Spree Bicycle Tour
The Spree River starts in Saxony near the border between Germany and
the Czech Republic. It flows North to its confluence with the Havel in Germany's
beautiful and exciting capital city, Berlin.
July 2001. This7-day tour of the Spree River starts at the springs
that are the source of the Spree in Neugersdorf, Saxony in the area of Upper Lusatia
(Oberlausitz). The path is in good condition and the various governmental regions
are constantly improving it. Short sections of the trail (mostly through the State
of Brandenburg) are unpaved and only of dirt or sand. In dry conditions, this sandy
soil can turn into what I call 'sand puddles;' they are much like a mud
puddle but dry. Riding through the deepest of these will slow your bicycle to a
stop. If not careful, one can lose balance and tip over.
The tour takes you through 4 different German states over 250 miles (402 km)
to Berlin. The former East Germany has recovered from 50 years of egalitarian rule
(which caused everyone to be equally poor) and its people are rapidly remodeling
and improving both their homes and their commercial buildings. While many buildings
are not yet upgraded, many already sport the modern color schemes and freshly painted
appearance common in the west. The first day is a little hilly. If you, like us,
are members of the Over-Fifty-With-Bad-Knees Club, you’ll still be able to negotiate
all but the steepest of them. The path is in excellent shape except for the sand
we found on the last two days. In the future, these sandy parts will probably be
Maxa's brother, Guntram, joined us on this ride. We enjoy his company and
he is knowledgeable about the region's beers. A skill that I am tempted to pay
him for. I just hope he does not read this paragraph and demand compensation.
Path sign, notice sticker @ low left Use of sticker on other signs
The Spree Radweg, or cycle path, is depicted by path signs representing
a meandering river flowing from what appears to be a fountain in the mountains to
the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor in Berlin). Frequently, a sticker
with this same logo will be applied to other signs clearly indicating a part of
the bike path. The graphic will appear differently in different German states but
overall, signage is better than many long-distance bike routes in Germany. The last
day, as you enter the state of Berlin at Erkner, the Spree signs are discontinued
and the path follows an R-1 bike path into the center of Berlin.
We were concerned that a bike
route in the eastern part of Germany might not have the number or quality of bed
and breakfast (Privat Zimmer) accommodations we have come to expect. Rest
assured they do. Although a couple nights we did find our accommodations a little
rustic, others were well appointed. The Spree has sufficient choices of rooms but
nowhere near as many per mile as the route along the Danube for example.
After the first two days, there are three of us on this tour. So each day, we
will guess at where we will want to stop for the night and call ahead to make reservations.
Two rooms are more difficult to find than one. We used the section in the back of
our bikeline guidebook as the source of information and phone numbers.
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 interesting things to see along the
way are the cities of Bautzen with its Sorbian culture, Cottbus, an area called
the Spreewald between Burg and Lübbenau, and of course, the capital city of Berlin.
The detailed map and guidebook that we use is the 'bikeline
Spree-Radweg, (Von der Quelle nach Berlin), Radtourenbuch und Karte, 1:75,000,
published by Verlag Roland Esterbauer, GmbH.
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Day 1: Neugersdorf to Bautzen
Today’s ride is mostly paved but
hilly. I do not know why rivers insist on starting high up in hills or mountains.
We ride 28 miles (45.1 km) from the spring in Neugersdorf to the old Nicolaikirche
(Nicholas Church) in Bautzen. The path winds through village and farmland following
the “river” (which is only a small creek at the beginning and is not much larger
as it flows through Bautzen). We want to keep the ride short today because we want
plenty of time to enjoy sightseeing in Bautzen.
Bautzen has much to offer from the old re-education prison from the communist
days to fine examples of the Sorbian culture. We ride through the area called
Oberlausitz in German and Upper Lusatia in English. Oberlausitz
was famous for its textile weaving in bygone years before modern computerized weaving
processes. Many homes in this area housed looms; a fact that causes a unique architectural
design to the homes. Frequently, the homes have a portion of the ground floor built
in a solid, heavy timbered, sometimes-Romanesque style. That portion is inconsistent
with the style of rest of the home, which is usually half-timbered and wraps itself
around the Romanesque portion. The heavily constructed portion is where the loom
used to sit. Because of its vibration, the portion of the home that housed it needed
to be much more sturdy than did the balance of the home - thus the mixing of styles.
are more fortunate that most readers of this travelogue. We have friends who live
outside of Bautzen, Matthias and Bärbel. One of whom guides for us the first two
days and the other, out of the kindness of her heart, takes our panniers in the
car and meets us at their home. That allows us to ride the first day (and the second
day too – as it turns out) with “naked bikes” unencumbered by the weight (between
25 and 45 pounds of our luggage. My load is heavier because I am carrying tools
and a few replacement parts.
spend the night at our friend's home and therefore do not gain any experience
with the local overnight accommodations. But grilling our evening meal in a picturesque
garden, drinking local Bier, and enjoying the company of friends beats
hotel food and hotel rooms any day.
The night before the start, we eat a great dinner with our friends at the Hungarian
restaurant in Neugersdorf. I admire the wine for its unusual flavor and am rewarded
with a whole bottle as a gift from the proprietor. I thought, “Great – now I have
to carry it all the way to Berlin on a bicycle.” But I thank him for his generosity
anyway and tuck that bottle into my panniers. But as you already know, we don’t
have to lug the panniers for the first two days.
We start at the spring for the Spree in the town of Neugersdorf.
There is another spring uphill from here but it seems like too much work convincing
the others that they should ride a couple miles uphill just to come back down again
so I take the easy solution and decide to start my mileage counter at the spring
in the town. There is a swimming pool here too but it is too early in the morning
for such activity.
Watch out as you leave the
paved path and come to a road going uphill between two cemeteries at a church. The
bike path sign seems to point uphill to the left but it is meant to lead you diagonally
across the paved road onto the cobblestone surface. I can assure you that the view
from the top of the hill, while nice, is not worth the effort, really.
We cross the Himmelsbrücke
(Heaven’s Bridge) over a small stream. Built in 1796 (20 years after America’s Revolutionary
War), it used to cross the Spree before the course of the river was changed. Just
a half a mile further, there is a neat garden on the left with a model train chugging
through the garden, a model landscape, and in and out of the owner’s home. A teenager
would say, “Way Cool!” being much more adult, I just say, “Neat!”
After several hills (60 to 100 feet of elevation change each)
we ride past a bridge over the Spree to our left. It is an interesting bridge, built
in 1200 by the King of Bohemia. It is still in use today, but not for automobiles;
they use the modern bridge next to it. In just three-tenths of a mile from this
bridge, we will push our bikes across a narrow footbridge next to an old mill.
We enter Bautzen at mile
27.3 (43.9 km) when we cross under a high railroad bridge but we leave the trail
for our stay in Bautzen at the Nicolaikirche where the trail crosses the Spree again.
We will spend the night and half a day tomorrow enjoying our friend’s company and
an excellent guided tour of Bautzen. To get here we had to negotiate several more
hills but the positive spin on the hills is that we have dropped over 700 feet in
was an important trading center during the late Middle Ages. But it was mostly forgotten
by commerce and industry even before WWII. That fact helped it avoid damage during
the war and its central core still reflects the past grandeur. Today, it is a center
for tourism and small industry, such as the firm that makes massive paper cutting
machines that employees our friend Matthias.
A word about the Sorbs. One cannot (or should not) leave Bautzen without gathering
some appreciation for this culture. The word 'Sorb' can be confusing; I
have heard it used as a synonym for Slavic or as a name of a particular tribe of
Slavic people. I will use it in the sense of a Slavic tribe. The Sorbs that settled
in the region known today as Lausitz, or Lusatia. In an earlier form of
German, the word Lausitz meant swamp dweller but today it just means the
area between the German border with the Czech Republic and Lübbenau. Bautzen is
in the center of Oberlausitz. Neiderlausitz or low Lusatia is
the flat land around Cottbus and the Spreewald. The area of Lausitz
is home to over 100,000 Sorbs. Sorbs operate their own schools educating their children
in their culture.
The Sorbian language uses many additional letters and examples abound. Every
street sign is in both German and Sorbian. Several important museums in Bautzen
explain the Sorbian culture more fully. Basically, this tribe was victimized by
other Germanic tribes through history. Sometime before Christ, this Slavic tribe,
who followed a pagan religion settled between the Oder and the Elbe rivers. In the
Middle Ages, they were repeatedly attacked by their Christian neighbors in an effort
not only to expand Christendom but also the duchy of Saxony. Today, they are a distinct
but fascinating ethnic minority that lends color to the area.
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Day 2: Bautzen to Sprey
Today’s ride will be 27.6 miles (44.4 km). It is a short day because
we spent so much time sightseeing in Bautzen. Except for a gradual hill that rises
70 feet to Kronförstchen at mile 3.3, the path is flat to gently downhill.
After checking out Bautzen and climbing the stairs in Bautzen’s
own leaning tower, we eat a great lunch along the town wall overlooking the river.
We end the day at Gasthaus
Zheidekrug in Sprey. This is a typical Gasthaus with hunting trophies on the wall
and a friendly family-run atmosphere with plenty of Bier and Gemutlishkeit.
The current owners great grandfather who also ran the Gasthaus collected
most of the hunting trophies.
Sprey is deservedly proud of its 200-year old log Church.
Day 3: Sprey to Peitz
Today’s ride will be 44 miles (70
km). The good news is there are only a few hills today, and there is no bad news.
We are riding in late July and the weather is wonderful. The path today seems flat
but actually drops a couple hundred feet gradually through the day. Cottbus provides
us with an interesting experience at an archeological dig in their central retail
district and some confusion trying to decipher the route signs through that community.
After a great breakfast at Zheidekrug Gasthaus, we make our way
north, along the bike path toward Neustadt. We ride past the Boxberg coalmine and
power plant. Brown coal, unlike black coal, is soft. It is common in Europe and
has been used as an industrial fuel as well as for heating homes and apartments
for many years. Because it pollutes the air unless it is burned efficiently, using
brown coal for residential heating has been outlawed in much of Germany. However,
with modern technology, power plants can make efficient use of the fuel, as is the
case here at Boxberg. The operation of the mine and the power plant is huge. There
are several tall chimneys and many cooling towers covering acres of land. Some would
say that the view is less than pristine and I won’t argue – but it is interesting
to see the equipment and the operation rather than pastoral fields and river valleys.
At least the view is different and I welcome it.
Cross the state border into
Brandenburg. The trail has been paved and pleasant with several picnic tables along
Turn left at the sign and
cross the Spree. I am guessing that if you miss this sign, you’ll probably be able
to connect back with the trail in the next town, Slamen, a suburb of Spremberg.
At mile 14.4, the path crosses the Spree again, then turns to gravel as it follows
the dike north out of Spremberg.
From Bühlow, we ride the
next 6 miles along the west shore of Spremberg Reservoir. It is a pretty sight on
a sunny day.
In the middle of Cottbus
the map and the path become confusing. In general, Cottbus has a dearth of Spree
bike path signs and it is confusing with the signs for a Pickle bicycle path and
a Devil bicycle path. We are in a large park; the Gartenanlage or park
is leftover from the National Garden Show several years ago. We have the option
of carrying our bikes up many stairs to cross the railroad or riding the paved path
marked as alternate to the east, which will loop south and cross under the busy
street, then take you north again under the railroad. We recommend the alternate
route because we can ride our bikes instead of carrying them over the stairs. Further,
the signs seem to purposely take us off the mapped path and into the downtown area.
Since we want to see Cottbus anyway, we allow this deviation from what we know from
the map is the correct way.
Seeing an archeological dig right in the middle of the pedestrian zone of Cottbus
rewards us. Only 3 feet below the surface, the university students conducting the
dig, uncover artifacts from the Middle Ages.
We rejoin the path at the Sandower Strasse Bridge.
We stop for the day at Pension
Pahn, Mittelstrasse 7. It is clean and quite nice but the bathroom is down the hall.
There are 4 rooms and only one other guest so we feel comfortable with the arrangement.
As one would guess, Mittelstrasse is in the center of town and we enjoy a nice walk
to a Schloss just north of the town where we have our dinner.
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Day 4: Peitz to Lübbeneau
The first stop today will be Burg,
the beginning of the Spreewald. The Spreewald is interesting geologically. The land
is so flat that the river spreads out into several smaller channels and then comes
back together again further north around Lübbenau, our goal for the day. In America,
we call this kind of terrain “river flats” but it rarely occurs.
The Spreewald is a major tourist draw in Germany. It was such even during communist
rule before reunification. In this area, coffee-colored water moves slowly through
both natural and manmade channels. Tall deciduous trees line the channel banks breaking
the sunlight into small rays that color everything with sharply contrasting dapples.
The paths frequently lead to arched footbridges (some involving a few stairs) over
the channels. The bridges are high so that the low-slung canoe-like boats can be
poled under them as they take tourists and locals alike through the maze of waterways.
The Spreewald is famous for pickles and horseradish. We help the local economy by
purchasing at least a small jar of each. This weight adds little to that of the
large wine bottle I have been carrying since Bautzen.
Today it is more important to know the next town on the bike path. There is a
shortage of bicycle signs but plenty of signs indicating the distance and direction
to the various communities. Follow the signs to the next village and you will not
go too far wrong. The mileage today will be 26 miles (42 km) and the path is flat
and mostly paved. We spent most of the day sightseeing in the Spreewald.
We leave our Pension and pick
up the trail at the railroad tracks. At mile 1.8, we pass a sign that says FKK.
That stands for Freie Körper Kultur; it means that this is a nude sunbathing area.
Just in case you have tender sensibilities, you might want to keep your eyes glued
to your front tire. However, it is too early for those who believe in “free body
culture” and strain my eyes as I might, I see nothing of note. And Maxa won't
let me take pictures in an FKK either. Can you just imagine it; asking a nude sunbather
to smile? How impolite!
In Maiberg, we turn right on the dike. On the map, the alternate
route suggests the paved road parallel to the dike – a better choice. But we are
up here now and the path is not that bad so we stay on it for the next mile or so.
The picture on the right of the mile-post to the left is in Lübben. It shows the
hours and the "miles" (an archaic German measurement from before the metric
system) to Berlin and to Bautzen. The miles were about 40 km long. The tricky thing
is, different governments in Germany had different distance standards for one mile.
We stop for a morning break at a Bismarckturm on
the edge of Burg and therefore on the edge of the Spreewald. This is a 27 meters-high
monument to Bismarck, the Chancellor of Germany before World War I. (There are several
Bismarcktürme in Germany but this one is the largest I know of.) The informational
sign tells us that people first settled this area over 7,000 years ago in the early
Stone Age. It makes sense, mid-latitude, lots of rain, fertile soil, easy water
transportation, places to hide from enemies in the Spreewald; heck, I would have
settled here too - but I am not that old.
We turn right following signs to Leipe. There are trails
everywhere and few signs to confirm that we are on the correct bike path. That’s
OK. We are in the middle of the Spreewald and it is just too pretty and unusual
to be watching out for signs anyway. I know that we might get off the path but we
can hardly get lost. All paths lead somewhere after all. As I mentioned before,
just keep in mind the names of the communities ahead of you and pedal in that general
direction. The paths form a kind of a grid system.
After wandering around in
the Spreewald with out recording any extra mileage, we stay the night with the family
Halka, a Privat Zimmer listed in the guidebook. They are at Stennewitzer
Strasse 21. The Halkas are nice people but the accommodations are a little rustic
and sparse on creature comforts. Still, I would stay here again.
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Day 5: Lübbenau to Werder
Like yesterday and tomorrow, today
is sunny and flat. We did find what I consider the worst of all riding conditions;
deep sand. However, there are only a few spots of sand in a 2.5-mile section and
with any luck the path will be paved in the future.
We cross the river with a
footbridge. It is one that you can ride over but I advise walking your bike, at
least down the back side because the right turn at the end of the bridge is very
sharp and if you are not going dead slow, you may die in the ditch just after where
you should have turned.
Sand. It is the first time
we have seen it ever in Germany (July 2001) and there is much more to come. Soft
sand is the toughest riding condition for narrow-tire bikes like mine [I later purchased
a new bicycle with wider tires and made this bicycle my "Bier Bike"].
It is even worse than wet cobblestone. This portion is consists of three, skinny,
parallel sand tracks that we keep hopping back and forth between to find the firmest
track. I bet the tourism office will pave this in a couple years. The good news
is that after 2.5 miles, it becomes gravel and it is much easier riding.
After leaving Lübben, we
find the path is paved with cement slabs about 3 feet by 9 feet laid widthwise across
the path. The name for this type of 'pavement' is Plattenweg. The
joints in the concrete jar my fillings lose. Still, it’s better than the sand underneath.
This type of road was probably a temporary road made for armored vehicles during
the war. We are next to a military exercise area.
In Groß Wasserburg, pay
attention to the signs. You want to ride to Leibsch and that means you must bear
to the right in the center of town at the three-sided park. If you find you are
following a bike sign with a running pig, you’ve missed the turn. (Ask me how I
Enter Alt Schadow. Just
outside of Alt Schadow, at the Y in the path, take the left way.
After slogging through some
deep, dry sand, we get to Werder. Not remarkable except we stop for the night in
Werder. The hotel here has its restaurant about 100 meters away, down on the river.
It is an idyllic setting.
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Day 6: Werder to Früstenwalde
We have a flat path today and it
is mostly paved though there is a little more sand. We ride 41 miles today before
stopping for the night in Früstenwalde.
We leave Werder crossing
the Spree near the restaurant where we had our nice fish dinner last night. Once
across the river, turn left toward Beeskow and ride over the gently undulating pine
Typical of the narrow roads
Tower in walled city of Breeskow
In Briescht turn right turn toward a Holzzugbrucke
(literally a wooden train bridge).
Starting from Rocher, we ride almost 4 miles on a narrow,
heavily traveled, shoulder-less road. Cars, buses, and large trucks wait their turn
to pass us against heavy oncoming traffic. We ride close together to make their
job easier and marvel at their patience. No one honks, or even waives a single finger
at us, I guess they are used to sharing the road with bicycles.
Enter Breeskow whose walls were built in 1321 from brick.
As you leave the city, turn right as soon as you cross the tracks. There is a sign
here but it is on the wrong side of the road and easy to miss – unless you’re riding
on the wrong side of the road. In a couple miles down the road, you’ll again ride
on another high-traffic road with automobile traffic. Unfortunately, there are no
Our 2001 era map doesn’t
show this brand new paved bike path along the left bank of the Spree alleviating
about 15-kilometer loop of mostly sandy path through Briesen. As we pass this way,
the road is still under construction and we must push our bikes in a couple spots
for short distances to avoid the workers and the heavy equipment. But we do get
to use the new bike/footbridge over the Spree. On the other side, the path looks
as if it will be asphalted for a short distance then reverts to a sandy track that
is difficult riding again. Maxa is slowed down so much that she falls over from
the lack of speed. Fortunately, the sand is soft and she is not hurt.
Enter Frstenwalde. We stay
on the path until the downtown pedestrian zone where we deviate to find a tourist
This is the bridge over
the Spree where we will pick up the path tomorrow.
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Day 7: Fürstenwalde to Berlin
Berlin's Nickolivertel on the Spree
Another day of flat, mostly paved
bike path. Today, our last, we ride 50 miles (80 km) to the Bahnhof Zoo in the center
of Berlin. While riding in large metropolitan areas is not the most fun riding we
have ever had, we must admit that Berlin is full of interesting things to see and
do. Buy a guidebook from any bookstore or tourist information kiosk and enjoy yourself.
We pick up the path at the bridge
over the Spree. After riding only 1.3 miles (2.1 km), we arrive at a traffic circle.
Take the bike path to the left side (south) as you approach this traffic circle.
There are no signs, but we follow other bikers who seem to know the way.
Our map shows a short stretch
of sharing the road with traffic in Hangelsberg but not so. I think they have completed
more path since the map was last drawn. Watch for signs and turn left on Wulkowerweg
We cross over the Autobahn
and quickly become confused. Apparently, the bike path is closed for repairs forcing
us to decide to follow heavy automobile traffic into Neu Zittau. Then we take the
auto bridge across the Spree at 21.7 miles (34.9 km) and pick up a new bike path
into Erkner. If I had it to do over again, I would have chosen the closed path;
it would have saved us some traffic and confusion. But that is hindsight and if
you use too much hindsight while riding your bicycle, you’ll hit stuff you’d rather
At the traffic circle in
the center of Erkner, we dropped down to the shore of Dämeritzee. From Erkner into
central Berlin, follow the R-1 signs. In Erkner, you enter the state of Berlin,
which is also the city limits, sort of. Erkner is a suburb of Berlin. We try to
see if we can take a boat from here the rest of the way into the center of Berlin
but we are told, “no bicycles.’ The boatman is rude. He probably liked Communism
and went into a depression (from which he still suffers) when the government changed
12 years ago. Unfortunately, for him, he now has to work for a living and he is
clearly unhappy about it.
During lunch, we entertain ourselves by watching the boats cruise by with topless
sunbathers of both genders. Half of the genders interest me, the other half not.
Strangely, Maxa feels about the same. There are so many boats they must all go slow.
I wonder why they bother with the expense of boating – there simply is no place
to use the boat in such a crowded city. Along the Danube, by contrast, there is
excellent boating but few boats. I must be missing something here. Perhaps it is
only an excuse to sunbathe.
After our break, we pick our way along the park and rejoin the bike path as it
crossed the Müggelspree (nothing to do with the Harry Potter series) between Großer
Muggelsee and Dämeritzsee. From there, we are riding on good paths through large
parklands until we reach Köpernick, one of the interesting parts of Berlin.
We pass the ferry landing
at Pläntewald Park. We would have taken this ferry if we had strictly adhered
to the path on the map. We did a little “in-town” riding because both Maxa and her
brother Guntram are from Berlin originally and they know it well.
Maxa's cousin explained that the locals called the island
to our right the “Love Island.” Apparently, it is a gathering place for young adults
(one would hope they are adults) on warm summer days when clothing can be minimized,
or even dispensed with. We could see no activity that might account for such a moniker.
We presume that the cousin is exaggerating. Or, maybe we just didn’t look long enough.
You know, it’s like missing the bite when one goes fishing. A half-mile further
and we have to walk our bikes through a large Biergarten. When we visited
Berlin a few weeks ago, we had lunch here and watched the kids jump their bicycles
off a ramp into the river.
We ride through the Brandenburger Tor, or the city
gate to Brandenburg (All the Spree Bicycle Path signs and stickers display this
symbol). The photograph of the Brandenburger Tor is not mine, it is attributed
to Werner Kunz with
some rights reserved by Werner
From the Brandenburger Tor, the path takes us through
the middle of the Tiegarten, Berlin’s famous central park. The centerpiece
of the park is the Siegessäule, or Victory Column.
We end the tour at Bahnhof
Zoologischler Garten, or Bahnhof Zoo as the locals call it. (Germans
pronounce it to rhyme with 'bow' in English. After all, they are German
and English is hard for some of them. Or, is it that Zoo is not originally an English
word and we are the ones mispronouncing it? I always get confused.)
The first thing on our agenda is to off-load our bikes, including losing that
heavy wine bottle I have been carrying the entire distance and the jars of pickles
and horseradish we purchased in the Spreewald. We need Bier! We
are dead tired from a long, hot day. Much of the riding today was through traffic,
which is always a bit nerve-wracking. We celebrate our ride with a nice dinner close
to Kurfürstendamm and copious amounts of the local brew. Tomorrow, we will
catch a train back to our home base in Kassel.
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