Thursday, April 22, 2010


We went up to Lorsch (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) last Saturday to visit a bicycle event organised by the town and the ADFC. The event was the usual mixture of an ADFC information stand, a second hand bike sale, a new bike hire company in Lorsch, a map sales stand, a sport club that runs a section for younger people wanting to learn how to do cycle acrobatics and a cycle proficiency test circuit. this kind of event happens fairly often in German towns, but what was somewhat unusual was that the town's development agency is actively supporting cycling as a way of encouraging tourism.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rescue points

Both of us suffer from untreatable ‘Cartomania’, a little researched complaint involving the collection of maps, large, small, old and new. So yesterday I saw a new 1:30 000 cycle touring map of our local area and immediately succumbed to temptation. A couple of months ago, after the Neil, had had a chance to browse the Südliches Ried:Bergstrasse/Rhein-Neckar produced by MeKi Landkarten GmbH ( (well it was his birthday), I got my chance too to see what was new. There were our old favourites south into Mannheim or northeast towards Bensheim and the Odenwald, together with new sections of longer distance cycle routes like the World Heritage Route (Welterbe-Radtour) as well as clearer information about cycle possibilities on the fringes of our day tour stamping ground like Ludwigshafen. New local train lines which take bikes, either free or for the price of a child’s ticket, have brought these more distant locations into consideration. We live in the Rhine Rift Valley, a roughly 40 km wide lowland sandwiched between the hills of the Pfalzerwald on the west and the Odenwald on the east. North of the big cities of Mannheim and Ludwigshafen it is basically an area of farms, small towns and forests, providing many cycling opportunities. People do use some routes as part of a commute to a station or employer and many others cycle in their free time. What is fairly immediately striking as the map is opened out is the area of forest or woodland. Our three local provinces of Hesse, where we live, Baden-Würtemberg to the east and south and Rheinland-Pfalz across the Rhine to the west are all much more wooded than most of the UK. The forests are not on a US or Canadian scale, true, but there are many kilometres of routes through the forests, cool in summer and offering shelter in autumn and winter. Some forests are almost all coniferous, others incorporate section of red oak, beech or chestnut trees. Most of the forests occupy stretches of glacial sands or dunes and were originally used for hunting by monks or local dukes in the middle ages. Now they provide timber, habitats for birds and other wildlife such as deer and ever increasing numbers of wild boar, plus of course green lungs for city dwellers. The cycle ways follow mostly gravelled roads made for foresters, often laid out as a grid and where GPS devices frequently cease to function. Route finding can be difficult and if there’s a diversion (timber operations, mud baths, fallen trees) we’ve often struggled to get back on track. We’ve occasionally speculated on forest rides in the dusk or in definitely spooky darkness about what to do when truly lost, ill or injured. Now we know that in Hesse at least all wooded areas and some other remote sites have a series of rescue points, marked on the ground and on large scale maps. In situ these are signs with a white cross on a green background with location and a number. On the MeKi Landkarten they are shown by a green oval with a number. These spots are known to local police, ambulance and emergency services and can be reached by their vehicles. Initially they were set up in case of accidents to workers in the forests but may be used to rescue the public generally. ADFC advice to any group with a rider ill or injured is to use a mobile phone to contact number 112 to alert the emergency service and give location of nearest rescue point. If necessary a party member can reach the rescue point and guide emergency services to the injured party. Outside mountain regions where rescue kit may be found at huts, passes or survey points this idea was new to me and may be of interest to others who may cycle in remote areas in the UK where access is difficult or to people who actually operate emergency services. Location by mobile phone has been used to rescue many people in difficulty I know but knowing an access point by road may also be useful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Life is unfair?

It is fairly obvious that life is not always fair, particularly to us cyclists. We went to the southern Pfalz yesterday and drove from Landau to Bad Bergzabern. The road is hilly and climbs over a series of crests with a short climb up to each one. There is a cycleway running alongside the road. Now, whereas the road runs through a cutting at the top of each crest, the cycleway is along the rim of the cutting meaning that the poor cyclist has to do more work than the other powered road users. It could be said that it is better for us on human-powered vehicles to work harder: We will be fitter. That the cars need to climb less is good as well: They give out less carbon dioxide, but it still seems unfair as you pant over the brow of the hill.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Argonne Forest

Last Saturday but one we had a day off from our labours and joined a tour to some First World War battlefields in Northern France. An American acquaintance of ours, Deputy Director of the local US High School, is an amateur military historian and in fact his grandfather served there, on a gun battery commanded by Harry Truman. The area we visited was close to where we had cycled in the Moselle valley previously so we knew there were many remnants of the war, but we knew nothing of this particular offensive where the French were relieved by fresh US troops under the command of General Pershing, in an area NW of Verdun. We set off by bus when it was still dark, after getting up at 4.30 am. It was a bus trip for the educationalists in Mannheim and Heidelberg. The whole trip was planned like a military operation and once on the bus we were immersed in briefings about the war's origins, videos and with handouts. It was all very interesting and our friend knows so much about the various battles and heroic incidents, people involved etc which made it all the more real. Most of the route was on motorway and at a service station close to the battlefield, there was a great white marble monument to those who fought, on both sides. Underneath were two inscriptions - one giving the names of the first two men killed in 1914 on this battlefield - one French and one German - obviously young men and then another, more recent about the deaths of the last Frenchman and the last German to have fought there. Both died in 2008, one aged 110 and one aged 108! Quite amazing.
We then left the motorway and continued on tiny roads in our giant pink bus, up and down dale mostly in heavy, pouring rain. We couldn't see much of the surrounding countryside but still no one complained as we clambered up muddy paths and inspected immense holes where mines had exploded close to the opposing trenches, then moved on the examine other memorials and places where individual actions had taken place. Of course the whole thing is very sad, especially since we know that only a few years later the whole mess happened again and still politicians are sending young people off to wars. Fortunately we then had a break for a meal in a tiny French village where by a miracle they were able to accommodate and feed a party of 40, on roast chicken and salad with a glass of wine and an ice dessert. We didn't know most of the other folks, American teachers and ancillary staff at the American schools nearby, but they made us feel welcome.
Whilst we were inside the rain stopped and the sun even came out for a while before we managed to get out of the bus again for our longest walk in Châtel Chéhéry a tiny village. Here Sgt York managed to thwart a German ambush, killing a number of soldiers and then taking 132 Germans prisoner without further losses. Our leader had become fascinated by this story and had visited the area frequently to try to pinpoint exactly where the events occurred - this was very close to Armistice Day 1918 so it is almost 100 years ago now. We stood under our umbrellas in rain so heavy it was almost like the machine gun fire he was telling us about - most of us really not bothered about whether the action had happened here or half a mile up the road, but we drank a toast in brandy to all the brave men on both sides, drawn by chance into these battles, that came to an end literally just a few days later. Then it was back to the bus, in the warm and dry again and eventually home again by 10.45 pm. Though we cannot say that the visit was enjoyable, in the sense that the events were a pleasure we nonetheless do think it important to remember what happened and the people involved… lest we forget.
We ate lunch in the Le Grand Monarque Restaurant in Varenne en Argonne. There is now a move by the local authorities to encourage cycling and the area with its minor roads and historical connections is a good place to cycle. However if you are tempted to visit the Meuse area of Lorraine ( do not pick up any shells or munitions in the woods. There is still a lot around. Some of it is still live and some of it contains Mustard Gas, used by both sides in 1918. If all goes well I think we will return to the area.

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