• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Heaven and Earth: Gliding and hiking in the Rhön

The Local · 23 Sep 2010, 10:18

Published: 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.

Story continues below…

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
The Local List
The 10 worst German cities for students to find digs
Photo: DPA

It's the start of autumn, which means the start of the university year. But along with the excitement comes the stress of finding housing - and in some glamorous locations this can be a nightmare.

German broadcaster sues Turkey over confiscated video
Akif Cagatay Kilic. Photo: DPA

German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle said Monday it had filed a civil complaint after a Turkish minister's office confiscated a taped video interview with him.

Germany's 'James Bond' goes on trial over tax evasion
Werner Mauss. Photo: DPA.

Germany's former top spy, Werner Mauss, went on trial on Monday accused of hiding millions of euros from authorities.

Germany holds first national 'mermaiding' championship
Photo: DPA

Ariel would be proud.

Gallery
15 pics that prove Germany is totally enchanting in autumn
The Max-Eyth-See in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA.

As summer fades into a distant memory and you start to begrudge trading Birkenstocks for boots, these pictures may help change your perspective on the new chill in the air.

Left politician who smuggled refugee could lose immunity
Diether Dehm. Photo: DPA.

Die Linke (Left Party) politician Diether Dehm could lose his immunity as an elected official after he admitted to smuggling a refugee into Germany.

Merkel party leader admits sexism is a problem
Jenna Behrends complained that a member of CDU's Berlin government had called her a "big sweet mouse" in front of a large group. Photo: Sophia Kembowski/dpa

A leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party admitted Sunday that it has a problem with sexism in its ranks.

Ethiopia's Bekele nears record in Berlin marathon win
Participants in the Berlin marathon take to the streets on Sunday. Photo:Paul Zinken/dpa

Kenenisa Bekele narrowly missed out on the world record on Sunday as the Ethiopian won the Berlin marathon ahead of former winner Wilson Kipsang.

Europe needs deals to send migrants home: Merkel
Angela Merkal poses with Bulgaria's Prime minister Boyko Borissov (L) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (R) in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Europe needs to secure more deals to send rejected migrants home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told counterparts in Vienna.

Germany sees 'turning point' in birth rate decline
Children at a a kindergarten in Swabia. Photo: Nikolaus Lenau/Flickr

Is Germany's three-decade decline in birth rate now over?

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
5,643
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd