Day 10: Schwabhausen to Kipperquelle (Weimar), 67 km
A fascinating day’s ride, passing through one place of interest after another. Early on I realised I was in a village that claimed to be Bach’s stamping ground (although he was officially born in Eisenach, through which I had passed a day or two earlier). Of more interest was the village of Neudietendorf, established by the Moravian Brethren in the 1700s (my final destination was to be the spiritual home of the Moravians, where their refounder, Zinzendorf, did his thing). Not to be missed here was the prevalence of communist-era street names, still very much present today.
A gentler ride today, passing at the end through the intriguing town of Weimar and its celebration of the 100 years since the Russian Revolution. I stayed at the quiet Hotel Kipperquelle, devoted to all cyclists.
Day 9: Dankmarshausen to Schwabhausen (near Gotha), 84 km
This was a hard day’s ride, with much climbing, plenty of dirt tracks … and apples. Rain threatened all day, but stayed away. About half-way, I encountered what is now called the ‘Iron Curtain Trail’, which runs all the way from the top of Norway down to the Mediterranean. Some 6000 km in total, although I was touching on only a small part between West and East Germany, before the former colonised the latter. In these parts too you begin to encounter street names like Karl-Marx Strasse and Friedrich-Engels Strasse. And I passed through two significant towns: Erfurt was where the famous Erfurt Program was established by the powerful German-Democratic Party in 1891. Karl Kautsky’s commentary on the program formed the strategic basis for the Russian Revolution. And then there was Gotha, made famous by Marx’s late piece, ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’. I stayed in the Landgasthaus Schwabhausen, bright. airy and quiet.
Day 8: Oberaula to Dankmarshausen, 75 km
An early start today, with a relatively trouble-free ride. I passed into the fascinating province of Thuringia and so into the former DDR (East Germany). This is a much more interesting part of Europe. No wonder Thuringia has a long history of radical politics, since the parts through which I rode are old (and present) mining areas. And yes, the Germans even advertise beer gardens on bicycle routes. I stayed at the fabulous Hotel Waldschlösschen, arriving at 3pm.
Day 7: Cölbe to Oberaula, 111 km (plus one rest day) – 491 km so far
The day began well enough, but in Neustadt (Hesse) I encountered a dreaded sign: the D4 route ahead was not usable due to major roadworks. Instead, a number of detours were suggested. Without access to my online map (for the time being), I ended up taking the longest detour, swinging a long way south before turning northward again. Puzzling signs on the way did not help matters.
At the start of the day, I was mentally prepared for 80 km, but at the 86 km mark I found the route again – only to find that I had 25 km to go! It was getting late and I had run out of water. It may not have been raining today, but there was plenty of mud on the track from previous flooding and over-full dams. Fortunately, the last 25 km followed a rail trail (an old railway line converted to a bicycle path). Drawing on my last reserves, I raced the setting sun, finally arriving in the wonderful Hotel zum Stern at 8.30pm.
Next morning, after a late breakfast, I realised there was no way I was riding further for now. A rest day was in order – to relax, wash the clothes I had been wearing for the last week, clean and maintain the bicycle and get some early sleep.
Day 6: Lützel to Cölbe, 71 km
This was a great day’s ride, with some clouds and sun. It began with a country breakfast, of which I ate nearly everything to gain plenty of energy for the day ahead. On quiet roads I rode through deep forests and along streams. Most of the bike paths were paved and people were out enjoying the fine weather. The Brompton enjoyed the day too, wanting to move a good clip. We both arrived at 3pm. I had by now passed into the province of Hesse, staying at the Hotel Orthwein in Cölbe (close by Marburg), with a history of more than 300 years. I had begun to notice not only the seats provided nearly everywhere, but a fascination with sources, springs and origins (quelle) – a feature of German culture that runs deep, from rivers to literature.
Day 5: Niederhausen to Lützel, 25 km (plus 50 km by train and 5 km for a meal)
The first sunny day! But not long after beginning the ride, I came across a sign that warned of a lack of safe tracks and that the major roads were not recommended. I will show them, I thought, so I set off into the hills, sweatily hauling my bicycle into the forest. Even there was the same sign …. The Germans seem to have everything covered, or at least want to give the impression. So I took the train to Niederschelderhütte and rode into Siegen. There again, I faced a similar problem, so I opted to take the rail motor to Lützel, where I stayed at the small Pension Vogt – the only person there. But what to do about food? They did not serve an evening meal and the only place was out in the forest, more than 2 km away, I ended up walking about 5 km there and back for the sake of a meal.
Day 4: Bad Godesberg to Niederhausen, 79 km
I crossed from the province of North Rhine-Westphalia into the Rhineland-Palatinate today. It rained yet again, with swollen rivers and some flooding (ducks were the only ones who could use the bicycle path at some points). I rode along the Rhine for a little while and somewhat longer along the Sieg. But I am not so much a fan of the river routes, since even in August they tend to be full of people. Much better are the quiet mountainous routes, where I am often the only person on the track and the only person in the pension or gasthaus. Speaking of which, Landhaus im Kühlen Grunde was simply an amazing place. 27 euro for the night, a large room, sumptuous food downstairs. To find it on a quiet country road after a long, long day in the rain was pure delight.