• Germany edition
 
Heaven and Earth: Gliding and hiking in the Rhön
Photo: DPA

Heaven and Earth: Gliding and hiking in the Rhön

Published: 23 Sep 2010 10:18 GMT+02:00
Updated: 23 Sep 2010 10:18 GMT+02:00

Think of mountains in Germany and the Alps will most likely spring to mind.

Yet right in the centre of the country, perched on the border of the three states of Bavaria, Hessen and Thüringen, the Rhön Mountains are known as the cradle of German aviation.

“The Wasserkuppe is legendary,” says Björn Volz, referring to the highest mountain in the region.

An avid glider from Bavaria’s Franconia region, he has climbed the summit for the past decade to take advantage of its winds.

“The area is very attractive for gliding as there are excellent weather conditions and good thermals,” he says, explaining the area’s long aviation history. “The German military pilots were educated and trained at the Wasserkuppe, also in gliders, before they moved on to fighter planes.”

The 950-meter-high peak might be most famous for its aviation attractions, but the Rhön region also offers plenty of great hiking since it’s part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Created from volcanic lava flows millions of years ago, the gentle slopes of the Rhön Mountains were originally forests cleared during the Middle Ages by farmers wanting to use them for grazing. Today, the range is a mishmash of boulders, small streams, leafy forests, peat bogs and green pastures.

The first thing you hear when you reach the top of the Wasserkuppe is the hum of the engines as the small planes tow the gliders up off the ground and into the air.

The first recorded glider flight from the peak was in 1911, but the interest in gliding only really took off after the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 banned the use and production of aircraft with engines in Germany. In 1922, Arthur Martens made history when he became the first glider pilot in the world to use a mountain updraft to stay up in the air. Shortly after this success, he founded the world’s first glider school atop the Wasserkuppe.

The nearby German Glider Museum (Deutsches Segelflugmuseum) is excellent, even if you’re not interested in aviation history – be sure to get the audio guide in English.

Many well-known German aviation pioneers such as Alexander Lippisch, Willy Messerschmitt and Peter Riedel spent time here in the 1920s and 1930s. Early wooden craft and the modern double-seated glider all made their maiden trips at the Wasserkuppe. But the peak didn’t escape the clutches of Hitler’s war machine and it was eventually used to train Luftwaffe pilots too.

My fiancée’s grandfather – who is now a fit 93-year-old – made his first glider flight from the Wasserkuppe back in May 1932.

“It used to take us a half day to travel the 50 kilometres to get there,” he recalls, “But it was worth it. It was one of the best places for hobby gliding until they turned it into a military training zone.”

Since then he has instilled his love of everything related to aviation in the rest of his family whose hobbies are skydiving, gliding and flying.

After World War II, the US Army set up a base here because it was right near the border with communist East Germany. It wasn’t until restrictions on German aviation were lifted in 1951 that gliders could return to the Wasserkuppe, followed by hang-gliders and model airplane enthusiasts a few decades later.

The Wasserkuppe these days is a fantastic daytrip or overnight stay (there’s a hotel at the top) and is perfect for young and old alike. There’s plenty to keep kids busy with a large playground, a pretty long summer sledding track and a model airplane collection at the museum. For old-timers and history lovers, the Wasserkuppe is a fascinating insight into German aviation history.

If you fancy a bit more action, you can sign up for a hang-gliding course or take a spin in a glider. Or you can just enjoy a fantastic hike to the Fliegerdenkmal (Aviation Memorial) or to the small Wasserkuppe peak to enjoy the view. There are plenty of trails and the area is also a paradise for biking enthusiasts.

On your way down the mountain, be sure to visit the Rhönhäuschen inn for some fresh river trout. Over 100 years old, perched on the border of Bavaria and Hesse, it flies both state flags outside and inside is a rustic, traditional place complete with oven and fireplace.

It may look simple but don’t be fooled, the food is exquisite and delicious and is expensive by local standards. Expect to pay around €18 for a main course, but it’s worth it since they offer trout cooked 10 different ways.

Getting there:

The easiest way to get to the Wasserkuppe is by train via Fulda. Then take the Rhönbahn to Gersfeld and hike up to the peak or from April to November take a bus.

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

02:10 September 24, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, there is something quite extraordinary about flying such a craft, up in the open air. The photo really captures the reality of natural flying.

Germans are more known for music and football. However, they actually hold a prominent place in aerospace hsitory as well.
07:09 September 24, 2010 by JohnPaul44
Yes, the Red Baron with his Fokker triplane is still attacking our dog Snoopy.
09:13 October 5, 2010 by beckyhead
@Logic Guy

Gliders were used to train the new Luftwaffe Hitler was buidling up in the years before WWII, in addition:

The worlds first operational jet fighter, the Me262.

Operational rocket planes: Komet

Operationa Intermediate Range Ballistic Missle: V2

Operational cruise missile: V1, as well as some other variants of jet technology, including bombers and flying wing variants.

It's a shame these technological feats were marred by Nazisim, slave-labor, et al.
Today's headlines
Frankfurt court lifts national Uber ban
Uber manager for Germany Fabien Nestmann leaves the Frankfurt court on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Frankfurt court lifts national Uber ban

App-based chauffeur car service Uber is no longer illegal in Germany, a Frankfurt court ruled on Tuesday afternoon. READ  

Chef admits Düsseldorf killing spree
Yanquing in court in Düsseldorf on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Chef admits Düsseldorf killing spree

A gunman who killed three people in Düsseldorf and injured four others in a shooting spree at two lawyers’ offices admitted his guilt on Tuesday. READ  

Man dies six days after chemical blast
The plant was destroyed in the explosion. Photo: DPA

Man dies six days after chemical blast

An engineer who was called to fix a defect at a chemical waste plant which then exploded has died of his injuries – six days after the huge blast near Bremen. READ  

German universities tumble in global rankings
Students at Heidelberg University. Photo: DPA

German universities tumble in global rankings

Three-quarters of German universities have fallen in global standings in the last year, with just one institution among the top 50 in the world, according to rankings released on Tuesday. READ  

Germany prepares to send drones to Ukraine
A Luna drone belonging to the German military. Photo: DPA

Germany prepares to send drones to Ukraine

German unmanned drones could soon be flying over eastern Ukraine to keep an eye on pro-Russian rebel troop movements. READ  

'Why I'm camping for six days outside Apple store'
Photo: The Local

'Why I'm camping for six days outside Apple store'

Most holidaymakers on a week-long camping trip pitch up by lakes or next to the beach. But two Berliners are hoping to break a record by settling in for six days outside the city's Apple Store to be the first to get their hands on new iPhone 6. READ  

Netflix launches in Germany (in English too)
Some of the cast of Orange is the New Black at a photocall in Mexico. Photo: DPA

Netflix launches in Germany (in English too)

UPDATE: TV streaming service Netflix opened its virtual doors in Germany on Tuesday in the face of stiff competition from existing players. Users will be able to watch hit shows and movies in English on the German service. READ  

Auschwitz guard charged over 300,000 deaths
The gates at the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. Photo: DPA

Auschwitz guard charged over 300,000 deaths

A 93-year old man from Lower Saxony will stand trial for 300,000 counts of accessory to murder at the Auschwitz death camp while a member of the Waffen-SS. READ  

Germany can't crack 'CIA double agent' laptop
Photo: DPA

Germany can't crack 'CIA double agent' laptop

An alleged CIA double agent secured his laptop so well that German secret services have failed to crack it since he was arrested in July, according to reports. READ  

Lufthansa pilots abandon Frankfurt strike plans
Ready to go again. Photo: DPA

Lufthansa pilots abandon Frankfurt strike plans

UPDATE: Pilots' union Cockpit has announced that a planned strike at Frankfurt Airport on Tuesday has been called off. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Fashion Ladies of the Local: Win a New Autumn Look
Photo: DPA
Politics
These men want to be the next mayor of Berlin
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
The three types of firms hiring foreigners
Photo: DPA
National
Neo-Nazis are attacking newspaper offices
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Election night in Brandenburg and Thuringia
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Berlin spy station sees tourism boom
Photo: DPA/ESA
Tech
VIDEO: How one German astronaut sees Earth
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Frisky couple shock Berlin commuters
Photo: DPA
Politics
Are Germans right to want cooler relations with USA?
Photo: Bayernpartei/DPA
Politics
Why some Bavarians want a Scottish 'Yes'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
12 things to do in Berlin for less than a latte
Photo: Facebook
National
Bavarian waiter breaks beer-carrying record
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,275
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd