Exploring Backroads in GermanyJan Heine
I recently visited relatives in Germany. They live in Bavaria, in the corner between Austria and the Czech Republic. The “Bavarian Forest” is a lovely landscape that offers some of the best cycling anywhere. The name is deceptive, because most of the “forest” is an agricultural landscape that has been farmed for many centuries.
Like most of Germany, this region is criss-crossed by an amazing road network. By German standards, the region is lightly populated, and many of the roads are very small and see almost no traffic.
I have an old 1970s Singer in Germany. It’s the very first Singer I bought, a decade-and-a-half ago. The frame was one of hundreds of sport-touring/racing frames that were sold to the U.S. during the bike boom. This one originally went to R&E Cycles in Seattle just after they opened, long before R&E started making their own bikes. It was repainted at some point, and many of the components aren’t what I’d choose today, but it still provides a lovely ride.
For this short trip to Germany, I hadn’t brought my handlebar bag along, so I did what the French do, and rolled up my spare tube and wallet into my raincoat, and bungeed them to the front rack. (Except that my raincoat was my big winter coat and not a cycling-specific jacket.) Then I rode into the hills.
In the past, I had ridden on the main roads around here. Two lanes divided by a painted strip with only an occasional car or truck, they are pleasant enough. But this time, I could not resist the temptation of the many narrow lanes that led into the steeper hills. Steep around here means 12% for a kilometer or so, with an equally steep downhill to follow.
The little roads didn’t even have lane markings, and some were only a single car wide. They led by through small villages and individual farms that dot the landscape.
The farm above was empty, but in good shape. Construction material piled on the side lets me hope that it will be revived and inhabited again the next time I come by.
I saw the baroque tower of the church at Marienstein peeking out of the forest. Reaching the church required another steep climb up a series of switchbacks. I enjoyed a quick peek inside: The church’s stark white interior contrasted with the more opulent baroque churches of this region.
My next destination was Falkenstein. This small town features an impressive church in the village, plus a castle and a second church on the steep hill. Most of the buildings in this photo are at least a century old, but the solar collectors on the roof on the right show that time has not stood still here.
The road up to the castle was another steep path, this one paved with large cobblestones. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to climb the tower this time, as darkness was approaching, and I wanted to explore more backroads on the way home. It was exciting to discover all these new roads and places in a region that I thought I knew well. Europeans sometimes look with envy at our reports of rides in the Cascades, where we don’t see a human habitation for many hours. I marvel at Europe’s wonderful rides through landscapes where humans have lived in relative harmony with nature for centuries. Good riding exists in many places, and exploring off the beaten path usually offers rich rewards.