Werra River Bicycle Tour
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
I start the odometer at the Eisfeld
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.
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?
Back to the top
Day 2: Eisfeld to Walldorf
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.
Again, I start the mileage at
the Eisfeld Bahnhof.
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. 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.
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.
We stop for lunch in Grimmelshausen,
which according to the sign was founded in 1177. By comparison Eisfeld was founded
in the Ninth Century.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Back to the top
Day 3: Walldorf to Vacha
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.
from Walldorf after a nice evening in the Hotel Sandsteinhöhle, we rejoin the path.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The trail at Vacha. One of the
huge hills of salt mine tailings is visible in the distance.
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
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.
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.
Back to the top
Day 5: Falken to Werleshausen
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.
We start at the path in Falken.
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.
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.
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.)
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!”
Back to the top
Day 6: Werleshausen to Hann. Münden
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
After a nice drop into Spiekershausen,
follow the path to the barricades, turn right through them and drop down to the
to follow the blue on white bike path signs towards Kassel.
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.
Back to the top