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Diemel River Tour

The Diemel River Valley is a favorite of the German bicycle tourists because it gets little notice from outside tourists. Warburg is one of the most famous communities along the Diemel with its beautiful pastoral overlook onto the river valley. The area is also historic (several battles were fought near Warburg during the Seven Years War).

Map of Diemel tourTour Overview: September 1999. This 3-day ride 115.6-mile (186 km) is mostly downhill. It follows the Diemel River Valley from its source near Usseln to Bad Karlshafen on the Weser River. Then we ride back to Kassel following the Weser and then the Fulda rivers. There are only a few hills on this ride. With three minor exceptions, they are gentle and short. This is the real Germany — picture postcard beautiful and off the tourist path. Unlike Bavaria, most of the visitors here are from other parts of Germany. Nevertheless, English is spoken often enough that non-German speakers will not have a large problem getting the necessities of travel (Bier, food, hotel rooms, directions, etc.) Train or bus connections can be made in many locations for those who want to shorten the trip or just jump ahead.

Today is Monday and it is a beautiful day. This trip starts with a train ride from Kassel to Usseln. We leave our home base only ten minutes earlier than necessary to get to the Bahnhof and half a mile later I have a flat tire. I change the tire in record time, without managing not to pinch the tube while reassembling and arrive at the Bahnhof with only 4 minutes to spare. (Note to self: Remember to properly inflate tires before the next tour. Underinflated tires cause "snakebite" punctures when riding over curbs.)

We also make this tour in 2004 with Jerry and Anne, as well as in 2006 with Eckhard and Vivi-Anne all four are friends of ours from Seattle. I only mention this to assuage any ideas that the information is out of date.

We are on a Nahverkehr or “close-in traffic” train. That means we stop for everything and everybody it also means we can take our bikes on the train with us. For more on this, see our Trains page. Trail snail 1Path sign symbolSnail Trail sign 2

Signage: The trail symbol is a snail and in addition to the trail signs, you can find stickers of a snail pasted on the most unlikely spots along the trail.

Accommodations: 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.

Maps: We used Diemel-Radweg published by BVA Bielefelder Verlagsanstalt, scale 1:50,000. However, one can also use bikeline's Diemel-Radweg von Quelle nach Weser, published Esterbauer Verlag.

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Day 1: Kassel to Usseln by train and then to Westheim by bicycle

Day Overview: This day’s ride is 29 miles (46 km). It is a bit shorter than normal because we use up most of the morning with the train ride to get to the start point. From Usseln, the ride starts out being nicely downhill except for a few rolling hills on the other side of Diemelsee. The only hill of any consequence is the one going into Padberg.

Jerry and Anne with Maxa at Usseln BahnhofMile 0: Maxa stays in Usseln savoring a Milchkaffee, this is the German version of what folks from Seattle call a latté. I know from visits to Italy, that a cafe latté simply means coffee and milk, which is the direct translation for Milchkaffee too. Anyway, Maxa somehow knows that the trail to the source of the river is bound to be uphill so she plays her “you go, I’ll check out the town” card and waits for me while I ride up to the source and back. The source is a spring or Quelle. It takes me about 30 minutes. The photograph on the right is of Maxa, Anne and Jerry taken in 2004 at the Usseln Bahnhof.

It’s a bit of a climb but being a member of the Over Fifty with Bad Knees Club, or the “OFBK Club,” I still do not have to push my bike. The elevation change between the spring and beautiful downtown Usseln is less than 300 feet. At the spring, I find a small park. By itself, it's not worth the ride up. But the sense of personal satisfaction must be - because that's all I have. I head back down the hill to find Maxa.

Mile 1.4 (2.25 km): Found her. Her bike is chained to the outside of a café. Hey, it is a small village and she cannot be too hard to find. I join her inside for a Milchkaffee. After all, one cannot subsist on bread alone; can one?

Mile 3.2 (5.15 km): Just ten feet or so to the left of the path is a Grenzstein or a stone boundary marker. These stones were used in the late Middle Ages to mark the boundaries of the various kingdoms, dukedoms and the holdings of the petty nobility. We always get a kick out of seeing these reminders that Germany is an old land with much-known history. Since Usseln, we have been riding down a long hill requiring almost no pedaling. Neat!

Mile 5.4 (8.7 km): We ride past a Schutzhütte, which translate literally to a “protection hut.” If you are riding or walking and are caught in a rain squall, you are welcome to use these buildings to take shelter from the storm. They should not be used for overnight camping but I do not think anyone ever checks to enforce this, but to do so would be a social faux pas.

Unknown church along the DiemelMile 9.9 (15.9 km): Riding along a secondary road (some traffic but not a lot) we are at the top of the Diemelsee or the lake behind the Diemelsperre or Diemel Dam. If you turn left here, one can take an alternate path if you want a small amount of uphill riding to break up what has been a continuous downhill ride. The alternate path follows other shore of the lake. But because that other shore is much longer, the strong riders in your group will have a hard time beating the powder puff riders to the dam. A worthwhile challenge perhaps since the dam is just over two and a half miles from here. We both stay on the power puff side because ... well, they say if the shoe fits we should wear it.

Padberg ChurchAnne reached the top of the pusher hill PadbergOld Synagoge PadbergMile 16.4 (26.4 km): Padberg! Hint, berg means mountain in German. I am not sure what “Pad” means but it might mean that you have to climb the darn thing. Or it could be someone’s name. Anyway, after a long hill, a “pusher” for most of us in the OFBK club you enter Padberg. Recall that that club is all of us who are over 50 with bad knees. Padberg has a nice church and the map shows a palace ruin but except for the fact that there is no other way around, there does not seem to be a good reason to climb up to Padberg. Maxa atop another hill before Marsberg

Aha, now I get it, the ride down the other side is fun. But just out of town, we almost miss the sign with the snail on it directing the bikes onto the bike path and off the main road. Interestingly, the folks who created this route simply put snail stickers on pre-existing bike route signs linking together parts of several other routes into a longer route down the Diemel. We have seen this trick before but I chuckle at the creativity anyway. It’s something I would have thought of.

Marsberg 1From the Marsberg CastleView from Marsberg CastleGerman Allee or tree lined roadMile 23.9 (38.5 km): We take a break in the 1,200-year-old walled city of Marsberg. Our goal is to check out the hotels but we are sidetracked by the Konditorei or bakery and eat a pastry with a Kännchen Kaffee instead. Oh well, there are lots of hotels here but we decide that we should put on a few more miles since it’s still too early in the day to stop. Marsberg does have a cute downtown though and it probably is a more interesting place to overnight than Westheim where we eventually end our day. Even Wrexen, just 10 km down the road, might be a better stopping place than Westheim.

Leaving Marsberg, we miss a turn at the top of a short steep rise in the path leading to the primary road. The path takes off to the right just before the road but I have my head down pumping the pedals intent of getting to the top of the rise and I miss the sign. We realize (or rather Maxa does) our (or rather my) mistake in a few hundred yards and we dive down a footpath to the river where we connect back to the path marked with the Diemeltal snail.

Mile 28.7 (46.2 km): After four hours of easy, mostly downhill, and mostly paved riding we break for the day at Hotel Kleck in Westheim. Hotel Kleck has 7 rooms and the owner’s daughter speaks English. Unfortunately, they do not have a fax machine or e-mail yet. The people at the hotel are nice and it has good-sized and comfortable rooms. However, it is on the main road so traffic noise will wake you with the chickens; actually at Oh-dark-thirty before the chickens.

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Day 2: Westheim to Bad Karlshafen

Day Overview: Today’s ride is 41miles (66 km). It is almost all flat and slightly downhill except for some rolling hills around Wethen. When we planned the trip, we were to stay in Trendelburg, a charming little town that we have visited before. However, it is a nice day and we push on Bad Karlshafen. We are glad we did because of the wonderful evening meal at Hessischer Hof. Otherwise, it might make more sense to stick to our original plan by staying in Trendelburg and then stay the following night in Hann. Münden (Hannoversch Münden). There are many great restaurants in Hann. Münden too.

Mile 0: We leave Hotel Kleck after enjoying their wonderful breakfast to rejoin the Diemeltal bike path.

Jerry  helps Anne down stairs of a bridgeMile 2.5 (4 km): We ride through Wrexen and note that this may have made a better stopping place for the night. A nice, quiet, small village but they have at least four different overnight accommodation possibilities. Following the marked path just out of town, we cross the river on a footbridge. Recall that one of my tips is to carry a short length of rope? Well, that rope comes in handy getting your bikes up these steep and narrow steps. One of us pulls on the rope in front, the other pushes the bike from behind. Imagine leading a reluctant donkey on the going-up side, and then slowing down a suddenly rambunctious donkey on the going-down side. An odd mental picture perhaps but accurate in this instance and much easier than carrying fully packed bikes up this challenging obstacle. We get a lot of use out of that old rope.

Mile 9.2 (14.8 km): As we pass a farmhouse amongst the fields we see what appears to be a community apple press being used to make apple juice or cider. We do not stop but I am sure we would have been welcome to sample the crop and buy a liter or so. This time of year, the apples are heavy on the limbs of the many trees in the valley. But we are riding uphill and into the wind. Black threatening rain clouds frequently obliterate the sun. We just want to get to a good sheltered lunch spot and we let an opportunity to mingle with the natives and commune with nature’s bounty escape. We hardly notice the castle-like ruin on the hillside across the valley. It is undoubtedly the Heinturm. We see it marked on the map but although the map indicates the Heinturm as a site worth seeing, I am unable to find any information in the guidebooks and it is several miles out of the way. Oh, well. Wikipedia Commons has a picture of the Heinturm here.

Mile 15.0 (24.1 km): We ride triumphantly into the quaint, walled city of Warburg. So far, we have not gotten wet and the weather is improving. This city was formerly an important center of both government and commerce. It was a Hansestadt or one of the cities that was controlled by the Hanseatic League of commercial traders. This group of merchants existed between the 13th Century and the 17th Century but flourished in the early seventeenth century by using monopolistic powers to squash competition. They controlled much of the commerce of the day in Northern Europe.

The Diemeltal guide map states that you can see 950 years of history in two hours by walking on their suggested tour of sites. Here we break for lunch after checking out the old church. If you decide to overnight here, you can try the Hotel Alt Warburger that was built in the first half of the sixteenth-century. If you want older architecture, you can see a house on the corner of the market square that was built in 1471. (I didn’t know history went that far back.) You can also try the local Bier, Warburger (what else?), but only if you do not plan on going further. It’s hard to stay upright on a bicycle after more than one German beer.

Mile 31 (50 km): We ride past Hofgut Stammen a Heuhotel (translates to “hay hotel”). We rode by this once before on our Fairytale Tour and now we stop to check it out. As advertised, if you want to you can sleep in the hay here. The hotel seems to be more for groups of youths who get a kick out of sleeping in anyplace different than their own bedroom. My preference is a bed with clean sheets and a soft pillow. As a kid on the farm, I slept in more hay than I was supposed to (my father had wanted me to clean the barn) and now I just do not feel the urge to be all scratchy and uncomfortable.

Trendelburg from afarMile 32.1 (51.6 km): We ride through Trendelburg. When we planned this trip, we told ourselves that we would overnight in Trendelburg. We stayed here several years ago. It’s easy to fall in love with this quaint village. The castle in the center of town is where the Princess Rapunzel, of fairytale fame, let down her hair and allowed a charming prince to climb into her chambers. What he had in mind I am sure I do not know. Why she would put up with so much pain and discomfort as to have a grown man pulling on her hair with all his weight I am also at a loss to explain. Perhaps being a member of the Club (you know, over 50, etc.) causes me to forget what hormones can do to the younger generation.

It’s early and we are feeling strong so instead of stopping here, we keep on going down the path toward Bad Karlshafen.

Gut Wülmersen Mile 36.1 (58.1 km): Wülmersen seems like barely a wide spot in the road but it is at the intersection of a trail to the Sababurg, which is the Sleeping Beauty Castle for those who want to know. Sababurg is also the location of a wonderful wild park and zoo. It’s uphill from here and not just a little bit either. Wülmersen also has a Wasserschloss or moated castle that we missed because we did not read our guide map close well enough. We returned much later in 2006 and found the guidebook correct, it is worth a stop.

Mile 37.2 (59.9 km): Here in the forest is another of those Schutzhütte or shelter huts if you happen to be coming this way in the rain. Today, however, the sun is warm and the winds of earlier in the day are a rapidly fading memory.

Krukenburg 1Krukenburg 2Prior to Bad Karlshafen, we spot a castle ruin atop a hill above Helmarshausen. We do not go up to see it this trip because we are tired and looking forward to a shower and a nice hot meal. However, in the years that have passed between 1999 and recent times, we do visit it. It is the Krukenburg ruin and the pictures show the structure and the view.

Mile 41.5 (66.8 km): We enter Bad Karlshafen after just over 7½ hours including the stops. We eat at the Hessischer Hof, a recommended restaurant. I can see why this restaurant is so frequently recommended. Not only do they have Hesse cuisine, but they have cuisine from nearly every other area in Germany as well. It seems like there are over 100 different items on the menu, one of the largest and most varied selections I have ever seen anywhere. And the prices are reasonable too. This was a to-die-for combination. The food was good and on my plate of Sauerbraten, I found pickled garlic cloves on the side. What a wonderful surprise for garlic lovers like me.

Bad KarlshafenSalt Wall Bad KarlshafenBad Karlshafen is an interesting little city. During the almost 60 year reign of Landgrave Charles I (Landgraf Karl I) between 1670 and 1730 Europe was still reeling from religious issues. In Catholic France, a group of Protestants, The Huguenots, were forcibly expelled from the country. The settled in many places but Charles invited Huguenots to settle in North Hesse. The first few settled in a small village named Carlsdorf northwest of Kassel. The Huguenots were an educated, industrious, and multi-talented, people. Carl engaged some of them to redesign and build an addition to the City of Kassel. He also gave the community land to construct a new city, Karlshafen, at the confluence of the Diemel and the Weser. The city was laid out symmetrically around a central harbor. The harbor used water diverted from the Diemel and connected to the Weser with a lock. It became one of two ports from which Hessian troops were shipped to America to help the British during the Revolutionary War. Fat lot of good they did though - as history proved.

Today, the prefix "Bad" is added to the community's name to create Bad Karlshafen. A "Bad" prefix connotes that the community is a spa town where people can go, stay in tourist like facilities and receive medical recuperative care. In this case, it is because Bad Karlshafen is a source of mineral springs, which, when evaporated by water draining slowly through straw walls, smells like salt water. This salty humid air is thought to be healthful when breathed. Though I remain skeptical, an entire industry has been built upon that idea.

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Day 3: Bad Karlshafen to Kassel

Day Overview: This is a 45.4-mile (73 km) ride. It is mostly flat or slightly rolling hills except for one short hill between Reinhardshagen and Hann. Münden and the gradual climb from the riverbank to the Bahnhof at Kassel Wilhelmshöhe. You will take the west bank (left bank) of the Weser to Reinhardshagen, and then cross over to the east bank until Hann. Münden. From Hann. Münden to Kassel, you will be back on the east bank. While there are well-marked bike paths on both sides of the river, we chose this route because the other side is either boring (as from Reinhardshagen to Münden) or hilly (as between Bad Karlshafen and Reinhardshagen and again between Münden and Kassel.) If you find this distance too far, you have two wonderful choices: Stay overnight in Hann. Münden (Mile 27) or take public transportation back to Kassel. You can catch the train in Hann. Münden or catch the bus in Reinhardshagen and connect with the train.

Mile 0: After an adequate breakfast and a lively conversation with other guests, we leave Pension Hoffmann. we mount our bikes and depart. Our goal today is Kassel via Reinhardshagen and Hann. Münden. The forecast is for showers turning to rain later in the day. If it gets too wet, we will catch the train at any of several different opportunities and just be lazy. After all, this is about enjoying yourself, not about being super macho. We start out full of vigor and enthusiasm. Staying on the west side of the river (do not cross the bridge here), we ride the main road toward Oberweser. The signs may say “Deutsche Märchenstrasse” or “Radfernweg Weser (R-1).” The people who put up the signs were confused by what side of the river was what bike path. Either one will get you to the same place but the west side is less hilly while the east side has less traffic. The opposite is true south of Reinhardshagen.

Mile 10.9 (17.5 km): After passing two ferries to small communities on the other bank, we ride through Oberweser. The only down-side to the ride so far is the 4 miles or so of bike path next to the main road. We will avoid some of this type of riding condition when we cross the river at Reinhardshagen.

Mile 18.9 (30.4 km): Here is Reinhardshagen. It’s another cute little village that was our overnight when we rode the Fairytale Tour (Deutsche Märchenstrasse). Actually, the name Reinhardshagen refers to two separate communities of Veckerhagen and Vaake. I guess each village was too small to govern by itself so they combined the two. If you want a break, we recommend the 500-year-old Historiches Brauhaus (“Historical Brewery”) in Veckerhagen, Kirchplatz 9. This is also a hotel and is a great value.

For €1.00 each, we take the ferry across the Weser here in Reinhardshagen. On the other side, we climb over a bit of a hill (not too steep but it will slow you down) and ride into Gimte, a suburb of Hann. Münden. One does not have to cross, staying on the left bank is an option but the bike route on the right bank has a little less traffic.

Mile 26.8 (43.1 km): Assuming you did cross, after crossing the bridge on the main highway, we ride into Hann. Münden. A little trivia here, the “Hann.” is an abbreviation for “Hannoversch” or literally the Hannover’s. The natives just say, “Münden” but folks from the surrounding area, read North Hesse, verbalize the abbreviation as well as the name Münden; much simpler. However, there are more than one city named Münden and all the maps refer to “Hann. Münden.” Hannover is over 60 miles away but Hannover was a center of governmental power and Münden was a center for economic power. Established in 1183, it lies at the confluence of the Fulda and the Werra. These two rivers join and become the Weser. There is a stone monument down by the point where the rivers actually join you can go see. Münden has been an important commercial settlement since at least the sixteenth century. The buildings are extraordinarily well preserved and it’s regarded (by myself and probably the local Chamber of Commerce too) as one of the quaintest towns in all Germany.

To get back on the bike path to Kassel, cross the bridge to the west bank of the Fulda. the ride to Kassel from Hann. Münden is one we have made several times. To us living in Kassel for part of the year this route is old hat. However, our visitors from the States that we take on that short ride seem to thoroughly enjoy the flat, mostly paved ride along the left bank of the Fulda.

Mile 42.4 (68.2 km): We are well inside Kassel now and we turn right leaving the Fulda and riding toward the city center. The main arterial here has several names as it winds through the city but at the multi-theater complex we ride west toward Wilhelmshöhe Allee.

Mile 42.4 (73 km): Here is the end of the ride at Bahnhof Wilhelmshöhe. As I mentioned at mile 0, if it rains we’ll hop a train and cop out on the balance of the ride. In fact, it did rain so we took a train here from Hann. Münden and now we are warm, dry, and happy instead of cold, wet, and cranky. But, hey, as I said above, we have ridden the path between Hann. Münden and Kassel several times before so we know it’s there just as I describe it above. The next stop is our home base a short uphill ride from here where we will find beer and supper. Writing this in 2011, I remark that in a couple years, we will move to a condominium that is actually downhill from the Bahnhof.

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