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TOURISM

Riding the Radweg: A guide to touring Germany by bike

From exceptional hospitality to stunning sights - and obligatory Biergartens - here's author and US resident Phil Schaaf's experience of taking a cycling holiday in Germany.

Cyclists in Stuttgart, southern Germany.
Cyclists in Stuttgart, southern Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tom Weller

It started with a simple statement: “I’d like to go on a bike trip.” That’s all my good friend, Todd, said as we discussed what the freedom of getting the coronavirus vaccine would mean. It was the fall of 2020 and I had no idea where he wanted to go, but it sure sounded like “Biergarten” to me. 

About 11 months later, we pedalled a ceremonial lap around the Cologne Cathedral and began a 13-day trip that took us south along the Rhine to Mainz, and then east to the city of Wertheim, where we met three friends to ride the Tauber-Altmühl Radweg as a quintet. Our motto was: “very little to do and even less to prove”.

Part I: The Rhine

If your idea of a dream vacation in Germany is to see majestic castles and stop at outdoor cafes and restaurants, then cycling the Rhine checks all those boxes and more.

The river winds through small towns that seem to be placed as part of an interactive model set, telling a story that is as impressive as its beauty. Just north of Koblenz, for example, we talked to a man walking his dog and he pointed to a mural commemorating the place where Caesar built a bridge over the Rhine in 55 BC. To put that in perspective, the most famous span in America, the Golden Gate Bridge, opened in 1937.

One of the many castles along the Rhine river on the way to Koblenz.

One of the many castles along the Rhine river on the way to Koblenz. All photos courtesy of Phil Schaaf

Bacharach: ‘Getting one back’

There is a meditative quality to the rhythm of a bike trip, and the phrase we used to express our appreciation was: “getting one back.” Day three was all about that vibe, taking us through hillside vineyards, past the mythic Loreley rock and ending in the fairytale city of Bacharach; a town whose charm shines even in darkness. 

READ ALSO: Vennbahn – how a historic German train line became a popular cycling path

There are many cities in Germany with sturdy timbered buildings, arched gateways and narrow cobblestone streets, but Bacharach possesses a palpable medieval magic where everything is better simply because you are there. The highlight of the stay, however, had nothing to do with the town’s well-preserved antiquity, but the hospitality of Anna and Richard, the proprietors of Pension Bei der Post, an inn located about a mile up the hill from the centre of town. 

Checking in, Anna told us they opened their lounge in the evenings if we would like a nightcap, so we decided to have a dessert beer after returning from dinner. As we sat at our table, Richard turned on CNN International, but soon recognised that we weren’t interested in the business plan of television news.

He then asked if we would like to hear some music and gestured at a nearby guitar. We nodded, the TV got switched off and Richard began to strum, breaking into “Feelings,” the Morris Albert hit from 1974; an unlikely, but perfect song to deliver us to the present tense of our setting. The mood established, he then played songs from the Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival, Dire Straits, Eagles and many other artists, making each song his own. Bitburger never had a better accompanist.

Richard, one of the proprietors at Bei der Post in Bacharach.

Richard, one of the owners at Bei der Post in Bacharach, playing guitar.

The next morning, Richard and Anna gave each of us a parting gift, a journal with Bacharach embossed at the top and our name at the bottom. As we left, they followed us out of the Pension, waving like proud parents sending their kids off to school. 

Riding away, Todd smiled and said: “think we got a few back there.” 

Part II: The road to Wertheim

Leaving the Rhine wasn’t so much saying goodbye to a river, but being greeted by a scene of endless greenery on the way to Wertheim, the northern most city on the Tauber-Altmühl Radweg. This region of Germany is a popular destination for cyclists and it’s easy to see why, for it’s beautiful in the way that natural settings slowly absorb into one’s senses. You can literally feel your blood pressure go down as farmland dissolves into small towns and villages before returning to endless vistas of manicured countryside and forests.

READ ALSO: 10 of Germany’s best (and longest) biking routes

Arriving in Wertheim, we met our friends, Ed, Jack and Marty, and caught up over dinner at the Ankerplatz Biergarten, a fabulous establishment situated on the Main River across from Burg Wertheim, the storybook castle that overlooks the town. Enthusiasm was high as we discussed our imminent tour down the Tauber-Altmühl Radweg, the 347-kilometre route that follows the Tauber and Altmühl rivers to the Danube. 

View of Burg Wertheim taken from Ankerplatz Biergarten

Part III: The Tauber-Altmühl Radweg (bike path)

Riding the Radweg is straightforward in terms of planning, as it conveniently divides into 30-mile sections that will take you to accommodation-friendly cities like Bad Mergentheim, Rothenburg, Herrieden, Treuchtlingen, Eichstätt and Beilngries.

Along the way, you ride through Gemütlichkeit-drenched towns such as Creglingen, Leutershausen, Gern, Bad Abbach and other picturesque destinations to stop for lunch, a little bit of sightseeing or simple relaxation. 

A view of the Tauber-Altmuehl Radweg somewhere outside of Eichstaett.

Most importantly, the hospitality one encounters on the Radweg is excellent, a remarkable thing given the challenges of the Covid era. The majority of hotels and restaurants are short-staffed, reeling from many months of pandemic realities, but it does not impact the quality of service. The Tauber-Altmühl Radweg is replete with generosity, sincerity and good humour. It is, in every way, an ideal and inclusive experience for cycling enthusiasts of all skill levels. 

Trip highlight: A day that can’t be manufactured

What we knew on the fourth day was that we were riding to Treuchtlingen. What we didn’t know is that we would stumble across Germany’s own Field of Dreams, or FC Aha, a soccer club on the edge of a cornfield; a setting so idyllic that you think Fritz Walter and Franz Beckenbauer might walk out of the cornstalks and onto the pitch.

We came across FC Aha as a game was being played under a cloudless sky, circumstances that mandated a stop. Finding a table just below the clubhouse terrace, we were soon joined by new friends, trading jokes and sharing stories over the course of a long afternoon. When the sun began to set, we departed in the game jerseys they had gifted us, singing the chorus to the club song we had just learned. It was the kind of unexpected encounter that cannot be manufactured, but that you hope every vacation day might become.

The FC Aha club. Five locals and five Americans – fast friends over soccer, beer and sunshine.

Enduring lesson of the Radweg

With three days of riding left, the emphasis was solidly on the journey, not the destination. Our end point, the Old Stone Bridge in Regensburg, was approaching with each turn of the sprocket and we did not want to get cheated out of one sight, beverage or experience in our path. 

About 10 kilometers outside of Regensburg, we were riding in a line and slowed down as we came upon the open umbrellas of a Biergarten. Our discussion over its appeal was uncharacteristically muted and lacked focus when Todd called out: “You might never get the chance to drink here again!” 

All five bikes made a 90-degree turn and came to a stop. The Old Stone Bridge would have to wait; our priorities were still in place…we simply needed a reminder.

Keep an eye on TheLocal.de for Phil’s tips on making the most of a cycling trip in Germany

Member comments

  1. Sounds like a fun trip, thanks for sharing. One day I would love to do something like this along the Rhine and over to Bavaria.

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FRANKFURT

Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

Frankfurt has been ranked as one of the world's best cities to live in. We recently asked readers what it's like to live in the Hesse city and surrounding area. Here's what they had to say.

Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

Home to around 790,000 people – with more than half of the population having a migrant background – the central German city of Frankfurt am Main is a bustling place. 

With a lively hospitality sector, a strong jobs scene and lots of surrounding nature, it’s no wonder the city was named the seventh best place to live in the world in 2022 in a ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

READ ALSO: Frankfurt among the ‘world’s most liveable cities’

In a recent survey by The Local, respondents told us that Frankfurt is an international city with a small-town feel. 

Richard Davison, 45, who lives in the Sachsenhausen area of Frankfurt, said: “In my opinion Frankfurt is a special city as it is very international. As people come for work, it seems that it is very welcoming as many people are new, or have not lived in the city for a long time.

“There is a wide variety of affordable cuisine, bars and hospitality. It is a big city feel in a small city. What makes it special is the green spaces and surrounding nature: Taunus, Spessart, Odenwald and the Rhine and vineyards. Trains and flights are also so easy from Frankfurt.”

Natalie, 39, who lives in the Taunus area, said the best things about Frankfurt are “the beautiful, green Taunus surrounding areas, the mixture of new architecture and old, the riverfront and beautiful bridges, the airport and HBF (main station) which are awesome access points to so many places in Europe.”

Our readers – many of whom are non-German themselves – said they recommended Frankfurt as a place to live, and even gave some recommendations on where to put down roots. 

Michael Schacht, 31, said Frankfurt is “absolutely” a good place for international residents. “I believe I’ve read it’s the most international city in Germany and you hear all sorts of languages when walking around the city from English to French to Arabic and Mandarin.

“It’s really international and when living here, it’s easy to meet and make friends with people from all over the world.”

Smruthi Panyam said: “Frankfurt has a good expat population in the finance industry. It is a comfortable city to live in and the best city if you want to have ease of travel.”

A plane above the Frankfurt’s skyscrapers at sunrise on approach to Frankfurt Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Natalie, in Taunus, said Frankfurt is “very international”.

“Every store employee or barista speaks English in the city,” she said, adding that there are lots of international schools and expat meet-ups. 

A few readers said Westend Süd and Nordend were good areas to live because they are well connected, while hotels close to Römerberg were recommended for visitors. 

READ MORE: ‘A megacity on a small scale’: An insiders’ guide to Frankfurt

Cara Schaefer said Bockenheim was “close to to the main station and Frankfurt Fair, but far enough away to be a bit quieter and out the way of all the hassle and bustle of city centre”.

Simon Slade, 70, in Wehrheim, said Bornheim is a great area for city people.

He added: “The other side of the Taunus (is good) if you want peace and quiet and beautiful countryside but easy access to the city – 30 minutes drive or S-Bahn.”

And there’s a strong argument for getting out into other areas of Hesse around Frankfurt. 

Alison Ward, 69, moved from Scotland to Frankfurt in 1981 when “trams still ran through the Hauptwache”.

Ward then went onto live with her late husband in Hofheim am Taunus and she recommended the city on the outskirts of Frankfurt, as well as Bad Homburg.

“The nicest thing about Hofheim is that it actually has a ‘Stadtmitte’ (town centre) where you really feel that you are in the heart of town,” said long-time Hofheim resident Ward. 

READ ALSO: My time in Germany – How a year in Marburg changed everything

“As with all towns everywhere, there is a lot of history hidden in the bricks and mortar. Visit first of all your neighbourhood, and expand from there!”

The Bahai'i temple in Hofheim (Hesse) near Frankfurt in April 2017.

The Bahai’i temple in Hofheim (Hesse) near Frankfurt in April 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa

What could be improved?

Like everywhere, life is far from perfect in Frankfurt and a lot of things could be better. 

Some people said they would like to see cleaner and more modern transport facilities, as well as better public transport links round the clock. 

Other readers said they’d like to see improvements to areas such as the Bahnhofsviertel, which is known for drug use.

Angeeka Biswas, 34, said the rent situation needs to be improved. Like other cities in Germany, rents are high – and climbing – in Frankfurt, and it can be difficult to get a flat. 

Simon Slade urged authorities to reduce the speed limit in the city to 30km per hour.

Some readers said they’d like to see more events for English speakers. 

Others pointed to cultural differences – like the strict German custom of closing shops on a Sunday. 

“Frankfurt has improved a great deal since I first moved here, although supermarkets open on a Sunday would be great,” said Nichola.

Meanwhile, Alison Ward said the cost of public transport should be reduced to make travel around the Frankfurt area and surrounding cities cheaper. 

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