We did it! Our summer of training for longer rides paid off––we rode from Berlin to Prague and not only lived to tell the tale, but enjoyed the whole trip. We were prepared for the rain and even riding over cobblestones was doable. We layered up to avoid the chill and, more importantly, never had hot weather. Our tour leader Franz kept us on bike paths as much as possible, and our van driver Axel did a yeoman’s job of toting our luggage to a new hotel room every day. Our route, with some highlights:
A bus transported us from Berlin’s Tegel airport to the city of Dessau, where we were fitted to our bikes.
The next day was a short riding day, only 15 miles, because we had two fantastic tours about design, inventions, and craft: Bauhaus Foundation and Hugo Junkers Museum.
Hugo Junkers is known mainly for his all-metal aircraft design, but he was an inventor long before he came up with the new airplane wings. (Junkers did not support the Nazis, who took over his factories and business and placed Junkers under house arrest. He died at home in 1935.)
Bauhaus and Junkers Museum are both are worth a visit, and if you find yourself in the Dessau area, make time to see them. You won’t be sorry.
The second riding day was 24 miles, taking us through forest and fields and along levees of the area. We toured the summer castle of Prince Leopold III Friedrich Franz of Anhalt, a champion of the eighteenth century Age of Enlightenment. The English gardens and Chinese-influenced rooms reflect his travels.
Then on to Wittenberg with guided walks through the town, to Lutherhaus, the museum, and the Schloßkirche where Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses.
The whole community of Wittenberg is “all things Luther”. Antisemitism was very present during WWII when a prominent Nazi lived in Wittenberg, but also back in the day of Luther, who wrote some anti-Semitic tracts.
We rode 40 more miles––our longest ride––with quite a bit of headwind off and on and our views still mainly fields of Saxony as we neared the Elbe.
Still, the ride was not unpleasant, and we ended up in one of the most historically interesting of all: Torgau, the site at the Elbe River where the Soviet and American troops met close to the end of WWII. So much history! We stayed at the Hotel Goldener Anker on the square, the oldest hotel in Torgau, and had a gourmet salmon dinner.
The next day we had a tour of the city and Hartenfels Castle.
Bad things can happen. By this point our group of fourteen had had seven flat tires, all on two bikes, and several more will show up in the next few days.
One member flew over her handlebars when the cobblestones were so rough that the jarring caused her to involuntarily brake too fast. No permanent injury though, and she was a trouper––biked every mile to the end, even after the spill.
We learned that, at the time of reunification of Germany thirty years ago, all the houses were gray and every road in East Germany was cobblestones. Now mostly, only historic centers of towns are still cobbled. Our whole ride was through the old GDR (East German or German Democratic Republic) and that recent history made the route even more interesting.
After touring Torgau, we rode 34 miles to Moritz, and the following day, another 34 miles riding past vineyards.
We stopped in the quaint town of Meissen for a tour of the Meissen Porcelain Works before getting to Dresden.
Riding from the bike path to the hotel through Dresden in late-afternoon traffic was a bit traumatic––we needed a day to rest (and do laundry), and we got it. Beautifully re-built Dresden deserves a post all its own. The ancient history, that of the Reformation, plus that of WWII comes together in Dresden.
After a day of tours in Dresden and an interesting lecture about the bombing of Dresden, we completed a tiring 33 mile ride––tiring because our friendly tailwind again abandoned us to a headwind, plus those “undulations” that we were warned about, appeared. Lots of ups and downs. Sunday lunch in Pirna, Saxony, Germany:
On the plus side, it was Sunday so the bike paths were filled with families, which was fun to see, and, although the paths got somewhat narrower, our ride was alongside the beautiful Elbe River, taking us to our stay in scenic Bad Schandau in what is known as “Saxon Switzerland.”
Our hotel had a resort feel, and sat immediately next to the river. A peaceful walkway separated the hotel grounds from the Elbe.
The view was nice from the tower, but most impressive were the views and rock formations of the Saxon Switzerland National Park. We were bussed to the top:
Another 33 miles of riding got us into the Czech Republic.
We had lunch of typical open-faced ham-and-potato salad-sandwiches in a town named Decin––sounded like “ditch-in” to me––where we used an ATM to get some koruna (their money: Czech crowns). The Czech language is very difficult to hear and the money confusing––the coins have nice designs that hide the amount designations.
After we left the Germany-Czech border marker, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep up. Turned out I had a flat tire. Franz changed it of course––what a difference! Irv fell into a bed of nettles to avoid a minor traffic jam on a hill––a minor spill and no lasting injury.
We stayed overnight in Usti, the ride through town to the hotel even more harrowing than Dresden––the Czech drivers are not quite as friendly to bikers as those in Germany––but no incidents and we all made it safely to our hotel right next to the Elbe.
We followed Czech bike path #2 for 18 more miles along the Elbe to Litomerice, and had lunch. The restaurant that we chose seemed to have especially surly and unhappy employees, but later I realized that they were uncomfortable because they didn’t know English and we were stupid tourists visiting a cafeteria-style restaurant that caters to locals.
This town is not flat, and the light off-and-on rain made riding on the wet cobblestone roads in Litomerice a challenge. Then we rode another couple of miles to Terezin for a tour of the concentration camp and a visit to the museum housing art of the inmates, and back again to stay overnight in Litomerice.
The last 30 miles of riding got us to Melnik and a visit to a chateau called the Melnik Castle. The last day of riding was also the rainiest, but these last miles along the Elbe were some of the prettiest, and the bike path was smooth asphalt.
Melnik sits at the confluence of the Elbe and the Moldau, the river flowing through Prague and from there we were bussed to Prague.
We chose this ride because we wanted to see Prague (that’s another post). More than 260 miles in all, but we loved the scenery, the history, and everything about our ride along the Elbe in what had been Communist countries just thirty short years ago.
We’re glad we did it!
Date of travel: Sept. 2019.
Tour: Road Scholar’s A Cycling Journey: The Elbe River From Germany to Czech Republic
Tour provider: International Bike Tours (IBT)