• Germany's news in English
 

Discovering the Eifel on two wheels

Published: 07 Sep 2011 09:40 GMT+02:00

Founded in 2004, the Eifel national park has an extensive network of official bike routes. Despite the ubiquitous signage, it's best to plot a route in advance. There's nothing worse than pounding away for 20 kilometres only to discover that it's the wrong way.

We settled on a route covering 150 kilometres in total. This was an ambitious target considering it was the first bike tour for one of my friends. On paper the inclines didn't seem too steep for a group of novices, but the Eifel taught us a valuable lesson: don't underestimate the mountains!

Advance knowledge of the inclines is the key to determining a suitable route. For example, in the flat expanses of Brandenburg a 90-kilometre day trip is a reasonable goal. But in the hilly Eifel region, the same target becomes a losing battle with gravity.

Another factor often overlooked by budget-conscious cyclists is the condition of the ride. It's a good idea to have the bike inspected by a professional before riding out into the wilderness. A loose wheel bearing, stretched-out chain or weak tyre pressure can make a critical difference.

Click here for an Eifel photo gallery

Under these circumstances it's also important to travel lightly. Some of the must-haves include maps, a pump and tube repair kit in case of a flat tyre, a few essential bike tools and a mobile phone for emergencies. Suitable clothes should be packed a day before departure, keeping in mind that the Eifel is typically colder and wetter than the nearby cities.

We were off to an early start. After an uneventful hour-long train ride from Cologne we get off at a town called Kall, our starting point and final destination. I took a deep breath and immediately noticed the difference in air quality: crisp, fresh and clean. It was not the thick city air my body has come to expect.

The sky was overcast and just chilly enough to be wearing a light sweater in the morning hours. Although such weather was expected to last, later in the day the cloud cover would clear and it would turn into a warm and sunny day.

The weather is the great wild card of any bike tour. Because Germany's climate can be somewhat unpredictable, it's best to be prepared for rain and shine alike. According to the official Eifel website, the region enjoys fairly mild winters and relatively cool, high-precipitation summers.

On the trail of history

The trail took us out of the city and into the woods, where we followed the river Urft as it winds through the valley past the town of Gemünd. The first ten kilometres went by in no time, giving us the false impression that the trip was going to be a proverbial walk in the park.

At this point the path was following either a flat or downhill trajectory, allowing us to move along at a brisk pace. The unfolding scenery was a picturesque natural landscape dotted with medieval castles, rapeseed fields and traditional timber-framed houses.

We reached the Urfttalsperre, a majestic man-made river dam. Along the way we discovered an old army bunker from World War II that now serves as a bat cave. We then learned that this pristine area harbours a darker history.

When the Urft dam was built in 1905, it was Europe's largest artificial reservoir. In the 1930s the National Socialists used the area to house Ordensburg Vogelsang, a military training facility that today is one of the largest architectural relics of the Nazi era.

The Urft valley was also part of the famous Battle of Hürtgen Forest, the longest battle on German territory during World War II and the longest single battle the US Army has ever fought. Some 33,000 American soldiers and 28,000 Germans were killed in the fierce fighting.

From Rurberg it was more of the same down to Einruhr and then west towards Monschau, one of the larger towns in the area. We put half of the day's route behind us and it was well past noon, so we decided to take a detour into the town centre.

Monschau is a wealthy medieval town in the north-western part of the Eifel. The narrow streets are predominantly cobblestone, and the timber-framed houses have retained their original style for the past 300 years.

Climbing out of the valley

Shortly after leaving Monschau we encountered our first serious uphill stretch. This had to be the low-point of my journey: I was too full from lunch, it had become quite warm and suddenly I found myself facing an eight-percent incline with no end in sight. I had to dismount twice on account of my luggage and general fatigue.

The trail became hillier than when we started out, considerably slowing our progress. Fortunately, the steepest incline we encountered was downhill: on this nine-percent descent my friend achieved a peak speed of 68 km per hour, just below the speed limit for cars.

We followed the route south through Höfen right up to the Belgian border. From there it was more or less a straight shot along the designated bike trail through roughly 20 kilometres of forests and fields to Hellenthal, where our camp site awaited.

Camping is only allowed on designated sites throughout the Eifel national park. Setting up your tent in the wilderness comes with a hefty fine and possibly criminal charges. Fortunately, there is no shortage of camp sites throughout the region.

It was a long day, and right after checking into “Camp Hellenthal” we headed for the showers. The on-site restaurant was already closed, so we headed into town. We found a traditional tavern by the name of Posthalterei, the old German word for post office. A group of regulars was having a grand time, and the boisterous noise only accentuated the rustic Teutonic atmosphere of the place.

Keeping your options open

If the weather changes for the worse or the route is more challenging than anticipated, it's nice to know a few shortcuts. Because the Eifel's bike routes intersect at various points, it's easy to shorten the original route if needed.

By the same token it's always possible to take a scenic detour. The important thing is to have a map handy in order to navigate the new territory.

Although I hoped to cover all 150 kilometres of the original route, it turned out that I overestimated one of my friends' ability to keep up the pace. His bike was in bad shape and it gave him trouble on the hills. We decided to cut the trip short, and take a 20-kilometre route from Hellenthal straight back to Kall.

There is one last piece of advice that many cyclists learn to appreciate after their first day trip: Of all the pain that an extended tour may inflict on its participants, there is nothing quite like the feeling of sitting on a hard and narrow saddle for hours on end. Padded underwear, though expensive, is well worth the cost.

Related links:

Your comments about this article

23:41 September 12, 2011 by Heidelberg_IT
The Eifel is a gorgeous part of Germany. Much under rated. Hopefully I can find someone to go back to the Eifel and enjoy a bike ride and all the Eifel has to offer!
Today's headlines
Baby ducks shut down Autobahn traffic
Stock image of baby ducks running. Photo: DPA.

Baby ducks shut down Autobahn traffic

Police officers and a fire fighter crane were called in to rescue five orphaned baby ducks on Friday, stopping autobahn traffic briefly to escort them to safety. READ  

Taliban release German hostage in Afghanistan
The region of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Photo: DPA

Taliban release German hostage in Afghanistan

An employee of the German International Development Agency (GIZ) has been released from captivity in northern Afghanistan after being taken prisoner by the Taliban six weeks ago. READ  

Cameron and Merkel sing from same hymn sheet
Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron arrive at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Cameron and Merkel sing from same hymn sheet

Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron presented a newly united front at a Berlin press conference on Friday, after their first meeting where the UK premier set out his demands for reform of the European Union. READ  

German industry: Brexit would be ‘disastrous’
Photo: DPA

German industry: Brexit would be ‘disastrous’

The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) have told the BBC that if the UK were to leave the EU it would be disastrous for both countries. READ  

At last, Germany has a new Top Model
Vanessa is over the moon. Photo:DPA

At last, Germany has a new Top Model

Everyone can breath easily again. Despite a delay of two weeks due to a bomb threat, Heidi Klum has finally been able to choose Germany’s next top model - a 19-year-old from her own home town. READ  

Steinmeier: corruption poisons football
Steinmeier had harsh words for FIFA. Photo:DPA

Steinmeier: corruption poisons football

Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday that if world football can't clear up "poisonous" corruption, state bodies need to step in, amid a graft scandal engulfing governing body FIFA. READ  

Greece eclipses G7 meeting in Dresden
G7 finance ministers in Dresden. Photo: DPA

Greece eclipses G7 meeting in Dresden

Debt-wracked Greece's battle to hammer out a deal with its creditors dominated a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations in Dresden on Thursday, with officials insisting much work still lay ahead. READ  

EU investigates Germany over airport security
Photo: DPA

EU investigates Germany over airport security

The European Commission said on Thursday that it had referred Germany to the EU Court of Justice for failing to regularly check up on its airport security measures at some airports. READ  

Germans want to keep their hands on cash
Germans still trust cash over other forms of payment. Photo: DPA

Germans want to keep their hands on cash

Confirming conservative stereotypes, Germans have come out strongly in favour of sticking to hard cash in conducting transactions, a survey published on Thursday showed. READ  

This week in history
Fassbinder: New German Film's Enfant Terrible
Rainer Fassbinder on set in 1977. Photo: DPA

Fassbinder: New German Film's Enfant Terrible

On Sunday May 31st, Rainer Weiner Fassbinder, one of the most influential German film directors, would have turned 70 - had it not been for his death at the age of 37 in 1982. The Local takes a look back at the life and work of the enfant terrible of New German Cinema. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Fassbinder's blaze of glory
Rhineland
Defusing Cologne's giant WW2 bomb
Travel
1,000 years of Leipzig
National
Cops have nothing to go on after ministry toilet theft
Sport
The hidden history of FC Bayern Munich
Technology
In future, we may all be scraping drones off windshields
National
The 65-year-old who gave birth to quadruplets
Travel
Why the train strike is bad for passengers and workers
National
Meet Germany's Eurovision hope
Business & Money
Is 2015 a new moment for jobsharing?
Features
How the LGBT rights movement was born in Germany
National
Why you don't make bomb jokes at the airport
National
Why Germany needs a little less tipple
National
Who Germans and Americans trust... and don't
Politics
What the UK election means for Germany
National
Why Germany is great for mums
Features
The Germans with GI dads
Five ways Germany falls short on gay rights
Travel
Giant tortoise found riding Munich rail
National
FCK CPS? A-OK with court
Politics
Opinion: Brexit's dangers for Germany
Features
Smart kids all want to work for BMW
National
Minister shows off top Denglisch
National
Germany's 'other genocide' in Africa
National
Arms firms get a 'must do better' mark on ethics
Sport
Bayern's anticlimactic 25th Bundesliga win
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
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

6,698
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd