The Elberadweg: cycling from Magdeburg to Havelberg

There are some really long cycle paths in Germany, and some of them even cross borders. The Elbe Cycle path (Elbradweg) is a cycle route of about 1270km that follows the course of the river Elbe. It starts at the source of the Elbe in the Czech Krkonoše Mountains (the Giant Mountains/ Riesengebirge), and ends where the Elbe flows into the North sea.

The Elbe in Saxony

Over the 4-day Easter weekend, we spent two days doing the section of the Elbe Cycle path from Magdeburg to Havelberg, before aiming to join the Elbe-Müritz Cycle path (Elbe-Müritz Radweg) for the final two days (instead we ended up doing our own route from Havelberg to Waren, but that’s another story).

Bike trails such as the Elbradweg are typically divided by books or websites into stages, called Etappen. This helps with breaking routes down into manageable chunks and finding places to visit or stop for the night. Over the two days we did stage 16 (Mageburg to Rogätz), stage 17 (Rogätz to Tangermünde) and stage 18 (Tangermünde to Havelberg) on Komoot’s stage list. The full list of stages can be seen here. We carried all of our camping equipment and food with us on the bikes in panniers (since shops are closed for most of the Easter weekend). On the first night we stayed at a campsite called Family-Camp-Kellerwiehl, about 55km from Magdeburg, and on the second night we stayed at Campinginsel Havelberg, a campsite on the island in the middle of the Havel river in Havelberg.

We started our tour on Good Friday, taking a regional train from Berlin to Magdeburg, which is the capital city of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt).  Our first goal: find breakfast. This took us on a scenic ride through Magdeburg, which is an impressive town full of sculptures and interesting buildings. Once we spotted a Hundertwasser building, we knew exactly where breakfast was going to be!

The Grüne Zitadelle (Green Citadel) by Hundertwasser

This building by Hundertwasser is called the Grüne Zitadelle (Green Citadel). It looks like a fantasy palace out of the Nutcracker and was the last project that Hundertwasser worked on before his death.

After breakfast we stopped at the magnificent cathedral of Magdeburg, the Cathedral of Saint Catherine and Saint Maurice (St. Moritz). Once upon a time, Magdeburg was the largest city in Germany. It was founded by Charlemagne in the year 805. Then in 1631, it was destroyed in the Thirty Year’s war. Over 20 000 civilians were slaughtered.

Having made up our minds that Magdeburg was definitely a city worth coming back to for a visit, we finally set off on the Elberadweg. It’s always so exhilarating being on the road, with everything you need carried on your bike. We didn’t have reservations anywhere, as campsites are not too crowded over Easter, when the nights are still cold.

Our first stop was an architectural wonder, the Magdeburg water bridge, about 18km from Magdeburg. This bridge is a water channel that crosses the Elbe, connecting the canals on either side, so that large commercial ships can travel from the Rhine to Berlin. Germany is full of waterways, especially in the part we live, and some of the constructions that have been built to help ships on their way are truly amazing. The ship elevator near Niederfinow in Brandenburg is another example.

After visiting the water bridge, we cycled for some time along the wide, easy bike lanes through countryside and villages. Then we reached a ferry crossing: it was time to cross to the other side of the Elbe.

The other side of the Elbe brought more countryside, including a field full of sheep and little lambs to remind us that it was the Easter weekend. I actually had an Osterlamm Kuchen (Easter lamb cake) stashed in one of my bike panniers, which I intended to carry until Easter Sunday. Hopefully it would survive.

Many canola fields later, we arrived at our first campsite, the
Family-Camp-Kellerwiehl. It was a relief to be able to get off the bikes – it’s fun, but hard work! The lady at reception was very welcoming and gave us some options where to pitch our tents. We chose a spot on the far side of the campsite not far from a pond.

Everyone settled down to pitching their tents, blowing up air mattresses, showering and getting into warmer clothes. A friend’s yoghurt had exploded all over her bags, so she spent an hour or two cleaning everything up. My Easter lamb cake had survived in good condition so far. My husband tried our his new Jetboiler in the meanwhile to make us all tea. It’s a nifty device for boiling water quickly using a gas cannister. We even used it one night to cook baby potatoes and they turned out perfectly.

As the evening drew on, it was time to light a fire in our friend’s portable grill. She has one that you can fold up and fit into a bike bag. One of the guys took charge of the fire and cooking. We named him the Grillmaster. Another guy had brought some chicken and meat kebabs with – he packed them frozen and so they were still cold by the evening. These had to be cooked on the first night obviously, so the rest had to wait it’s turn till another day. Our German friend taught us that Nürnbergers (a specific type of little sausages) are good to pack for grilling because they are pre-cooked and last a while. Vegetarian sausages, cheese, vegetables and garlic bread also last for longer.

It’s so cosy sitting around the campfire. After dark, all the frogs in the pond started croaking and singing. It was to this music that we eventually crawled into our tents and went to sleep.

The next morning, some of our group got up very early, and started packing up to go. They had been cold in the night and couldn’t wait to get up. I’d brought along my warmest down sleeping bag and was sleeping cosily, so I wasn’t so happy about the early start, but once we were up it was fine. We had breakfast (the tea also helped for warming up) and they felt better once the sun was out again. After breakfast we left at a leisurely pace, first spending some time enjoying the zip line and the roundabout at the campsite.

It was time to hit the road – what would day 2 hold? Well, what it held quite soon was a flat tire. I was riding with another girl on the trip and noticed she was going quite slowly, but she’d had trouble with her gears the day before and there was also quite a headwind, so I thought it was just that. But eventually she pulled over, and found out her front tire was flat. The others were way ahead of us already, so we called them and my husband and some others came back to help change the tire. I was glad that I hadn’t also gone ahead, as our friend with the flat tire didn’t have very good signal. It’s always a good idea to stick together and make sure no-one is left behind. That’s why in hiking or running we often have “sweepers”, people who are designated to stay at the back (although they are capable of going faster) and make sure that no-one gets left behind. I think it’s a useful idea to apply to cycling too.

The advantage of the flat tire was that I got to enjoy the countryside views while the tire was being changed.

Soon we were on our way and caught up to the others, who has been waiting behind for us next to a garden that had some chickens, watching “ChickenTV”. I really liked cycling through this village, which was called “Schelldorf” because it had lovely brick houses.

There were quite a few pretty views along the way, but it’s hard to stop and take photos when cycling, as you don’t want to be left behind. Luckily two of the cyclists were slightly slower than me, so now and then I could stop a photo quickly before they caught up, knowing that at least I wasn’t the last one. At one particular pretty spot near Bölsdorf we stopped for a snack.

Soon afterwards, we reached one of the larger towns on our way, Tangermünde. Like Magdeburg, Tangermünde is a Hansestadt, that is, it used to belong to the Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchant guilds and market towns that dominated the trade around the Baltic and North sea for three centuries. The confederation grew in the late 1100’s from a few north German towns and lasted until about 1450. You can often recognize these towns by their brick buildings.

As it was Saturday and the shops were open, our friend with the dodgy gears had her bike tuned a bit better at a bike shop in Tangermünde. We went for coffee and cake while waiting for her. I hoped that afterwards we could walk around the centre of Tangermünde a bit, but alas, we had to move on, because we hadn’t done many kms yet that day and there was still quite a way to go to our campsite in Havelberg. At least we saw some of the buildings while cycling past.

The next section was a nice smooth cycle path lined by blossoming trees and bushes, framing views of bright yellow canola fields. When we reached the banks of the Elbe again, we stopped for a lunchtime picnic.

More pretty countryside, canola fields and blossoms followed, and we kept up a relatively good pace, stopping only for ice-creams. There had been quite a strong headwind for most of the day though, so we were finding it more strenuous than it otherwise would have been.

Finally we reached Iden, which was where we would say goodbye to the Elberadweg and head for Havelberg. In Iden there was a restaurant and a very pretty campsite, but we wanted to do a few more kms so that we didn’t have to do extra the next day, which was already going to be the longest day.

We rode to the next ferry crossing on the Elbe. On the other side, we spotted some very cuddly looking cows. The rest of our route took us through Sandau and then through some pretty forests, lit up by the golden light of the evening. Finally we arrived in Havelberg and headed over the bridge to the island.

Waiting for the ferry
Finally in Havelberg

The camping island in Havelberg was a sea of camper vans when we arrived, but luckily a spot at the back of the campground was reserved for tents, and there were not so many tents there. We had the same neighbours as the day before in the other campsite, so they must have been doing a similar route. I liked the campsite immediately because of its big blossoming tree. Upon unpacking the bike, I found out that my Easter lamb had lost a nose and an ear, but otherwise it was in good condition. After pitching our tents and sorting ourselves out, we once again settled down to grilling our dinner. It was a cold evening, and only the fire and tea kept us warm.

A little boy had informed us soon after arriving that there was an Easter fire that evening, which is one of the German Easter traditions. This year many Easter fires were cancelled due to dry conditions and fears of forest fires. However, since the campsite was on a small island surrounded by water, it was the perfect place for an Easter fire. After our dinner was over and our own fire was dying, we headed over to check it out.

It was a wonderful big bonfire, and we wished we’d come over sooner. We sat with some red wine around the fire and enjoying being toasty warm, before eventually heading back to our tents for the night. The next day we would be starting the second section of our ride, which was no longer on the Elberadweg, so I will write about that in the next post. Having done our little section of the Elberadweg, I’m very keen to do more of it sometime soon!

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