The Main River winds from Bayreuth near the border of the Czech
Republic past beautiful towns and cities to flow into the Rhine at Mainz. The
path goes through the Franken region, now part of Bavaria but in days of old,
the home of the Franks. This region is famous for beer and wine.
2003. This is a 9-day, 325-mile, 524-kilometer tour along the Main River from
Bayreuth to Mainz. Americans will try to pronounce the name of this river in
a way that rhymes with “train” but the Germans treat their vowels differently
you know. They pronounce it to rhyme with “line”). The first day we stopped
for lunch at a Gasthaus near the confluence of the Weisser Main and
the Roter Main (White Main and Red Main) and our host teased us by telling us
that the really smart people always ride the Main upriver because of the prevailing
west winds. We did experience some headwind along the way and I made a note
that if I do this river again, I will ride upriver. Since the path is fairly
flat, the hills are not too difficult to climb anyway. In addition to Maxa and
me, we are accompanied by Maxa’s brother Guntram and his friend Ulla both of
entire route is well signed but the signs do change as it makes its way through
different governmental jurisdictions. We get lost a couple times when the path
sort of spreads out in the densely populated area near Frankfurt. Nevertheless,
the river is easy to find and thus so is the bike path. The R-3 sign, for example,
is only from Hanau to Frankfurt.
There are plenty of Zimmer
or Privat Zimmer along the way. We did stay in a couple Pensionen
too. 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
Think of this tour as an opportunity
to sample the beer and wines of a region in Germany where these two beverages
abound in quantity and quality. Beginning with Bayreuth, where brewers like
Maisel, Bayreuther, Becher Bräu, and others are located. Much of the Main is
in Franconia (“Frankenland” in German), home of some of the best of
the beers of Germany. Franconia is also famous in Germany for its wines, which
are advertised to be dryer and more complex than those of the rest of the country.
One-thousand-year-old and one time capital of the Holy Roman Empire, Bamberg
is not only a center for breweries but it is historically significant as well.
Würzburg too is quite historic and picturesque. Of course, if you have not seen
Frankfurt, you can briefly stop there. Finally, Mainz, which is actually on
the Rhine, is the last stop on this tour.
On this trip we used
bikeline’s Main-Radweg, von Bayreuth nach Mainz, 1:75,000 published
in 2000. I wish we could have purchases a more recent book because this one
differed slightly in a couple of places from the signed route.
Back to the top
Day 1: Bayreuth to Michelau
Today is mostly paved except
for a short section of gravel through some woods close to Michelau. Hills? Well
the answer is yes and unfortunately they are not all down either. If I were
to describe today’s path, I would say undulating but beautiful. There were a
couple that we had to push up though.
We start at the bike path
along the river near the Bayreuth Bahnhof. Between here and Unterwaiz
at mile 3.8 (6.1 km), we simply ride the bike path along the Roter
Main (Roter Main means Red Main as contrasted with the Weisser
Main or White Main). This means we miss a couple hills but there are still plenty
Just outside of Kulmbach
(home of Kulmbacher Bier) we find the confluence of the Weisser
and Roter Main into the Main River.
We stop for the night
in Michelau at Hotel-Gasthof In der Au. It is easy to recommend this hotel because
the rooms are nice and the food is good. The photographs on the left are of
Burgkunstadt, between Kulmbach and Michelau.
Day 2: Michelau to Bamberg
Short day today because of
the heat. Temperatures are in the 90's. There are a few hills and a little
gravel but mostly paved bike path.
Bamberg. We stay at
Hotel Hospiz, an in-city accommodation that is nice except they do not have
a place to lock up the bikes. That is OK; at least they are out of sight from
Day 3: Bamberg to Schweinfurt-Bergrheinfeld
Flat until Limbach then some
rolling hills. With no gravel, the path is as good as it gets.
The photograph to the right
is of the famous Rathaus in Bamberg.
As we ride through Trunstadt,
we hear a loud sustained noise like a jet engine running at full throttle. We
are at a loss to explain it because there is no airport near here. Finally,
we notice some emergency vehicles and by asking a native, we learn that a natural
gas pipeline (probably a large one) has burst and the noise is the rushing gas.
Luckily, there is no spark or the fire would have been a little too impressive.
We stop to check out
the Maria Limbach Wallfartskirche. This kind of church is a church
that people make pilgrimages to.
This is Zeil am Main.
You can tell by the dates over the doors that many of the houses in this picturesque
little city were build during and just after the end of the 30 Years War (1618
– 1648). A war over what religion should be practiced, Catholic or Protestant.
It was particularly bloody in Germany.
We stop for the day
just past Schweinfurt at Hotel-Restaurant Astoria in Bergrheinfeld. This is
a nice place to stay.
Back to the top
Day 4: Schweinfurt-Bergrheinfeld to Marktsteft
The path is mostly paved and
flat today. It’s sunny too. Just another day in paradise I guess.
Today starts at the bridge
between Bergrheinfeld and Grafenrheinfeld. Big names for little towns.
Kloster St. Ludwig is
now a Benedictine cloister but originally it was a monastery. The nuns purchased
it many years ago from the monks.
We ride past a museum
just outside of Stammheim and notice it because of the saber jet mounted along
the bike path at the entrance. It’s a cool museum for those of you into military
stuff, and Guntram and I are. Maxa and Ulla indulge us.
We cross the Main with
the ferry at Mainstockheim. Not because we have to cross the river but just
because we want to ride the ferry. We could have just taken the free bridge
In Marktsteft, we stop
for the night. What a wonderful experience we have tonight at the home of Herr &
Frau Wendel, 13 Spargelstrasse, Marktsteft (they have a Zimmer Frei
sign). Our host and hostess invite us to share a glass of wine and told us all
about their little village. It is not that this type of hospitality has not
happened before but it is not the norm and is frequently special.
Another interesting thing in this town is it has the northernmost harbor
in Bavaria. We saw signs pointing toward the historical harbor as we rode through
town. By today’s standards, the “Historical Harbor” looks a little like a good
place to launch a canoe. It is narrow and silted, but you can see the ancient
pavement and anchor rings. Anyway, from this harbor in 1777, troops were loaded
onto boats and sent to America as mercenaries to fight for the British against
the revolting Americans in the War of Independence. These troops, combined with
the Hessians were actually sold to the British King George III probably as a
favor because the good king (later called the crazy king) was born and raised
in Hanover, Germany. At the time, many of the European leaders were sort of
related. By the way, it was the Hessians that George Washington surprised and
defeated by crossing the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776. If this is just
too much information for a bicycle website please indulge me; I like history.
Day 5: Marktsteft to Mühlbach
Relatively flat and all paved.
Have a blast.
on the bike path in front of the Wendel home. The Wendels did not include breakfast
because they both go to work early, so they suggested the local bakery in the
village. The bakery is the typical Stehcafe where there are no chairs
and one just stands at a small table or counter with their coffee and pastry.
Not a problem, we have done that many times before. This time though, the owner
took pity on us and invited us to sit at a table in their employee break area
and eat our breakfast. Again, it does not get much better than hot, fresh bakery
goods, real butter, good and strong German coffee, in a cute but unusual setting.
We also bought lunch here too. A typical Brötchen mit Fleisch oder Käse.
Like a sandwich, a roll with either meat or
Würzburg. Here is another
bit of history for you. Remember the Black Plague? The disease started in the
Orient and made its way following trade routes and shipping lanes to Europe
first erupting in Italian seaports in the year 1347. By 1348, the Black Plague
had ravaged Europe killing a third of the 80 million population. Many communities
experienced much higher devastation as a few were left relatively untouched.
As was the convention, first to be blamed was the sins of mankind because it
was thought that God was extracting punishment for their sinful ways. Next was
to find a scapegoat. Lepers, Jews, and members of non-conforming Christian sects
were “the usual suspects” – as always. From Italy, came the idea that the Jews
were poisoning Christian’s water supply. This idea caught on among Christians
who had no idea about bacteria and viruses or anything smaller than the human
eye could perceive. Though in a few communities such as Worms on the Rhine,
Catholic ecclesiastics preached tolerance, such was not the case in Würzburg
however. The community gathered together for the defense of their very lives
and put all of the Jews in their midst to death. Then, perhaps to make sure
they had not missed anyone, the synagogue in the center of town was burned down.
Now the town planners had a big vacant area in the middle of their downtown.
What a nice place for an open square and another Christian church. They named
the new church, the Marienkirche (or Mary’s Church – interesting irony because
Mary was a Jew you know – but then so was Jesus).
Not that you care, but the plague probably visited Europe several times over
several millennia but the disease was called by different names. Perhaps it
was not so devastating because it may have been confined to a smaller area.
In the Middle Ages, people traveled more, spreading the disease as they went.
Built on the site of the former synagogue the church survives to this day.
It’s quite impressive, actually. We enjoy visiting and even burn a candle for
my ailing sister-in-law. Interestingly, I note that they have a saint whose
body is entombed here. This saint was “famous” for preaching abstinence from
alcohol and is credited with a miracle of actually being able to turn wine into
water. Hmmm …, it is no wonder why few people have ever heard of this guy but
everyone knows Jesus who miraculously turned water into wine. (For the record,
he was St. Makarius. I think he was the Abbot of an Irish or Scottish monastery
near here from 1139-1153. Dang it, the Internet still leaves much to be desired.)
We stop for the night
in Mühlbach which is across the river from Karlstadt. We are at Weinstube Schwalbenest
operated by Bruno Kohlmann and Elizabeth Steinhof, Am Mühlbach 197753 Karlstadt/Mühlbach,
Telephone 09353/9090100, Fax 9090195 website www.fraenkisches-weinland.de then
select Zimmer and then select Karlstadt.
Back to the
Day 6: Mühlbach to Homburg a. Main
Some undulation of 10 to 20
feet before and just after Lohr at mile 17. Beyond Hofstetten (Lohr) it is mostly
flat and mostly paved.
Atop the bridge in Mühlbach,
I reset the odometer.
Gemünden is at the confluence
of the Fränkische Saale River, a river on my agenda to ride someday. (Or, is
it the Schwarze Saale in Thüringen that I want to ride? I get easily confused.)
Anyway, we cross the bridge to the left bank here. A bit further on at Hofstetten,
you find first a bit of a steep hill followed by a nice drop.
We stop for a break
and some picture taking here in Steinbach and Lohr am Main.
We stop for the night
at Homburg am Main. Here we climb 160 feet to the Privat Zimmer of
Karl Baunach, Am Wolpenberg 5, 97855 Fredenstein, Homburg, telephone 09395/1507.
This family offers a clean apartment and a nice breakfast in a quiet neighborhood.
Day 7: Homburg a. Main to Laudenbach
Today is pretty because of
the towns and villages we ride through and the path is flat and paved.
At the bike path on the
river at Homburg am Main I reset my odometer.
Wertheim. The Tauber
River joins the Main River here. Again, the Tauber is on my list of rides to
make in the future. From Wertheim, one can ride up the Tauber to Creglingen
and Rothenburg. In 1989, while on a driving vacation to Rothenburg, Maxa and
I saw a group of bicyclists and idly wondered how much fun it might be to ride
our bikes down river valleys in Germany. At this point, almost 15 years later,
we have ridden over 10,000 kilometers in Germany doing just that. By the way,
we now know; it is a blast. The photo of the blue house here in Wertheim is
interesting because when it was painted, it denoted the wealth of the owner
because the only way to make blue paint was to grind blue glass ultra fine and
mix it with white paint. This house was built in 1593. The next photograph is
of what is billed as the narrowest half-timbered house in Germany and it was
built in 1620 by a knight named Von Zobel.
In Miltenberg, where
we thoroughly enjoy the Altstadt because of the half-timbered old buildings
we take pictures of a former gate for the town wall that was the prison for
the community and was built between 1379 and 1400. Here too, we check out the
ruins of a Roman fortress. It was occupied by as many as 480 Roman soldiers
from 160BC to 260AD. This was part of the Roman Limes or wall that
demarked the northern limit of the Roman Empire and thus represented the border
of Roman “civilization.” North and east of here lived uncivilized barbarians
(according to the Romans) and south and west of here lived the good civilized
tribes of Gaul who eventually turned on the Romans too. Hey, I guess when you
loose your popularity with the locals, everyone hates you, just ask George W.
Right on the bike path
we find Elke’s Landgasthof Zum Anker and decide to spend the night here. The
telephone number is 09372-99900. double occupancy (the cost for two people to
spend one night) is €50.
Back to the top
Day 8: Laudenbach to Mühlheim
While most of the path is paved,
there are several kilometers of gravel and even a little dirt path between Steinheim
Elke’s Landgasthof Zum Anker.
At the bridge to Erlenbach
am Main, we opt for the alternate path marked on the map that leaves us on the
left bank into Obernburg.
In Aschaffenburg, Guntram
and Ulla decide they have had enough exercise in the hot sun and take a train
home to Kassel. Maxa and I continue.
We stop for a sightseeing
break in Seligenstadt. We have taken the ferry across which gives one a nice
sense of arrival in this romantic, half-timbered town.
decide to stop for the night just past Steinheim. We stop to consult our map
and another bike rider stops to ask us if we need directions. We explain our
situation and he tells us that today is his 60th birthday and he has been on
a 100-kilometer, 4-hour, bike ride by himself to celebrate. (Let me tell you,
he is in better shape that we are.) He is an hour late getting home and his
wife will probably be worrying but he forgot his Handy (cell phone)
so he cannot let her know that he is almost home. However, since the directions
to the hotel he recommends are complicated, he just says, “follow me” and he
leads us through town to not just one but several hotels. The first is closed,
the second he does not recommend and seems a little dirty, the third closed
too but he knows the owner of the fourth, which is Hotel Adam. Here he operates
the intercom on the door and announces us to the owner of the hotel. The hotel
is closed but the intercom calls the owner’s cell phone. Since the owner lives
just down the street, he appears after a couple of minutes and rents us a room.
Breakfast in the morning was lonely because we are the only guest but they do
serve us. What a wonderful experience. Hotel Albert, 7-11 Albertstrasse, 63165
Mühlheim, Telephone 06108/60911, Fax 06108/67665.
Day 9: Mühlheim to Mainz
In spite of being lost (well,
not lost – we knew where we were – but the trail was lost, you see) about three
times today, it really is a simple ride into Mainz. There are 4 to 6 kilometers
of gravel path but it is in good condition. We found a couple of hills too but
if one were really on the correct path, you would not encounter the hills. We
know this because we did ride the correct trail in 2004.
I start the odometer at the
bike path where we left off yesterday. The photograph on the right is, "Ice
cream and beer, the breakfast of champions."
Just for orientation,
we are under the A-661 Autobahn bridge and looking across the Main to Frankfurt.
The "chamber of commerce" calls Frankfurt the “Manhattan on the Main”
but there are about 300 high-rise buildings short of a full New York. Nevertheless,
Frankfurt is a major business hub and there are plenty of world class high-rise
buildings and interesting, modern architecture here. Maxa and I have been sightseeing
in Frankfurt before and do not feel the need to cross the river and see it again
today. Nevertheless, here are a couple recent pictures of the Römerplatz
where the modern German nation was born in 1876, shortly after the Franco-Prussian
War. There are several other interesting sights too, such as Johann Goethe’s
birthplace, the Goethe-Haus Museum, and the Paulskirche. All
are mentioned in the bikeline guidebook.
At the power plant,
we cross the river into Eddersheim.
This is the confluence
of the Main and the Rhine rivers.
We enter Mainz on the
Theodore-Heuss-Bridge. This ends our tour of the Main River.
Mainz is one of those historical cities like Trier, Speyer, and Worms. Founded
by the Romans in 12 BCE, Mainz was sacked and rebuilt many times in the centuries
since founding. The French have a long history in Mainz. Not only was Mainz
actually in France for a time, but it was occupied by French troops after both
World War I and II. Since St. Boniface, 680-755 AD, whoever is the Archbishop
of Mainz has been extremely prestigious. During the Middle Ages, the Archbishop
of Mainz was second only to the Pope as the most powerful Roman Catholic in
all of Europe. Mainz is the home of the hapless inventor of movable metal type,
Johann Gutenberg, 1398-1468. Although most of the pressing was actually done
in Strasbourg, then German but now French. More on Mainz at