The Spree cycle route leads from the source of the Spree in Upper Lusatia along the river Spree to the German capital Berlin. Or vice versa, if you don’t mind uphill cycling or just happen to start in Berlin, as we did. Altogether the Spree cycle route is more than 400 km of superb cycling.
As we live in Berlin, we know the Spree as a full-grown river, carrying tourist boats past the Reichstag and other government buildings. We never gave much thought to where it comes from, even though a popular mineral water brand in Berlin is called Spreequell (Spree Spring). We know that the Spree passes through an area called Spreewald (Spree forest), mostly famous for its pickled gherkins.
In fact, the Spreewald region has been promoting a cycling trail which caught our eye years ago. The trail logo and leaflets are sporting a gherkin on a bicycle. Cute! So last summer, after all our holiday and work plans had collapsed due to Corona, we decided to give the Spree cycle route a go. Conveniently we could start right at our door.
Calories for Spree cyclists
„A plate full of different cakes with coffee” is the only item on the menu at Holly’s Cake Paradise. Nevertheless, the small garden café is jam-packed with cyclists and day trippers. After a waiting time of 20 minutes, we happily dig into the high-calorie plate. And we need it: still 30 km or so to go until we reach Fürstenwalde, the goal for our first cycling day.
The next day the Spree River gets smaller and more scenic. Sometimes the cycle route leads us away from the river shores through lush forest stretches. Someone put up signs with messages like “After Corona we will cuddle again – that will be magic!”
Cycling with Gherkins – in the Spreewald region
In the afternoon we already reach the Spreewald area, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The Spreewald area is known for its more than 200 small canals. They are called “Fließe”, a German word we did not know so far. The canals are used as an irrigation system, as well as for transportation.
In the small village of Lehde the postboxes are on the waterfront side and the postman delivers per boat. We take a day off from cycling and change into kayaks to explore the waterways. And in the evening, we try some of the vegetarian specialities: Boiled potatoes with curd and linseed oil, gherkin tempura and fluffy pancakes.
The next bigger town we pass on the Spree cycle route is the industrial town of Cottbus. We take the afternoon off to visit the Branitz Garden on the outskirts of town. In the spectacular public park, the founder of the garden, Prince Pückler-Muskau, is buried in a huge pyramid that he designed himself.
Uphill cycling through Germany’s industrial east
Behind Cottbus we cycle through mining landscapes, pass some coal-fired power stations and a military training camp before we reach Bautzen, a town famous for its jail and its mustard.
The broad river Spree has meanwhile become a small creek. And as you may have guessed from the name Upper Lusatia, we have to cycle uphill a lot. It is the first summer day of the year and temperatures have risen to over 30 °C. “I can’t take it anymore – I am going to push the bike over this steep part!” we both insist several times. And then we power through nonetheless until we reach the tiny village of Ebersbach. All three official sources of the river Spree are located in the vicinity. And finally in the late afternoon a thunderstorm comes up and the downpour brings a much-welcome refreshment.
Spreequell! A refreshing conclusion
The next morning we can conveniently leave the luggage at the B&B and cycle the last few meters uphill to the spring at Kottmar: A scenic puddle between tall coniferous trees. The massive stone wall around it appears inappropriately gigantic. This spring doubles as a memorial for the heroes of WWI.
Apparently, several more springs in the region could claim to be the river’s source, but only the ones in Kottmar, in Ebersbach and Neugersdorf, obtained the status of “official Spree source”. The name Spree apparently derives from the German dialect word “verspreet” – meaning scattered. We cycle to the other two sources and take some pictures.
When we pick up our luggage later we ask the landlady if she knows the mineral water “Spreequell”. She doesn’t but insists that the water coming from the Lusatian mountains is indeed very delicious.
The Spreequell mineral water originated in Berlin-Weißensee. The company came up with the name in the 1960s when they launched an ideas contest. We did not try any water from any of the faintly blubbering springs. None of them were large enough to sustain a bottling plant.
Reasons to cycle the Spree cycle route
The Spree cycle route is, in our opinion, scenic, comfortable, and sufficiently off major traffic routes. Different from, say, the Elbe cycle route, it is not one of the well-known prize-winning river cycling routes in Germany, however. So there are less tourists, which we appreciated.
The Spreewald area alone is definitely worth a visit. Although it is also good for walking and kayaking, we enjoyed having the bicycles as a mode of transportation.
What you need to know about cycling the Spree cycle route
We cycled from Berlin to the springs in Upper Lusatia and were the only group who did this. Most people will do it in the reverse direction because that way you cycle mainly downhill. There are villages and towns along the way, so it is easy to stock up on provisions. We stayed on campsites when possible. There are a few free campsites in the area – mainly for kayakers, but cyclists can use them as well. In cities like Cottbus and Fürstenwald there are no campsites, but we found cheap rooms for around 45 Euro.
The Spree cycle route day by day
Our daily kilometres and the altitude difference (going up)
- Berlin – Fürstenwalde 70 km, 230 m
- Fürstenwalde – Alt-Schadow 72 km, 240 m
- Alt-Schadow – Lübbenau 53 km, 180 m
- rest day (Kayaking in the Spreewald region)
- Lübbenau – Cottbus 66 km, 220 m
- Cottbus – Wartha 86 km, 490 m
- Wartha – Ebersbach 68 km, 772 m
- Around the Spree sources 11 km, 170 m
In Berlin we have also cycled along the former East-West-German border on the Berlin Wall Cycling Trail. And we have not only cycled some other long-distance cycling routes in Germany – such as the Elbe Cycling Route and the Isar Cycling Route – but also in more distant countries. For instance, we regularly do a cycling tour around Khiva in Uzbekistan!
We were not sponsored in any way on the Spree cycle route, and paid all expenses ourselves.