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Geest Bicycle Path

The Geest bike path, or Geest Radweg, cuts across northern Germany from Meppen on the Dutch border to Bremen on the Weser River. The path is a good one for older baby boomers like us (Mid-to-late sixties) and for families with children.

Tour Overview: July, 2013. The word “Geest” as in Geest Radweg, the name of this tour, comes from the Dutch or Friesen language meaning sandy area or sandy plateau. Much of northern Germany is flat and relatively low in altitude. Sure, there are a few hills but they are not daunting. Most of the path is paved and what is not paved is still in good condition (with the exception of some sand near Syke). There are large areas of sandy areas in the lowest areas and many are also covered in peat (Turf in German) many feet thick. Instead of starting in Meppen, we start in Papenburg. Why? Because this tour is organized by Guntram, Maxa's brother, who wanted to see the Meyer Werft (shipyard) and it is just a short day’s ride south from Papenburg to Sögel, which is near Meppen and on the Geest bike path. If you like archeology, you will enjoy visiting the several Großsteingrab (large stone burial sites or Dolmens) from the Early Stone Age along the way.

Geest SignsSignage: The signage is fine. Although even with OK signage, we manage to get off the signed cycle path a couple of times, first leaving Papenburg (which is not part of the Geest cycle path) and again the next morning leaving Sögel (which is on the signed cycle path). Nevertheless, we do not backtrack but rather figure out where we are and where we want to rejoin the cycle path and just make it happen without missing anything too important.

Accommodations: We have no trouble finding accommodations although on this tour, we did make advance reservations for this ride. I know, making advance reservations is not our usual modus operandi but we are six riders. Finding lodging for six is at least one level of magnitude higher than finding lodging for two. There are three pages of overnight accommodations in the back of the guidebook I reference below.

 Stops: In addition to our overnight stops, we recommend a stop in Cloppenburg for the outdoor museum of life in the region and Bremen is very historic with many sights to see.

Geest GuidebookMaps and Guidebooks: We used the bikeline guide. The image to the right is attributed to Fishpond.com because, for reasons unknown to me, it does not appear on the publisher, Esterbauer Verlag, website. We bought it in a bookstore but perhaps it will not be printed anymore. The guidebook starts this tour in Meppen, on the Ems River near the Dutch border, and continues across northern Germany to Bremen on the Weser. We, however, start in Papenburg and join the mapped cycle path in Sögel about 16 kilometers from Meppen.

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 Day 1: Papenburg to Sögel

Information Plaque with MaxaPapenburg RathausDay Overview: Papenburg is a beautiful city on the Ems River. It is a tourist destination for many Europeans because of its beauty and because of the Meyer Werft, a Werft is a Shipyard. While Papenburg has about 35,000 residents, but they annually host 300,000 visitors. In 2014, Papenburg will host the German National Garden Show, die Bundesgartenshau. That show plus the shipyard will bring about 500,000 visitors to this small city. The city is gearing up for the influx. There are already many hotels in the city, some brand new like the one we used. More hotels are in various stages of construction. This little city is used to tourists who come to visit the shipyard so if you are planning a visit, do not hold back – it will be a pleasant time. One can learn about the city’s history, shipbuilding and peat trade, the canals, and the region by reading the bronze plaques along the main canal in the center of town.

One of several ships in Papenburg town centerCrane at Meyer Werft Meyer WerftMeyer WerftMeyer WerftMeyer Werft

In 1630, Herr Dietrich von Velen purchased a manor house and started a settlement (now Papenburg) nearby so he could harvest and sell the peat that grows so thick in the area. The peat trade was profitable and peat from Papenburg was delivered to surrounding countries even as far away as Spain. Life for the workers was very difficult. As the peat decomposed, it gave off a gas, or perhaps the gas was present in the soil beneath the peat. Many workers and their family members died if they did not elevate their sleeping platforms above the level of the heavier than air gas that accumulated in their earthen dwellings.

Selfie in fron of Herr Dietrich von Velen statueHerr Dietrich von Velen statueHerr Dietrich von Velen statueDraw bridge over canalAnimal stall in museum homeMuseum homeVery old home in museumslightly newer home in museumTools used at the time of peat harvest and home buildingTools used at the time of peat harvest and home buildingBed in museum homeKitchen equipment in peat cutter's homeHand cart of peatStatue of fisherman near museumStatue of woman at museumLock in canalStatue plaqueHow they steered the bargesAnother view of barge steerageI am helping pull the bargeBarge pulling statueRebuild of a peat boatBones of a peat boatChurch towerWindmill to help dry the bog

We rode through Papenburg in June of 2008 on our Ems River Tour. However, that day we only paused for our picnic lunch and did not realize all that Papenburg has to offer.Meyer Werft

In Papenburg, we stayed at a Kedi Hotel. The price was OK for a new and nice hotel at €59 per person for one night. Breakfast was not included but they have a cafeteria of sorts.

We spend our first day touring the Meyer Werft and find it extremely interesting. Established in 1795 to build boats and ships for the peat trade (peat is Turf in German), the enterprise while publicly traded remains in Meyer family control. They build huge cruise ships for famous firms like Norwegian and Disney as well as many other types of ships and specialty craft. Our decision to start our tour here, instead of Meppen was a good one though we pass up the Meppen to Sögel portion of the path.

Mile 0 (0 km): Picnic lunch pick-up with MaxaThe day following our visit to the shipyard, we pedal out of Papenburg in the direction of Surwold and Sögel. OK, we make a wrong turn to avoid some of the main street traffic and end up a little to the west of the signed Emsland Route path.Emsland Sign

Mile 5.4 (8.7 km): Our first stop is to purchase a picnic lunch of Bröchen and fruit.

Mile 9.6 (15.4 km): Breakfast Beer?Just past the crossroad at Börgemoor, we stop at Gaststätte Ruhe for a “breakfast Bier”. The cycle path is flat and straight as an arrow.

Boeger ChurchMile 11.3 (18.2 km): We ride thorough a park and find a 70-foot hill. I am surprised because hills are rare on this tour. Next after a level piece, we clime another 40-foot hill to a watershed divide. From here the path is gently rolling but mostly downhill through Börger and Werploh to Sögel along L51, a lighly traveled Landstrasse.

Mile 21.3 (34.3 km): It is a short ride today and we overnight in Sögel. We stayed at Clemenswerther Hof, Clemens-August-Str 33, telephone 05952-1230. The price was €79 for two people, one night. This is a nice hotel with breakfast. While in Sögel, we visited the palace or Schloss Clemswerth that was built about 1741 by Clemmens August of Bavaria. But, don’t let his name mislead you; he was the Elector of Cologne which is not nearly as far away as Bavaria. It is a beautiful palace but small, just my size. The tour guides describe what life was like in the infrequently used palace and that alone is amazing. These royals were ultra-formal in everything they did.

Map of Schloss ClemswerthCeiling detail Schloss ClemswerthSchloss ClemswerthGarden Schloss ClemswerthGarden Schloss ClemswerthChapel at Schloss ClemswerthGarden Schloss ClemswerthGarden Schloss ClemswerthTapestry at Schloss Clemswerthdetail of tapestry at Schloss ClemswerthSchloss ClemswerthSchloss Clemswerth

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Day 2: Sögel to Dwergte

Day Overview: The path is mostly flat and mostly paved. Moving on the next day, we missed a left turn just past the Schloßpark turn because it just did not look like it was the correct bike path. Our mistake took us out of the way to Eisten before turning back toward Werlte via Lahn where we reconnected with the official cycle path. Photo 2498 Großsteingrab a gravesite from 2300 and 1800 BCE. Discovered in 1936. The hill where the gravesite was originally located was leveled by farmers for agricultural purposes.Großsteingrab a gravesite from 2300 and 1800 BCE. Discovered in 1936

Mile 4.8 (7.7 km): Großsteingrab near Eisten. This is a gravesite from 2300 and 1800 BCE. First discovered in 1936, the hill where the gravesite was originally located was leveled by farmers for agricultural purposes. There is not much to see. We are not yet on the Geest cycle path.

Kreutzmanns MühleMile 14.9 (24.0 km): Finally, we rejoin the official cycle path in Werlte 42.5 kilometers along the path form Meppen. We apparently saved 3 kilometers by taking the route we did while off the cycle path. The image here is of Kreutzmanns Mühle (Mühle means mill).

The group at the TeufelssteineMile 23.4 (37.7 km): We stopped to inspect a gravesite again from the Early Stone Age (3400 to 2800 BCE) called Devil’s Rock (Großsteingrab Teufelssteine).

Mile 28.7 (46.2 km): We stop for the night in Dwergte at the Gasthaus Zum Dorfkrug, Molberger Str. 1, 49696 Dwergte, Telephone 04475-1807. Email is hotel-hochartz@t-online.de ; Website is here. The price is €50 per person per night. Their breakfast is great. Monday is their day off.

Day 3: Dwergte to Wildeshausen

Day Overview: While most of the path is paved, there is also a fair amount of dirt or gravel path today, especially around Ahlhorn. The better news is today is mostly downhill but you will not notice it because it is so gradual. The other good news is you will see many Dolmens or gravesites from the Stone Age today if you wish to.

A pattern cloth made with woodblocks open air museum in CloppenburgWoodblocks for patterns open air museum in CloppenburgFiretruck open air museum in CloppenburgOld bicycle open air museum in CloppenburgPigs at open air museum in Cloppenburg

Mile 9.0 (14.5 km): Our first stop is the town’s open air museum in Cloppenburg (Museumsdorf) where we spent over an hour and a half. There is a plethora of buildings in the museum. Each has its own theme such as cooperage, dining, farm equipment manufacture, wood lathe, and of course residential uses by people in different social economic strata. The richest (not including royalty) lived in the Herrenhaus or owner’s dwelling. The farmhands shared space with the animals in the barn. One wonders how many flies were at the dinner table given the location of the dining table in the barn. There are plenty today and the animals are long departed.Brick home typical of North Germany

Mile 12.4 (19.9 km): In more modern days, people live in homes like the bicolored brick house on the right. This one though is somewhat fancy.

Mile 20.2 (32.5 km): OK, we have done it again; we are off the cycle path. We are at the Bahnhof in Alhorn and we wanted to turn right at the airport on a street called Am Scheidenwald. The sign was small, there was a woman standing on the path the distracted our attention to signs, and it looked like an entrance to an industrial park that we assumed was a dead end. Wrong. So now we are just going to start down the Wildeshauser Strasse toward Wildeshausen. We have several more Dolmen (Stone Age gravesites) to see between here and Wildeshausen. We will wander off the main roads onto dirt and gravel paths in the search but we do find most of them. This in spite of the biting black flies in the woods.

Großsteingrab near WildeshausenGroßsteingrab near WildeshausenGroßsteingrab near WildeshausenGroßsteingrab near Wildeshausen

Mile 36.1 (58.1 km): Just outside of Wildeshausen we have reservations at Wildeshauserhof, aka Hotel Huntetal. The river next to the hotel is the Hunte River. Their address is Im Hagen 3, D-27793 Wildeshausen; telephone 04431-9400. The cost is €72 per night for 2 people. Breakfast is another €8 per person.

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Day 4 Wildeshausen to Syke

Day Overview: Very gradual up and down today. A beautiful day in Northern Germany, the sun is shining, birdsong is ever-present, and there is no wind.

Mile 0 (0 km): Prior to packing our panniers on our bicycles we rode around Wildeshausen to check out the town a bit. Founded in 851, Wildeshausen has a long history. Two of the buildings here are the oldest in Oldenburg region, they date from the 13th Century. If we had made advance arrangements, we could have toured the distillery but we did not know that beforehand. Just as we left the hotel, the manager met us to say goodbye and gave us schnapps to drink to send us on our way. It is a nice touch, unexpected and tasty too. Photos: 2534 and 2535 Old church in Wildeshausen 2536 is the Rathaus another of the oldest buildings in Wildeshausen.

Mile 8.1 (13.0 km): We stop for coffee in Harpstedt and find a cute little old Closter along the Jakobsweg (the Way to Santiago in Spain, a pilgrimage). They do not serve any alcohol but the hospitality is great. Also, in town there are a series of rocks that date from prehistory called the Sonnenstein. We missed those, unfortunately.

Mile 14.4 (23.2 km): The path turns into gravel and even some sand for a while. We pass some cows where the path is no more than a single track along a small creek. The cows think we are nuts I have no doubt. Here is a blue sign telling us that we are on the pilgrim’s path. This is part of a feeder system of paths that lead to El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. The pilgrimage is sometimes referred to as, “The Way.” Over 1,000 years old, the pilgrimage was an essential part of Europe’s “Grand Tour.” In the Middle Ages, an aristocrat needed to see the civilized world before settling down and this route is part of that educational experience.

Mile 17.0 (27.3 km): At the top of the hill we are back on asphalt, after riding through some of the worst sandy path conditions that we have experienced in 14 years of touring Germany. Sand is the worst of the path conditions we ever encounter. Sand can bring your bike to a stop so you have to get off and push if you cannot pedal through in your granny gear.

Mile 22.2 (35.8 km): We stay the night in Syke at Wessel’s Hotel, 33 Hauptstrasse, 28857 Syke. Telephone 04242-60257. Internet webpage. Email info@wessels-hotel.de. This is a quality, relatively recently remodeled hotel. The cost for two people for one night in a double room is about €70. We get champagne for breakfast. With the schnapps yesterday morning and champagne today, I think the German hospitality industry is trying to ruin my liver. They don’t know but I don’t need any help in that department.

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Day 5 Syke to Bremen

Day Overview: Today is a short one, distance wise. The end of our tour is Bremen, only 20 miles down the road. It is also flat, elevation wise.

Mile 0 (0 km): Syke is an OK town but we did not find much to write home about. In early June, there is a Jazz and bicycle festival in Syke. You can enjoy the music and pedal to the next venue. There is also an old “Amtshof” with a historical town wall that dates from 1562. However, such town walls are not uncommon. They were built in the day when you needed to protect yourself not only from foreign invaders but also from the neighboring town down the road. Sometimes, you needed to protect yourself from your own landlord. As we leave, we take a photograph of Wassermühle Barrien. It not only is a well preserved grain grinding mill but also a current day electricity producing waterwheel. The mill was run by the Barrien family and recently Heinrich Schmidt-Barrien (1902 - 1996), a descendent as well as an esteemed author and playwright was active in Syke. The building today houses an event center, a museum, and a Gasthaus or restaurant.

Mile 8.8 (14.2 km): We pedal through Riede. We were here earlier this year when we rode the Weser for the second time. After Riede, we must follow the Weser Radweg signs because from here to Bremen, Geest Radweg signs are few and far between.

Mile 20.1 (35.8 km): We arrive at the Bahnhof in Bremen. Our tour ends here. Having been in Bremen several times before, we simply have a cup of coffee near the Bahnhof and hop the first train toward our home base in Kassel. It has been a nice ride with no mishaps, seldom lost, and no flat tires. Life is good.

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