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Werra River Bicycle Tour

This page describes the cycle path along the Werra River in central Germany.

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.

Map of WerraTour Overview: June 2002. This is a 6-day, 194.5 mile, 313.0 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 ZiImmer (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.

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.bikeline Guidebook

Maps and Guidebooks: On this trip 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 slow 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 mph. Tears are streaming from my eyes but I love a good drop. As I blow into Saargrund I notice a 30 km/hr 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 Bahnhof.

One of two Werra springs SignsMile 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 m in Hörschel to 911 m near Eisfeld, then back to about 350 m 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?

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Day 2: Eisfeld to Walldorf

Day Overview: Lots of gravel path today and a few hills too. The hills are not so bad, actually most of them are down hill (as opposed to up hill). 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): Somewhere on the Werra with GuntramOn 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.

Birkenfeld/Hildburghausen coffee breakMile 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 quite 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.

Red-tiled roofed GrimmelshausenTypical Low Traffic RoadMile 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).

Castle Ruin on Hill North of Meiningen Wehrkirche in EinhausenMile 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.

WasungenWasungenMile 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.

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Day 3: Walldorf to Vacha

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): Breitungen Church and CyclistsStarting 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.Breitungen Church and Cyclists

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 near by. 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): Historic Gradierwerk at Bad SalzungenCan not remember where on WerraBad 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 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: www.deutsche-fachwerkstrasse.de. 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.Monte Kali or Mount KalkMonte Kali or Mount KalkSwans on Werra with Dankmarshausen in Background

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 Middle Ages.

It was in this castle that Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin into a language that has now become High German. Luther was hiding at the Wartburg in exile from Wittenberg where he had posted his 95 theses on the door of the palace chapel. Here too, Martin Luther had his famous fight with the devil; the one where he threw feces at the devil. At the risk of being disrespectful, my take on the situation is that he was fatigued from the painstaking work of translating the Bible (you know, they didn’t have computers with spellcheckers back then) and I also know the historical fact that he was constipated as well as argumentative and mean spirited at times. He was known to spend hours in the toilet room hoping for a BM and working on the Bible at the same time. I think he had a breakdown and when he recovered, he was asked to explain the feces on the wall. So he invented the story of the fight with the devil and was his story and he seems to have stuck to it.

Seriously for a second, it is said of Martin Luther that when he translated the bible into German, he spelled words in such a way that most, if not all literate Germans could read and understand the message. At the time, almost every village had its own dialect. Luther would look people in the mouth when they spoke so he could understand how they formed different letters and words. The language he used is the basis of high German today. Luther was a learned man who was perhaps a linguist before linguistics became a science. Additionally, he must have been a persuasive, logical, and eloquent in his speech to have such an impact on history.

Hörschel is also one end of the Rennsteig I mentioned in the tour overview.

Mile 44.8 (72.1 km): Maxa on a wooden cycle pathWe stop for the night at Pension Veronika in Falken. The address is Flutgraben 1, Falken, Telephone 036923-80356. At €58 double occupancy (the cost for two people to spend one night) it is a super nice place to stay. Veronika has the map on the wall that I discussed in the overview. They don’t normally serve food and there are only a couple choices in the village. What I don’t know tonight about finding a restaurant, I will learn tomorrow. Namely, there are plenty of restaurants in Treffurt, just 2.5 km down the path.

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Day 5: Falken to Werleshausen

Day Overview: The path is in excellent condition but if you want to avoid one long hill (90 feet) going into Allendorf, cross the river at Kleinvach and ride on the low traffic road into Bad Sooden-Allendorf. Again, the path is in good condition and except for the aforementioned hill, there isn’t anything steep or difficult. OK, sure, a little gravel but it too is in good condition.

Mile 0 (0 km): We start at the path in Falken.

Tim in Stock at TreffurtMile 1.6 (2.6 km): Treffurt. Here is a picture of the town torture stock or pillory where they put you if you spoke ill of the neighbor, miss measured the goods you sold, etc. Your neighbors could throw rocks or dirt at you while your head and feet were affixed to this thing. If the crime was serious, you could be whipped as well. If you steal, you can be put to death. And if you need cigarettes for your bicycle breaks, Dannemann cigarettes are manufactured here along the river. I understand that the Ruin Normannstein, 500 meters above Treffurt is a great lookout.

Mile 5.0 (8.0 km): In the grass on the left of the path I notice a Grenzstein. Grenzsteine are stones with chiseled information. Grenzsteine such as this have been used to mark borders between government territories for many centuries. This one marks the border between Hessen and Thüringen and therefore also marked the border between East and West Germany. Look around. There is almost no vestige left of the former wall that separated families and ideologies. Weird how some things change so quickly while other things, such as the use of Grenzsteine seem never to change.

Wehre RiverWehre RiverMile 5.4 (8.7 km): This is Wanfried. The Deutsche Fachwerkstrasse for cars veers off to the right after this town but we don’t care because Eschwege ahead is also picturesque. A bit further down the path we come to Niederrohne where the Wehre River flow into the Werra. I know, Wehre looks as if it sounds just like Werra to English Speakers but Germans have a secret way of pronouncing things so that only they can hear the difference. Rembering that w's in German are like v's in English; so in German, Wehre sounds like 'vayra' while Werre sounds like 'verrrra' (two r's in German are a sound like gargling. (I drive Maxa nuts with my language explanations; she just rolls her eyes and exhales sharply.)

Mile 39.1 (52.9 km): Either Bad Sooden-Allendorf or Witzenhausen?Bad Sooden-Allendorf Gradierwerk or Salt EvaporatorBecause this is the last ride of the year and none of us are anxious for the adventure to end, we stop here in Werleshausen at Gasthaus/Pension Lindenhof on Bornhagenerstr. 37214 Werleshausen Telephone 05542-9371 fax 05542-937171. Tomorrow will be a short day too but we have time and we decide to enjoy the trip for an extra day. Of course, the alternative is to ride the remaining distance into Hann. Münden, catch a train, get into Kassel in the evening and ride home in the dark. Not a desirable option compared to spending another night on the trail.

They have a big dog here. The sign reads, “Come a little bit closer, I want to get to know you better.” in English. That of course is a quote from the witch from the fairytale Hänsel and Grethel. Had I though about it a bit longer, I would have not followed the sign’s suggestion. When I approached, the dog, who had been sleeping, awoke with a start, a snarl, a bark and almost a meal of my butt. I should have read the sign in German that said, “Eintritt Verboten!

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Day 6: Werleshausen to Hann. Münden

Day Overview: Burg Ludwigstein in DistanceAround here someplace, I don't rememberThe path today is mostly paved but there is a gradual hill into Hann. Münden. The tour officially ends in Hann. Münden Bahnhof but we ride on to Kassel as that is our home base in Germany. By the way, "Hann." is an abbreviation for "Hannoversch." Folks not from this town just call it Hann. Münden to distinguish it from other places named Münden. However, if you live here, you call it simply Münden.

Cycle pathMile 2.7 (4.4 km): Once over a quaint wooden foot/bicycle bridge over the Werra, turn left following the signs toward Wendershausen. Why, when Wendershausen is obviously the wrong direction? Good question. I figure that it is because people really want to go to Witzenhausen but the bike path sign people have a sense of humor. Anyway, trust me. In a few meters it will make sense and you will turn right into Witzenhausen.Hann. Muenden

Mile 16.8 (27.0 km): Hann. MuendenHann. Muenden RathausThis Werra bike tour ends at the point the Werra and the Fulda merge to create the Weser River. So, mileage wise, this is the end of our trip. However, since we are quartered in Kassel, just a short ride up the Fulda from Hann. Münden, I will record that ride here as well. Perhaps it works for you if you rented bikes in Kassel or plan on leaving from Kassel to your next destination.

Encore; Day 6: Hann. Münden to Kassel

Day Overview:

Mile 0 (0 km): The bridge over the Fulda into Hann. Münden. From here we will follow R1 into Kassel, starting on the right bank and switching to the other bank in a bit.

Mile 8.9 (14.3 km): We cross the river on the third lock we come to – just after Wilhelmshausen. On the other side, on gravel we push up a steep hill. But the drop promises to be good too.

SpiekershausenWe did not have to cross here, the R-1 continues on the left banks of the Fulda right into Kassel before it crosses and re-crosses the Fulda. However, having ridden that route until we know it by heart, we seek a little variety. So here we are on the right bank.

Mile 9.6 (15.5 km): After a nice drop into Spiekershausen, follow the path to the barricades, turn right through them and drop down to the river.

Mile 12.7 (20.5 km): Sandershausen. Continue to follow the blue on white bike path signs towards Kassel.

Mile 15.3 (24.6 km): After crossing back to the right bank of the Fulda at mile 15.3, we pick up the R1 path again and we are under the Fulda Brücke. This is as good as anyplace to end this travelogue. We have a 300 foot gain as we climb up to Guntram’s home in Brasselsberg above Kassel. But first, some "liquid bread" to fortify us for the climb. Bread and beer are both made from wheat or rye, yeast, water. Bread uses a little water, beer uses a lot of water - Oh, and a taste of hops too.

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