A Bicycle Ride Down the Lahn River
On of the prettiest river valleys in Germany beckons you to see it.
The trail is wonderful as it winds from one historic city, such as Marburg, home
of the oldest Protestant university in Europe and Bad Ems the site of the Ems Dispatch
that had historical importance.
August 2000. This tour of the Lahn River will take you from Feudingen
to Lahnstein (close to Koblenz). Feudingen is the closest one can get by train to
the source of the Lahn so it makes a good starting place. This is a 4-day 133.5-mile
(215 km) ride. The ride is mostly flat, punctuated by a few hills. The only major
hilly area begins at mile 16 (25.7 km) on day 4. However, there is a train ride
around these ugly hills and the high-traffic roads around the them that we recommend
This is a great ride if you want to see a part of Germany that few people see.
This ride is not as well traveled as some of the rides in the south like the Danube
but it is fairly easy, beautiful, and just as historic. So, if you want a great
experience away from other tourists and you only have four days; this is your ride.
This route is reasonably well signed.
The sign is square, green on white, showing the pictogram of a bicycle with the
word “Lahn” beneath it. Several “long distance” bike routes that have names like
“R-2” and “R-7” overlay the route. Do not to be confused when these other routes
veer off in a direction different from that of the Lahn bike path.
If you get off the path, just check your map and re-find the route or ask anyone,
“Wo ist der Lahn Radweg.” and you will be given directions. (Chances are,
the person you ask will answer you in English because you pronounced “Wo” like “whoa”
instead of “vo” like the Germans do.) Some of our most memorable experiences have
come when we were trying to find our way back to the path after taking a wrong turn.
Between Giessen and Limburg, you will be following the R-7 bike route. Thereafter
the signs are green with white letters spelling out “Lahntalradweg” (Lahn Valley
bike path) and “R-36.” The signage ends in Lahnstein where the Lahn joins the Rhine
River. We could have caught a train in Lahnstein but we took this opportunity to
do some sightseeing in the city of Koblenz, just a few short miles down the Rhine.
There are enough hotels,
Pensionen and Zimmer along the route. As a choice, we like Zimmer
(advertised as Zimmer Frei) but there are also Gasthäuser (Guest
Houses), Pensionen (pensions or bed and breakfasts), Jugendherbergen
(Youth Hostels), and hotels. For a complete discussion of the different types of
accommodations and tips on reservations, see my
Overnight Accommodations page.
The most interesting stops are Marburg,
Limburg, Bad Ems, and Lahnstein/Koblenz. There are numerous cities and villages
with significant history, that is dating back 800 to 1,200 years. For us, the real
pleasure of this ride is the scenery, especially between Weilburg and Obernhof.
For a detailed map and guidebook
we used the Radwanderweg Lahntal, scale 1:75,000, published by VUD – Verlag
und Druck GmbH. There are other maps such as BDR’s Deutsche Rad-Tourenkarte,
scale 1:100,000, number 27, 30, and 31. The BDR maps are good but the scale is too
small for my liking and they do not give as much information about the towns that
your particular bike route is traversing. They do give useful information about
the area in general and some of the towns on the map. The BDR maps also include
helpful information about biking in general. But we feel the best overall is the
Bikeline, Lahn Radweg, Radtourenbuch und Karte, scale 1:50,000, published
by Verlag Roland Esterbauer, GmbH. When you visit their
website you will see a list of their products.
You can order a copy and have it sent to your home at
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Day 1: Feudingen to Marburg
Today’s ride will be 35.4 miles
(57 km). It is an easy ride to Marburg and most of it is on good bike trails. For
all but the slowest riders, there is probably enough time to take an early train
to Feudingen and spend the first night in Marburg. However, there are nice places
to stay both in Feudingen and Bad Laasphe. Starting the day in Feudingen will enhance
your enjoyment of the ride. In short, this is an easy day on the knees for the members
of the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees-Club (of which you are automatically a member if
you, like us, qualify). Marburg There are a couple 60-foot hills along the way but
nothing too steep. There are short stretches of gravel, one of which is somewhat
messy to ride on.
We start the trip at the Bahnhof
in Feudingen. We could just as easily start at the Landhotel Doerr (Telephone 02754-3700),
which looks like a great place to stay overnight before the start of the ride. Anyway,
from the Bahnhof parking lot turn right onto the street and share the road with
cars for the first couple of kilometers. At mile 0.2, I note that the Lahntal bike
path from the river source joins the path from the left.
Turn right and climb a 60-foot
hill into Bermershausen. As I ride downhill for the next 2.5 miles, I have to keep
my speed down because of the loose gravel some (expletive-deleted) non-bike rider
put on this trail. This stuff will never work down or settle in. And the last thing
I want to do is fall on this sharp, loose gravel.
Enter Bad Laasphe. This is
a “Kurort” or a spa town; a place where Germans, with the financial help
of the national healthcare system, come for a few weeks of resort-like spa treatments
and recovery from some of their ailments. That means there are plenty of hotels,
restaurants, shopping opportunities, and other tourist related businesses.
Enter Waleau after climbing
another 60-foot hill. On the way down, watch your speed again; there are bumps and
other impediments to high speed. I am having a bit of a hard time controlling my
bike speed. The long-distance bike route signed as “R-2” joins the Lahnradweg in
Enter Luwidgshütte after
a long, gentle, downhill on a good path. Riding down this hill, you can push your
speed if you want to.
Ride through the edge of
Buchenau and stay to the left of the tracks. That is unless you like the hill that
the alternative route takes you over. On this side, you will avoid all hills, even
the one shown on some maps because the bike path has been rerouted along the river
and therefore it stays flat.
Enter the Lahntal community
of Sarnau. Just past the Bahnhof, the bike path will cross the train tracks. I ride
up to an interesting Schranke (RR crossing barrier). The translation of
the sign on the box says, “Please push the call button to request the barrier to
be opened.” You can use English with the push-to-talk button but the answer may
be in German. In any event, do not try to cross if the barrier does not open, trains
come by here at 1,000 miles per hour (or at least it seems so). I am told to wait
for a train. I wait about 5 minutes and don’t hear a thing, suddenly a train screams
across the path just on the other side of the barrier.
Just outside of Sarnau,
is a train trestle that I recommend you walk your bike across. If you think you
are God’s gift to bike riders and you can ride across, you might tear the brand
new covering off your handlebars and a little skin off your arm too. I bet you wonder
how I know this.
The Marburg Bahnhof. We
stop for the night.
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Day 2: Marburg to Wetzlar
Today’s ride will be only 26 miles
(42 km) because we spend so much time sightseeing in Marburg in the morning. Go
to the tourist information office for a map of the walking tour of Marburg.
The path is almost flat and what gravel there is well packed and easy riding.
It’s yet another easy day for us members of the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees-Club.
We start our day at the Bahnhof
in Marburg because we have to start somewhere and that is as easy to find as anything
else. We follow the automobile traffic toward Marburg Centrum (City Center)
until you get to the first bridge over the Lahn. The bike path is on the left bank
(as you look in the direction of flow) so simply find your way down to it and follow
the bike path through this beautiful city.
I recommend taking the time to tour the city a little. This means abandoning
the bike path and crossing into the Altstadt or old town part of the city. Marburg
is the home of one of Germany’s oldest universities and the world’s first Protestant
university. In 1529, Martin Luther met here with another Protestant reformer, the
Swiss, Ulrich Zwingli, in an attempt to combine two important schools of thought.
The Schloss, atop the hill in Marburg was an important political center for the
surrounding region until the government was moved to Kassel in the 15th Century.
Don’t miss St. Elizabeth’s Church (Elisabeth-Kirche) completed in 1283. This church
is named after St. Elizabeth, a princess who devoted her life to helping the poor.
There are plenty of bridges to cross back to the left bank when you have finished
your sightseeing in the city.
The path along the left bank
crosses underneath a low auto bridge. You will notice small sign monuments along
the trail telling about the different planets in our solar system. The distance
on the trail between the planets and the sun is in scale with that of our actual
system. (This model is duplicated between Bad Laasphe and Waleau; the sun is at
In Roth, the signage changes
from signs on posts to stencils on the newly paved bike path. You can probably guess
at their meaning but “Gi” stands for the direction to Giessen and “Ma” stands for
the direction to Marburg. We want “Gi.”
Enter Giessen. Unfortunately,
a flat tire causes us to leave the bike path that follows the right bank of the
river through Giessen. We ride into town in search of an air compressor and a coffee
break. In Giessen, we pick up the R-7 bike route and follow that through the downtown
shopping district towards Wetzlar.
We stop for the night and
turn our cyclometer off at the road into Wetzlar/Dudenhofen. We are looking for
a Zimmer but we can only find a Landhotel instead in the village of Münchholzhausen.
I will start my cyclometer here tomorrow.
Day 3: Wetzlar to Runkel
Today we ride 39 miles (63 km)
to Runkel. There are a couple steep hills, one going into Weilburg at mile 24 and
one going into Villmar at mile 33. The path is mostly paved and is in good condition.
We start the day on the bike path
where we left off yesterday.
We leave the trail here and
ride into the Altstadt of Wetzlar to check out this historic, walled city.
Historically Wetzlar was a major trade route between the well-established cities
of Frankfurt and Köln, Wetzlar was the site of a bridge over the Lahn in the beginning
of the 13th Century.
Enter Weilburg. The city center is on top of a 70-foot hill
at mile 24. At the top where you see the historic city gate, jog left then right
following the R-7 signs. The path for the next several miles is as pretty as the
river valleys of Germany get. Nice green rolling hills bowing gently to a slow moving,
meandering river bottom.
We leave the railroad track that we have been following for
a few miles and climb a hill. As we do, we meet a biker who lives in the area. He
tells us that we need not climb the hill that we could stay down next to the track
(and the river) all the way into the next village of Villmar. We are purists though
and since R-7 and the Lahn bike path are signed to climb this hill, we do so. It
turns out to be a 170-foot hill.
Ed. Update: In 2007, we received information from a reader who informs us that
the path along the railroad track between Füfurt and Villmar is completed (though
I do not know if that means that it is paved). So there is no need to climb the
170 foot hill unless you want to. Turn right at the top, you will ride along a secondary
road into Villmar and you will pass a bicycle with 10 seats and sets of pedals on
it. I presume it is for one of the town fests or fairs that are common in Germany.
We ride over the Marmorbrücke
(Marble Bridge) in Villmar.
We end the day at Fremdenzimmer Thomas in Runkel. It is close
to the railroad and the old Lahn Bridge. They serve us an excellent meal and we
enjoy a clean, large room. The train is supposed to come by a couple of times but
we know that we can survive the noise. The stone bridge was built 552 years ago
in 1498. The castle is just as old but it is not open to the public when the owner
is staying there and tonight he is in residence so we have to forego the tour. At
dinner tonight, we converse with the owner’s son. He works for a high-tech firm
in Frankfurt; a short commute by train from Runkel. He tells us a little of the
area’s history including the fact that a large group of people from the Braunfels
community, between Wetzlar and Weilburg, immigrated to Texas and created the community
of New Braunfels, near Austin. I knew there was something familiar about that name.
Now I know why. We have friends living in New Braunfels. Friends who have never
been to Germany riding bicycles, I might add.
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Day 4: Runkel to Lahnstein
We ride 34 miles (54 km) today.
There are five hills today, like the 140-foot hill outside Obernhof up to the Arnstein
Monastery. Like the last two days, the path is mostly paved. What little gravel
there is will be hard packed.
We start the day at the Runkel
Bridge. We ride on the right bank of the Lahn in the direction of Limburg.
Climb the 90-foot hill into
Dietkirchen. It is worth it (you don’t have a choice anyway) because the view over
the river valley from the church courtyard is gorgeous. Too, it’s fun riding the
switchback path back down to the river bottom. Undoubtedly, the faithful parishioners
have treaded this path from the village below to the church above for centuries.
Remember, in addition to the Lahn bike path, you are following R-7. For a short
distance coming up, you will see R-8 signs. Ignore them.
We enter Limburg and under
the freeway bridge, we pass both a Gästezimmer and a campground. Limburg
has a picturesque town straight out of the Middle Ages. It is well worth a couple
hours walking around.
Puff-puff, we’re climbing
a 120-foot hill and we notice the signage for the Lahn bike path changes to a pale
green and white sign marking the Lahntal (Lahn Valley) bike route and R-36. (There
is a campground just before the hill starts up.)
Here is a big sign stating
“Der Radweg endet hier!” (The bike path ends here!). We are across the
river from Balduinstein and have just ridden through a particularly beautiful part
of the Lahn Valley. One of the things that make it beautiful is how the steep hills
drop into the river bottom. The sign recommends we take the train for the next stretch
of the Lahntal bike route to Obernhof. We consider our options. One is to ignore
the sign’s advice and ride the river anyway. There is a way, but it is not well
signed and involves steep hills and a high traffic road. The other is to have lunch
and a bier at the Imbiss (snack stand) next to the Bahnhof and take a short
train ride to the next stop. We opt for the easy route since we are members in good
standing of the Over-Fifty-with-Bad-Knees Club, don’t you know. So we cross the
bridge to the Bahnhof and await the train, they come every hour. The ticket cost
€5.00 for two people (bikes are free). The resident stationmaster tells us that
during July and August, there can be as many as 100 bikers per day. We are biking
in late August and there are only three other bikers on the platform. The ride is
15 minutes to Obernhof and from the Bahnhof ride uphill and turn right at the first
R-36, Lahntal sign. Looking up, we see the medieval Kloster Arnstein high on the
hill overlooking the village. This structure was originally built as a castle for
Graf Arnold in 1050. Arnold’s son gave it to the church in 1139 and it became a
monastery, undoubtedly as an “indulgence,” which, at the time, was how one bought
one’s way into heaven. The Swedish Army, who fought on the side of the Protestants
during the Thirty-Year War, plundered the monastery twice before 1638. The good
news is that it makes a great photograph. The bad news is, you have to ride up and
see it up close.
We are at Kloster Arnstein;
take the signed R-36, Lahntal path over rolling terrain (a few hills) then back
down to river level in the direction of Nassau. At mile 17.6, you will notice a
small, tombstone-like “Grenzstein.” These stone markers were used to demark
boundaries of principalities, petty nobility ownerships in the Middle Ages. At one
time, just after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 (the end of the Thirty-Year War),
Germany was divided into 1,800 separate, independent states. You can imagine that
they needed quite a few of these Grenzsteine. If one were alive then, one
would have done well with Grenzstein futures. From the Grenzstein,
you drop over 100 feet in elevation quickly. If the pavement were dry today, I would
have “let her go” but with slick wet pavement, I kept it under control.
Enter Nassau. Down the road
at mile 24, you will have the opportunity to cross some railroad tracks a couple
times. As a forewarning, trains travel fast on these tracks. If a signal is flashing,
don’t cross, regardless of how far you can see in both directions. In one case,
less than two seconds elapsed from the time when we could not see a thing in either
direction until the train was roaring past us.
Cross the Lahn to the right
bank in Bad Ems. The valley has steep walls along this section. We have climbed
up and dropped down several hills of 50-feet or more. We don’t mind, even if it
is raining today, we are having a lot more fun that we would have working in an
air-conditioned office. Another advantage of this part of the trail, we have passed
many castles and other medieval structures perched on the hilltops.
I need to mention a bit of interesting history here. Bad Ems is famous for the "Ems
Dispatch". In 1870, Prussian King William I (Wilhelm I) and Chancellor Bismarck
were "taking the waters" of Ems. It seems William's cousin, Leopold
Hohenzollern had been asked to accept the crown of Spain, which was an ally of Prussia.
The French under Napoleon III saw this as dangerous to their national interests.
He asked his ambassador to request that William promise that he would prohibit cousin
Leopold from taking the crown. Well, it is all very complicated but King William
allegedly issued a less than polite reply to the French ambassador. So, I guess
the king was curt and France was hurt. France declared war on Prussia a few days
later and Germany trounced them in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Germany demanded
over a billion dollars in retribution and took most of the Alsace Lorraine to boot.
And all that eventually led to WWI in 1914. How the world turns but it happened
We end our bike tour travelogue
at the confluence of the Lahn and the Rhine in Lahnstein. We can see one of the
many castles that line the Rhine across the river. In this case, it is Schloss Stolzenfels.
It’s easy to find a hotel in Lahnstein. We rode past the Hotel Zum Weissen Ross
(translates to “at the white horse”) just before the end of the bike tour. Then
while looking for the tourist information office (to inquire about accommodations)
we rode past that hotel again. Finally, we found the tourist information office,
got a list of local establishments, called one and then set out in that direction.
We rode past the same hotel a third time. Now it is raining so hard that the water
splashing up from each falling drop is nearly a foot high. We are soaked completely
through. But still we push on, up the hill, for two miles. We try to take a short
cut to our Zimmer but instead run into a dead end. Disappointed, drenched,
and beginning to lose our sense of humor, we decide to look for a hotel closer to
downtown. We ride back a mile and check into two other hotels but one is unappealing
and the other is closed. We continue back and on the recommendation of a local citizen,
we end up at the same hotel that we have twice passed; Hotel Zum Weissen Ross; Johannesstr.
19 Lahnstein, 56112; telephone 02641/8417. The owners are great, Greek immigrants
and quite helpful. We clean up and enjoy a great meal at the end of a wet but enjoyable
day on the Lahn.
One last anecdote, on the train home the next day, we meet an English traveler
who lives and works in Germany. We have a nice conversation about the German language.
He shares with us a philosophy about foreigners traveling in Germany. “You only
need to know two phrases: ‘Zwei Bier, bitte.’ And, ‘Mein Freund bezahlt.’”
("Two beers, please." And, "My friend will pay.") Hopefully
you have a friend or you escape before the owner finds out that you do not.
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