We discover the wild pleasures of the German countryside on a bicycle ride from Zurich to Munich. By Mohit Satyanand
In a Swiss summer, you can be excused for thinking you just cycled into a picture postcard, with emerald green fields on either side, and plump cows grazing against a horizon of deepest blue. Then, the sun reminds you that this is reality—hot and thirst-inducing. That, and the two familiar young men a hundred yards ahead. “Stop, Kedar!” I yell to my son as I look up into the dark shade of a cherry tree. By the time he and his friend Simon join me, my hands and mouth are stained a deep red with the juice of fresh cherries—tart, sweet, and possibly stolen.
Beyond the tree, the light is harsh, but the forest is only a couple of kilometres away, and soon we’re pedalling along a shaded path. The air cools, and through the trees we spy patches of silver water. The Rhine! In a tiny clearing, a young woman and her mother cheer their dog as she swims out to retrieve a tossed twig. We dismount, and while I refill my water bottle from a spout, Simon checks out the river. “It’s not too cold,” he encourages me. I jump in, and swim out to midstream. A tiny launch putters by, the dog shakes a silver shower of drops out of his fur, and Kedar spreads our picnic out onto a log—crusty bread, Emmental cheese, dried apricots, and a bag of nuts. I could get used to this.
Schaffhausen is still an hour’s ride away, and in the afternoon, there’s no escaping the un-seasonal heat, which rises from the cobblestones and bounces off the walls. We fill our bottles from a medieval fountain, and under the awning of an Italian restaurant, realise we’re too exhausted to cycle on. We’ve covered a respectable 75 kilometres from Zurich anyway, and while we tuck into our pasta and red wine, the Bangladeshi waiter makes a phone call to book us lodgings for the night.
We leave by first light, and only the stray jogger greets the swans on the Rhine as we bowl out of town. The air is cool as we nip through little towns that are suddenly German, then Swiss, then German again. By mid-morning, we’re coasting past the Untersee, the lower Constance lake. We reach the elegant city of Konstanz before the afternoon heat. We find a gelato vendor, then a shady beach, and soon we’re savouring the coolth of the lake waters. Lunch is in a charming cafe in the University quarter, and while I devour my bar of dark chocolate in the cathedral square, Kedar does a quick tour of the interiors.
A catamaran swooshes us over to Friedrichshafen, where we spend a delightful hour among the exhibits of the Zeppelin Museum. The airship Hindenburg met a fiery end in 1937, but in the faithful replica of its spacious lounge, we sit in leather couches, and imagine we’re floating a few kilometres over the Amazon forest.
Every town in Germany has a museum to visit, or a historic cathedral. In Ulm, we spent the afternoon in an intriguing museum of ‘Bread Culture’. In Kronburg, we decided to give the agricultural museum a miss; instead we sought out the clear waters of a natural lake. The shade was deep, the grass wet and cool, and the coffee from the cafe by the shore strong and freshly brewed. I logged my afternoon swim, Kedar snacked, and Simon pulled out a paperback. We waited until the sun’s heat was spent, then climbed into the hills, and into the late evening. Another hostelry waited, another freshly cooked dinner, a different local brew.The next day, repeat—breakfast as the village bakery opened its doors, a picnic by the Danube, Lebanese lunch on a busy street, coffee and cakes in Viennese elegance. We left Zurich to cycle to Munich. Instead, we pedalled ourselves a moving feast of strawberries and yogurt, of sunlight and dappled green, fragments of history, glimpses of modern life. We measured out 600 kilometres of togetherness, clean air, and the benediction of days well met.