This page describes the cycle path along the Werra River in central
There are few wild rivers left in Germany. Most have been significantly changed
to accommodate navigation or agriculture in some fashion. The Werra is one of those "wild
rivers." It carves a wide valley from Eisfeld to Hann. Münden where the Werra
and the Fulda rivers conflate to form the Weser River. The landscape is beautiful
and interesting as it flows through towns, and villages. There are many historical
locations along the way as well. It also crosses from the former East German state
of Thuringia into the West German state of Lower Saxony.
Overview: June 2002. This is a 6-day, 194-mile, (313 km) tour along the Werra.
We start in Eisfeld, the last railroad stop along the Werratal. In German,
“Werratal” simply means the Werra Valley. This river starts in the state
of Thüringen and ends in the state of Niedersachsen after passing
through a small part of Hessen. There are a few hills on this ride. But
hills are good for you; character builders, my father used to say, but what did
he know, he was not a bicycle rider. There is a fair amount of gravel path too,
especially at the beginning. Nevertheless, the path is in excellent condition and
should be good in any weather condition.
Signage: The signage changes a few times but signage is good most of the
way. I don’t remember being lost even once on this trip.
Accommodations: Even though much of the ride
was in the former East Germany, we had no trouble finding good accommodations. As
a choice, we like Zimmer (rooms for rent in a private home, 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
Stops: One must stop in Eisenach to see the Wartburg
castle, famous for hosting Martin Luther as he translated the bible from Latin into
German. It is a bit of a side trip but worth it. You can leave your bicycles at
the bottom of the hill and take a shuttle bus to the castle. There are also many
wonderful half-timbered buildings or “Fachwerkhäuser” in the many villages
along the way.
Maps and Guidebooks: On this tour we used
bikeline Werratal-Radweg, von den Quellen nach Hann. Münden, 1:50,000.
Day 1: Eisfeld to the springs and back to Eisfeld
Day Overview: I want to start by climbing up
to the two springs, the sources of the Werra, that are in the hills north of Eisfeld.
The ride up is a gradual climb – just over 1,000 feet (330 meters) of elevation
gain and the round trip the distance is about 35 km (22 miles).
Maxa and Guntram (Maxa’s brother) decide that climbing hills is an example of
having lost one’s good sense so they stay in Eisfeld while I bike up the mountain.
I have an adventure. At the top of the mountain, there are trails going every which
way and I end up on the wrong one, not once but several times. Fortunately, all
trails lead to one of the little villages so I am reoriented once I find out which
village I have stumbled upon. I have to admit that the climb is well worth the effort.
It is gorgeous here in the mountains. The trail is interesting, occasionally a little
challenging (but if I were on the right trail, it would probably be easier). Riding
through little clearings and I see a deer. The birds are vocal and except for the
occasional hiker or biker, it is quiet and peaceful here. I just wish I knew exactly
where I was.
With all my wanderings and meanderings while I am lost, I burn up time. I had
told Maxa and Guntram to expect me back in Eisfeld in three hours. So, when I get
to Siegmundsburg, I opt to take the automobile road down the mountain and forgo
the gravel bike path for the rest of the way. I am running late and I don’t want
my fellow travelers to send out the police to find me.
The road has several switchbacks as it drops into Saargrund. Another biker is
ahead of me. I judge him to be a local citizen because he has no panniers. He is
riding carefully and slowly down the hill so I pace myself behind him. Good thing
too. The switchbacks are 180° turns that one needs to be riding slowly in order
to stay on the road. After a couple miles, he takes off and so do I. He is faster
and soon disappears but I am hitting speeds around 50 km/h. Tears are streaming
from my eyes but I love a good drop. As I blow into Saargrund I notice a 30 km/h
speed limit sign. Brakes! I don’t want to get a speeding ticket. They do ticket
bicycles just as they do cars. That drop was fun while it lasted.
Mile 0 (0 km): I start the odometer at the Eisfeld
14.6 (23.5 km): After being lost but trying to correct for all the mistaken
turns, I reach Friedrichshöhe. From Friedrichshöhe I ride to Siegmundsburg, check
out the second spring and hop on the highway for a quick drop back to our hotel.
I notice signs along the top of the hill marking the Rennsteig. This
is another famous biking and hiking path. The Rennsteig is perhaps the
longest and perhaps the oldest mountain bike trail in Germany. It is almost 200
km long and it is well maintained. One end is at Hörschel (near Eisenach) on the
Werra then it traverses through the Thüringer Wald to Blankenstein on the
Saale River. Elevation gain is from 200 meters in Hörschel to 911 meters near Eisfeld,
then back to about 350 meters at the end in Blankenstein on the Saale. It is useable
all year but in the winter, it is frequently snowy. You can compare the Rennsteig
to a chunk of America’s Appalachian Trail.
From Friedrichshöhe I ride to Siegmundsburg, check out the second spring and
hop on the highway for a quick drop back to our hotel.
Mile 22.0 (35.4 km): Great drop! I am back in
Eisfeld. I find Maxa and Guntram drinking beer. But who, I ask you, is the most
righteous and pious of the three of us? Beer drinkers or hill climbers?
Day Overview: Lots of gravel path today and a
few hills too. The hills are not so bad, actually, most of them are downhill (as
opposed to uphill). The gravel isn’t bad either; because it is well-packed and I
think it would be OK even in the rain. I have sore knees today so we make it a short
day, stopping in Walldorf after only 37.3 miles. I do not think my sore knees have
anything to do with all the hill climbing yesterday but they might. The countryside
is gorgeous and we learn some history along the way.
Mile 0 (0 km): Again, I start the mileage at
the Eisfeld Bahnhof.
Mile 3.2 (5. 2 km):On
the left after Harras, we notice an old fence that once marked the beginning of
the “no-mans-land” on the East side of the border between East and West Germany.
It looks much older than 40 years. In the few years since the Germany unification
in 1989, the old social institutions, physical markers, and politics have evaporated.
In one home, they have a map of the local area on the map. It shows the border but
the map is blank on the west side of the border – as if the world ends at the fence.
This family keeps it as a reminder of how things were.
8.3 (13.3 km): Birkenfeld/Hildburghausen. Here lived the daughter of the
French Queen Marie Antoinette, wife of infamous Louie XVI (you know, the Marie Antoinette
who lost her head after saying the peasants should eat cake if they don’t have bread).
The daughter was a Gräfin (a kind of a countess – the wife of the Graf).
That she was the daughter of Marie Antoinette was kept a secret until after her
death. I guess her parents would not have been too popular here either.
Also in Hildburghausen we stop for our morning break and learn that one of the
leading citizens was Charlotte, born in Mecklenburg but lived here in the castle.
One of her daughters, Therese, sang in the church choir here. Therese went on to
become the queen of Bavaria (her husband was Ludwig I). It is for this Therese that
the King held a birthday celebration on the Theresienwiese (a field named
after her) in Munich. Today we call that celebration Oktoberfest and it
is world famous. Perhaps, if it were not for that Oktoberfest, Munich would
be just another big city, not an attraction for thirsty tourist looking to make
fools of themselves.
Mile 12.4 (19.9 km): Ebenhards. We are on a gravel
path and the drop coming into this small village is steep. It would be more fun
if I didn’t have to pay so much attention to staying upright.
Mile 16.8 (27.0 km): We stop for lunch in Grimmelshausen,
which according to the sign was founded in 1177. By comparison, Eisfeld was founded
in the Ninth Century.
17.8 (28.7 km): Just before Kloster Bessra we opt to take the alternate route
shown on the map that avoids the hills and the village of Lenffeld. The only downside
is we are riding on a busy roadway. Maxa got to cast the deciding vote, “No more
hills,” she said. She hates traffic more than gravel but hills more than traffic.
Mile 26.3 (42.3 km): Enter Belrieth; first mentioned
in history in 840 CE and the bridge here is from 1578. Just east of Belrieth we
passed some burial mounds from Celtic times (300 CE and before).
28.1 (45.3 km): We are in the middle of Einhausen and stop to check out the
Wehrkirche. Churches of this type were built during the Middle Ages as
a place of refuge for the townsfolk. The wall around this church was built in 1583
but the church itself was built upon the foundation of a smaller building about
1786. Actually, the oldest church of this type in Thüringen is in Leutersdorf about
10 km back.
32.4 (52.2 km): Meiningen.
Mile 37.3 (60.0 km): We stop for the evening
just outside of Walldorf at the Sandsteinhöhle, Marienstr. 8, Telehone 03693-89910.
The cost is €48 for two people for one night and €26 for a single person. There
is another Wehrkirche here.
Day Overview: Good quality trail but it starts
out gravelly and hilly with a steep pitch at mile 8.3 (13.3 km) and again just inside
Wernshausen. The steepest hill is just past Tiefenort but below, I suggest a couple
ways around that hill if you want to wimp out.
Mile 0 (0 km):Starting
from Walldorf after a nice evening in the Hotel Sandsteinhöhle, we rejoin the path.
Mile 3.9 (6.2 km): Wasungen. This is a beautiful
village and one of the oldest settlements on the Werra. We check out an archeological
dig right in the center of the city.
Mile 11.9 (19.2 km): Breitungen. We look for
a place to stop for coffee here. Riding along the path, we ask a local if he knows
of a café or a Konditorei nearby. He said the house right next
door serves coffee and cake so he walks next door and asks if they are open. Well,
no. But, give the lady of the house a minute and she will open for us. She serves
us coffee and cookies (homemade of course) and we enjoy sitting in her gazebo and
staring at the church shown here. What a nice experience.
Mile 21.1 (33.9 km):Bad
Salzungen is built around a small lake that is supposed to be salty. It didn’t taste
salty – perhaps it is just a touristy thing to put in the brochures.
Mile 24.2 (39.0 km): In Tiefenort, I’ll give
you a couple options to climbing the steep hill into Kieselbach. If the weather
is rainy or the conditions are soggy, consider an alternate by riding up a gradual
hill northwest along the road from the center of town out to the main road north
of Kieselbach. If, however, the path is dry, you can take a signed alternate route
southwest along the river to Merkers-Kieselbach bridge. You avoid all the hills
but in wet weather, this way through the fields can get muddy and sloppy.
Mile 34.6 (55.6 km): Crossing into Vacha on the
“Brücke der Einheit” (Bridge of Unification), which was built in 1990 a
year after the German reunification of the country. We also cross from Thüringen
into Hesse over this bridge. This, of course, is also the former East/West German
border and there is still a portion of the former Wall evident. Also, a little local
story about a house which sat directly on the border; half in Hessen, half in Thüringen.
The story has it that the owners ran a printing business during the war. As the
two states started to drift apart politically, the owners moved the press from the
Thüringen side of the house to Hessen side because they did not want the East German
government to seize the press.
We stop here at Gäststette Oechsetal operated by the Jager Family. 036962-24421.
Day 4: Vacha to Falken
Day Overview: You are in luck for the next couple
days. The bike path follows the German Half-Timbered Street or better known in the
German language as the Deutsche Fachwerkstrasse. Here is a link:
You can read it in English. This Fachwerkstrasse is a 2,000 km long assembly
of short segments throughout Germany highlighting towns that display the best of
its half-timbered buildings.
There are a few hills today but none of them are as steep as yesterday’s hills.
The gravel path is in good shape and should not be a problem even in wet weather.
Mile 0 (0 km): The trail at Vacha. One of the
huge hills of salt mine tailings is visible in the distance.
Mile 27.7 (44.5 km): Hörschel. If you turn east
here and ride 9 km into Eisenach you can visit the Wartburg Castle. OK, it is on
a hill but you can leave your bike in town and take public transportation to the
castle. This side trip is really worthwhile. The Wartburg is a classic, walled,
hilltop castle. We visited it in 1989 the year the wall came down. Did I mention
that when in Germany, we live in Kassel, just a few miles west of here? The East
Germans kept it nicely even though they had little funds to do so. It was their
labor of love. The museum there really gives one a good feel of life during the