High, Low, Sleeper: Cycle Touring in Germany

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Bikeway-1

We spent about three weeks cycling from Rostock, Germany to Bad Shandau, just before the Czech Border along the Copenhagen-Berlin Radweg and the Elbe River Radweg. The route took us through Germany’s poorest state, with derelict mansions leftover from Germany’s GDR past, Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses, and along vineyards that dotted the greenbelt section of the Elbe River.

Germany satiated our beer and pretzel cravings, offered some of the best strawberries we’ve had outside of the Pacific Northwest, and showed us what cycle touring can do for an economy.

High:

The Germans!
The Germans are friendly, jovial, life-loving people. Nearly every person we passed on bike said “hallo!” with a huge smile and a wave. Cyclists of all ages, but mostly retirees in their 50s, 60s and higher, littered the cycle routes. With minimal gears, and electric bikes, it seemed many credit-card toured. Bakers and camp hosts patiently worked with me while I practiced my German, teaching me along the way, repeating words (several times) if necessary.

Inexpensive
After riding through Scandinavia, the price change in Germany was noticeably different, but we didn’t expect the affordability we experienced. We purchased palatable beer for €0.65, pretzels for €0.30, seeded bread for under€1. The incredibly affordable country stretched our dollar much farther, allowing us to indulge a bit more than we were able to in Scandinavia.

The Elbe River provided beautiful, flat paths through German farmland and quaint villages.

The Elbe River provided beautiful, flat paths through German farmland and quaint villages.

Cycle Tourist Country
With over 200-long distance cycling routes throughout the country, it is more than apparent that Germans value cycling. Not only is it clear in the infrastructure, but also in the hundreds of cyclists we passed along our journey through the country. Nearly 90% of our ride included separated cycling paths with plentiful option for sleeping, ranging from camping to luxurious guest houses. Germany has created a cycling culture that invites riders of all walks of life to enjoy the sport. Where spotting a cycle tourist in Scandinavia made for a momentous occasion, we probably passed nearly 50 per day in Germany. The confusing part with so many cycle routes was finding your route among the several on a route post!

Low:

Lack of WiFi
Finding WiFi availability throughout our ride proved cumbersome and forced us to visit good ole American establishments like McDonald’s and Starbucks, and even those were tough to find. The lack of WiFi caused us to fall way behind on our blog and neglect many an email (if you emailed us, please be patient!). We spent many frustrating hours in search of WiFi to check email, update the blog, and do other Internety work. Germany lags behind much of the world in terms of free WiFi access, mainly due to an unusual copyright law that dictates that WiFi providers are held responsible for their users online interactions.

Cycling in Berlin
We spent several days resting in Berlin and cycled around much of the city. With a population of 3.4 million in a land where cars are king and virtually zero stop signs, navigating the streets on two wheels sent our adrenaline sky high. That’s not to say Berlin lacks cycling infrastructure, it’s more that cars go where they want. They park in the bike lane or sidewalk, they drive down the bus and bike lane if they feel, they don’t look for cyclists when turning right, and forget about stopping to allow a bike or pedestrians cross the street. The roads of Berlin are a free for all and if you’re timid, then you’ll go nowhere fast. Cycling through Berlin terrified us and kept us on edge. We couldn’t wait to be outside of the city with separated paths and calmer traffic.

Clobberstone abound in Germany. We encountered all shapes and sizes. We liked none of them.

Clobberstone abound in Germany. We encountered all shapes and sizes. We liked none of them.

Cobblestone Streets
Cobblestone, or clobberstone, as we now refer to the ancient roads: pretty to look at, a cyclist’s worst road texture. We cycled over wide uneven cobblestone that attempted to trap our wheels and throw us to the ground and small square cobblestone that rattled our brains as we rode along. The cobblestone was so bad that it loosened a screw on one of my panniers causing it to fall off my bike. Luckily, we found the screw.

Sleeper:

Do You Take Visa?
After our credit card number was stolen within our first two weeks on tour, and our replacement card didn’t make it to Copenhagen in time for our visit, we arranged to have it mailed to our Warm Showers host in Berlin. Looking forward to accumulating miles once again, we discovered immediately that Germany very rarely accepts credit card. Not at restaurants, not at the grocery store, not at the veterinarian. In fact, among developed countries, Germany ranks among the highest of those run on cash with over 80% of transactions exchanged in cash.

Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Because of East Germany’s past, most eastern Germans grew up learning Russian, so finding English speakers proved a bit tricky. The benefit minimal English resulted a better understanding of the language, but we also became charades masters. Forgot your water bottle at the bar last night? I know how to act that out.

Celebrating Germany’s Past
Rather than hiding behind a dark history, Germany owns up to its past and points out significant historical and cultural sites throughout the country. We cycled past a former women’s concentration camp, WWI and WWII military gravestones, and of course, the Berlin Wall. Former Nazi administrative buildings are repurposed as government offices with detailed explanations of the former use posted outside. Tempelhof Airport, one of the few pre WWII airports in Europe closed in 2008 to become a massive public park. By celebrating, rather than masking a deeply scarring past, Germany opens the doors to conversation and takes visitors back to life as it once was.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Another amazing blog. I feel like I am on tour with you.

    I am guessing that East Germans never fully embraced Capitalism, which accounts for the high percentage of cash only transactions and the limited use of credit cards in all of Germany. Perhaps European leaders ignored this critical piece of German cultural history when the Euro replaced local currency.

    Perhaps this is also the reason why Germany can not appreciate Greece’s predicament and has lacked compassion during the debt crisis.

    Something to ponder!

    • The GDR (East Germans) fully embraced what the West had done, just without any planning or organization. The lack of credit card use is somewhat bizarre, but we were told is b/c German’s do not like being in debt. The German’s do not care much for the Greek’s situation and seem to have forgotten what happened after WW2. Either way, Wifi in German is some of the worst in the world. No-one has it.

  2. I loved reading your article about Germany and I am already anxious to learn about your experiences in Austria. Which differences do you see to Germany – in culture, in everyday life etc?
    When traveling Austria, do try the Austrian “Mehlspeisen” (sweet dishes), f. i. “Apfelstrudel? (apple strudel) or “Kaiserschmarren” (sugared pancake with raisins). They are a MUST DO.

    • Thank you, Dina! We’ll post our High, Low, Sleeper Austria edition soon. We’re still catching up a bit from the lack of WiFi in Germany! I will say that we did love Austria though. Very much so!

  3. Loving this post! Definitely adding Germany to my list of future travels. Excited for the next edition 🙂

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