From Berlin to Prague on Bikes

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.

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In the garage, trying out our wheels.

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.

 

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Mail delivery at Bauhaus.

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.)

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I was so busy admiring everything inside this museum, I failed to take many pictures.

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.

vtKJasAAThe second riding day was 24 miles, taking us through forest and fields and along levees of the area. IMG_0553 2We 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.

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Looking out from within the castle.

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.

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the Schlosskirche (the formal castle church) in Wittenberg
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Paintings of Martin Luther and his wife Katharina von Bora (c.1529), by the pre-eminent painter of the time, Lucas Cranach.
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Painting of Luther at the time of his death.  He loved food and drink.

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.

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A relief mocking the Jewish religion, found at the one corner of St. Mary’s (the town church that Luther attended) was put in place in the late 13th century. Although somewhat controversial, it is left in place as a piece of history.  A memorial on the ground below (placed 1988) relates the words on the relief to the Holocaust.
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At Stadtkirche (Wittenberg’s town church), the altar piece by Cranach.
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I bought a really cute pair of shoes on this street in Wittenberg.

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.

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Riding into a village for lunch.
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Lunch stop.  My husband and I shared a yummy curried chicken salad sandwich.

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. IMG_0694

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We wheeled our bikes over beautiful Turkish-looking tiles to a storage area for the night.

The next day we had a tour of the city and Hartenfels Castle.

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Our tour guide spoke perfect English with American-tinged accent and humor, thanks to spending eight months as a high school exchange student in Grand Rapids.
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Hartenfels Castle, Torgau
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My maiden name is related to the word rettung (in English, “saving” or “rescue”).  Here, rettungsweg means the way (weg) that firefighters should go to save a person in the (dry) moat below, where a couple of bears live.

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.

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Whatever the reason, Franz did all the work and got faster and faster at changing our tires, without complaint, and without much help either.

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.

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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.

 

 

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Sometimes a barrier meant the route might not be maintained,
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Like this one.

After touring Torgau, we rode 34 miles to Moritz, and the following day, another 34 miles riding past vineyards.

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Crossing the Elbe on a ferry.
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Sometimes we crossed on a bridge.
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Getting up to bridge level in Meissen.

We stopped in the quaint town of Meissen for a tour of the Meissen Porcelain Works before getting to Dresden.

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Meissen from across the river.
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The square in Meissen.
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Meat shop in Meissen.
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Meissen’s Crossed Swords Insignia through the years.
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One stop on the tour. I’ve never seen a better choreographed tour plan as that at the Porcelain Works.  Runs very smooth.

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.

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Dresden’s Zwinger, rebuilt after WWII.
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All Dresden buildings were re-built as they were before the war.
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This mural at the castle, made of about 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles, depicts rulers of Saxony from 1127 to 1904.  With the exception of a few tiles, it was not destroyed by WWII bombings.

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.”

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From the bike path, a sneak peek at the Saxon Switzerland National Park atop the cliffs.
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View from our hotel room at Bad Schandau.

Our hotel had a resort feel, and sat immediately next to the river.  A peaceful walkway separated the hotel grounds from the Elbe.

 

 

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Lookout tower across the street from our hotel.

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.

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A simple signpost, but otherwise no border designation between these two Euro countries.
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We found most Czech bike paths to be newly paved and smooth.  We followed bike route #2.

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.

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Franz showed us this diagram to explain why the Germany-Czech border is transparent, but the money is different.  Google “Schengen” for a different diagram.

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. IMG_1098

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Land in the Czech Republic seemed as fertile as that in Germany. A field of rape (canola).
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The hops from this field have been harvested.

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.

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This bridge near Usti nad Labem is reminiscent of the Sundial Bridge in Sacramento, but a different designer.

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.

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The bikes are under a tree, protected from the light rain.

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.IMG_1138

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The concentration camp Terezin was a transit camp that funneled Jews and other prisoners to extermination camps.

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.

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A rainy day departure from Litomerice.

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Walking through Melnik toward the chateau.
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View from the Melnik Chateau.

Melnik sits at the confluence of the Elbe and the Moldau, the river flowing through Prague and from there we were bussed to Prague.

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Our route is highlighted in yellow.

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. X70_Yjng

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)

8 thoughts on “From Berlin to Prague on Bikes

  1. Evelyn, I can’t put into words how impressed I am with this bike tour. It boggles my mind how hard you both worked ahead of time to get into shape and then the trip that felt like a thousand miles on bikes. I’m interested in how you kept track of all the details so you could share them with us. Did you make notes along the way or is your memory really good? The trip itself is a lot of work but sharing the details is also a lot of work. I appreciate that you’re sharing them. The Bahause (spelling) was an important place for art majors like me and I think it had something to do with the Chicago School of Art. Maybe it was America’s version of the Bahause? These posts should be in a travel magazine. One more question…when did you start this trip and when did it end?

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    1. We were on the bike trip from Sept 14 to 27, counting travel days.  We rode nine of those days.  I take notes on tours, and write some reminders at the end of the day.  I always stop riding to take a picture, or take them at water (or flat tire) breaks.  Re Bauhaus:  The original Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919, then moved to Dessau a few years later. 

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  2. You two are awesome! That is quite an accomplishment. I wish I could do that something like that but I don’t think my feet would allow me to. At least I can live vicariously through you.

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  3. Evelyn,
    What a wonderful trip! Thank you for taking us along. Your photos, explanations and comments made me feel as though I took the ride along with your group. Know I could have not have done it myself!

    Kathy Hewitt

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Evelyn, What a journey! Your account is so vivid, I feel as if I traveled with you, taking in the cobblestones, flat tires and all, while delighting in the rich diversity of landscapes and guided tours. Most of all, I am impressed with your energy and optimism, come what may, to carry out such a strenuous adventure. Good for you! I could never do that today—but I’m really glad you did, and took me with you!

    Liked by 1 person

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