Austria, Germany Part 1

Coasting through Switzerland

Collecting Mountain Runoff
Southern Germany

The Hohenzollern Party Castle

El Bicycleta Viajero de Stuttgart

The Yellow Brick Road along the Altmuehl

Gonna take a Sentimental Bike Ride

Sleepy Towns
dates and mileages

Coasting through Switzerland. THE CHAPTER ON AUSTRIA starts with Switzerland. But it's short. In Reschen I received advice for an hour long detour, promising even less traffic, finer views, and general bicycle Nirvana. I took it. An alternate descend from Reschenpass, led me to a border crossing at the exact point where Italy, Switzerland, and Austria meet. But you can't cross from Italy into Austria directly. You comfortably roll through the border crossing into Switzerland, no need to get off the bike, not even pedal if you don't want, coast right through Switzerland, and pull a Uy into Germany. While coasting through Switzerland, I discovered I still was going too fast to make the required U turn, and pulled the rear brake. At that moment I broke the rear cable. Who makes the decision when things break anyway ? That's what I'd like to know ! Thus I am still unable to boast of having coasted through Switzerland on a bicycle. I stopped long enough in Switzerland to fix my brake cable. Luckily I had one with me. Everything here costs more than anything anywhere else.

Collecting Mountain Runoff. MY ROUTE THROUGH AUSTRIA was dictated by flood runoff and spring melting. For three days, I rolled along under crystal blue skies, sparkling with a clarity that obliterated any perception of distance to snow capped mountains. White, fifty mile distant ranges appeared just as close as the foot hills below them, which common sense tells you isn't really possible. A hot sun went to work on the snow, and added massive floods to the already saturated slopes. I was funneled into the primary East West route through Austria, along with the rest of the runoff, joining the major East West traffic connection between Innsbruck and Zurich in the town of Landeck. I made attempts into the Hinterlands, the Paznau valley, direction Silvretta heights, the cornice road over Flexenpass into Germany, and was met with road closures every time.

Making the major Austrian alp crossing at Arlbergpass had its own interesting side. Like many important European alp crossings it has very little traffic. Surprising ? A tunnel below the pass swallows all the traffic, leaving the pass for people who enjoy them most, cyclists, and in this case, knick knack searching tourists.On top of Arlbergpass you can retile your Tyrolean mountain hat with little shiny souvenir pins of where you've been, not only this pass, but all the surrounding passes, alpine huts, heights and ski lifts, and Edelweiss in all colors, shapes and sizes. Pinned proudly to chest or hat, these little pins are a cross of bumper stickers and jewelry for the wardrobe. Once this diversion becomes tiring, other stores offer cheesy plates to stock up on. Then when all else fails, they offer overpriced meals which won't make a dent in a biker's stomach. A whole tourist industry outlet is just waiting at the top. Austria is a sophisticated and cultured country, and everybody should be very proud of their culture.

It's not exactly where mountains meet peace, but traffic is no problem. The highest point was about the same altitude, as the highest point in the Italian Apennines on my route, approximately 5300 feet, also approximately the altitude of Denver. On May 25th 99,  the road over the top carved through a solid yard of dirty snow, its dirt layers temporary snowological evidence of the winter's traffic patterns, more snow than Denver anytime anywhere. But I was in the latitudes of Newfoundland or Northern Montana, not Colorado.

The miles rolled away quickly. Even away from the pass, the Autobahn hummed its song a few hundred meters in the distance, leaving me free to roll alone through mothballed ski towns, under expansive snow protection fences that receded up the mountains to near the top. In the Kloster valley, the snow control structures dazzle with the effort it must take to maintain them. I also followed a marvel of traffic engineering, the Vienna Innsbruck railroad line. It was still closed, three days after the storm that got me in Italy.

Bikobahns. AT THIS POINT MY MOOD CHANGED. Crossing the alps had gone faster than expected. Now I felt like a kid on a bike after school. I had no homework to do, and in Germany, kids get out of school at 1.30pm, at the latest. Now their resourcefulness tells them how to spend the afternoon, instead of being confined by such dubious concepts as "study hall". The afternoon was mine, a nice long afternoon, as the creator of afternoons surely intended them to be, a month of afternoons. When I saw a route that looked promising, I explored it. A dirt path next to a canal crossed under my route of  traffic lights, beckoning with cool swaying woods, offering relief from rigid precision white striped roads. I was now in country where bike paths usually went somewhere, wherever. It turned out to be a side path funneling bike traffic into the major bicycle autobahn, or bikobahn, of the upper Rhein bike path. Strong straight levies fortify and straighten the path of the Rhein here, so that it can be trusted in defining the boundary between Austria and Switzerland. I rode on the Austrian side, but I would guess, a path exists on the Swiss side too. I rolled along on a promenade on top of the levy, much like parading on a stage, with a varied assortment of two wheel travelers, following the Rhein for around forty kms to where it flows into a large lake, the Bodensee.

The Bodensee marked my exit from the alps, the same way Lago di Garda marked the entrance. Both lakes collect runoff from the alps on opposite sides. Their size show just how wet these mountains are. The Bodensee is the largest lake in Germany, sharing its shoreline with Switzerland, and a bit of Austria. A ride around it would cover on the order of 250 miles. Almost every mile of shoreline is filled with something manmade that has been attracting vacationing families for centuries, sea castles, gardens, vacation homes, bench lined promenades, bicycle paths, painted city halls, built in past centuries and improved in splendor befitting larger modern tourist quantities.  My personal favorite is the painted 16th century city hall in the island town of Lindau. Every last corner of the building is colored as if a child with crayons had gone beserk in a coloring book, and then cut the whole thing up and made a three dimensional structure from the cutouts. - Okay, an older child, past kindergarten age, one with great sense of color and proportion.

This lake is also a favorite destination of the free bus tour, a cup of coffee, a ride in the bus, and a condo/insurance/kitchen appliance salesman making a pitch for your retirement marks on the scenic shores of the Bodensee. It's that kind of place. Small towns merge into each other seamlessly, the heart of the German family vacation, a place to sit by the lake, and let the sun shine in your face, if you're lucky. A complex bike path follows the shore of the lake, its complexity increased by being about 30 percent under water, from the storm I had encountered in the Italian alps. Temporary detour signs pointed the way around the water. Bike tourists on upright bikes swarmed along the lake like bees whose hive was under water. I joined the confusion, hypnotized by the variety of bicycling styles around me. I reentered reality when I noticed the same groups of cyclists a second time, but now going the opposite direction. Actually, I was going the opposite direction. It is a challenge to get lost and turned around 180 degrees, along a lake shore. I was up to it. In my defense, at times a confused network of trails circumnavigates restaurants, gardens, parking lots, fences and hedges. There's only so much shore, and so many people spending their vacation on it. Circumbikulating this lake on this path would probably take at least a weak. After that I followed roads near the shore for fifty miles and then turned North into the Swabian hills.

For a day a I rode real roads, however small they might be, crossing gentle hills, precisely bordered wheat fields, flanked by occasional religious crosses, with solid well maintained benches inviting for a Brotzeit-lunch. In winter the planks you sit on are removed and stored, to be resurrected when the climate is safe again, showing the importance attached to the clean appearance of these immaculate roadside picnic shrines. Winter picnickers are out of luck. But picnics in rain and snow would be uncultured anyway, just as uncultured as paint peeling off the picnic bench in the summer. That's the way the local logic works. So during winter picnickers have to sit on on the concrete stumps that are left, seemingly designed as the foundation for a building, offering considerably greater load bearing capacity than required for the average behind. These picnic benches were designed with posterior in mind, I mean, posterity in mind.

Along the upper Danube, East of Sigmaringen, a bicycle path tempted me again. If I didn't explore this route now, chances are I  never will again. The route here was clear, unlike the confusion around the Bodensee. I also recognized that curious bicycle species again, the German bicycle wanderer. I'll postpone a description of this species to the next river path cycling episode. The upper Danube bike path was unique for its natural beauty. Here also, castles tower on limestone cliffs and cloisters hide in the woods. But the upper Danube, between Sigmaringen and Muehlheim, partially traverses a National Park. In Germany you'll find towns in just about every National Park. It's just that the building codes are even stricter. Still, the upper Danube meanders through small stretches of wild forest, and unspoiled limestone cliffs lined the river shore. An image of a glass of frothy beer, discretely and artistically displayed on a lantern in front of a Wirtshaus, might discretely remind you of your thirst, every twenty to thirty kilometers. But no red on yellow Mc Donalds sign towering above like a lighthouse is about to terrorize you into fast food hunger. The smell of sausages and sauerkraut might tempt your eyes across a lush hedge into the garden of a restaurant, but you won't follow a path of styrofoam boxes, paper napkins, plastic forks, and tiny ketchup bags to get their. Don't get me wrong. I like fast food. It's just different here.

The Hohenzollern Party Castle. I WAS WORKING MY WAY NORTH towards Stuttgart still around a hundred miles away. Bike paths led me away from the road, skirting the uniformly planted forests, their boundaries orderly designed edges, where tall uniform trees began and cultivated land ended. In the distance, I suddenly saw a perfectly cone shaped mountain, crowned by several sharp towers piercing through the sunny haze. I looked at my map but couldn't figure out if the landmark, whatever it could be, was on my route. Bike paths ended, others started, roads curved every which way, the day progressed. Still it looked like I was bypassing those mystical towers on the hill, that were my landmark most of the day. That evening I asked the woman I was renting a room from about the towers. Of course it was a castle, a big majestic one, the Hohenzolllern castle. The next day I detoured back South and East to visit it.

I biked past the parking lot for the tourists, and stood up, to ride up the steep quiet tree covered road to the gated entrance. The car tourists had to walk that last mile, so that their cars would not disturb the medieval picture. They have to get some exercise too. Behind the stately entrance gate, the ramp threaded itself up into the castle like a corkscrew, passing over itself several times, through gate after gate, each one impenetrable, each one architecturally different, each one a bastion of war. Five towers crowned the structure, some round, some square, some multi angular, some turreted, some with barricades, each one with a different window arrangement. Apparently they didn't settle on a single design to defend this place. Maybe it was an experimental castle, probing out new tower designs. Or maybe it was a showpiece, demonstrating the strengths and weaknesses of various tower designs. Or maybe an artist had a hand in it. They do look beautiful. Show piece knight armor, complete with lances, stood on the castle walls, gazing down on the towns below in an imperial fashion.

Stop here. This castle was starting to be built in its current form, in 1819. Who were these knights roaming the country side, testing out various tower designs, in the century of the steam engine, a generation before the industrial revolution ? Actually it was a time when monarchies were highly fashionable. People with names like crown prince Friederich Wilhem of Prussia traveled to far off places like Italy, touring the same Renaissance cities and hill towns I had toured. When they came back, they just had to have one of their own. And so they enlisted relatives with equally long names like Count Karl Anton of Hohenzollern, and employed Chief Engineer Lieutenant of Prittwitz to design towers and corkscrew ramps, befitting the romantic idea of the day.

So necessity wasn't the mother of this invention. So no tar rained down on attacking knights from these towers. No damsels in distress were rescued by men in tin suits. No enemies lay in dungeons, rotting to death with lice. Too bad. Not really. It was a party castle. The time of knights had played out, albeit in the same spot, in a predecessor castle long lost to time (12th century), belonging to the same Hohenzollern family. None of this distracts from the romantic appearance, the stately architecture and the peaceful surrounding country side. You can have a castle without the war, even without glaring commercialism. So Mr. Disney didn't really even invent the war free castle, where the only battle that ever took place is a food fight between warring tourists, or maybe some high class family dispute. Mr. Disney just invented the glaring commercialism that goes with it sometimes. On the other hand, Mr. Disney's creations are self-supporting and the tax payer doesn't have to pay for upkeep. This was my favorite lunch stop in Southern Germany. They must have been some parties !

Now that I took a closer look, I was standing on a balcony, the crown over an artsy circular driveway, corkscrewing itself up through various triumphal arch designs, into the interior yard of a towered mansion. Some outrageous tin hunting trophies, mounted on the balcony walls, gazed out on the country side. Tourists in Sunday clothes, strolled around the circumference of the mansion, placing one foot in front of another, slowly and reverently, honoring the monarchical tradition with the sharp creases in their pants, their hands held behind their back in relaxed contemplation. Two tourists in shorts jumped on the wall to have their picture taken by a young female with a disposable camera. They spoke English with American accent. Statues of Kaisers looked on, unmoved by the spectacle.

El bicycleta viajero de Stuttgart

ROUTES OF DESIGNATED TOURIST attractions are not a rarity, where every working citizen has to receive a minimum of six weeks vacation a year by law. Germans are forced to take vacations, and they don't even mind. Imagine that. They travel about the country in trains, cars and bicycles, seeking out cultural sights, concentrated along touristic routes with names like "the Romantic Road", "Road of Baroque", "the Wine Road", "the Road of Castles". But I was heading for my own route, "the road of friends and relatives". The first stop along this route was Stuttgart, where I visited a cycling friend, Gerhart.

It looked pretty bad on the map. A flurry of town names obscured the roads leading to them. You had to guess which name went with which red blob, urban sprawl galore. But then, a good measure of luck lead me into Stuttgart the green way, utilizing mostly side roads and 50 percent bike paths through town forests North of  the university town of Tuebingen. A student had pointed me to the entrance of the path, a tunnel into the woods with a small sign. Dense growth forest shut out summer heat and bright light. After 10 kilometers on dirt with the birds and mushrooms, forest roads started branching off in every direction. I always took the most used looking track. When I exited the forest I discovered I was within fifteen miles of my destination.

Gerhart and me met five years ago on a bicycle tour in Ecuador. We both happened to stay at the same dirty little truck stop on the "avenida de los volcanes" South of Quito. Since then, I had visited him once before, and he has visited me in Colorado, where we participated in a (Heartcycle) bicycle club tour. He is the most bicyclingest person I know. He sold his trucking business when he was in his early forties, and concentrated on his bicycling life, starting out with a 6000 mile tour through Southern African countries. Since then, Gerhart has been attracted especially to Spanish speaking countries and has crossed Mexico, South and Central America from South to North, in various trip combinations.  You do get the biggest cultural bang for your buck of learning a new language, with Spanish. This is after English of course, but he already knew that language. When we met at that truck stop in Ecuador, he was in a hurry to get to Quito, to enroll in Spanish and Salsa dancing lessons. "The stress is really almost too much" he quipped. He also has a forest hut in Finland, that he likes to visit via a ride from Stuttgart during the summers.

You can't judge a book by its cover. But you can judge it by its contents. You can't make valid conclusions about a person based on superficialities. But can you make conclusions based on the quotes displayed on bathroom mirrors, the first thing to greet you in the morning, and engrave an impression for the day ahead. This is here the question. The quotes were in Spanish. You can already make a conclusion. He is actively pursuing knowledge of that language. The first quote translates to "Live for yourself. When you die, you die". A second quote read "Good resolutions , followed to the letter , spoil everything". ( Another translation would be  "Good rules, enforced to the extreme, ruin everything" ). I wouldn't read any personal characteristics into this, except a philosophical bend.  These two quotes reflect a combination of extremeness and moderation needed for long bike tours. These quotes are bound to keep you biking for a while.

Gerhart was going to make sure I was well taken care in my mental, nutritional and bicycling needs. One of the large national bike clubs, the BDF, was putting on a ride the day after my arrival, and we didn't want to miss it.

There is a danger, when visiting cycling friends. You have worn yourself into the ground, carrying fully loaded bags, touring for hundreds of miles trying to get there. You are looking forward to sitting on a couch for a couple of days, tell war stories and drink beers, relaxing, regaining your powers.  Your buddy on the other hand, has been anxiously awaiting your arrival. He has been looking forward to show you every inch of all the great bicycle terrain available to him. He also wants to show off just what a great cyclist he is. He is probably spending every minute at work, working out route plans, dreaming of riding. Your visit is an excellent reason to escape from the noncycling spouse, for however long your visit might last. If a visiting cyclist isn't an excuse to get out the house for at least the afternoons, I don't know what is. But that's a different trip, different year, another story. Gerhard inquired if I was ready to go next morning. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

We opted for a moderate 56 mile option. The complexity of the route was worthy of a prize winning  mouse searching out a trophy piece of Limburger cheese in a cyclopean maze. The BDF (Bund Deutscher Fahradfahrer)  had done an enormous amount of work, putting up hundreds of little cardboard bicycle signs with arrows, pointing routes through villages avoiding traffic, taking advantage of bike paths where possible. My biggest thrill was zipping through a whole series of historic city gates, as we collected small old towns on the outskirts of Stuttgart, at a rate of one every three to ten kilometers. There were so many little roads and obscure turnoffs, it would be impossible to reconstruct the route from memory for any participant. But this comes from a rider living in a place where all mountain ranges are conveniently lined up North to South. Starting a ride in the American West, you're likely to proceed in one of four directions, East, West, North or South. When you finally do make a turn, it's bound to be in one of two directions, the original four, minus the old one, minus the one you came from. That simplifies things considerably. Here every road twisted every which way, and obvious landmarks, such as Rocky Mountains, don't exist.

After the BDF ride, 50 to a hundred bikers sat in a garden restaurant under sun umbrellas to relax. These large colorful sun umbrellas are customary here, whenever it doesn't rain and real umbrellas are required. We feasted on Bratwurst, potato salad, and cycling tales. I was too dehydrated to partake in the beer drinking. The atmosphere after the ride was remarkably the same as on any organized Colorado ride, an exhausted kind of satisfaction, although Germans tend more to treating these sentiments with tobacco smoke and beer foam. Gerhart on the other hand is a selfprofessed belligerent nonsmoker and antialcoholic. So all generalizations are false, including this one ( including the very last one ).

The next evening we attended a monthly meeting of Gerhard's cycling club, Team Bizare. They met at a restaurant, where a solid wood table finely decked out with white tablecloth, a "reserved meeting sign" (Stammtisch), and tall beer glasses awaited them. They're a group of about fifteen males, balancing the interests of work, family, a racing team, and more. "Take a bicycle vacation", was a standing joke. - "Vacation from the bicycle is pretty nice too. So they say." These guys didn't look convinced. Like other bike clubs, they place orders directly with parts distributors. Today they received an allotment of a dozen specially ordered Shimano rear clusters. A dozen men unwrapped shiny metal clusters, and immediately started counting the teeth on all the sprockets, not a trivial task, even without beer. Where is a camera with a flash when you need one ? Bicycle components do the same thing to men that jewelry does to women ( some, only some, no nasty notes please ).  Just double checking if it's really a 12 carat, I mean a 11-26 teeth. It allows them to display themselves in the most favorable light, dashing across the stage of life.

Gerhart also took care of my nutritional needs. We all know that eating is a matter of central importance to cyclists. What does a bicyclist eat ? Anything he wants too. I won't elaborate. When eating out, the serving size plays a far larger role than for other people. Also, the price to serving size relationship is of paramount importance, since ordering more than 2 meals at a time becomes needlessly expensive. Gerhart's expertise in these matters revealed a jewel of a place, which a tourist could never discover on his own, the cafeteria of the statistical state census bureau (statistisches Landesamt). For 7 marks, you could stack a whole tray up with a salad, soup, a main course consisting of Spaetzle, a form of great chewy Swabian pasta, meat, vegetable, or some vegetarian dish, and top it off with high octane fruit preserves or cake, just what the bicycling doctor ordered.

Bachelors' eating habits are always a source of entertainment to the rest of the population. Gerhart is no exception. It is often the combination of otherwise quite normal raw materials that is the source of wonderment. It may be difficult to get this point across, because of cultural differences, but let me try. Americans generally (not all) like bread which floats on water. German bread sinks like a lead filled balloon. Gerhart likes a third kind of cracker like bread, Finnish bread, Knaeckebrot. It also floats, but only for a short time. He likes it with butter and Brie Cheese, nothing unusual for Germany. He likes to top it off generously with catsup, a highly abnormal addition. Americans have a more liberal attitude to food combinations, having pioneered the modern sandwich, for the first time combining salad and tomatoes with bread. Other American pioneer work in this field let to occasional olives in their eastern plains burritos, garnishing eggs with Tabasco sauce or catsup, adding pickled relishes to hot dogs, even creating exotic Navajo Tacos and huevos rancheros, whole layers of intrinsically incompatible materials, eggs, lettuce, beans, salsa, pancake toppings. Americans are harder to shock when it comes to unusual combinations. The older traditional German however, places butter and meat or cheese on his so-called sandwich. Anything more than that is considered an adventurous extension into the world of foreign cuisine, or weird. The catsup, that Gerhart likes to top off his Brie, is a condiment relegated to pasta topping in Germany, poor man's pasta sauce in my Americanized view. Nothing special, this catsup on a cheese cracker, right ? He'd fit right in over here.

Last but not least, Gerhart anticipated my mental needs. During the course of my four day stay, I acquired a whole package of reading material, consisting of newspaper articles, copied music lyrics, and a list of insightful quotes by the mayor of Stuttgart. My little head had enough to do, dealing with all the real life situations. This was no ride through the desert, where you could contemplate the Zen of bicycle maintenance all day long. I carried much of this reading material with me, and evaluated it later at home.

The Yellow Brick Road along the Altmuehl

FROM STUTTGART, I HEADED FOR THE NEXT STOP on the road of friends and relatives, Nuremberg. But first I made a detour worth making, the valley of the Altmeuhl. The Altmuehl is a little tributary of the Danube, flowing through a narrow wooded valley, filled to overflowing with castles perched on limestone cliffs, statues of ancient church officials, fountains, cobblestoned town squares and cyclists. Recently, the Altmuehl has been transformed into a shipping channel. Together with the newly constructed Rhein-Main-Danube Canal, you can now paddle your boat from the Atlantic into the Black Sea, should you have the desire. The crucial new connection is between the Rhein, flowing into the Atlantic, and the Danube, flowing into the Black Sea. That's where the shippable Altmuehl enters the picture.

There's more to the Altmuehl than statues and boats. A popular bicycle path follows the extreme meanders of the little river for well over 100 miles. From there you could continue to river path cycle along the Danube, upstream or downstream. Longer bike paths exist in Germany, the Mosel, the Main, or the king of them all, along the Rhein across Germany form North to South. But none are more interesting than the Altmuehl.

I approached Eichstaett, looking for the Altmuehl bike path. Sometimes I think river bike paths are so popular in Germany because they're easiest to find. All you have to do, is ride in one direction through town, till you cross the river and stop on the bridge. From there you can see if the path is on the left or the right of the river. Sometimes there is one on both sides. The most difficult thing you have to do then, is decide which side you like better. And then you got yourself a little hot yellow brick road under your tires, that will lead you through scenic villages, by benches to rest on, from Dorf to Dorf, from castle to monastery, from private rooms to Wirtshaus, ad infinitum.

The path from Eichstaett quickly entered a dense canopy of foliage, threading along the peaceful Altmuehl at about 10 feet distance. The Altmuehl hardly flowed. Along its almost standing dark slimy waters, hairy weeds made a densely vegetated soggy boundary with the river. Riding into the forest felt like riding into a cool room. Once I entered the forest, I entered a moderate world of cool moist moss, trees struggling for sunlight overhead. This forest always offered relief from heat, regardless of how unrelentlessly pleasant the sun may be beating down on the country side, making temperatures soar to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes even higher. The density of the forest was especially impressive for somebody living in the dry interior of the US. Cyclists from the North Western US can picture this more easily. Of course the dense forest also offers protection from rain, more often than from sun. But I got lucky. The sun had been out for days now. Can this much sunshine be good for you ? I had been worried and bought an industrial sized bottle of sun protection. But the tunnel through the forest offered protection.

I discovered quickly that I won't get lonely on this route. The path was a narrow tube, requiring  cyclists to follow one another like geese stepping across the road. Cyclists tended to travel in packs. The leader of the pack boldly forged ahead, pioneering the way with help of a handlebar mounted map. The laptop sized map case on the front of the bike resembled a little desk,  giving the appearance of cycling along with a prayer book on the hood for guidance. All that was needed to complete the picture, was for them to burst out in song of a church hymn. The sturdy map case held the map at a 45 degree angle, for better deciphering while coasting along. This way the fearless leader could quickly recognize one of the many cryptic optional detours through the towns, so as not to miss a special cathedral, the statue of a bishop, or a monastery.  I was so impressed by this desk on a bike, I decided to get one myself. It would be perfect for attaching a pen, and taking notes for writing a guide book. The rest of the entourage followed the leader, like geese crossing the road, feet rotating to the intermittent rhythm of chirping birds, displaying all the haste deserving of a lazy mild midsummer's day, boldly coasting where thousands have coasted before.

Two to ten cyclists made up the average sized group. Their dress revealed that they were on a long tour. Men and women wore comfortable shorts and loosely fitting shirts and blouses. If this was a short ride from home, women might sport a skirt, and men might wear creased pants. They rode upright bicycles with fenders and generator driven lights. The handlebars were also mostly upright, some of the more racy models sporting curly bars. All were equipped for touring, either panniers or baskets containing clothes, sandwiches and an air pump thrown in. All seemed to have an aversion to narrow bike seats, preferring the spring loaded platforms the size of tractor seats, to give them support where they thought they needed it. A decidedly sporty contingent in the crowd wore Lycra shorts with wild colored stripes, and jerseys so outlandish they would make Greg Lemond would stand out like a patch of asphalt in front of a circus tent. It was surprising that any kind of connected foot shoe interface was a rarity, even for the obviously more fashion conscious modern contingent .

Around 12 o'clock the paths emptied. But this crowd did not seek shelter in the shade of a guardrail,  to peel back the cellophane on a power bar. This crowd took a different approach to the lunch stop concept. Instead of standing by the side of a 7-11, they searched out groups of chairs at cozy open air  restaurants and beer gardens. Instead of sucking down artificial carbohydrate juice from a bag on their backs, they ordered monumental glasses of Weizenbeer, with a perfect head of foam, crowned by a slice of lime. They didn't use their fingers to form pieces of power bars with limited elasticity into manageable clay eggs. No ! They picked up a a fork and knife simultaneously, and started to carve up elaborately prepared combinations of meet and potatoes, residing on fine porcelain plates. Real food carried a high priority.  Anything wrapped in cellophane was deemed uncultured and unfashionable, not real food. Real drink was just as important. Any drink with a head of foam on it, was deemed better than one without. The favorite way to spend lunch was perched under the vines of a beergarden, working away at heaping plates of pickled pig knuckles, jellied goathead, little spears of schaschlick, spooning away at oxtail soup.  A rare progressive vegetarian in the group could always have opted for French Fries, and the hearty bread with the consistency of a hockey puck. But, stuffing a bag of goo in their mouths while riding would not occur in their worst nightmares. Isn't it fascinating how different cultural groups approach bicycling differently ?

An alternative way to spend lunch, just as popular, was to stop at one of the many  benches along the trail. River views from benches invited to step off the old wire donkey (Drahtesel) several times each mile. Here they sat down with sandwiches and potato salad and perhaps an accompanying bottle of Weissbeer, and gazed out on the murky pond like water surface lost in discussion. In the distance you could hear a car zoom by ever so faintly, on the other side of the river.

I was riding along an entertaining spectacle, a different approach to bicycling than in the US.  These were Germany's bicycle wanderers, a tradition that is older than automobile touring. It's a popular way to spend a  week on a family or group vacation. Enjoyment is derived from consuming food and beer, as much as from consuming miles. Children cycled along on bikes with tiny wheels, or on tandem trailers. The smallest ones were mounted on a baby seat on the rear rack, or relegated into the confines of a dreaded trailer. This last option was rather uncommon though. Distances are short enough that the bicycle has always been a viable means of transport, even before the advent of cyclomax, titanium and camelbacks. The bicycle wanderers are a special sector of the bicycle culture in this country. Their favorite habitat are all the aforementioned river bike paths. Hills don't exist, and should you really get behind schedule, you can always cut off a meander and reduce the distance yet to be covered, to virtually zero.

The racing contingent exists in Germany just as in other countries. They prefer the small side road habitat to the bike paths, since passing these flocks of geese is often quite an involved maneuver, causing them  to loose cadence needlessly, and harvest scornful looks in the process. I often had the feeling that other river path cyclists were worried about my health, seeing me exert myself on the bike. The look in their faces said "You are going to have a heart attack if you keep pedaling that fast". Another reason makes the appearance of the racing subspecies on the river paths a rare phenomenon. The river bike paths often turn to dirt, for miles at a time, completely without warning, as if dirt was as natural for a bike path as ,well, dirt. This of course is unacceptable to the modern techno road biker and his finely tuned equipment.

You might think that a mountain bike is a perfect vehicle for this terrain, and I do. But I think many of these folks still look on a mountain bike as a fad, preferring their customary pivotless dark lugged frames, with easy chair touring geometry, and webbing over the rear wheel to keep the skirts from getting caught in the spokes. Other bikes feature completely encased drive trains, reducing the possibility of the dreaded grease stains on the creased pants to virtually zero. Another peculiarity of many bikes is the spoke lock, a two inch stick that is locked into place in the spokes, keeping one of the wheels from turning. Apparently, thieves capable of actually carrying off bicycles haven't made it yet to this part of the universe.

Gonna take a sentimental bikeride.

AFTER ONLY THREE DAYS OF RIDING from Stuttgart, I reached my next stop on the "road of friends and relatives", relatives in the city of Nuremberg. By coincidence I crossed the Main-Danube canal, already mentioned earlier, about thirty miles distant from Nuremberg. You already know the routine. Cross bridge, spot bike paths, decide on one, and ride ride ride. The Main-Danube canal bike path lead me straight into the center of Nuremberg. This was utilitarian water way travel. Small barges pushed and pulled along the straight canal, carrying everything from coal to grain. I made good quiet progress on the dikes, in the company of an occasional school kid or street clothes attired riding commuter. Once in Nuremberg, the canal penetrated the city under a flurry of bridges below street level. I asked a commuter where I might get off this linear river, and carry my bicycle to the world of the city above, so that I might arrive as closely as possible in its center. I was heading for the center this time because that's where my relatives live. "This is the place. Take the next staircase, and you're within 3 kilometers of the main train station." came the reply.

As I carried my bicycle to street level, it was is if a subway had taken me through a long tunnel, as is their custom, and now I emerged into daylight, back into childhood. I grew up in a town 25 km from this city. I had traversed this city many times, making my way between relatives, searching out the model railroad stores in its streets, the reason for my existence as a child. I knew these streets. I recognized their houses, traffic lights and bike paths. I hadn't seen the pictures in my mind for many years. But once I saw them again, the image was accessed again. I knew I saw this before, I recognized. It does make me wonder what else is hidden away in those brains up there. I never knew all those familiar scenes from long ago were still stored up there, though maybe not with as much detail as originally. Over the years, an image compression algorithm has optimized the scenes for storage in the long term archives. You never know about the accuracy of those image compression algorithms, definitely lossy compression. But then, what is reality anyway, but an image carried with you, inside your head ? But it was getting late for philosophical questions. I had to get to my relatives' house. They welcomed me like the lost son returned home, "Now, what nice things can we do for you". I could leave my bags unpacked for a while, and feel like I was living here again, for four days.

Nuremberg is mentioned in encyclopedias for its castle, dominating the city picture until today. "Castle" is about as precise an expression as thingy, doodad or widget. There are knight's castles, inhabited by tin-suited men  in medieval times. There are romantic castle residences from monarchical times, like the Hohenzollern castle. Nuremberg's fortifications evolved over a time of half a millennium, about 1k AD to 1.6k AD, with different functions and architectures. The oldest castle stands where the city wall crosses the city's highest hill, really a combination of two castles, with later stylistic elements thrown, for good historic confusion. Two massive towers are connected by a large building, consisting of 90 percent large red shingled roof on top of stout low walls. The different architecture of the two towers are a clue to their different origin, from two entirely different castles. One tower belongs to a castle for German Kaisers. The oldest Kaiser castle at this sight dates back to the11th century. Kaisers had about 300 of these temporary residences, used like motels these days by visiting CEOs. Locals conducted dog and pony shows. The CEOs came, saw, and fired. The city had to maintain the castle, but could use it when the Kaiser was out of town. The second tower from the second castle, was built in the 14th century, by a previous generation of the same Hohenzollerns mentioned earlier. The castle that came with the tower burned down a few decades later, during one of those pesky feuds, that people were so fond of during the time. In order to confuse tourists in the coming centuries even further, the city of Nuremberg built a huge grain storage building, connecting the two towers, at the end of the 15th century, giving it the appearance of a single structure.

Nuremberg is often mentioned as an example for a city state, and that is the origin of more castle like fortifications around the whole city. Encyclopedias give this fact almost as much room as the Nuremberg trials, held here after the 2nd world war. After the crusades, certain European cities profited from the spice trade with the Orient, becoming rich, strengthening their fortifications, and exerting their power. Nuremberg had walls and castles long before then. But about a century after the decision for the first crusade,  Nuremberg added solid five meter brick walls to the outside of their five defensive towers, giving them the massive round shape of a wine cork. That's a brick load of bricks. Moats, flanked by a black wall complete the picture.

All this massive 15th and 16th century brickwork controls the appearance and structure of the city till today. A modern six lane ring road, lined by 3 to 5 story office buildings on the outside of the ring, surrounds the city, skirting the old wall on its inside, for half its circumference. But this picture contains more than cars. Busy trams run in the wide inside median, sleek round trams painted up as Coca Cola or soap bar advertisements. The black city wall, reaching about ten meters above street level, is lined with flower gardens, old trees, busy bike paths, walkways, and benches. It's a nice place to sit around five o'clock and observe cycle commuter habits. All bikes have the generator driven lights described earlier, which are required by law. All commuters wear street clothing and have their work cases strapped to the back, looking like a homemade aerodynamic fin, held in place with one of  those old spring loaded  rear racks.

The bike paths around the outside of the walls were cool. Although I always liked the bike paths and parks in the moat itself even better.  You could race around the city on practically the same route as the ring road, zipping away in the deep shade of a manmade canyon, two to four stories below street level, dodging dogs, their droppings and owners, instead of running traffic lights. Since I was here last, a subway has been added to the mass transportation cocktail. Nowadays commuters decent into the moat, and enter a discretely disguised gate, to be received by an ultra modern subway station, complete with mosaics of subway trains on the walls. During the excavations, older layers of fortifications were found, and are now set up as archeological exhibits in proximity of the subway stations. If you don't like the six lane road, the two lane tram, the outer walkways and bike paths, or the moat walkways and bike paths, or the subway, you might go for the walkway on top of the wall, strutting from lookout to lookout, skirting defensive towers which have been adapted as student housing by the university. It's nice to have a 16th century wall in your neighborhood. It stimulates great city planning.

One evening, Hartmut (my relative) dug up historical maps and pictures about Nuremberg. We were just outside of the protective city wall. During the 16th century, widely spaced houses in the town forest occupied the spot. The town I grew up in was also on the map, Altdorf. And there was the tiny hamlet I used to ride to, many afternoons after school, because I just lived too close to school to get a satisfying ride in, going home directly, Ludersheim. Now, the name struck me as peculiar, "bitches home". I didn't think anything of it when I lived there. But I have never heard of town with a similar name in all of the the English speaking world, not even a Witchborough, Bitchborough, Witchhollow, Bitchhome, Bitchcastle, Witchville, Witchtown, Bitchdale, Witches Junction or Bitches Mesa. During the 16th century, Ludersheim and Altdorf were comparably sized. Altdorf acquired its own fortifications, wealth and university, and grew to a city of 16000. Ludersheim remained a hamlet, best know in present times ,for its electrical transformers, serving the greater Altdorf area. Its tough to become famous when you're a town named "bitches home".

I rode through Ludersheim and back to the school I used to attend one afternoon. I used to play an interesting game, riding home from there, with a friend or sometimes alone. It began at a random turnoff between the school and Ludersheim. The object was to follow a predetermined sequence of turnoffs, say 2 lefts followed by 3 rights, or 1 left 2 right 2 left 2 right 3 left 3 right and so on, for part of the afternoon. Then, whereever you were at 4 pm, you had to find your way home. It does introduce the surrounding neighborhoods from a number of angles. It makes you ride in a number of traffic situations, introduces the practice of tire patching, and proves you can count. Parents, always eager to read some sort of talented behavior into the weird behavior of their children, might read an interest in mathematical sequences into this. Before long, he'll be mastering discrete mathematics and ring theory. They fail to see what it really is, an exhaustive search of how to get away from that school, where they insist on teaching Latin, Roman history, and other things dear to the hearts of children.

Sleepy Towns. IT TOOK ONE LONG 80 MILE DAY, to get me to the next stop on the "road of friends and relatives", the tiny hamlet of Kirchleus, near the town of Kulmbach. If you don't like the biking terrain in Germany, just wait five minutes. One minute, I was getting frustrated about constantly disappearing small roads, dumping me into four lane traffic, and a maze of modern residential settlements, around the city of Erlangen. The next minute I stumbled over a whole new bike path system, this one with a long name, the Unterleinleitertal bike path. It followed an old narrow gauge rail line up a small densely forested valley, through an area, called "Frankonian Switzerland" (Fraenkische Schweitz)", and mine was virtually the only bicycle, zooming across its asphalt, every inch as smooth as ironed pants. Maybe the 3 percent grades were too much to get it into the top 10 most popular trails, in spite of its excellent surface.

"Frankonian Switzerland" looks nothing like Switzerland. It looks like the rest of Germany, small nicely forested hills, clean towns, new and old, threaded together by flawlessly smooth roads. I have no idea why people around the world keep naming their landscapes after Switzerland. Germany has two Switzerlands, Frankonian Switzerland, and Saxonian Switzerland (Saechsische Schweitz). Colorado also has a "little Switzerland", which is really about the same size, but could contain several Frankonian and Saxonian Switzerlands. Saxonian Switzerland is famous for its "river bluffs", like the middle Mississippi. Frankonian Switzerland never exceeds treeline. At least "little Switzerland" bears some superficial resemblance, sharing the fact that they have mountains, no matter how different their appearance. It must be a plot of the Swiss tourism bureau. They wouldn't dream of promoting foreign places, by naming some of their Swiss mountain areas anything foreign, "Wet Colorado", "Gigantic Germany", or one of their rivers "Little Mosel" or "Micro Mississippi", or one of their castles "Little Hohenzollern" or "Old Disney".

The next two night's stop was with a missionaries couple, who had worked in New Guinea for the last 4 years, and who had visited me before in Colorado. Only half of the couple was home. Christa, the wife, was away on business, lecturing about christianity. I guess you call that preaching. A quote displayed in her room showed part of her philosophy. The quote translates to "Every person is good. You just have to catch them at it". She is married to a missionary who had previously held a high position in the German military. What a strange combination, a general turned preacher. But then, maybe military and religion share some things. Both ask unquestioning obedience, one physical, the other mental. Both require you to discount other popularly held view points.. Both require discipline. You would think that these unique combination of lifestyles fostered some insightful views about life. Add to that another visiting missionary, this one an engineer and a ship worker in a previous life, and you'd think you'd have a pretty interesting mixture. But, the eighty miles had taken their toll. I hadn't taken enough care to arrive at my host's house, in a still mentally functional condition. This bicycling stuff can get pretty physically addicting. I was tired and kept hearing theological viewpoints whenever my ears were turned on. It occurred to me that "preaching" isn't really a dialog. It's a monolog. The preacher does the preaching. The congregation listens.

The next morning I escaped on a day ride. I rested at a picnic table next to a public soccer field, in a tiny hamlet about 10 km from the town Kulmbach, consisting of a handful of clean farms, and tried to recall the evening's conversation. I had been too tired to place any of it onto head disk space. As I was chewing on my pen trying to recall the evening, the sign above the picnic table in this park diverted my interest. It translates roughly to this:

Use of this facility only with approval of guardians, on your own responsibility. Children under the age of 6, have to be accompanied by an adult. Adults are responsible for their children. Use on working days permitted : 8am - 8pm, use on Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays permitted : 9 am to 12 noon, 2 pm to 8 pm. Vandalism will be prosecuted. Bicycles, mopeds and animals are to be kept away. The instructions of the person responsible for this facility, are to be followed. - City of Kulmbach

(Benutzung der Anlage nur mit Zustimmung der Beziehungsberechtigten, auf eigene Gefahr. Kinder unter 6 Jahren nur mit Begleitung eines Erwachsenen. Eltern haften fuer ihre Kinder. Benutzung an Werktagen 8-20.00Uhr, Benutzung an Sonn- und Feiertagen: 9-12.00 Uhr, 14-20.00 Uhr. Vorsetzliche Sachbeschaedigungen werden strafrechtlich verfolgt. Fahrraeder, Mopeds und Tiere sind von der Anlage fern zu halten. Den Anweisungen des Platzwarts ist Folge zu leisten. - Stadt Kulmbach.)

Lighten up, residents of the city of Kulmbach ! It's only a soccer field. I know soccer fields and vandalism are to be take seriously, but this little park is not a Harlem in the making. No tinted drug dealer Mercedeses disturb the cows, while they rechew the cud. Only if soccer playing is criminalized, will soccer players be criminals. I guess somebody already thought of that bumpersticker in conjunction with skateboarding in the US. But why was the park open from 8am to 8pm on working days, and only 9am to 12 noon, and 2 pm till 8 pm on non working days ? Could it be, local resident felt their sleep might be disturbed, by the unruly sound of feet cracking a soccer ball, by the unmuffled scream of a fan, as the soccer ball finds its way around an airborne goalie, and sinks into the net ? These questions are best contemplated while riding a bicycle, if at all, so that the waste ot time is not complete. These part of Frankonian Switzerland boasted a large network of small roads, connecting tiny quiet sleepy hamlets, connecting small collections of farms with straight up and down, clean asphalt, breaking with the tradition of liberally switching back and forth so as not to exceed 10 percent grade. You'll find some fantastic biking here, but never any visiting foreigners, and no unruly soccer players. The next day was ripe for the sixty hilly miles to the next stop on the "road of friends and relatives", Karen's place, crossing over the border of the old iron curtain to the old East Germany.

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.
Friederich Nietsche, not a biker, but he would have enjoyed it


Copyright (C) by Michael Fiebach - Distribution for personal use permitted.
Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Reschen  -  Stuttgart May 24 - May 29, 6 days 469 miles
Stuttgart area day rides May 30 - June 2, 4 days 82 miles
Stuttgart - Nuremberg June 3 - June 5, 3 days 223 miles
Nuremberg area day rides June 6 - June 9, 4 days 71 miles
Nuremberg - Oelsnitz June 10 - June 12, 3 days 183 miles


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