Cycling in Northern Germany 2002

The summer started badly in 2002, with Carol falling off the Brompton and breaking her wrist - we suspect that she had not properly locked the frame and the bike folded as she was riding along. Our summer trip to Germany therefore appeared to be in danger of being sans velo, but, as it turned out, she recovered sufficiently to ride the tandem - where, if necessary, the stoker can take one hand off the bars without endangering life or limb.

Carol is a great enthusiast of Germany and the Germans, she has relatives living there and has worked briefly in Hamburg on a job exchange scheme. Our sons took part in student exchanges with a German family with whom we have since kept in touch. We had cycled through part of the country when we did a trip down the course of the Rhine in 2000, while we have also taken a cycling holiday near to the very bicycle friendly town of Munster, so we knew that  it was possible to find safe routes on specially constructed paths. This time we elected to visit northern Germany, the area known as Schleswig Holstein, which borders Denmark in the north.

We considered various options for getting there. Given Carol's healing wrist we decided to take the car, rather than get involved in manhandling the loaded tandem on train journeys through Holland etc. Having decided that the car would be the way, the next choice was route. It is actually cheaper to drive deep south to Dover, cross the channel there, and then drive up through France, Holland etc., than to take the longer ferry crossing starting near to where we live in the north east. The prospect of spending several days driving did not appeal one bit however, so we eventually opted for the North Shields to Ijmuiden ferry. Carol's wrist permitting, we hoped to make minimum use of the car, parking at camp sites and cycling from them.

Carol wished to look up some work acquaintances in Hamburg, so our first stop was within outskirts of the city, at a small camp site that was primarily used by touring caravans and motor homes. Hamburg is a very large and lively cosmopolitan city, with plenty to see and do. Throughout this holiday we would encounter a mixture of torrential rain and sunshine, and in Hamburg we had a bit of both. Hamburg appeared to be a reasonably cycle friendly place, certainly by UK standards. You are allowed, for example, to take your bike on the subway during off peak periods, while there is an extensive network of cycle paths.

Inside Hamburg Metro

We did not attempt to cycle in Hamburg, but walked up the course of the Elbe out of city to the prosperous suburb of Blankenese, historically the home of wealthy sea captains and others associated with the sea. It is a very pleasant walk, but we were very slightly alarmed to see emergency phones located adjacent to the path; perhaps not the place to be on a dark night! 

Blankenese

Later that day we took a bus into Hamburg in search of food and came home in the evening on another bus that was driven by a man assisted by a large Alsatian dog. The dog was wedged into the driver's cab, its head (and more particularly, teeth) protruding into the passenger space. I noticed that the driver had a scar on his face, presumably he didn't want that to happen again and the dog was providing cover! While this was not a very welcoming sight, the driver made up for it by allowing us to travel despite the fact the we were a few cents short of the required fare.

The following day we drove towards the town of Schleswig and found a superb camp site on the side of a deep inlet, with Schleswig a few miles away, visible across the water. All around the camp site were references to the Vikings, the manager being of  an appropriate stature and with the regulation beard. He was friendly rather than warlike however and we elected to pitch our tent there for a few nights and explore the area around by bike. It transpired that there was a Viking settlement nearby (Hedderby) and a museum devoted to the Vikings had been established. Beautifully presented in attractive wooden buildings, were both the remains and reconstructions of the famous long boats, while a range of artefacts from Viking times were also on display. This camp site appeared to be on an established long distance cycle route, as there was a succession of people cycle camping throughout the time we were there.

Schleswig lake


This is a very good area for cycle touring, there are safe separate cycle paths or quiet minor roads for cyclists to explore, while it is also a holiday destination so there are plenty of camp sites to choose from. The terrain is gently rolling, with no severe hills.. Many Germans cycle, both for recreation and for utility purposes, so cycling is seen as a "normal" activity. Most towns have a well stocked cycle shop. Notice the assortment of machines equipped for some serious use with, lights, mudguards, carrier etc.

Bike Shop


I appreciate separate good quality separate cycle paths when the roads are busy, but in this part of the world we encountered cycle paths alongside almost deserted roads, and in some cases the quality of the newly laid path was far superior to the road itself.

Good cycle path

Some of the paths went decidedly off road, and in places the quality was not of the highest, e.g. forest tracks, or compacted sand, but this was not the norm. Signposts are at a premium, particularly on the off road sections, take a good detailed map and a compass or one of those clever global positioning gadgets. We got lost once or twice.

Off road path

Despite the crazy speeds encountered on the autobahns, urban speed limits are lower than in the UK, (and are more rigorously adhered too) with 30 km/hr the norm where people live, making for safe cycling.

30Km/hr limit

Where the cycle path runs adjacent to a major road, the cycle path has right of way over the minor roads that are encountered, something that the UK could adopt to advantage. Note the separate road and cycle path route signs. I must adjust the rear saddle on the tandem, it does look very uncomfortable!

Path with right of way

If you wish to take your bike by train there is special provision made for cycle carriage on some services.

Bike carriage

With plenty of room inside for all of the bikes.

Inside bike carriage

Our next camp site was an award winning operation near to Eutin, a small town in the lake district to the north of Lubeck. When we booked in the attendant noticed our struggles due to our lack of reading glasses and promptly produced a pair from beneath the counter! This attention to detail was typical of the place, possibly the cleanest and best organised site we have ever used with most plots looking out over the lake. The site was also eco-friendly, with colour coded waste bins and automatic lights in the toilet block. A network of signed routes leads between the lakes, and further afield to the resorts on the Baltic coast. It was here that we survived one of the worst storms in living memory, when seven people were killed in Berlin. Inside the tent it sounded as though someone was playing a fire hose onto the fabric. I remember thinking that no good could come of this,  that we must be washed away and perhaps we should retreat to the safety of the car, but then I must have fallen asleep and we awoke to a gloriously sunny morning.

We visited Lubeck by car but I was not impressed by the rather gloomy dark brickwork of the city's historic buildings, perhaps I had expected too much.

One motive for visiting this area was the lure of  steam trains in the town of Bad Doberan not far from Rostock in the old East Germany. The celebrated Molli line runs through the streets of the town, and everything stops when the train comes through.

Molli train

The train crawls through the streets sounding a warning bell, but once it reaches open countryside it speeds up to a fair gallop. These steam trains provide a valuable service for the locals, with several stops through the town, and for the holiday makers who are travelling to the seaside resorts along the route. Our train was well patronised in both directions.

Steam Loco


Unfortunately  the cycling environment in this area did not appear to be very good. We did not notice any special provision for cyclists, with narrow roads and fast cars. Bearing in mind that our experience was limited to a single visit, on the basis of that, I could not recommend this part of Germany for cycling.

However, back at Euten, the situation was much better, and we managed to pedal through a forest in order to dip our toes in the nearby Baltic sea. Note the traditional wickerwork bathing seat. The water was surprisingly warm.

Baltic Beach

Traditional German food seems to involve a lot of everything, with meat high on the agenda. Prices were very reasonable, and we enjoyed a superb meal at a restaurant in Schleswig. We can't remember the name of the place, but there was a small stream flowing adjacent to the restaurant and we ate in a large conservatory that formed an extension to the original building. Much lower down the gastronomic pecking order was this huge feast eaten outside the Germanic equivalent of a UK greasy spoon, in Eutin.

Large Meal


Being great fans of the Dutch and Amsterdam in particular, we arranged to spend two nights at the municipal camp site on the Schiphol side of town on the edge of Amsterdam Bos (Wood) before leaving for home. From here it is possible to cycle through the wood and parkland into the city (about 8 miles), and then across the free ferry and onwards to the delights of Monickendam and elsewhere.

Monickendam

Monickendam not only boasts one of the world's best bike shops, but also a coffee shop of unparalleled excellence!

Monickendam Coffee Shop


Overall a successful holiday.  Carol did very well considering her broken wrist, we cycled most days and managed a maximum daily mileage of 60 on one occasion.  We were pretty fortunate with the rain, it fell mostly at night when we were safely under canvas, while we did not have to erect or dismantle the tent in the wet. Camping with the car has the advantage that you can take a table and chairs and a few other comforts that would be impossible when restricted to the bikes alone, but I confess that I missed the sense of adventure and achievement that you get when you rely solely on pedal power to get from A to B. We intend to put that right next year with a planned circumnavigation of Brittany - without the car.

Ferry travellers boarding at Ijmuiden should look out for the very good bicycle shop in the town, while they might be interested to know that the hyper market is located behind the main street, next to the public library. Ferry catering is good, and the excellent buffet is very tempting, but it has become a lot more expensive over the years. A very acceptable meal can be had at a fraction of the on board restaurant price if you stock up in the town - don't forget your corkscrew!

Some images re-scanned October 2008

For details of more cycle tours that I have documented, please look here

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