The Elbe Cycle Path (part 3) – from Magdeburg to the North Sea

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After cycling from Prague to Magdeburg last year we continue on the Elbe Cycle Path towards the North Sea. Again, against the advice of many forum contributions and several guidebooks we had decided to cycle downstream from Magdeburg towards Cuxhaven, against the prevailing north-westerly winds.

Luckily, we experienced the dreaded headwind only at the last day for more than an hour at a time. In fact, the first two days of our tour we even had some tailwind and thus more time for sightseeing. Just behind Magdeburg, we passed the impressive canal bridge of Hohenwarthe with an equally impressive double-saving lock system to move ships from the Elbeseitenkanal to the Elbe-Havel-Kanal, approximately 18 m lower. The cute medieval town of Tangermünde also demanded some time for strolling and for a local beer in an old church turned restaurant.

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Old town of Tangermünde

Along the inner german border

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Watchtower at the inner german border

For 93.7 km, the Elbe river formed the border between East and West Germany. “The inhabitants of the village were allowed to walk on their village road, but not to stop or to look in a westwards direction. Later, a huge fence was built right in front of their windows,” a panel in the village of Lütkenwisch describes life at the intra-German border. Relatives, even spouses were not allowed to move to the village, and by 1989, at the demise of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), only 16 villagers were left and more than 40 houses had been demolished by the government. Today the pretty thatched-roof houses behind the dyke appear idyllic and the population is rising.

Ships parading on the river Elbe

In Hamburg we arrived just in time for the ship parade of the Harbour Festival. Behind Hamburg the river gets quite wide with big container ships making their way towards and from the open sea. Sheep are grazing on the slopes of the Elbe dyke, and due to heavy rain we cycle through a lot of muddy sheep shit.

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Strong gales on the Elbe Cycle Path

“Do you seriously want to sit here?” a blonde woman in her mid-sixties asks us on the last day on the Elbe Cycle path with a touch of disbelief in her voice, but we do not care whether we are welcome or not. The last 40 km we have crawled westwards against North Sea winds and gales – and this is the first wind-protected shelter we have come across for hours. The blonde continues to pour sparkling wine into plastic cups for her pensioner friends and rearranges a package of cheese and some mixed pickles on paper plates. The elderly cyclists are apparently on a short day trip with the main aim of holding an outdoor feast. They have parked their bicycles all around the shelter and heaped bags on one of the three tables, and table cloths, sausages, cookies, salads and fruits on the two others. The whole group is clearly relieved when we are about to leave after a very brief break in the sheltered rest house behind the Elbe dyke, but not without assuring us: “No, no, YOU don’t disturb us!!!”

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With shifting winds, tent and camping equipment in the saddle bags and half a day off in Hamburg, we arrive in Cuxhaven after seven days of cycling. In retrospect, we agree that we liked the first part from Prague to Magdeburg better, because there were nicer towns and the Elbe cycling path often went directly along the river instead of behind the dyke.

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Cuxhaven, the end of the Elbe Cycle Path

If you liked reading about our cycling trip along the river Elbe, read also about the stretch from Prague to Magdeburg!

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