Friday, May 27, 2011

The hire bike problem

We are in the middle of our once a decade chuck out of pamphlets and paper. The danger is that one stops to read the stuff that is being thrown out and then you are doomed. However I found a piece of literature today that it struck could be an answer to the hire problem. BikePoint in Frankfurt, a bike workshop offering employment for the young longterm unemployed sells general reconditioned bikes for between 30€ and 200€. If you are going to do a longish tour - the Danube for example, you could set off from Frankfurt, cycle to Donaueschingen on to the Black Sea and leave the bike there. Then come back without worrying about finding a train to bring you and your steed back.The advantage over a hire bike is that you don't have to return to Mainhattan to return the bike.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back on the bikes again

This is a article written by Judith earlier in the year that had got mislaid.
Our increasingly oppressive summer temperatures have been followed by cold, snowy winters with roads and pavements left as icy skid pans for weeks at a time. Finally spring seems well on the way and we’ve dusted off most of our bikes and pumped up the tyres. Our trusty Bromptons get used almost everyday as soon as the ice melts, for shopping trips or local errands, but those for longer trips take a winter break. Then we start to re-explore our local woods and trails across the fields, gradually extending our range ready for touring. Even to ourselves we do not usually admit this is to check whether we can still ride or whether our ageing joints have finally seized up, more proposing a trip to buy an English paper or to collect compost by trailer. A longer tour had to be postponed when the ‘workmen’ at last decided that temperatures were warm enough to renovate and seal the join between house and terrace - a long and tiresome saga.
That completed, we were free to think about continuing our journey along the Rhine, upstream from where we abandoned it after being washed out in autumn deluges. We decided to continue our training programme with the Worms to Ludwigshafen section, which we could do from home.
In the Viernheim woods only the merest suspicion of spring greens could be glimpsed and the Spargel (asparagus) fields of Lampertheim to the northwest were fully shrouded in black plastic. There were no headscarfed figures bent double, wielding their sharp knives to liberate the ‘queen of vegetables’ and we had the quiet roads almost to ourselves. The sun was shining and the hills either side the Rhine Rift Valley clearly outlined against a deepening blue sky. Worms, with its bridge tower and the prongs of its cathedral drew nearer to the northwest. We negotiated the bends and ramps of the cycle/footway over the new road bridge and paused to check the progress on rebuilding the old bridge with the massive and photogenic bridge tower. Once customs were levied here on goods crossing the Rhine from one statelet to another. Winter high water probably slowed work but there were men dangling over the water, scaffolding and machines buzzing on the embankment.
Mothers with young families and the usual gaggle of pensioners were checking on the landing stage and the restaurants on the Rheinland-Pfalz shore, the left bank of the river.
We steered our 20 inch Dahon folders under the bridge and south, through a cluster of old pumping station and market buildings, now evidently occupied by some metal-working activity. Soon we were bowling along the high water embankment, past fields and old orchards with black thorn and cherry trees dwarfed by ancient willows and alders along the river. Around a corner suddenly we came across a large industrial complex, complete with delivery trucks, seemingly producing car body parts. We were quickly back into a rural landscape, sometimes close to the Rhine, sometimes separated by a couple of fields and occasionally the cycle way swung us alongside the B9, a north/south major highway. It was noisy for a few minutes and then our trusty Rhine cycleway golden man sign pointed us back riverwards.
On the Rhine itself, the upturn in industrial output is clearly noticeable in more shipping, carrying sand and gravel, oil, LPG gas, also Mercedes truck units and John Deere agricultural vehicles. The Ro-Ro container port south of Mannheim also probably loaded some of the container barges we saw.
After crossing under the Autobahn bridge we found a bench to eat our sandwiches while watching volunteers from the Pfalzerwald walking club tidy up their clubhouse for the spring. They seemed to have a major mole infestation in the picnic area. There is a walkway/cycleway in the middle of the Autobahn bridge, but it is a breathless climb up several flights of steps inside the bridge abutments. The ride across the bridge is not for the faint-hearted, though there are big concrete slabs separating you from the traffic.
However we wended our way south into Ludwigshafen and found the new Rhein Gallerie shopping area which has opened up a stretch of the Rhine bank formerly occupied by warehouses allowing good views of Mannheim. There is a Migros, the Swiss supermarket, there, but we decided to press on and cross the Rhine into Mannheim to cycle back to Viernheim on familiar trails.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Into the green jungle

In the depths of winter, our town environmental officer asked me to plan a ‘Nature Tour’ around the town. I agreed, May or June 2011 seeming very far away and under the impression the tour was for a group of interested but ‘ordinary’ citizens. Suddenly the time is near and the group has evolved into local bigwigs, who may know far more than me. Fortunately we met up by bicycle with some real experts last week and set off on little used trails along the town boundary. Viernheim occupies a relatively tiny area, bounded on three sides by another state and I wanted to stay in Hesse on the tour. Almost immediately we were in a quiet world of mixed woodland running below the crest of Viernheim’s relict sand dunes (dating from the last ice age). A bird trilled off to our right and Dr. D, our guide, identified it as a nightingale, the first I had knowingly heard. We progressed along the edge of a newish golf course, laid out against considerable local opposition but whose margins now provided habitats for various relatively rare plants and orchids with attendant insects including several butterflies. Deeper into the woodland which includes Scots pine and many species like sweet chestnuts and North American wild cherries that have been sown by birds rather than the foresters, we were in a shady cool jungle. Another bird call was identified as a wryneck, a small woodpecker-like bird that is shy and rarely seen. I looked it up later in a bird book and it is a tawny brown with a few stripey bits, certainly not easy to spot flitting about in woodland. We reached the old boundary road, a sand and gravel route along the crest of the old dunes, still in Hesse but with Baden Württemberg on our left. In a Federal country, such as Germany, this is important since many environmental and educational activities may vary and be differently funded in each state.
After a short distance one of our companions became very agitated as we passed recent and ongoing forestry activities. Although certain parts of the old sand dune system are officially protected areas and the whole region is part of an extensive water gathering ground, forests have to pay their way and be managed. Certainly the timber extraction, ploughing and subsequent replanting with deciduous trees has apparently damaged the landscape irreparably, (Photo bottom) but as long as the young trees can survive the current 8-week drought, I expect all will be well in about 5 years. Our Nature Friends have a duty to check excess exploitation and to aid landscape and species protection, but I think this is something I would want to play down on a tour with local politicians.
We continued, leaving the sandy trails behind and enjoyed the vast number of greens and browns of the woods, the cries and occasional glimpses of buzzards reminding us that nature, left to itself is a battleground for survival. Our route turned right, over a bridge across the Autobahn, another interruption, another boundary for sure, but also the edges make good hunting grounds for kestrels and living spaces for mice and other small species that are their food. Partly because the forest must be managed, there are bridges and wide access to the woods intersected by major rail and road links. The woods ended suddenly at a wide blaze. Along the centre march electricity pylons, then a major gas pipeline and then a dead straight gravel road before the trees begin again on the northern side. The road replaced the rail link to Lampertheim and was for many years used for tank driving between various US bases nearby. It is known as the Panzerstrasse (tank road, photo middle. Warning notices are still located at the ends and many military vehicles use the road to access shooting ranges nearby. The foresters say that there is disturbance to wildlife, particularly from noise and dust but relations between the civil and military authorities are generally good. Along this road and many of the gravel trails are rectangular, clay lined hollows every hundred metres or so. When it rains they fill with water for wild pig, deer and other creatures. That day we met a forester underway with a tank full of water, for in the forest on our left, unseen to us were ‘nests’ of young pigs, watched over by their mothers. They use the hollows gouged out by the US tanks now reclaimed by grass and bushes as good spots to shelter on hot days. When we redid the route the following day some of the water dips were lined with tiny and big hoof prints. A lack of predators and plenty of food has led to a wild pig population explosion, here and throughout Germany.
We followed the tank road back towards town and then turned off through the allotments, a riot of rose blossom and suspiciously green grass. The neat little houses are very unlike the tumbledown, makeshift sheds most Brits equate with allotments. Nearby is a small lake, complete with wild fowl, permanent inhabitants or just passing through. Beyond the allotments we sped off on a rough track, over tree roots and mixed woodland to the base of a ‘hill‘ adjacent to our town compost and domestic waste recycling depot. The hill is man made, the sealed and planted remains of the waste landfill site (Photo top). There are no convenient holes in the ground here in the Rhine Valley, so before more domestic waste was converted into power by incineration, artificial hills were created. This mound is now the highest point in Viernheim, some 11 metres higher than the ice age sand dunes over to the southwest. We braved attack by ticks to reach the new viewpoint, with 360 degree panorama over the Rhine Rift Valley and its eastern faulted edge of the Odenwald. Up to now our Nature Tour had been mostly concerned with micro landforms, flora and fauna but George Everest would probably have appreciated our glimpse of Southern Germany’s 200+km long macro landform. We had been away from home about 2 hours and returned home, windblown and slightly sunburnt, well pleased with our new discoveries.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011


Amazing the title is spelled correctly.
We have finally delivered almost all of the AtoB Guide about putting your bike on a train in Europe, well actually Europe without the UK, fourteen countries in all. We still need to look at eastern Europe, but it's summer and we can go cycling.
This is a kind of Twitter blog, short and sweet. Our wine merchants and grocers to the carriage trade, ALDI Süd are offering bikes next week: 28" trekking bikes for 229€. We are ourselves will not buy Aldi bikes, not because they are not well equipped and cheap. ALDI has found the secret of offering good quality, low priced items. However many German bike shops will not repair them. However for a month's trip these would be cheaper than flying them in from the USA or hiring, even if you left them at the airport when you departed these shores. Problem is they are only on sale next week.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Last Sunday the Kurpfalz was home to the three mass cycling events: Car free days on the Bergstraße and on the B9 between Worms and Oppenheim, and the BASF Cycle Tour through parts of South Hessen, North Baden and Rhineland Palatinate. The Germany may not be as active as the Dutch when it comes to daily cycling, but in leisure events they are world beaters. All three events were well visited in spite of the weather - cold and damp.

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