Northern Germans are big bike users, and they’ve given a lot of thought to the regional cycle routes.
Northern Germany is ideal cycling country. This landscape doesn’t detain many passing motorists, being too subtle to grab their attention from a speeding car and too widely-spread for walking, but it has big skies, no hills, immaculate cycle-only routes, and it rarely gets too hot. The routes here are well marked (many are cycle-only), there are frequent hire places, and the local train network is well used to people with bicycles.
Here, you’ll find yourself purring through a landscape that smells of wet hay and cow parsley, with foxglove and campion glowing by the side of drainage ditches. On a bicycle you can creep up on wildlife, and you’ll pass through fields full of lapwings, with nearby bushes exploding with starlings. There’ll be geese grazing in a distant meadow, and a curlew will flee away, shrieking, over the floodplains.
Of course there are some notable long distance routes, notably the Weser-Harz-Heide, starting down near Göttingen, running around the Harz Mountains and finishing on the Lüneburg Heath just south of Hamburg. Then there’s the Weser route, which starts in the same place but sticks to the river, running through Bremen and ultimately into the North Sea by Bremerhaven. And the Elbe route, which hugs the river bank all the way from Dresden in the east up to Hamburg, and is regularly voted one of the top long distance rides in Germany. All these have online route maps, cycle hire companies, good signage, cycle-friendly accommodation, and you can expect to travel along proper cycle-only paths for much of the way.
In Germany, bicycles have more traffic rights than in the UK
But northern Germany is probably best for family cycling, for dipping in and out of local places, and particularly recommended for this is the area between Bremen and Hamburg, including the Teufelsmoor – devil’s moor – where apple-cheeked farmers in baggy blue are usually out and about giving the shaggy flatlands a trim. A key attraction here is the small town of Worpswede, an island that rises 52 metres above the boggy flats. Its sense of grim isolation under moody skies has attracted a long history of artists like Udo Peters, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Maryan Zurek, who started a tradition of a kind of post-impressionist, pre-raphaelite Bloomsbury-in-the-bog. Today the village is full of galleries, studios, smart hotels and restaurants.
Worpswede can get clogged up with weekend traffic, although on a bicycle you can usually weave your way around anything. In fact, in Germany, bicycles have many more traffic rights than in the UK, something you need to be aware of as a driver. As a cyclist you need to be law-abiding, too: the pavements are carefully demarcated between cyclists and pedestrians, and you’re likely to be scolded if you stray!