Friday, July 30, 2010

From Riesling to Pike-Perch

New cycling routes tend to spring up in Germany rather like unwanted garden weeds, so after reading in our local paper about a route combining wine and fish eating we decided to hop on bikes and trains and investigate. The von Riesling zum Zander route links Bad Bergzabern (a well known wine centre on the far west of the Rhine Rift Valley) with Neupotz, a tiny village set in the old ox-bow lakes of the Rhine. Our train journey there was enlivened by many Sunday cyclists crowding the bike compartment, plus a young father and daughter (about 9) with bikes and a huge trailer. By squeezing and breathing in everyone managed to get in AND more importantly get out at the correct stops. The worst weeks of the heat wave (36°C) lay behind us and we detrained into a sunny but cool morning in Kapellen-Drusweiler, one of the wine-growing villages a few kilometres east of Bad Bergzaben. We were a bit early for a Schoppen (a small glass) of wine, though the vintners were setting out their stalls by 11 o’clock. Their half-timbered yards bedecked with geraniums and petunias were most inviting, prices too much lower than in downtown Mannheim. The Riesling-Zander route links a series of existing cycle routes and we had no difficulty following the white signs with a green bike symbol from village to village. We had downloaded a map from the internet link before leaving home. On reaching the little town of Winden, thoughts of a coffee and cake lured us into a shady courtyard. At the entrance a man wearing a protective apron was just removing the first freshly smoked trout from a large black oven, the fish dangling on wooden staves, skins glistening and golden. Cake was abandoned, a smoked trout brötchen (open sandwich) ordered instead with our coffee. Quite delicious. Later the fish farmer explained that he came from Hinterweidenthal close to Pirmasens further west. Another of our favourite bike routes runs from there to Wissembourg in Alsace, so we’ll remember to eat smoked trout on our next visit.
More cyclists were appearing so we continued on across a gradually changing landscape, up and down gentle slopes, through stands of mature trees, leaving the line of the Pfalzer hills behind to the west. Each village was delightful, a few cobbled streets, farms and churches dozing in the sun, half-timbered houses more than 300 years old with new modern dwellings dotted in between and on the outskirts. Steinweiler offered more vintners and a maize labyrinth whilst in Erlenbach we enjoyed a cool mineral water at a potter’s shop without too much pressure to buy a giant plant pot. From time to time there was a glimpse over the forests close to the Rhine to the northern Black Forest hills beyond, dark blue shading into black.
We cycled into the long village of Rheinzabern, where the tiny houses have their gable ends to the street and long gardens at the back. Here we were enticed into a wonderland leading from a narrow yard between two restored half-timbered cottages. A series of outdoor rooms, a la Chelsea Flower Show had been created with flowers and bushes whilst behind a planted screen a round table had been set for tea. Most impressive, since it is still unusual for people to open their private gardens to the public here in Germany, though it seems to be catching on in nearby Alsace. Across the road was another delight where a farming family had turned their stables into a collection of implements and carts, together with clothing and articles in daily use from the beginning of the last century. It does come as something of a shock to see things my Grandmother used to have, in a museum! Tempus Fugit, once again.
By this time, the effects of our fish sandwich in Winder had long since worn off so we were pleased to reach Neupotz and signs to the Otterbachhofladen (an enormous timber framework barn, set out with long tables, decorated with bundles of wheat and wild flowers). Normally there is a farm shop here. A Radler (literally a cyclist but meaning a beer/lemonade shandy) and a sizeable plateful of German potato salad, a substantial Bratwürst and a crisp bread bun each, soon restored us. Unfortunately neither of us had room to sample some interesting confections, looking like giant jam and cream scones, being tackled by several local senior citizens... perhaps next time? Observing preparations for speeches and music on a stage in the middle of the barn, plus various individuals dressed in local costume and the promise of the appearance of a Tobacco Queen and South Wine Road Princess we gathered our plates and glasses and left town.
We still had about 20 km to ride northwards along the main Rhine embankment cycleway to reach Germersheim. As we entered the water meadows, lagoons and stands of massive willows bordering the Rhine our tempo increased along smooth tarmac. These are service roads alongside the flood embankments, with occasional pumping stations or access to the river bank. For cyclists they are a great boon and in high summer give superb stretches of every shade of greenery. Shortly before Germersheim we reached the riverside, where people and dogs paddled in the shallows or snoozed on a bench. The town is lovely with vast fortifications, partly intact and built too late to be any use. We cycled past the old moat and towers to the station and our train back to Mannheim. Back home our speedos displayed distances of around 76 km, mostly on trails unknown to us before. Another great day out in Rheinland Pfalz.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Yet more hire bikes in Rhineland Palatinate

The heat recently (35°C) has put us off doing any serious cycling though we did have a day out on Sunday cycling the new Vom Riesling zum Zander route from the Deutsche Weinstraße just north of Bad Bergzabern across to the Rhine. There were wine fests, farmers offering local produce and restaurants with Riesling and Zander dishes along the route's 35km. Zander is freshwater fish known as pike-perch in English and has a firm white flesh. It tastes excellent.

We also discovered a local bike hire company called The company offers the full spectrum of bicycles apart from tandems: Road bikes, touring bikes, city bikes, trailers, MTBs and pedelec electrobikes at very reasonable prices. If you are thinking of going cycling starting in or around Speyer or Karlsruhe and don't wish to transport your bike to the Fatherland then check it out. The company has a free telephone number: 0800 22 88 440 (in Germany) or drop it a line at, Mühlweg 2, 76771 Hördt, Germany

Friday, July 16, 2010

The local bike shop

Like most of us I am all in favour of local bike shops (LBS), as are the national cycling clubs of Europe. When I write local I mean the kind of shop where the owner stands behind the counter, rather than the big sheds out on the bypass. Although all of these guys face serious competition from the Internet shops. I think we are slightly more logical than some of the national cycling clubs who profess to support their LBS, but offer a link to a major online shop on their websites.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Neustadt-Speyer Route

Last year we began our exploration of day excursions by bike in Rheinland Pfalz, the next province over on the west bank of the Rhine. We cycle into Mannheim (12km) then take a local railway usually to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. Our over 60 ticket, which costs around 1€ per day allows us and our bikes to travel at no extra cost after the morning rush hour. Often we take other connections from Neustadt a.d. Weinstrasse to reach further into the Pfalz but this time we cycled out to Speyer (about 35km). Neustadt is a vineyard town on gentle slopes at the edge of the fault line marking the Rhine Rift Valley. Though they often moan about prices and problems, caused by anything from hailstorms to droughts and EU bureaucracy, most vintners make a reasonable living and the small towns have attractive buildings suggesting prosperity for centuries. Despite the media gloom-makers, true to form Neustadt's downtown area was marked by several major building projects, necessitating the removal or destruction of bike route signs. Away from the station we headed off in the general direction of Speyer and soon found ourselves trapped in pleasant countryside on the wrong side of an expressway (see first picture). After the usual cursing we found a bridge over the expressway (there nearly always is one in Germany, if only for the local farmers) and after a little thrashing in the woods on very local trails we soon hit our required NW-SP cycleway. The surface was hard gravel and led us through mixed woods, beloved by a wide variety of birds according to display boards put up by the local bird fanciers. The birds themselves trilled and sang, light winds kept us cool as we exchanged woods for fields and moved gradually eastwards. Occasionally we had to cross proper roads but traffic was sparse. A wooden shelter came in handy for our picnic stop and we had just finished as a tractor appeared to turn rows of cut grass ready for baling. We continued along the southern margin of the extensive strip of woodland lying east-west between Speyer and Neustadt. Approaching Dudenhofen we passed by a major supplier of wood for stoves and then into the little town itself, quietly dozing in the lunch-break. The fields around Speyer grow potatoes, sweetcorn and sugar beet and the open view revealed the towers and spires of its cathedral and numerous churches. A short distance beside the expressway, then a sharp left turn brought us beneath the highway and into the little city perched on a slope above the Rhine. Speyer is delightful, lies on the pilgrim route to Santiago de la Compostela, has a lovely main street with all the restaurants, ice cream parlours and historic buildings anyone could wish for, but on this occasion we just headed for the station and the S-bahn back to Mannheim. The clouds were gathering for a storm.

Cycling is booming in Germany

We are neither of us keen shoppers. Maybe it's the Northern English folk memories of the Depression in the 1930s - before our time, but we knew plenty of people who had lived through this. It is difficult to say. However we go to our local shopping centre (mall), Rhein-Neckar-Zentrum most weeks to visit Aldi and Bauhaus, a DIY store. The Zentrum does attempt to draw visitors in by having special exhibitions from time to time. Yesterday we visited an exhibition of the tourist attractions of the city of Schwerin, capital of the federal province of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. One of the principle pillars of this campaign is cycling. The tourist information package for the city comes with a cycle touring map giving suggestions for four cycle tours between 30 and 75 kilometre long and details of a bus service that will carry the tourists' bikes when they do not feel like cycling on.
It would appear in the economic crisis more and more Germans are turning to cycling for holiday and leisure activities. The bicycle touring business is booming. In 2009 in Germany alone cycle tourists generated 22 million overnight stays and spent around 3.87 billion (thousand million) Euros (Deutschen Tourismusverband DTV). The ADFC (German Cycling Club) has noticed that cycle tourism is bucking a declining trend for holiday making in the popular cycling regions and on long distance cycle routes. As an example, hotels on the Ruhr Valley Cycle Route showed a growth in bookings of 13% in 2009 whereas hotel bookings declined in the rest of the Ruhr by 2.5% in the same period. Biking is popular for group, bus, and club excursions, as well as for business and club events. This interest is being matched by the willingness of the local authorities to invest in cycle ways and information. (The top photograph shows a group of tourists relaxing in the town square of Feuchtwangen during on of the celebrations to mark 60 years of the Romantic Road. The lower photograph shows a new information table on the Danube Valley Cycle Way. )
This trend has not gone unnoticed by the organisers of the 36th International Coach Tourism Federation Workshop in Cologne from 27th to 29th July 2010. Its major theme is Cycle Touring. Exhibitors include bus operators, regional tourist authorities and the ADFC.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Tal Total

We visited the car free day (Tal Total) on the roads on the left and right banks of the Rhine last Sunday between Rüdesheim and Koblenz. It was good fun especially after 15:00 when all the football fans had left to watch the game. For much of the day we were cycling on fairly empty roads with all sorts of exotic machinery. We are normally no great fans of these open days as you can walk or bike on the participants' heads.
We could have picnicked in the middle of the road. We took a train from Bingen to Worms and cycled home. We were told in Mainz on the HBf over the loudspeakers that the German team had won, but even so where somewhat surprised in Worms to find ourselves mixed up with a parade of honking cars and idiots who remonstrated with us for not flying a German flag. However once out the town centre life quietened down so we could return home on quiet roads and paths through the forest to Viernheim.

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