational area for the region.
Right at the beginning of the park, when coming from my office, there is a parking place and next to it a clearing with a fireplace. I thought that this would be a perfect spot for my activities. Weather was cold and windy on my first “return to office” day, I did not expect too many people to be there.
After working and reading the article about the 2023 QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo, I decided to leave the office early at around 4pm and started my activation.
The parking place at the park was pretty empty, just one old car with four lads in it and doing whatever lads are doing in the woods. I have a 16-year-old son and have given up trying to understand what boys at that age are doing.
The spot was OK, but not as perfect as I had thought. It was in a trough surrounded by large trees. In addition, it was wet, cold and windy.
Due to the wind, I have decided against the 10 meter / 33 ft pole and used the PAC-12 again.
The actual activation did not go as smoothly as my previous one. It might have been due to the time, and afternoon during the week, or the topographical conditions. With a small foldable seat and a tiny desk made of a trunk and a brick, I operated for 40 minutes.
In total, I made 16 QSOs; 10 on the 30-meter band and 6 QSOs on 20 meters.
Although I made a successful activation of the Nature Park Schoenbuch, DA-0008, I think I need to change my plans. Being in the office and therefore close to this park more often in the future, I will be more picky in terms of weather and location. The park has way more to offer than a wet and cold meadow in the middle of the woods. I will look for better weather and locations, such as the following – I just need to find those places.