In October 2018 I cycle from Dresden (D) to Roermond (NL). The road leads through the Ore Mountain Range (Erzgebirge), Sauerland and Thüringerwald, along the Elbe and the Rur, and through picturesque town, forests in autumn shades and misty river valleys. In nine days, I ride some 1,000 kilometers and climb almost 10,000 meters.
Day 1: Dresden > Geising (121 km)
From Amsterdam I take the Flixbus to Dresden. Except for the delay at the border –the Polizei picks a junkie with drugs out of the bus– I’m really satisfied with this nightly travel option. After arriving in Dresden I hardly take the time to marvel at the renovated baroque buildings in the tidy city center. I have no time to waste – I’m here to cycle! I have imposed a tight schedule on myself – quite challenging, it turns out later, because of the early sunset in October so eastern in our time zone.
The first 50 kilometers I cycle southeast with the Elbe on my left. On the other side of the river I regularly see little palaces between the abundant greenery. After Pirna there is a large S curve in the river, with the Bastei rising high above the Elbe, and in the distance the hills of ‘Saxon Switzerland’ (Sächsische Schweiz). From Bad Schandau I beat the tram (the Kirnitzschtalbahn) in the climb and next ride an –in the hurry– shortened unpaved track through the National Park, where the trees prevent a view of the famous rock formations. Schade.
It is already halfway the afternoon, but I still have more than 50 kilometers and 1,400 climbing meters ahead of me. Oops… Between Postelwitz and Krippen I use the ferry to cross the Elbe and cycle southwest for a long time. Next follows a pretty hilly stage, on both asphalt roads and forest paths. It’s already at dusk when I reach the ‘open’ landscapes with the most beautiful views of the autumnal forests. Under the waxing moon I see groups of deer grazing. It feels quite special to be toiling here all by myself.
After riding in the dark for 1.5 hour, and still ten kilometers to go, I decide to call it a day at a simple hotel in Geising. While enjoying Reichenbrander beer I chat for some time with manager Jens. He proudly tells me that this small village with only 1,200 inhabitants has achieved a lot –good medical facilities and various sports facilities (ice rink, ski lifts, snow cannon) – thanks to their entrepreneurial and community spirit. The local curling team had even almost qualified for the Olympic Winter Games.
Day 2: Geising > Bozi Dar (106 km)
I say goodbye to Jens and climb from the gemütliche Geising to the touristic Altenberg, and from there on through the forest. At Neuhemsdorf the landscape opens up again allowing me to have a wide view to the north. Here I turn left. I follow a fine bike path along a brook. To my right there is only forest, while on the Czech side the landscape is very open. This is really a nice area to cycle!
At Teichhaus I turn left, and take a bike path to Eine Herberge im Bos. Next I cycle up a hill with again a wide view, followed by a whole stretch through the forest with beautiful autumn colors and every few kilometers piles of logs along the road. In Neuhausen there is a wooden toy factory and ditto museum. From Grünthal I climb steadily along a babbling brook for a while. This part is completely in the forest, so there is not much to see.
I have been cycling in the Erzgebirge all day: the 150 kilometers’ long mountain range on the border between Saxony and Bohemia, which owes its name to the large ore deposits that have been mined here for a long time. I see a lot of manufacturing industry, museums of crafts and old railway lines. In Steinbach I turn left to the south and ride along a stream with a genuine steam train on the other side. In Schmalzgrube I take a gravel road to the Czech Republic. A little further on I cycle to Vodní Nádrž Přísečnice (the Preßniz Dam).
The road along the lake is wide and boring. Just before Měděnec the landscape opens up again. From here I can see far into Czechia, despite the smog-filled air. Next I have to ride many more kilometers on wide roads with moderate slopes, mostly in the forests; it is not until the ski resort of Klínovec that I can see far away again. It is almost dark when I arrive in Bozi Dar, where I find a hotel room. Also on day 2 I haven’t made it to the planned camp site. Verdammt noch mal!
Day 3: Bozi Dar > Hof (103 km)
From Bozi Dar I cycle the first dozens of kilometers through pine woods (boring!) and meadows (great!). On the straw-yellow colored plateau near Prebuz I really feel abroad: there are hardly any people and houses are few. Near Club Nancy, the place where I actually wanted to camp yesterday, it is gorgeous. The road winds down through the beautiful forest along a stream. Everywhere leaves are whirling in the air, and in some places the road is literally littered with them. Autumn in full glory!
In the Czech towns I pass through I see quite some derelict and closed factories, shops and other buildings. What a contrast with the neat German places on the other side of the border. I also cycle through Luby, since the second half of the 17th century a center of violin making, which was lost with the expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War. And in Kraslice I pass a shop with Pat & Mat on its facade: would these two clumsy handymen be responsible for the poor condition of the buildings here?
From an old, dilapidated textile factory in Plesna a beautiful cycle route –often narrow and unpaved– starts, alternating between the Czech Republic and Germany. The part from Worla is also beautiful. Here I would like to return some time. South of Hof (Bayern) Just before sunset I cycle through a city park and cross the Untreusee via funny, covered wooden bridges. For the third day in a row I have not made it to the campground again. Luckily I do find an affordable hotel in Hof and have a Wiener Schnitzel for dinner.
Day 4: Hof > Meyersgrund (119 km)
Hof has a nice city center, especially the Neustad near the Sächsische Saale. I cross this river a few times. I then continue on an unpaved bike path under the A72 viaduct to Saalenstein. From here it is quite a climb onto the A9. And directly after the Authobahn I descent 200 meters. Well, this is a good warming-up for this demanding day full of climbing.
In Blankenstein the ascent to the Thüringerwald begins. The road rises very gradually between the meadows. Once on top of the ridge it goes up and down over asphalt and gravel roads for the rest of the afternoon. To be honest, I had expected this area to be far more beautiful. The villages, with dark-gray tiles on the facades of their houses, seem nice at first sight, but on closer inspection they turn out to be a touristic Kurort, a factory town or just a boring place. Beautiful views are scarce. I think the Rennsteig is heavily overrated.
On a bicycle path I have a chat with an older man who, thanks to pedal assistance, is able to climb lot –just like when he was younger. Once again I race against the clock to reach the destination in daylight. But to no avail. The last hour I ride in the dusk on a gravel road, overlook a junction, cycle the wrong way, and take a small path in the dark to the valley where camp site Meyersgrund is located. The good news is that I can finally use my tent and cooking stuff, so I haven’t dragged them along in vain.
Day 5: Meyersgrund > Probsteilzella (104 km)
From the campground I climb over a nice gravel road through the forest to the ridge (900 m). After an expensive cup of coffee in a kiosk with a nice panoramic view I continue on an asphalt road. I stay at this higher altitude for a while now. In Oberhof I arrive in a dreadful place. The place is full of bored visitors strolling back and forth between the parking and indoor ski hall. I also see people riding e-MTBs for the first time this holiday.
Here I go again a bit further over Rennsteig. For pine tree fans this path might be pure enjoyment, but due to the lack of nice views I find it boring. After a long descent I reappear from the forest. From Floh I ride a short bit on an old railway stretch. After having gained a few hundred meters in altitude I arrive at the Elfriedenquelle. Via a gravel road I descend to a beautiful valley with the babbling Laucha in it. I follow this stream via Tabarz to Langenheim, a nice village on both sides of the Laucha.
Down in the mildly rolling landscape I cross the Autobahn (A4) three times in a row. Due to my tight schedule I have to skip the historically interesting Eisenach –birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach and hometown of Maarten Luther. My route leads through many small villages on sometimes bad, unpaved country roads to the meandering Werra River. The last half hour I cycle at dusk with the lights on. At 7 pm I reach the planned finish location: camping Probsteizella. Wieder geschafft!
Day 6: Probsteilzella > Affoldern (121 km)
When I come out of the tent, all I see is fog. The first couple of kilometers take me along the Werra, but I don’t see anything of it. And also because of the cold, I really long for the sun. I ride through the lovely village of Falken, where I buy myself high-calorie sandwiches in a small bakery. After this I leave the Werra and turn left. At Schnelmannshausen is a beautiful old church between the half-timbered houses. A little further in the valley the sun finally breaks through; this results in nice pictures especially with all the patches of fog floating in the valley.
I follow a narrow road to Ifta. From here I cycle on nice roads with little traffic westwards. This part of Hesse is quite picturesque with all those cute villages with half-timbered houses. I especially like Netra: it has a prominent townhouse from 1580, an old church and a large manorial estate. At Wichmanshausen I ride between the pillars at the construction site for a new (motor)way. After Hoheneiche I turn left into another valley to the west.
At Burghofen I don’t pay attention to the map, and ride via a steep tractor path 100 meters in vain to a ridge with hunter’s stands. It does result in a nice view and some variation. After another climb I descend to Spangenberg where I eat sandwiches and coffee on a terrace in front of the supermarket. After this I cross through a wider valley. The busy road to get to the other side of the A7 is annoying, but immediately after that the quiet roads return.
Recommended by Google Maps I end up on a dead end path in the woods after Hesserode. After a few hundred meters walking between branches and through the mud, I arrive at an enormous excavation. Hmm… Luckily the supply road down is not closed, and I can continue. It’s still not completely safe here by the way: on a stretch of motorway where I think cycling is allowed, a a driver from the opposite direction decides to pass a car with at more than 100 km/h and almost hits me. I have a baroque angel from Dresden on my shoulder…
Time is running out again. I ride as fast as I can via the Wabern sugar cane factory to Fritzlar. Fritzlar is a very old, strategically located town, where Bonifatius founded in 723 the predecessor of the current Saint Peter Church. Because of the imminent darkness I actually want to stop, but the hotels here are way too expensive for me. So I carry on: first on a footpath along the Mühlengraben, and then on a very pleasant bike route along the Eder. At 7.30 pm I reach the campsite in Affoldern.
Day 7: Affoldern > Schmallenberg (88 km)
With a soaking wet tent on the back of my bike I head for the Edertalsperre. This dam, built in the 1908-1914 period, was destroyed by the British Air Force in the night of 16 to 17 May, 1943. The resulting flood ravaged the valley. This is hard to imagine at this very moment. As a result of prolonged drought the ‘lake’ loses two billion liters of water annually. I hardly see any water, and boats and landing stages are lying on the ground.
The partially unpaved road along the ‘reservoir’ goes up and down. After the Edersee I ascend a few hundred meters through a forest to Buchenberg and Fürstenberg, I descend on a jeep track through the forest to Heimbach, and from the valley back up to Rhadern. And there back down again… After that follow about ten kilometers through a gently sloping landscape with villages that lack the charm of East Hesse. The monotony is lurking, and so… saddle soreness alarm!
From Medelon I climb gradually over a partly unpaved cycle path through a quiet valley to Winterberg. This ski resort is downright hideous. And why are all these tourists doing here during autumn? Yet, the surroundings of Winterberg are quite beautiful. The descent is on a largely unpaved cycle path through the woods and then parallel to the main road to Schmallenberg. There I arrive at 6.15 pm at a nice hotel with a nice café/restaurant. Tomorrow to Cologne!
Day 8: Schmallenberg > Köln (131 km)
On the menu is the longest stage of the holiday. First I ride tens of kilometers through several valleys over or parallel to major roads. There is a lot of ribbon development and remains of old industry here, and constantly I hear the sound of cars. Cycling in the villages and cities is a disaster. The rich and innovative Germany really lags behind when it comes to smart traffic control technology, and the designation of cycle paths is often confusing. The fact that Germans park their cars on the cycling lanes adds to the unsafety.
In Olpe I eat and drink something in a Konditorei, and continue my way west. At Hützemert I dive into the 724 meters’ long, old railway tunnel. Also hereafter I ride whole stretches on old railway tracks, which makes cycling through these busy valleys a lot more pleasant. In Overath I turn right and have to go up very steeply to Heiligenhaus and immediately descend. At Untereschbach the same story: steep up and through the forest Königsforst Wildniswald back down. But at least I can cycle on quieter roads for a while.
Coming out of the forest I cycle under the A4 motorway, turn left and go straight on to the center of Köln (Cologne). I maintain a high speed, because I want to be at the railway bridge before sunset to take a picture of the cathedral, and barely manage to do so. I find a good and affordable room in the Maternushaus. I leave my bike in the underground parking, near a Parkplatz nur für Frauen. I buy myself a hamburger menu at the Mac.
Day 9: Köln > Roermond (107 km
From Köln I cycle about 20 kilometers in an almost straight line over the Aachner Strasse to the west. A little further on I arrive at Hambach: RWE’s largest lignite (brown coal) mine, where also Europe’s deepest location on the ground is situated. To realize this mine some villages had to disappear and a large forest was cut down. And the destruction of the forest is still going on. Every year, no less than 40 million tons of lignite are mined thanks to the world’s largest excavation wheel dredgers (225 m meters long and 96 meters high).
The mine has also swallowed part of the most northerly situated Roman road on the European mainland. That road ran all the way from Köln to Boulogne-sur-Mer in Northwest France. From Jülich, a stop on the Roman road, I cycle further along or close to the Rur River (not to be confused with the Ruhr River), which flows into the Meuse at Roermond. It strikes me that autumn hasn’t yet arrived here – how different it was in the higher eastern parts of Germany. In Roermond I take the train back home.
– Day 1: Dresden > Geising (121 km; 1,790 meters elevation gain)
– Day 2: Geising > Bozi Dar (106 km; 1,760 m)
– Day 3: Bozi Dar > Hof (103 km; 1,510 m)
– Day 4: Hof > Meyersgrund (119 km; 1,840 m)
– Day 5: Meyersgrund > Probsteilzella (104 km; 1,290 m)
– Day 6: Probsteilzella > Affoldern (121 km; 1,100 m)
– Day 7: Affoldern > Schmallenberg (88 km; 1,250 m)
– Day 8: Schmallenberg > Köln (131 km; 880 m)
– Day 9: Köln > Roermond (107 km; 320 m)