• Germany's news in English
 

Discovering the Eifel on two wheels

7 Sep 2011, 09:40

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
Germany's first mosque excavated near Berlin
Excavation of the mosque site outside Berlin. Photo: Freie Universität

Germany's first mosque excavated near Berlin

35 minutes ago

Archaeologists have excavated the remains of Germany's oldest mosque on the outskirts of Berlin, a team from the capital city's Free University (FU) announced on Monday.

Kiel scientists: MH370 search in wrong place
The Malaysia Airlines plane which disappeared on March 8th 2014. Photo: Laurent ERRERA / Wikimedia Commons.

Kiel scientists: MH370 search in wrong place

57 minutes ago

German scientists have challenged conventional wisdom on the crash site of the MH370, the Malaysia Airlines plane missing since March 2014, suggesting the search is being conducted in the wrong place.

Five reasons to love Germany in autumn
What's not to love about the start of Lebkuchen season? Photo: DPA

Five reasons to love Germany in autumn

1 hour ago

September 1st may be the first day of autumn, but it's not all sad news for those living in Germany. Here are five reasons why we should welcome autumn with open arms.

Opinion
Studying in Germany left me down in the dumps
Students in a lecture theatre at Cologne University. Photo: DPA

Studying in Germany left me down in the dumps

2 hours ago

Finnish student Juuso Nisula moved to Cologne to study business administration, but found a catalogue of failings instead in the model of German educational efficiency he was expecting. He explains just what went wrong - and how to fix it - in an opinion piece republished by The Local.

Teen fined for sharing 13-year-old ex's sexts
Photo:DPA

Teen fined for sharing 13-year-old ex's sexts

3 hours ago

A court in Berlin has ordered a teenager to pay €500 in damages to his 13-year-old ex-girlfriend after sharing intimate pictures of her over WhatsApp, the girl's lawyer has revealed.

Migrant crisis
Munich police swamped with refugee donations
A woman working for Refugee Aid Munich (Flüchtlingshilfe München) hands a soft toy to a refugee child. Photo: DPA

Munich police swamped with refugee donations

10 hours ago

UPDATE: As over 1,000 refugees arrived in Munich from Hungary by train on Tuesday, police in the Bavarian capital said they were "overwhelmed" by the amount of food, water and other supplies donated by local people to those in need.

Löw backs Schweini after shaky United start
Bastian Schweinsteiger. Photo: DPA

Löw backs Schweini after shaky United start

4 hours ago

Germany coach Joachim Löw is backing Bastian Schweinsteiger to brush off his shaky start at Manchester United when he captains his country in Friday's key Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland.

Unemployment level stays at record low
Photo: DPA

Unemployment level stays at record low

5 hours ago

German unemployment remained at historically low levels in August as the recovery in Europe's biggest economy continued on track, data showed on Tuesday.

Bavarian minister uses n-word on live TV
Singer Roberto Blanco (left) and Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann (right). Photo: DPA:

Bavarian minister uses n-word on live TV

7 hours ago

Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann (CDU) has become the target of widespread outrage after calling singer Roberto Blanco a "wonderful negro" on live television - and failing to apologize when challenged on Tuesday morning.

Orang-utan shot after shocking zoo breakout
File photo: DPA

Orang-utan shot after shocking zoo breakout

9 hours ago

Zoo workers in Duisburg shot an orang-utan late on Monday evening after two of the apes escaped from their cage in the westerly city.

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

Features
'Berlin is kind of like the best American city'
Features
How Brits in Germany are facing Brexit fears
Sport
German named 'arse bombing' world champ
Travel
Retiree finds parked car after three-week search
National
Ten ways Germany puts Britain to shame
Business & Money
German gadget clamps down on Nutella thieves
Society
Is Germany now a nation of couch potatoes?
National
Half of Germans 'have had sex in their car'
Society
Deadly stew spooks home vegetable gardeners
Politics
The man who brought two Germanies together
Features
Where to get your culture fix in Cologne
Education
Fairytale world of Brothers Grimm brought to life
Rhineland
Thieves leave 1,000 open beers untasted
National
Way to some Germans' hearts is through their wallets
National
Germany's biggest challenge: European refugee crisis
Travel
Where to get your adrenaline pumping in Germany
Technology
Could thieves hack into luxury cars?
What to watch out for when snapping your lunch
National
German lefties through history
National
The fight over prostitution heats up
National
Merkel: migrants, not Greece, are the real challenge
Features
How I explained the Queen to the Germans
Education
Why Germany does 'back-to-school' traditions better
National
Germans are ‘not how foreigners think’
National
A mum and daughter reunite 70 years after WWII
Sport
Bra stops bullet in hunting mishap miracle
National
Cows trample German woman to death in Graubünden Alps
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
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

6,984
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd