Germany’s glorious auto-free days
It’s the summer season in Germany, the weekend is in sight, and it’s time to start planning. You’ve already decided your Saturday or Sunday outing should take you somewhere off base. As you narrow down your options, think about what you crave most in your down time: A festive atmosphere? Delicious food and drink? Live music or other entertainment on stage? Physical activity? Activities all members of the family can enjoy? Free entry?
Should you have answered yes to many or all of the above, there’s a type of event you’ll likely find ticks all the boxes: the “Auto-Frei Tag,” or auto-free day.
This phrase refers to an annual happening along the highways and byways of some of Germany’s more scenic stretches, from castle-dotted river valleys to undulating vineyards. From mid-morning to evening on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, a stretch of normally busy road is barred to all motorized vehicles and cyclists, skaters on roller blades, hikers and other slower-paced lovers of the great outdoors come out to play. While some auto-free days may encompass a modest distance between just a handful of towns, some events offer nearly 50 miles of tarmacked playground. Events are set up to allow for a flow of traffic in either direction, meaning there’s no fixed start vs. end point.
But it’s not just miles of pavement that attract participants in the tens of thousands. Members of local communities along the route, from town authorities to club members to local restauranteurs, all want in on the action. In virtually every town you’ll pass through, you’ll find stands and stages in plenty. The local church might serve coffee and cake while volunteers from the soccer club pour beers on tap. On stage, you may find a band banging out hits from the 1980s, or a costumed troupe of child dancers going through their intricate and acrobatic steps. The smell of bratwurst or the promise of a chilled wine spritzer may tempt you to linger. Whether you use the day to rack up a respectable distance or just take it slow and easy, the scenery and camaraderie with your fellow riders typical to such days will likely win you over.
While the logistics of participation in such a day out are manageable, foresight and advance planning will help you on your way. While those without a bike in cycle-friendly Germany can always rent one for the day, finding a rental shop directly on the route might pose a challenge. Bike rental shops are generally found in proximity only to the larger train stations, and not all are open on Sundays. Your local MWR facilities may well offer rentals.
If you already have a bike and the means to transport it, you can opt to drive to the event. Consider your approach carefully. Road closures might limit your access to city centers and parking areas. Parking somewhere other than the start and end points of the road closure might make for a less-congested drive at the end of the day.
Locals often elect to travel to and from auto-free days by train. Those traveling in a crowd can take advantage of special group fares such as the Happy Weekend or regional offers. In the Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, carriage of bicycles on local and regional trains is generally free and included in the ticket price. Those traveling in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will often find they need separate tickets for their bikes at additional cost. The German Rail website gives an overview of how the rules vary by state.
Here are some dates and places for auto-free days in 2019:
June 10: Nim(m)s Rad, about 18 miles along the Eifel Valley between Rommersheim and Rittersdorf, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
June 16: Tour de Ahrtal, a route alongside the Ahr River between Blankenheim, Hillesheim, Müsch and Altenahr; another stretch runs along the B258 highway between Blankenheim and Dümpelfeld; 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
June 30: Tal toTal, 75 miles along the banks of the Rhine through the Loreley Valley, along Route 9 between Koblenz and Bingen and the B42 between Lahnstein and Rüdesheim; 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Aug. 4: Liebliches Taubertal, 28 miles between Tauberbischofsheim and Freudenberg am Main, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Aug. 25: Erlebnistag Deutsche Weinstrasse, 48 miles along the German Wine Road between Bockenheim and Schweigen, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Aug. 25: Waldbrunn on the Road, 15 miles in the Westerwald, including Waldbrunn and Lahr, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sept. 29: Rad-Erlebnis-Salm, Mosel area between the castle in Dreis and Klüsserath, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 3: Autofreies Eistal, 13 mile stretch northeast of Kaiserslautern between Eiswoog and Obrigheim, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
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