The Saar River Cycle Path: Dinner Plates, Bends and Banksy

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Along the Saar cycle path

After a rest day in the wonderful city of Trier, our cycling journey continues along the Saar River Radweg (bike path) in southwestern Germany’s Saarland. We ride the 115 km leg from Trier to Saarbrücken over two days. Saarland has had an interesting history, jumping back and forth between French and German rule four times since World War I.  While this region can’t compete with the Mosel or Rhine for fairytale charm, it has some unique and unexpected highlights. And, unlike the riding along the Rhine and Mosel, we have the Saar bike path to ourselves.

Trier to Merzig: approx. 65 km

From Trier, we follow the Mosel cycle path for a few kilometres until it intersects with the Saar River bike path at Konz. The smooth pavement of the flat, bike-only path has us moving at a good clip. We continue to be in awe of the cycling infrastructure in this part of the world. I drift into pleasant daydreaming as we ride along the mellow Saar River. Its hilly banks are heavily forested and punctuated with incredibly straight rows of vineyards.

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The geometry of the vineyards near the town of Kansem amaze me.

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We encounter many bucolic scenes along the Saar river

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Picnic break along the Saar bike path near Schoden

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The Saar bike path by the pretty town of Saarburg

The lovely town of Mettlach is the headquarters of Villeroy & Boch, the world renowned manufacturer of ceramics/tableware. I’m much more excited about this than Mike but convince him over kaffee und kuchen that we need to visit the factory outlet. I think he has visions of me strapping a case of dinner plates to the back of my bike. We manage to make it through the store without buying or breaking anything.

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Mike lurking around the Villeroy & Boch outlet in Mettlach

Our next stop, the Saarschleife (Saar loop) is only 6 km past Mettlach. I’m excited about seeing this famous bend in the river. With a car it’s easy to get to the lookout, but from the Saar bike path it requires a hike. We find the trailhead and lock up our bikes. The sign indicates a few destinations with the word Schleife and I figure we can’t go too wrong. Mike reminds me that it’s already 3:00 pm and we don’t yet have a reservation for our overnight. I try to sound confident that it won’t be a problem.  The pretty trail travels through a sun-dappled forest, across numerous little bridges and up steep stone steps. With my phone to my ear I’m so intent on securing a guesthouse that I fail to fully appreciate the hike or to take photos. An hour or so later,  I’ve had success with my Bett+Bike app and we make it to the Cloef lookout.

There’s a  cool-looking wooden platform that I’m itching to climb. But it’s getting late and we still have to hike down and cycle another 15 km to our guesthouse in Merzig.  Oh well, the view is awesome from where we are.

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View of the Saar loop at the Cloef Lookout
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The wooden platform that I didn’t get to climb: Tourist-info Mettlach

Merzig to Saarbrücken: approx. 50 km

From Merzig to Saarbrücken, Saarland becomes increasingly more industrial; we pass pharmaceutical, automotive and steel factories. It’s not as scenic as what we’ve experienced so far, but the bike path along the river remains excellent. We ride by the historic town of Saarlouis, named after Louis XIV of France. There are patches of agriculture and I’m especially drawn to a beautiful field of lettuce just behind a giant IKEA store (perhaps my body is craving greens after too much schnitzel and potatoes).

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Yesterday I had my dinnerware and river bends fix; today is Mike’s day. He’s excited about seeing the Völklinger Hütte, a massive ironworks factory that operated between 1883-1986 and is the first industrial site on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

You can’t miss the factory from the bike path. It feels like we’re riding into a Mad Max scene. Giant chimneys with twisted, rusted pipes and miles of metal gangway loom before us. The Völklingen Ironworks complex is a monument to the Industrial Revolution and stands today as it did in the 1930s, minus the smoke and noise that pervaded the factory and town 24-7.

Mike is drooling as we make our way through the bowels of the monstrosity. There’s a 6 km walkway that leads visitors through every stage in the pig-iron production process. Much of the engineering and technical information is lost on me but I’m amazed at the size of the machinery and the complexity of how it all fits together. And, I’m stoked about wearing a hard hat and wandering along the open grating high above the factory floor.

The best part for me though is the temporary art exhibit—Dismaland— created by elusive street artist Bansky.  Forty photos by photographer Barry Cawston depict an apocalyptic amusement park. The photos are twistedly disturbing and I am disturbingly fascinated by them. The cavernous gloom of the old factory with its rebar and concrete walls makes the perfect showcase for this display.

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Approaching the UNESCO Völklingen Ironworks on the Saar bike path

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“Car Crash Princess” by Barry Cawston—Banksy’s Dismaland

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“Performance Art” by Barry Cawston—Banksy’s Dismaland

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“A Force to be Reckoned with” by Barry Cawston—Banksy’s Dismaland

I don’t feel right ending the post with these unsettling images, so I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of beautiful Saarbrücken. Sadly we short-changed this city by arriving rather late and immediately planting ourselves in a lively biergarten—actually, rather a nice ending to an interesting couple of days along the Saar River bike path.

 

Next Post: Cycling in the Deutsche Weinstrasse region

Categories: Biking, Germany | Tags: , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “The Saar River Cycle Path: Dinner Plates, Bends and Banksy

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  4. Such dramatically interesting contrasts between the idyllic landscape and the ironworks! I love the photo of the vineyards and the one of the bend in the river. The ironworks appeal because of all that texture and the weird shapes. Also, as a kid I used to accompany my dad (who was an engineer) when he inspected the sites of a brewery he consulted for. So I grew used to playing and making up games in a place that would not exactly be considered the average playground.

    Happy new year to you both!!

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Peta, Happy New Year to you guys too!
      It was exactly this contrast that made the Saar River section of our bike trip so interesting. How cool that you were able to accompany your dad on inspections of breweries. That makes me think of when our son was in elementary school and parents were invited to come to the classroom and talk to kids about their jobs. Alex would have loved “showing-off” a dad who inspected brewery sites; Mike’s business development job was too intangible and boring for him back then.

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      • I was just showing Ben this post and he was impressed with all of it and wanted to know how you go about posting the map you have.. i.e. one that zooms in and out, compared with ours that are frozen images. Can you tell we are computer inept?? Neophytes.

        Peta

        Liked by 1 person

        • You have hit a nerve. I adore maps but get so frustrated trying to make them look the way I want. It took me forever to figure out how to show the bike route and it still isn’t totally accurate (finally said this is good enough). I use the free Google MyMaps to create customized maps to embed in my posts. Whenever I’ve created a map with Google MyMaps the zoom in/out feature is an automatic/standard feature (I thought it was a standard feature in regular Google Maps too?). You might have come across this WordPress tutorial: https://en.support.wordpress.com/google-maps/. About halfway down is a section on embedding My Maps.
          I am laughing that I am actually giving technical advice. I feel totally inept myself.

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  5. The perfectionist in me is also extremely impressed by the symmetry of those vineyards!

    I was actually just spending my morning writing a post about a place in New York called the Copake Iron Works, which is very tiny by comparison, so that’s what I was initially picturing when I was reading about this one. Needless to say, this one is on a completely different scale. It does look fun to walk through!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting coincidence that you are writing about an ironworks factory too. I usually do a lot of reading about a place before I visit but for some reason the ironworks at Völklingen escaped my radar. I had no idea we were visiting there until my hubby mentioned his interest the day before. It was fun doing something completely different. We spent almost 4 hours there…it’s that large!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I can’t believe they let you wander over/through the pig iron factory! That must have been quite awe-inspiring even if the technicalities were lost!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They’ve turned the whole factory (inside and out) into a museum and very much left it in its original state. I could really get a sense of what it would have been like to work there among all the clanging machinery, conveyor belts, blast furnaces, smoke stacks… It was an interesting diversion from vineyards and cute villages.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mike Hohmann

    Looks like a great ride in a very different environment. I too would have enjoyed the ironworks -the processes at each stage along the production lines, etc. Vineyards are always of interest, along with the tastings. I’ve shipped more than a few bottles home from northern California. Fun post, Caroline, Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike, I imagine you would very much enjoy the ironworks. It was interesting for me and I realized how little I understand about the process and the machinery involved.My engineering friends would have been in heaven. The small section of the Saar that we cycled is certainly diverse and it was fun to experience some different things (along with the same old great wine)!
      I wish you happy holidays and all the best (and lots of snowshoeing) in the new year.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Aren’t the ironworks like a living, breathing creature?! It even looks octopus-like in the last photo of it, and the rust looks like blood is coursing through its “body.” I grew up in Pittsburgh, former steel town (and now glossy tech and medical center in its reincarnation), and we used to do field trips to the ironworks and steel mills. The twisting, turning pipes and engines and other machinery always reminded me of some kind of massive internal organ!

    Oops, got carried away with Mike’s idea of fun! The outdoors, of course, looks amazing too, but I’ve already said that a million times! 🙂

    Enjoy the tail-end of the year and Happy 2019!

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    • Lexie, I think I should just insert your wonderful paragraph about the ironworks into my post. Your analogy is right on. You are definitely a steel town gal! I went to university in Hamilton, Ontario, also a steel town, but I never really learned much about the factories/process except for the smell.
      Thanks for continuing to read and comment on my ramblings. Happy holidays and best to you and yours in the new year!

      Like

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