In the footsteps of coal and ore

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Vennbahn was built and connected the industrial centres of Aachen-Rothe Erde and Luxembourg. Coal from the Aachen coal mining area was transported to Luxembourg, and in the other direction Luxembourg iron ore was brought to Aachen and Eschweiler for smelting. In addition, the railway opened up the structurally weak Eifel and offered the opportunity to travel to the workplaces of the Aachen industrial region.

During the First World War it was also used as a deployment and supply line for the German western front. Almost inevitably, it then came under Belgian administration, which curiously led to the formation of some German exclaves, which now lay between Belgian territory in the west and Belgian sovereign territory, namely the Vennbahn route in the east.

After the Second World War, in which numerous tunnels and bridges were destroyed by the Battle of the Bulge, it was rebuilt only slowly and incompletely; due to declining capacity utilisation, the freight line was successively closed down in the following decades and then completely in 1989. For a further 12 years, part of the line was still operated as a museum railway, but had to be discontinued in 2001 because the renewal of the track bed would have been too expensive.

Fortunately for us cyclists (and hikers and inline skaters), as the route was subsequently converted into a cross-border long-distance cycle path with EU subsidies and with the participation of the affected states and municipalities, which was completed in 2013.

The inactive time with lots of Christmas cookies and chocolate Easter eggs is pressing against the waistband. And also the pollen of the last weeks have contributed to the fact that I feel a little out of shape. But what hasn’t happened yet can happen again.

From the starting point at an altitude of 140 m in Aachen, large square signs indicate every half to full kilometre how far I have already driven – and remind me how far I still have to drive. Although: like is of course the more appropriate word! It’s a steady climb, but moderate. Old station buildings and discarded locomotives and wagons can be found every few kilometres, reminding one of the history of the Vennbahn and spreading a morbid charm. Also the tracks are still present in places, the cycle path runs parallel to it, by the way always asphalted and always in best condition. This path is fun, absolutely family-friendly and amazingly populated – after all, it’s Monday!

Soon the landscape appears more sparse and reminds of how hard it was to get by in the Eifel highlands in the 19th century, before the Vennbahn came and not only became a shuttle to Aachen’s industry, but also brought tourists, as for example in Lammersdorf. At an altitude of over 500 m, the route runs along the Hohe Venn, moorland landscapes with partly dry, partly swampy meadows and birches dominate the picture. Passing Monschau, which lies invisibly below in the Rur valley, wild daffodils at Kalterherberg dive their green meadows into a sea of yellow flowers, interspersed with the irregular meanders of the young Rur.

Every few kilometres there are covered shelters, often in the form of wagons. So I’m confident that I’ll find a dry place to stay for the night – I’ve decided to sleep outside on this tour, but of course I don’t want to get wet and it’s not sure if it won’t rain at night. Shortly before Waimes I once again see a quite large refuge but it is still too early. In Waimes I take a portion of chips and a beer (this is Belgium!) and look for a place to stay, but it’s like a spell: suddenly not a single hut appears. But it is a wonderful downhill ride. Behind Malmedy I look at the map. Malmedy? This is not at all due to the Vennbahn, but far west of it! Alarmed I notice that I missed the way somewhere and the best way back is the one I came. Uphill! Meanwhile it dawns, and wetteronline predicts some rain for Malmedy in the next 90 minutes. Well super!

I have to drive far back (11 km?, 16?), until I find the turn-off, which I overlooked – it is exactly at the big shelter from Waimes – so my beer was already off the road! And here I stay now, tired and with aching legs, but luckily dry.

Belgium!

After a cold night I drive on with gloves, sweater under my jacket and buff on my head and behind Ondeval through well-kept, cleanly fenced meadows full of horses. Now I am already in the northern Ardennes, the landscape is wide, all roads are far away, only the twittering of birds accompanies me through a wet heathland biotope, the source of the Emmels. Bog heather, arnica, woolly grass and lung gentian bloom here – according to the information boards along the way. The snipe is also supposed to breed here!

In Steineberg I leave the Vennbahn cycle path, which would lead me to Troisvierges. From there I would have to go back the same way to cycle home through the Eifel. So now I take the Eifel-Ardennes cycle path first through the Ourtal and then through the beautiful Alfbachtal, before it’s more boring, because it goes straight ahead to Prüm. I find a nice night spot above Gerolstein.

Beaver eats! The tree is gnawed at on the way side! Good thing it’s not stormy!

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

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