To the Source of the Danube and Beyond

Abensberg, Germany September 24, 2019 Odometer: 2289 miles

From the last post, I had broken a shift cable and was waiting for the bike shop to open.

In Schwetzingen, the bike shop opened on Monday morning. It was a bustling place. The mechanic offered that I use one of the stands in the shop and fix the problem myself. I was able to get part way through it when the mechanic joined me to finish it up. I was happy to have him working with me.

The control of the Rohloff Speedhub is unlike anything I have ever worked with. Most shifters use a single cable with a spring return. The Rohloff uses two cables. Pulling one cable advances to higher gear. The other for lower gears. While one is pulling in the other is letting out. The two cables move simultaneously like a belt drive.

This design makes it easy to reverse the direction of the twist grip. The way my bars are set up, my hand sits upside down from a normal bike handle bar. So, we reversed the cables to make the shifting back to the normal sense. Now I will not have to think about shifting so much.

Heading south from Karlsruhe, I stopped for a picnic lunch at a table on a wooded path. I was joined by another recumbent rider, Karsten. He was riding a HP Velotechnik as well. His was a trike.

Though I have not seen many HP Velotechnik bikes here in Germany, Karsten insists that there is an active group of cyclists touring Germany on this kind of bike or trike.

Coming south to the town of Donaueschingen, the start of the Danube river, it was necessary to cross through the Black Forest again. Between the towns of Gengenbach and Sankt Georgen is a thousand meter climb, some of it at a very steep grade (~19%). This was my second time crossing. Komoot chose the exact same roads as it did for me in August. This time I knew what lay ahead.

Traditional Thatched Roof near Gengenbach
Dairy Cows sporting a stylish cow bell, Just like the ones in Switzerland
The 1000m climb starts in Hornberg.
Climbing through Black Forest back country.

I had excellent weather for the climb. It was 14 C (57 F) with a gentle tail wind. There were almost no cars on this road on a weekday morning. When I got to the top, I was not so exhausted as last time. Better temperature? Better training? Who knows? I felt good cresting the pass, knowing it would be mostly downhill or flat for the rest of the ride to Donaueschingen.

The Danube in Donaueschingen is wide and shallow
Trail marker for the Danube Cycleway (Donau Radweg)

Typical Danube Cycleway trail
Naturepark Obere Donau is a most beautiful part of the Danube Cycle way

Once I got to Donaueschingen, I turned off Komoot and simply followed the signs that guided me along the Danube River, mostly. The path goes through countryside small villages and major cities. It appears that the route is designed to show off the best parts of the country.

About twenty kilometers downstream from Donaueschingen, is the start of the Naturepark Obere Donau. A most beautiful part of the journey. This fifty kilometers is mostly through the forest. It is punctuated by magnificent castles, forts and farms. Any of which would make an excellent fairytale setting. Also, it has the ring of authenticity. There are no gift shops, no admission fees, no advertisements.

I stayed at a farm that had been converted to a hotel and restaurant. An adjacent barn had horses and goats. The place was also still a working farm. The sign at the hotel reception indicated that the Innkeeper was out in the stalls and would return soon.

While waiting, I ate a wonderful dinner of wild pig, and homemade noodles, during which the chickens were running around near my table. Maybe one of them would lay an egg for my breakfast?

Farmhouse along the Danube Cycleway in the NaturePark
Castles dot the hillsides in the distance.
Friendly Chickens pose for a picture, while I dine out on the patio
My second floor room in a converted barn. Notice the woodwork.
Maybe Rapunzel lived here. There was no visitors entrance. Actually no signs at all.

A newcomer to Germany might have the idea that yes, there are many castles, and cathedrals here. Maybe it would be possible to stay for a month and visit all of them. It is not possible to do this. There are too many. Nearly every town has a castle, fort, or cathedral. It would take a lifetime to see them all.

Traveling in Germany is quite affordable. It is easy to find a comfortable private room with its own bath and maybe a kitchen for sixty euros or less. Beer is about $3/ pint for a local brew served in a restaurant or bar.

A German beer bottle from the brewery in Donaueschingen

Typically German beer is sold in a standard bottle. The idea is that once the beer is consumed, it can be cleaned relabeled and reused. It is evident in the photo that the glass is worn at the shoulder. This bottle has been through a few cycles. Because the bottle is standardized, it is not important that the bottle is returned to the original vendor. This bottle may have contained beer from several different breweries in its lifetime.

Upstream from Ulm, the Danube is used to generate hydroelectric power
(Left to right). Michael, the home owner and Andrew a guest, and amateur race car driver.
Michael’s ongoing project car, a turbo charged Lotus 7. Weight 650kg Horsepower unknown.

Heading further downstream from the NaturePark, I find the Danube is still too small for commercial traffic. But it is used for hydroelectric power generation.

Along the way, I booked a room in a private home. There I met Andrew, who was preparing for a big race the next day. The event is called a slalom race. Here pylons are placed on a flat track. Contestants will complete a tortuous ten kilometers without touching a pylon. A winning car must have good cornering ability and high horsepower to weight ratio.

The homeowner, Michael was a race car fanatic as well. Before long we were in his garage oogling the project he calls his ‘Shoebox’, a turbocharged Lotus 7. He was proud of the fact that he modified and installed the BMW turbocharger himself. He told a story of out running a Ferrari on a section of the German autobahn which was particularly curvy. My understanding is the Ferrari was far more powerful and could easily win on a straight course. The Ferrari was also heavier and not nearly as nimble. The Shoebox did well in the corners and stayed well out in front overall.

That evening we had a home cooked meal of Mau Taschen. These are very much like ravioli. It was explained to me that here in Germany they are also known as ‘God Cheaters’. It is customary that at certain times it is not acceptable to eat meat. In a ravioli, one could hide the meat, so God doesn’t notice. Clever idea.

Airbus Helicopter plant on the Danube
Kilometer marker on the Danube.

Rainer, the hotel owner Gasthaus Pfafflinger In Neuburg, Germany

I have now covered a few hundred kilometers of the Danube. As I move downstream I find the Danube Cycleway is only part of a complex network of cycleways. The signs get complicated. It happens at times that I lose the path, but it doesn’t worry me. Finding the Danube is not difficult. Following the Danube will eventually lead back to the cycleway. On one such departure, I found the Airbus Helicopter plant. Also I see that there are kilometer markers along the Danube, just as I found on the Rhein. The numbers decrease as I head downstream. Does this mean I am ~2500km from the Black Sea? Probably.

I have found that hotels here in Germany are not so much a corporate entity that you might find in the US. So many places, are small businesses. Some do such an excellent job at making me feel at home.

Late in the day, I found Gasthaus Pfafflinger in Neuburg, Germany. I walked into the bar and asked, where is the reception desk for the hotel? Rainer answered, here it is, me. I am what you seek. He poured me a beer and there at the bar we filled out the paperwork together. He upgraded my room. The beer was free.

Rainer noticed from the paperwork that I was born in New York and live in San Francisco. He had spent some time in his life in both places. We got into a good discussion about cycling and the Warmshowers philosophy of paying it forward. I told him I would really enjoy teaming up with him on this journey. He demurred, saying that he had this hotel to run.

Before the evening was over I got personally introduced to many of his staff. It became clear to me that they were looking out for my best interests. During the evening there was much drinking going on without careful accounting of who was buying exactly.

In the end, it was all sorted out. My bill came to only 11 euros. I believe the clerk was making sure that I didn’t get stuck with more than my share. I tipped her well and then had to explain that this is an American way of showing gratitude for being treated well. I hope my German was good enough to get this point across.

The next morning, Rainer and I traded email addresses and hugged goodbye. I headed out into the rain.

With the rain also came a good tailwind. I was happy with the trade off. I also noticed that my bike on the wet gravel trail throws up a lot of gritty mud. It became clear to me the benefit of fenders. After fifty kilometers the lower part of my bike became caked with something similar to wet cement. The topside remained relatively clean. Best of all the bike functioned perfectly throughout. Shifting, brakes, etc. no problem. Also my hotelier pointed out that no one would steal a bike that is so mud covered.

The internal gears of the Rohloff Speedhub are not perturbed by mud.
Fenders keep the topside of the bike fairly clean
Disc brakes have no trouble in the mud
Waterproof bags come clean in the hotel shower.

Today is my birthday. I celebrate by spending the day in a Café bringing my blog up to date and enjoying German chocolate cake, a favorite in my childhood.

7 thoughts on “To the Source of the Danube and Beyond

  1. Amazing that much mud did not mess with your shifting. Great writing. Keep it coming. Lemme know if you run across any Duhm’s while in Germany.


  2. Hi Tim,

    I was too very glad to meet you in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunatlely we didn’t exchanged our email adresses, so if there is a possibility, let me know.. If you’re coming again in the area of Karlsruhe, let me know.

    And the best wishes for your birthday.

    the HP Scorpion driver


  3. Happy Birthday Tim, enjoying reading about your trip. Would like to tour in the states someday.
    I also have 2 Rohloff hubs, on two different trikes. Any idea as to why the cable broke?



    1. I somehow bashed the cable housing. I don’t remember doing it, but the evidence is clear.
      It didn’t fail all at once. The shifter worked for a while but became progressively more stiff


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