There is something about bicycling in Germany that somehow frees us from Earth’s tethers—at least figuratively. The sun in our face, the wind rushing past our ears, the ability to modify our schedules and our destinations spontaneously—all these delightful aspects of cycling make touring by bicycle a decided pleasure, particularly when you factor in the pastime’s overall healthfulness. Don’t think of cycling as exercise—think of it as recreation.
The Ur-bicycle, if I may coin a term, was invented in 1817 by Baron Karl Drais of Karlsruhe. The original was called die Laufmaschine and eventually evolved into what the world now recognizes as the bicycle. Drais was not a one-off inventor. He also invented a typewriter keyboard, a meat grinder, and a fuel-efficient stove. His intelligence, education, and experience are succinctly chronicled at Wikipedia.
Cycling is a thoroughly German pastime and sport and is the true unsung hero of making man and, not long afterwards, woman, mobile as a current Wikipedia article points out:
“[T]he safety bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility, contributing to their emancipation in
Western nations. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the personal
freedom that bicycles embodied, and so the bicycle came to symbolize the New Woman of the late
19th century, especially in Britain and the United States. The bicycle craze in the 1890s also led to
a movement for so-called rational dress, which helped liberate women from corsets and ankle-length
skirts and other restrictive garments, substituting the then-shocking bloomers.”
The feminist movement has even honored the bicycle for its early and crucial role liberating women with the movement’s now world-famous slogan: A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
Leap to the 21st century and imagine yourself with a few weeks’ free time and an understandable yearning to see more of Germany’s byways up close. Cycling will satiate that need. One has the choice of either a guided tour or a self-directed tour. Either way, it’s all beneficial with no true negative aspects.
Cyclers can take advantage of more than 200 routes comprising more than 700,000 kilometers. The various routes provide access to leisurely trips along river valleys, with plenty of serendipitous side trips that luck and spontaneity send our way.
For contemporary history buffs, the 160 kilometer Berlin Wall Trail, a circular route in and around Berlin, is an ideal choice. The trail includes museums, the city center, watchtowers, memorials, and border patrol paths. It’s mostly quite flat, all of which is either paved or graveled, and easily negotiable by children.
In Southern Germany, the 152 kilometer Danube—Lake Constance route is an ideal choice for late spring. Starting in Ulm, cyclers travel to Kressbronn on Lake Constance. Passing first through fields and forests, one glides through Biberach to Bad Waldsee, then down to the Ach River and all the villages, meadows, and thick patches of shrubs and small trees along the banks.
Soon the romantic buildings of Kisslegg and Wangen attract and divert cyclers before they move on, mostly downhill through orchards and fields of hops, to Kressbronn. All along the way, there are numerous lakes, spas, and thermal springs. The partly hilly route is almost entirely paved, with a few graveled sections.
For wine lovers—who isn’t a wine lover!?!—the 250 kilometer Moselle Cycle Route is one of the most popular. Cyclers travel the route from Perl to Koblenz, where the Moselle flows into the Rhine, passing, of course, through Trier. This internationally renowned route is mostly flat and comprises primarily paved roads, farm tracks, and canal towpaths, following the lazy meandering of the river as it zigs and zags through the countryside. It passes through picturesque vineyards and wine villages and offers breathtaking vistas of steep valleys, the Rhenish slate mountains, several notable castles, and small, stream filled vales and dales along the way.
The superb German Travel Index lists dozens of such tours as well as a the excellent 88-page Discover Germany by Bike brochure in PDF format, which I’ll gladly send you on request. I’ve always favored self-guided tours and the best web site to research such tours is the unbelievably thorough bicyclegermany.com. This organization covers all the bases, e.g., what to bring (what not to bring), how to pack your bike if you bring it, “where the rubber meets the road” tips, leap-frogging with the Deutsche Bundesbahn, travelogues, etc. And, although focusing on self-tours, it does cover the theory and practice of organized group tours. It is the be-all and end-all (“das A und O”) of bicycling in Germany.
For those not quite intrepid cyclers who are more comfortable with organized, guided tours, the world can still be your oyster (“Ihnen liegt die Welt zu Füßen”). German Cycling Tours offers guided tours throughout Germany, e.g., Hamburg-Luebeck-Schwerin,
Elbe Valley-Upstream, Saar-Moselle, Rhine-Neckar, Elbe Valley-Saxon
Switzerland, and Upper Bavaria-Allgaeu. The tours include bicycles, superb accommodations, maps, tips for side trips, meals, museums, and luggage transfer. If you can ride a bicycle, that’s all you’ll need. German Cycling Tours will handle the rest.
Augustus Tours also offers numerous organized guided tours, including the Elbe Cycle Path, the Lake Constance Cycle Path, the Moselle River Cycle Path, the Main River Cycle Path, the Lahn River Cycle Path, the Altmuehl River Cycle Path, the Danube Cycle Path, and the Baltic Sea Cycle Path. Of course, these tours include rental bicycles, travel options, transfer & luggage transport service, accommodations, insurance, and, for the organizers among you, package deals for groups.
As another bonus, I’d be happy to provide a link to a PDF format copy of Marcia D. Lowe’s 65-page treatise The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet, published in 1989 by Worldwatch. Although somewhat dated, Lowe’s paper provides still valuable information about cycling and its effects—current and potential—in developed, developing, and underdeveloped societies.