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The Havel River Bicycle Ride

The Havel is a river system that begins in the Mecklenburg Lake District near Neubrandenburg and courses south through Berlin, then west through the city of Brandenburg and eventually flows into the Elbe at Havelberg. In all, the  river is 202 miles (325 kilometers).

Tour Overview:Fellow tralvers Ute, Rolf, Maxa, Tim, Guntram, and Ulla Map of Havel TourJuly 10, 2011. We are six on this tour. In addition to ourselves, Guntram and Ulla and Rolf and Ute joined us. So, basically, it is the same crew with whom we toured Holland on the Ship and Bike in 2010. We engaged the firm of Die Landpartie who transferred our bags from one prearranged lodging to the next. That service is quite convenient for us. All we carried was our picnic lunch and a minimum of clothes for comfort. Since the weather was warm, the clothing was lightweight. I carried my normal trunk rack full of tools, spare parts, and duct tape, of course.

Our tour as laid out by Die Landpartie is only 147 miles (236 kilometers) and takes 5 leisurely days through mostly flat terrain. It begins in Rheinsberg and ends in Brandenburg. With a travel day on either end, the total time is 7 days. I would prefer a longer ride starting nearer the source and ending on the Elbe but I can save that for another year.Path sign

Signage: The signage was good but around Berlin there was a confusion of signs for different long distance cycle paths. One really needs a guidebook to stay on the Havel cycle path.

Accommodations: There is no shortage of good accommodations although our overnight lodgings were prearranged by the tour company.

Stops: As our overnight stops were prearranged, we stopped at Rheinsberg, Zehdenick, Oranienburg, Potsdam, Werder and Brandenburg. We also found several smaller villages that were quaint.

Maps and Guidebooks: We used the Esterbauer "bikeline" guide Mit Havelland-Radweg, Von der Mecklenburgischen Seenplatte an die Elbe Radtourenbuch, 1:75,000 by Verlag Esterbauer GmbH. The book provided by the tour company seemed to be produced by Esterbauer Verlag and customized although it contains most of the information that Esterbauer has in their publicly offered guide book. While the text is in Deutsch, a map is a picture in any language.

The image of the bikeline Guidebook will appear here when I receive permission from Verlag Esterbauer.

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Day 1: Rheinsberg to Zehdenick

Day Overview: The path is rolling terrain of rural fields and forests climbing to 100 feet near Zernikow before becoming less rolling. The tour company through whose auspices we can have most of our luggage forwarded and who made advance reservations all along the way provided a reservation for the six of us at Gasthof und Fleischerei Endler, operated by, wait for it, who else, the Family Endler. Their address is Mühlenstrasse 14, 16831 Rheinsberg, Germany; telephone 033931/2079; email info@endler-rheinsberg.de; website http://www.endler-rheinsberg.de. They charge from €30 (low season) to €40 (high season) per person for a double bed room, of which they have plenty. We were all comfortable there and enjoyed their restaurant as well. In the restaurant for a digestive, they offer their homemade Schnapps called Darmspülung (roughly translated, this is the medicine you take prior to a colonoscopy to clear your GI track).

Mile 0 (0 km): Rheinsberg is the start of our tour but it is not even on the Havel River. We start here because it has train connections. We join the Havel River at mile 21 (kilometer 34). Another reason for starting here is that the town is picturesque. It also has several lodging opportunities.

Our first stop is the Schloss or palace. Schloss Rheinsberg has been in existence in some form since 1464. Each of several successive owners remodeled the structure over the centuries. In 1734 it became the property of the Crown Prince and later King of Prussia Frederick William I (preußischer König Friedrich Wilhelm I). Frederick William I gave the palace to his son, Frederick William II (Frederick the Great or Der Alte Fritz as he was nicknamed in German) who used it until he gained the throne on the death of his father. Then in 1744, Frederick the Great gave Schloss Rheinsberg to one of his younger brothers, Henry (Heinrich). According to our tour guide, Henry was married, a patron of the arts like his royal brother, a successful general in the Prussian Army, and gay. Henry is buried in the garden of the palace. Nowadays, the castle is a tourist attraction owned by the German government.

Schloss RheinsbergSchloss RheinsbergSchloss RheinsbergDer Alte FritzWooden Horse in stables

Mile 9.2 (14.8 km): We reached Zernikow after following the cycle path through a forest. There are several piles of logs along the path, which is quite typical in German forests. We stopped for lunch at the lake Kleiner Wentowsee.Lunch stop at Kleiner WentowseeLogs piled along cycle path

Mile 20.1 (32.4 km): We turn off a light-traffic road and find a sign telling us that for the next 10 kilometers we will be riding through an area that used to be the largest source of brick production in Europe. The clay was mined in open pit mines that have long since filled with water making a series of more than 20 small lakes, all fed by ground water or the Havel River. It is called the Zehdenick Clay Area and is the location of Mildenberg Brick Park (kilometer 36.2). This area was the site of over 57 brick kilns and employed as many as 50,000 workers in its heyday. The main growth of the brick industry began in 1887 when railroads were first utilized here. The last kiln was closed in 1991. The Mildenberg Brick Park is interesting for young and old alike. There is a narrow gage train ride one can take and listen to information in German about the work that went on here during their heyday.Canal boat in Mildenberg Brick Park

The canal boat in the photograph on the right is no longer used but it is the largest of its kind. The crane behind the boat was built in 1907 and used until 1990. The following are photographs of Mildenberg Brick Park.

KilnMaxa on a small-gauge flatcarOops, too much heat for too long 

Havelschloss in ZehdenickHavelschloss in ZehdenickWe spent the evening in the Havelschloss in Zehdenick. It is a three star hotel and much nicer than Maxa and I are used to but we warmed quickly to its benefits. Their telephone is 033094/700-501 and the website is www.havelschloss.de.

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Day 2: Zehdenick to Oranienburg

Day Overview: Most of today is on a flat paved path alongside the Havel or as it is signed, the Voss Kanal.Path prior to Liebenswalde

Mile 8.8 (14.2 km): After riding along the canal on a nice paved cycle path we are in Liebenswalde.

Mile 29.4 (47.3 km): Approaching Oranienburg, we ride through a forest for several kilometers, along a great cycle path. We stop for the night at Strandhotel Germendorf in Oranienburg, www.strandhotel-germendorf.de. They charge €70 to €80 for a double room and they have a variety of rooms. Kremmener Allee 24 b, 16515 Oranienburg OT Germendorf telephone 03301/ 58 65- 0. The hotel is almost 6 kilometers west of downtown near a beautiful park.

Liebenswalde

Day 3: Oranienburg to Potsdam Day

Overview: Most of the way today is paved with short stretches of well packed gravel. The only significant hill is one we would have avoided if had we stayed on the correct path in Wannsee (after the ferry). Today’s ride is probably the longest of the entire tour at almost 38 miles.Oranienburg Palace

Mile 0 (0 km): Man, we get lost just trying to find our way back to the cycle path. Thinking logically (Germany is a logical country and they speak a very logical language) we reason that if we just followed the right bank of the Havel we would find a bridge into downtown and there connect with the path. Wrong. Somehow we crossed under the bridge without noticing. The path along the river starts out wide with firm gravel like many cycle paths but then it diminishes into a loose dirt footpath with overhanging brambles. We turn right into the residential area and ask directions. We find we are much further south than we want to be. Now we backtrack to a bridge and pick up the path.

Mile 0 (0 km): I start my cyclometer at the Havel as we ride into Lehnitz and pick up the cycle path a couple kilometers south of where we left it last night in the center of Oranienburg.Guardtower along the former Berlin WallYellow post marking the locatin of the Berlin Wall

Mile 15.7 (25.2 km): We ride past a sign saying that here is a “Grenztor Niederneuendorf” that apparently was an entrance, or exit, into West Berlin from East Germany. Interestingly, I could not find a community named Niederneuendorf on the map but I guess it is just west of Hohenneuendorf. Niederneuendorf means Lower-new-village in English while Hohenneuendorf means Upper-new-village, don'tchaknow. The “Berlin Wall” is no longer in evidence. If one did not know exactly where the infamous wall used to be (with the help of signs like the yellow post shown in the photograph or the guard tower) you could cross the border between East and West without noticing.Nikolaikirche

Mile 22.6 (36.4 km): The photograph on the right is of the Nikolaikirche, a 700-year old church in the Altstadt of Spandau and the spot where Prince Elector Joachim II Hector first attended a Protestant service in 1539. The Altstadt of Spandau is on what used to be an island in the Havel at the confluence of the Spree. On the north end of the island is a citadel formed in the shape of a four-pointed star built at the end of the 16th Century. The following  photographs are also within and without (Joachim II) of the Nikolaikirche (Nicolas Church).

Art in the NikolaikircheDetail of column in NikolaikircheNikolaikirche AltarPrince Elector Joachim II HectorNikolaikirche

Mile 26.5 (42.7 km): We cross into Gatow. Early in our 40+ year marriage, Maxa and I visited a Kleingarten (a small garden plot with a small garden house) in this suburb of Berlin that was owned by her uncle. We remember lying lazily on the shore of the lake and watching sailboats in the river - which here looks like a medium size lake.Ferry ride across the Havel at WannseeFerry ride across the Havel at Wannsee

Mile 31.1 (50 km): Shown as an alternative in our bikeline guidebook, we opt to take a ferry across the river shortening our ride by a few kilometers. More than anything else, the ferry ride is a break from pedaling and some in our group seem to prefer that. I must admit, given today’s perfect weather a short boat ride is relaxing.

The Havel River here is quite wide, it appears to be a lake (called the Grosser Wannsee) but it does have a current. At the landing on the other side is a park and a residential community also called Wannsee. When we stop for supplies at a grocery store, Rolf rides ahead. He sees a path sign and follows it to the right off the arterial street. 10 minutes later I miss seeing the sign so the rest of us end up needlessly climbing a 150 foot hill on the sidewalk. Note that normally riding on the sidewalk (unless that sidewalk is signed as a cycle path) is prohibited by adults but the heavy traffic makes us decide to be criminals. I would rather be a live criminal than a dead law abiding cyclist; the others agree.Glienicke Bridge - Bridge of Spies

Mile 35.0 (56.3 km): We cross back over to the right bank of the Havel on a famous bridge dubbed the “bridge of spies.” The Glienicke Bridge was the border between the American sector in West Berlin and the Russian sector in East Germany. Spy exchanges between America and Russia occurred on this bridge. The method was that officials from the two governments would release their prisoners simultaneously at their respective end of the bridge and the individuals being exchanged would walk across the bridge toward waiting countrymen passing each other in the middle. Spy movies of the Cold War frequently showed this bridge. More at Wikipedia's "Glienicke Bridge".

Mile 37.7 (60.7 km): We stop for the night at Hotel Froschkasten (translation “Frog box”). The address is Kiez Strasse 3-4; 14467 Potsdam, Brandenburg, Germany. Telephone (0331) 291315; email dieter.downer@t-online.de; website www.froschkasten.de. It is a two star hotel and quite nice. Built in 1777, the hotel restaurant serves traditional Berliner cuisine. The rooms range between €58 to €75 per night for two people.

The Froschkasten is one of the oldest pubs in Potsdam. The name "Frog Box" refers to frogs that hibernated over winter in the fishnet shed next door. The frogs amused the customers with loud croaking the next spring. Potsdam is a military town. In times not so long past, newly inducted troops would celebrate "Festival of Old Bones" in the Froschkasten pub. The Old Bones are the soldiers who had at least a year of service. The older soldiers would wear costumes during the humorous, raucous, and probably drunken party, or I do not know German soldiers, past or present. The paintings in the Froschkasten bar are from those days.

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Day 4: Potsdam to Werder

Day Overview: Today we only ride a short distance because we spend most of the day touring the Royal Park in Potsdam. Our cycle path is paved and flat, except in the park.

Mile 0.6 (1 km): Leaving our hotel we ride just down the street to the “Mosque” which is not a mosque at all but a steam driven pumping station for the main fountain in Sanssouci Royal Park. The builder was honoring the many Muslim workers of the buildings and grounds of the Royal Park by mimicking the appearance of a mosque to house the pumping station.

Speaking of Sanssouci (aka Sans Souci, a French term that in the modern vernacular means “no worries, maaan”), it was first envisioned by Frederick William II, King of Prussia and the same person we mentioned when we were in Rheinsberg at the start of the tour. Frederick William II (aka Der Alte Fritz), began construction on Sanssouci and garden park in 1745 shortly after the completion of an expensive war with Austria. He wanted to prove to the “world” (meaning in this case his uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws, etc. who were also European monarchs) that Prussia was indeed strong and wealthy. He wanted to communicate that none of the “World” should even think of taking his kingdom from him. Sanssouci Royal Park is anchored at one end by Sanssouci Palace and at the other end by The New Palace. In between is a garden park built in the manner of and to rival the Versailles Palace in France. The king built the New Palace in 1763 after the Seven Years War, which reportedly nearly bankrupted Prussia. So, my take away here is that when your bank account is nearly empty, spend a lot of money on a new palace to prove you are still wealthy - even if you are faking it. If you visit Berlin, Potsdam is worth a day or two side trip just to see these palaces, the park and the surrounding sights that include Cecilienhof Palace, the place where, in 1945, European borders were redrawn by Stalin, Truman, and Churchill.

 Mosque (Moschee) for SanssouciJägertor or Hunters GateNauener TorStreet in PotsdamRoyal Park Fountain in SanssousiDetail of Samsspico Palace Detail near fountainFountain at SanssouciSanssouci PalaceRussian Chapel Alexander-Newski-GedächtniskircheRussian Village homeWhat to see? What to see?Propsteikirche Saint Peter and PaulInterior of Propsteikirche Saint Peter and Paul Fun Potsdam sculpture

Mile 6.8 (11 km): We leave the park after seeing about a third of the sights. We have been here before so this time we did not enter any of the palaces. We did however pedal up to the Russian Chapel Alexander-Newski-Gedächtniskirche. It is interesting and worth the short ride. A Gedächtniskirche is a memorial church.Boat near WerderChurch in Werder

Mile 16.4 (26.4 km): We stop for the evening on the island in Werder. Our rooms are in Hotel zur Insel (hotel on the Island). Again this is perhaps a two star accommodation with another quality restaurant. The address is Am Markt 6, 14542 Werder (Havel). The website is www.hotel-zur-insel.de and the email address is info@hotel-zur-insel.de. For the 49 rooms, the charge is about €85 for a double room.

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Day 5: Werder to Brandenburg Day

Overview: Today we have a modest hill to climb over just before we get to Gollwitz but the entire path is paved; especially if you stay on the correct path, which we did not.

Mile 3.1 (5 km): Leaving Werder, we pass a bicycle Museum (Fahrrad Museum). We do not stop because we know what bicycles look like. Actually, such museums are interesting especially for Americans like myself who seldom see antique bicycles. However, there is one in Kassel, where we stay when in Germany, so I do not need to stop and everyone else on the tour with us has seen such museums as well.

Mile 28.1 (45.2 km): In Gollwitz, we come to a T in the road. While there should be a path sign here there is not. My theory is that some little kid, who is probably hiding in the bushes and snickering as we pass, took the sign down to see how many cyclists he could fool. In addition to the six of us, there are at least ten more who also take this wrong turn. We turned right when we should have taken the left turn through town.

Mile 22.5 (36.2 km): After crossing a busy Bundesstrasse while watching for traffic, we ride into Brandenburg. Brandenburg was in the East during DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) times. To me, it does not look very appealing with many tired buildings, some obviously the subject of continuing neglect. Sure, there are some tired buildings in the former West too but not as many. The photographs below are of Brandenburg. As we have seen several statues of Roland on our different tours, finally we find an explanatory sign telling us that the statue really means that goods sold in the market square are authorized by the King.

Havel RiverSculpture at the Rathaus in BrandenaburgExplanation of Roland StatueRoland StatueHotel Pension GeronoOur final dinner in Brandenburg

We end our tour at the Brandenburg Bahnhof where we depart after spending the night in a Hotel Pension Gerono, Address: Magdeburger Straße 12, 14770 Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany telephone: 3381 34090; the cost is €45 plus an optional €10 for breakfast.

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