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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.