It is hard to put into words my experience in Germany. It felt like we were in the country for so long (just over 3 weeks)! It defined this trip as ‘not a holiday’ for me because you would never spend this much time getting to know a country and visiting as many small, sometimes not so likeable, towns as we did unless you were travelling in the way we are. For the first time in our trip we had some bad weather and we had that feeling of being a bit stuck. At the same time never in my life do I feel like I have I spent enough time travelling in a country to feel familiar and in many ways not like a tourist.
I wanted to make sure I spent time on this post because although in all honesty Germany has never been a country I have been desperate to travel through, I am sure that I will look back at our time in Germany after this trip and remember it as one of the most endearing, honest and beautiful countries we ever visited.
We entered Germany on the Eurovelo 5 route from Luxembourg at Remich and travelled to Merzig on the northwestern side. The Eurovelo 5 only goes through Germany for 80 kilometres before re-entering France. It is not the most beautiful of riding, but also not very difficult. Some acquaintances in Luxembourg told us to visit Trier (the oldest town in Germany) if we had the chance and we found a quick train directly from Merzig to get there. This seemed like a good option for a rest day.
Merzig, as a town, definitely wasn’t as beautiful and quaint as what we had become accustomed to in France and Belgium, but it was refreshingly friendly and inexpensive. After checking into our room we went to enjoy a beer in the sun and were surprised when our hotel owner showed up because he had wanted to give us the wifi code and buy us a drink. This was the first unwarranted bit of generosity we had experienced on the trip. He then preceded to introduce us to his friend, Halil, another local business man. We had a long conversation with Halil, who was Turkish, about what to expect, if and when, we would ever arrive in Istanbul. Then, again in an unmitigated kind gesture, he asked us to come and watch football, have drinks and dinner in his restaurant, all on him. We said we would join him the next evening as we were getting up early for Trier.
Trier was beautiful, but smaller than I expected. There are medieval and Roman ruins but what was probably the most impressive and exciting part for me was the access you had to the ruins. We visited the Amphitheatre and Coliseum and unlike ruins that I have visited in the past you had full access to the underground levels. This really changed the experience for me and made the ruins much more exciting. We made it back to Merzig that evening to meet with Halil who did indeed treat us to drinks and dinner in his beautiful bar/restaurant.
Our entry back into Germany from France was stressful from a planning perspective. One of our Warm Showers hosts in Luxembourg had told us we should visit the city of Freiburg, which is just before entry into the Black Forest, and whilst we were there stay with his relatives. We were both really intrigued with the idea of cycling through the Black Forest but riding over the mountain range seemed daunting. We were slowly increasing our kilometres per day at this point but we hadn’t even attempted this kind of climb yet. We would need to get over the Black Forest mountains to reach the Danube river and pick up the Eurovelo 6 which would make up the majority of the rest of our journey. The other option was to continue on the Eurovelo 5 to Basel and pick up the Eurovelo 6 from there, which just didn’t seem as appealing.
After much consideration we decided we were going to go with our gut and visit Freiburg and cross the Black Forest to the Danube. We contacted our Warm Showers friend who gave us his family’s contact. Unaware of what Freiburg had to offer, we rolled in with unexpected excitement and appreciation and immediately knew we wanted to spend more time in this city.
Gunta and Gerdy (the family of our Warm Showers friend) welcomed us with open arms, homemade cake, coffee and a lovely room to stay in. Although neither of the retired couple spoke English, and we don’t speak German, they spent hours trying to communicate with us and welcome us into their home. They made us dinner after we came back from exploring the city and in the morning put out an unbelievable breakfast spread for us. I don’t know that I have ever experienced generosity like this from total strangers before. Gerta and Gerdy made us feel at home with family, who weren’t family, and I think we really needed that feeling at that point in our journey.
We quickly fell in love with Freiburg. It is a beautiful city with small museums, cobblestone streets, cafes, bars and restaurants and obviously a reconstructed medieval old town. Pretty much everything you could want from a European city. Freiburg has a large university population and we enjoyed an evening in the student quarter with beers on the street and live music. Much like Amsterdam the city has been overtaken by bicycles, but in my opinion in a much more natural way. Everyone is on a bike and there are bike paths throughout the city, but there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between the bikes, cars and pedestrians of the city which makes it work really well.
Reluctantly we left Freiburg on our quest to get over the Black Forest mountains. My partner got a route from an acquaintance on Warm Showers that supposedly took us on quieter easy to manage roads over the mountains. I don’t think I had really conceptualized what it meant to climb pretty much straight up a 1200 meter mountain with a fully loaded bike in 26 degree Celsius heat. Luckily as we climbed, the forest surrounded us and the temperature became more comfortable. Stupidly we didn’t bring enough water that day, but the excess of fresh streams and my partner’s water purifier saved us. This day was my biggest physical challenge with much of the road being 15% gradient (which meant for me I was pushing the bike). Unfortunately in reality the physical challenges of bike touring can inhibit your experience of the place your visiting. The forest is beautiful with old trees, bubbling mini waterfalls, ferns and grasses and birds singing all around you. But for most of the time all I could think of was getting to the top. A few hours later that is exactly what we did! I would highly recommend going through the Black Forest if you are physically inclined. It felt like a mountain getaway and the small towns around the area were quaint and beautiful with a refreshing atmosphere.
After the Black Forest I noticed a real change in my physical ability, my legs were no longer achy on the bike in the mornings and I didn’t need a nap in the afternoons to recover. It was like all the sudden I passed over that physical hurdle that had been making the journey very difficult for me. I really did cross over a mountain physically and mentally in the Black Forest.
Following the Black Forest we were anxious to push through and finally join the Eurovelo 6 (by far the most popular and busiest Eurovelo route) and see the Danube, which we planned on following for another 4000 kilometres. We did this in the small town of Donaueschingen, following the then very small Danube river to Ulm. I think we expected to be on a beautiful paved river path as soon as we joined the Eurovelo 6, but unfortunately this wasn’t the case. Much of the route is beautiful, taking you through small country villages and letting you meander back and forth over the Danube, but much of the path in Germany is unpaved and difficult to manoeuvre. It is also hilly and our dreams of coming out of the Black Forest to a flat river path were dashed. When speaking to local Germans about the route they would often tell us, the area closest to them, was the most beautiful section of the Eurovelo 6, and although the Austrian bit is very famous, it is boring to ride and the German bit is much more interesting. We have now come to enjoy this local pride in ones area and take the advice given to us in this way with a pinch of salt.
For the next two weeks we went through Germany on this route stopping at various not so memorable towns. During this time we regularly heard the Cuckoos that are famous in the area, and truly do sound like their namesake. We tried what felt like hundreds of different types of beers, noticing that when in Germany they tell you that ‘this is the local beer’ it literally means it is probably made within 5 kilometers of where you are having it. We got to understand Germany’s new obsession with e-bikes and often were frustrated to be passed on the trail at a break neck speed by a couple who looked like they were octagenerians.
We found Germany to be modern, efficient and clean. Our train to Trier informed us with big flashing signs that it was going to be late which wound up meaning it was a whole 3 minutes late (I’m pretty sure that is incredibly on time in the UK). All the toilets were spottlessly clean, even in campsites. And to our surprise we even spent an evening in a hotel that allowed you to check in yourself via a computer at reception that had no humans watching it.
During our time in Germany the weather did turn and we experienced some days of non-stop downpours, which, excuse the pun, can dampen your experience on a cycle tour. We desperately hurdled towards one of our final stops and the 2nd largest city in Bavaria, Regensburg. Bavaria really does have it’s own culture, with the famous beer gardens everywhere you go, a slightly different dialect (closer to Austrian we would soon find out) and Dultz festivals which we would happen upon, just to name a few differences.
We rolled into Regensburg with the expectation that it would be a nice small town to have a rest day in and fortunately for us our Airbnb host offered us an extra night’s stay for free. He also informed us that Dultz was on whilst we were there. We had never heard of Dultz so we quickly looked into this intriguing festival. In Bavaria in May and in August there are Dultz festivals which is similar to what we know as Oktoberfest. There is live music, (often traditional) rides and beer tents with drink and food. The locals dress in traditional Bavarian dress and celebrate these festivals for around 3 weeks.
Needing a break from the recent weather, and small unexciting towns, we were really ready to experience Bavarian culture and enjoy ourselves off the bike. Little did we know how beautiful and enchanting Regensburg would be, nor did we know how wild the Dultz would get. Heading into a beer tent we instantly made friends with some locals and wound up drinking, singing and dancing on tables for the rest of the evening.
All in all I would say I was surprised by Germany and I also learned a lot from our time there. The riding on the Eurovelo 6 wasn’t always as beautiful as I expected it would be, but the riding through the Black Forest was more beautiful than expected. The villages and cities were more unique and individual than expected. But more than anything the people were welcoming, and kind, and open to new friendships. I would say the main lesson I learned from Germany, which I hope I will continue to learn throughout the trip, is that people really do make the place. I enjoyed every experience where I got to know the culture through the people, better than seeing the place only through the typical tourist perspective.