Category Archives: Germany

The Upper Middle Rhine

2013/09/18-19: In Koblenz and a boat trip up the  Rhine

The Kaiser surveys the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine

The first day was a catch up on various basics and a walk in older parts of Koblenz, a city that dates from Roman times. The second day was spent aboard an original paddle wheeler that was only converted from steam to diesel in 2004. The MS Wappen von Köln took five hours upstream to Rüdesheim and three hours back to Koblenz.

This section of the Rhine was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002; It is deemed to meet a host of UWH criteria. It was up to our expectations, an iconic landscape of castles, steep terraces and vineyards, and Chris had a field day behind the lens.

Typical church on the Rhine

We fell into pleasant conversation with fellow travellers. A Canadian man of 80+ from Kitchener was travelling with his daughter; he accurately pointed out each new sight before it was announced. It must have been poignant for him; he’d done the journey many times with his wife who had died recently. Both times we passed the Lorelei rock, he predicted “now they will play the music” and he hummed along to  the tune to which a romantic poem about a woman with long blond hair was set.  He would look up at the rock, wondering aloud if he might see her.

We also chatted to group of four women from California, a little younger than us, German beers well in hand. They said  they’d been puzzled to see a bearded fellow sound asleep with head on the table of the ship’s lounge. Why would anyone sleep through such a special journey, they wondered? At one point they even saw a grey-haired woman asleep beside him.

When I explained we’d ridden 7,000 km in 4.5 months, they understood our need for a power nap.

Old customs house in the Rhine

The Rhine: castles, railway, and road on both banks, and vineyards on southern slopes.

2013/09/20: Back to Bonn by train and 80 km to Heimbach near Belgian border.
We briefly contemplated a route south-west up the Moselle from Koblenz, but were concerned it would add too much mileage in our final days to a planned meeting in Namur with a friend, and to the end of our journey in Paris.  Koblenz and the Rhine Gorge had been a bit of an unplanned “extra”; our original intention had been to follow Eurovelo 3 westward from Bonn, so we took a local train back to there and set out again.

We got off the train and set out just before noon. The first part of the ride was through an area of agriculture and light industry, but soon we were in forest areas and we climbed steadily as we left the Rhine valley.

On  deserted dirt tracks through spruce woods at dusk, we came to a confusing junction. We pride ourselves on our navigation skills: input comes from paper maps  (remarkably good in Germany), GPS  function of a smart phone (mainly Chris’s department), signage (usually excellent in Germany but  signs had fallen over), place names when applicable (my area)  and the very basic compass on Chris’s handlebars. We can both attest that this $12 compass-cum-bell, which most bike shops probably view as a gimmick, is actually invaluable. It saved the day here; we took the correct road. We swooped downhill into the pretty village of Heimbach as it was getting quite dark, and found a B&B.

Wandering out later in search of a light supper, we found ourselves in a tavern where my minimal German skills meant we faced platters of pig’s trotters and enormous potato dumplings. We did our best to do justice to the final supper of this German portion of our ride, and waddled back to our B&B to sleep off the uncomfortable excess.


P.S.  We’ve edited our latest Flickr set for Germany.
(Patricia: please observe the lovely rustic mason bee condos.)


Canals to the Rhine

2013/09/12: Train to Osnabrück, 61 km to Ostbevern
(C hub overhauled – fingers crossed to Paris)
2013/09/13: 102 km to Haltern am See, camping
2013/09/14: 82 km to Orsoy, bus and taxi to retrieve smartphone.
2013/09/15: 71 km to Uedesheim
2013/09/16: 87 km to Bonn Youth Hostel
2013/09/17: 77 km to Koblenz

Having looked at maps with Carsten, we decided to kick start by train from Hamburg so as to have a more relaxed schedule for the remainder of the ride. We took a train to Bremen and another to Osnabrück, then pedalled west towards the Rhine.

We passed through forest and over farmland, with fields of ripening maize, feathery asparagus fronds, sugar beets, and even covered rows of late strawberries. There were also a lot of very fine horses in their paddocks, and much horse-related infrastructure such as cross-country jump courses, dressage rings, covered arenas and well-appointed stables.

Some of our cycling took us along canal paths. We followed the Dortmund-Ems Kanal and later the Wessel-Datteln Kanal, which are plied by working barges carrying coal, sand, and other bulk goods to and from the Rhine. We stopped to watch boats move through locks.

Reaching the Rhine, we crossed it in poor weather at Wesel and soon dove into a riverside hotel for apple cake and hot chocolate. It was here that Chris carefully placed the smartphone on the windowsill so the GPS could find a satellite or two. He realized he’s done this only as we checked into a tiny hotel in Orsoy that evening.

After discovering our loss, we ate a quick schnitzel in the pub where a group of about fifteen grey-haired men sang enthusiastically and put their arms around each other’s shoulders. One fellow explained to me that they’d all known each other for forty years, but that’s as far as common language would take us for a perspective on the nature of the group and the singing. There was lots of beer being consumed. It didn’t seem like a religious group, though one song was to the tune of Amazing Grace. When I joined in (in English) I was handed a word sheet in German. I have yet to translate this, and it could be something completely different that simply shares the melody. It is probably another beer drinking song.

We dashed off after the schnitzel to catch the first of what was to be two buses. We found the second bus didn’t run on weekends, so we got a taxi to help us retrieve the phone near Wesel and take us back to Orsoy. It was an adventure we’ll try not to repeat.

The next two days saw us doing quite a bit of urban riding through Dusseldorf, Köln (Cologne) and Bonn. The route is along the riverfront on a cycle path and provides views of the working river, and of city centres with cathedrals and old churches. We made use of the ample opportunities for coffee stops.

Looking back at Cologne

The cycling route is used by a wide range range of cycling types, but only a minority have four panniers and a relatively long-distance look. We’ve been asked if we are “aus Niederländen?” several times. Clearly many bike travellers here are Dutch. The cheerful German travellers’ greeting that gives me a bit of an immature giggle is “Gute fahrt!”

We’ve arrived at Koblenz, which is where the Unesco World Heritage portion of the Rhine starts. After six days of riding, the old bodies need rest. We may view the next portion of the river from a boat, before proceeding westward to Belgium.

The scallop shell reminds us we are on one of the many pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela.


P.S. By Chris

Mothballed nuclear power plant.
I wonder if this explains why we see so many boats hauling coal.

P.P.S. We’ve organized our sets on Flickr for Oslo and Denmark.

Hamburg Again

2013/09/10-11: Resting, bike maintenance
Since Frederikshaven, we’d ridden 720 km in eight days, much on upaved surfaces, with no rest days. It was easy to sleep till mid-morning the next day. After rising slowly, we made our way downtown to meet Carsten for lunch, then on to the shop called Dr. Gotze which specializes in maps and travel guides. There we sorted out navigation for the next stretch.

Carsten cleaning bikes while Chris supervises

We walked back to Carsten’s, buying groceries for an at-home meal along the way. I dealt with roast chicken while Chris and (mostly) Carsten did the first round of bike cleaning. Carsten leapt to the task of bike maintenance with his complete array of tools and his customary teutonic efficency. The next morning, Chris and I finished cleaning and lubing chains, and installed new brake pads.

We rode downtown in the afternoon to meet Carsten, and to document the ancient and now rare elevator in his Finanzbehörde building. I have a vague memory of having seen something like this as a child. ( It was in a parking garage, and for use only by employees.) Apparently a special by-law dispensation was obtained so as to continue using this antique elevator known as a paternoster.

Urban bike tour, stops in Botanical Garden

A city bike tour led by Carsten followed, and the evening ended with an excellent Thai dinner.


Nord-Ostsee-Kanal and Elbe River to Hamburg

2013/09/07: 85 km to Fockbek
The rain seemed to be easing as we rode into the centre of town to buy a cycling route map. It is so pleasing to walk into a book shop here in Germany and be faced with an entire rack of maps specifically for touring cyclists.

As we left Flensburg, new map in hand, rain drummed heavily and thundered growled. I suggested we wait out the worst of the weather at a convenient gas station which also sold coffee, but Chris was set on keeping moving — so set, in fact, that I couldn’t be bothered to argue. We’d moved less than a hundred metres when the rain became even more intense and we cowered in the lee of a tree. Seconds after we’d taken cover, there was a loud crack – a jagged bolt of lightning struck ground about 15 metres away from us. It hit the automatic barrier of a parking lot, causing it to short out and flip open. This was the closest either of us has been to being struck by lightning.

“You were right” said Chris. “We would have been better off staying at the gas station.”

We continued south on what was still called the Oxen Route, now known as Ochsenweg, and followed sandy trails we shared with riders out for a gallop through spruce forest. In Fockbek we found a pleasant hotel and fell into bed after eating bowls of pasta.

2013/09/08: 96 km to Glückstadt
We’d had quite a bit of Hærsvejen/Ochsenweg since Frederikshavn, and had decided on an alternative final approach to Hamburg which would give us a straight and simple ride as well as a change of scenery. We made our way to the canal that provides a shipping short-cut across northern Germany from Brunsbuttel on the North Sea to Kiel in the Baltic. Called the Kaiser Wilhelm Kanal when it was first built, and later known as the Kiel Kanal, it is now the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal.

There are only a few bridges over it, but lots of small free ferries. We took the latter five times as we made our way to the huge locks that connect it to the Elbe at Brunsbuttel. All shipping traffic seemed to go in one direction; the size of the vessels is such that two cannot safely pass, and there are signal towers along the bank that indicate traffic direction. We assume these change periodically, possibly in time with tides.

One advantage of cycling 80 km every day
is you can eat as much as you like.

After watching huge lock gates open and close in Brunsbuttel, we made our way along the Elbe to Glückstadt, parked ourselves at the hostel, and dove into town for pizza.

2013/09/09: 66 km to Hamburg
We waited till mid-morning at the hostel and eyed the horizontal rain. It was wet and dirty ride along the river dyke path, but at least we had a following wind. We were greeted with a view of the back ends of sheep that like to position themselves bums-to-the-wind.

I mention “dirty” ride. The bike path is smooth asphalt, but it traverses sheep pastures on the grassy levee by way of a series of gates and cattle (sheep) guards. The smooth asphalt is heavily littered with sheep droppings, and these have been softened by the rain into a viscous brown paste that is thrown upward as we ride through it, coating everything it lands on. Lovely stuff.

Many of the cafés are closed on Mondays, but we continued past floodgates and over swing bridges, finding somewhere open for knockwurst mit pommes before entering Hamburg past its fish wholesalers’ warehouses.

We celebrated our arrival with coffee and tiramisu, having closed a 6,400 km loop since leaving here in May. After uncrossing various crossed wires we connected with Carsten, who gave our panniers a brushing off before we brought them into his apartment. We placed them carefully in the bathtub where, after removing contents, they were thoroughly hosed down.


Thoughts on leaving ¨Eastern Europe¨

Passing through the rural areas of the old Warsaw Pact countries we saw many derelict collective buildings and were constantly reminded of the depopulation of the countryside since 1989. It was a strong reminder of the inefficiency of the collective system. Fewer people produce more food today, and the living standard of the population is very much higher.

Derelict collective farm buildings

In the cities, we went to exhibits on the Soviet occupation. The most striking museum exhibit for me, just showed: a toilet, a public phone booth, and a food store …. all from the Soviet era. Striking for me because I had seen exactly the same things in Russia itself (but not in a museum). The command economy, political repression, and the collective structures made for a miserable life for those who lived under Stalin and subsequent Soviet leaders.

As is often the case in our travels, I am reminded how lucky I was to be born in ¨The West¨. This time, however, I came to realise that I owe a huge debt to those who supplied England with food during the early years of WWII, especially the merchant seamen who risked their lives in the North Atlantic. Without them, and the food and armaments they delivered,  I suspect Stalin would have ended up controlling all of Europe. My life would have been very different.