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German Motorcycle Tour - Beemers and Bier

Monday, April 6, 2009
The Marienplatz in Munich  just a tipsy walk away from Oktoberfest.
The Marienplatz in Munich, just a tipsy walk away from Oktoberfest.
“Weissbier, bitte.”

When traveling in a foreign land, knowledge of basic vocabulary is key. In English these words mean “beer, please,” a wheat beer to be more precise. And while it’s only my first day in Germany I’ve mastered the phrase through repeated use. Which helps explain why I’m in Munich, dancing arm-in-arm with a group of rowdy strangers, bellowing soccer chants at the top of my lungs - not worried in the least that I have no clue what I’m shouting. Tall half-liter glasses of creamy tan beer are swinging back and forth as the outdoor biergarten booms with celebration.

It’s the final weekend of Oktoberfest, akin to being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras or Rio for Carnival. Originating in 1810 as the wedding celebration for Bavaria’s Prince Ludwig I, the world-famous festival now draws millions of foreigners and Germans for its sudsy debauchery.

In Munich, finding Oktoberfest is simple. The trick is walking the opposite direction of staggering men in leiderhosen. The closer we get the more intoxicated festivarians we encounter. By the time we walk through the massive gate of the festival, the party is in full swing.

A completely schlitzed teenager wearing a top hat swings his belt and chases after old ladies with his pants around his ankles. Turns out the drinking age in Germany is 16, so no one bothers to ID me or my nominal interpreter, Erick, whose two years of college German and MCUSA marketing position have scammed a free ticket to Oktoberfest.

Just hours earlier we had landed in Munich and picked up a pair of BMW R1200RT test bikes for a week-long German tour. But with the bikes stowed away in our hotel parking garage and Munich’s fantastic transit system depositing us within walking distance of Oktoberfest - it was time to dig in.
Weissbier  bitte.
Weissbier, bitte. The cloudy unfiltered wheat brew is popular throughout Germany and Bavaria in particular.

“Weissbier, bitte,” I say and weissbier from the Paulaner brewery (one of the six brewers supplying the festival) is poured from the tap in special tall curved weissbier glasses - regular lager beers are served in the traditional large steins. After a couple of drinks a group of ex-patriot Irishmen from County Cork hear our American English, and the common tongue and countless 16-oz glasses transform us from strangers into fast friends who ride Honda “CBair-sixhoondreds.”

Next to us, spacious wooden buildings line the Theresienwiese - a large square in central Munich which hosts Oktoberfest. Inside the massive beer halls our outdoor rabble rousing is replicated at an even greater magnitude, with brass bands booming drinking music as busty waitresses pack armloads of steins to table-dancing revelers. Tables are hard to come by, with reservations required, but we are happy where we are and enjoy the chilly night.

LAKE KONSTANZ

Waking up at our hotel in the Munich suburb of Garching, I face a paradox. On the one hand I remember how much fun I had the night prior, on the other hand the finer details of getting back to the hotel room escape me. Last night’s revelry combined with jet lag beckons more rest, but I remember the Beemer downstairs in the garage and grab my gear. It’s time for some motorrad-ing through Bavaria to our evening destination of Konstanz – about 170 miles to the southwest.

Traffic impedes our progress, the roads packed with drivers taking advantage of the October 3 Day of German Unity. The holiday celebrates the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. Yet the modern nation of Germany is still relatively new too, at least by European standards, younger than even the United States. It wasn’t until 1871 that numerous republics, principalities and duchies forged a united German state. As such, the country retains distinct regional identities, and our day’s ride takes us from Bavaria into the bordering state of Baden-Wurttemberg, which, along with a western swath of Bavaria, encompasses a region known as Swabia.

The following day was calmer  although rain continued here on the shore-line of Konstanz - where the Bodensee becomes the Rhine.
We were greeted with rain on the shore-line of Konstanz - where the Bodensee becomes the Rhine.
Heavy rain showers spoil a possible route through the high Alpine passes of nearby Austria. Instead our Beemers stick to backroads before taking the traffic-packed A96 autobahn to Lindau, a beautiful town located on the shores of the Lake Constance, or as it is known in German – the Bodensee.

One of the largest lakes in Europe, the Bodensee is fed by Alpine inlets, with the mighty Rhine River draining through its western outlet all the way to the North Sea. The snow-capped Alps visible to the south, we skirt the northern shore and take a ferry to Konstanz, located on the western shore bordering Switzerland and straddling the Rhine.

At the Ruppaner brewery, we meet our photographer for a dinner of Bodensee trout. And, yes, there’s more weissbier on tap. Kristalweizen - a clearer filtered version of the wheat brew. I stare in admiration at the generous glass - the clear, brown liquid lined with straight streams of carbonation from the bottom to the frothy foam on top. Good food, a tall pour of Kristalweizen and view of the evening sun off the Bodensee - it doesn’t get much better.

BLACK FOREST

It may have been cold and dicey on the bikes  but the ride through the Black Forest passes was memorable and trouble free aboard the R1200RT.
It may have been cold and dicey when the snow fell, but the ride through the Black Forest passes was memorable and trouble free aboard the R1200RT.
Our photographer promises good roads are in store the next day… As long as the weather holds. Heading northwest through the Black Forest is certainly picturesque. And the weather does hold through the thick forested hills, at least for a little while… About an inch of snow tries to spoil our ascent over one mountain pass, but the Beemers plod along, steady mounts for our German motorrad experience. The touring R1200RT is graceful and sporty, even in the mucky slush, and I remind myself to personally thank the engineer who came up with the heated handgrip concept as we roll into the Black Forest region’s largest town, Freiburg.

We don’t stop, instead heading back into the hills and eventually the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse – a mountainous route snaking through the northern Black Forest from Freudenstadt to Baden-Baden. The curving roads prove the best of our trip and afternoon sun springs out briefly before showers make us appreciate the BMW’s ABS.

We also see Black Forest ham  and not the stuff they sell at the supermarket deli either.
Legit Black Forest ham looks a little different than the processed cube of meat your local grocer deli slices!
Memorable stops on the road include the Mummelsee, a small deep lake home to a rather bawdy mermaid – if the roadside PR is to be believed. We also see Black Forest ham, and not the stuff they sell at the supermarket deli either. This is the real deal, aged dark ham shanks hung in shop windows. Lunch is a delicious plate of Jagerbraten, a meat cutlet in a mushroom crème sauce. It is served with spaetzle, a simple noodle dish associated with Swabia.

Baden-Baden is a popular tourist destination, the resort town gained fame in the 19th Century for its hot springs and casino. The town lured European, in particular Russian, nobility to come gamble and take in the waters and the casino still stands.

Daylight fades as we head north from Baden-Baden on the more utilitarian Autobahns. Triple-digit cruising speeds make short work of the kilometers to our destination – the historic castle town of Heidelberg.

HEIDELBERG
The light didnt quite agree with out photo  but the view of Heidelbergs gothic castle is unforgettable.
The light didn't quite agree with our photo, but the view of Heidelberg's gothic castle is unforgettable.

There are two strong American connections with Heidelberg, explaining its popularity with US tourists. First, it was the headquarters of the US Army during post-WWII occupation. Second, is the university town’s association with American wordsmith, Mark Twain, who lived in Heidelberg for three months and would turn his European travels into A Tramp Abroad.

Arriving late, dinner at a local restaurant allows for more strong drink. This time, following the advice of our photographer, we chose a Dunkelweizen – a darker wheat brew, one we also discover holds a much stronger alcohol content.

The morning requires a photo stop at Heidelberg’s renowned castle. The town sits on the bank of the Nakar river, a tributary of the Rhine, with the castle looming over the southern shore. On the northern side of the river is a nature trail dubbed the Philosophenweg or Philosopher’s Walk – where great historical thinkers from the town’s university are reputed to have contemplated the mysteries of life.

The scowls of elderly German hikers let us know that our big Bavarian mounts aren’t allowed on the picturesque trail, but photo ops sometime require minor law breakages – so our Boxers climb up the dirt path in unexpected off-road action. Unfortunately the light does not comply with our grand photo wishes, but the view of the Heidelberg castle is unforgettable nonetheless, as is the descent of the dirt pathway.

Heidelberg is well worth a full day of discovery, but we have to make time, and the nature hikers are glad to be rid of us as we leave the Philosopher's Walk to find the Rhine and follow it northward.

RHINE VALLEY

Entering the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, vast vineyards line the steep slopes of the Rhine, with numerous ancient castles littering the narrow river canyon. Between Bingen and Cologne, the castles and vineyards are a major tourist attraction and Rhine river cruises are quite popular on this scenic stretch.
Our first stop is the Lorelei  a large rock located on the east side of the Rhine. A winding road breaks off the river route and twists up to the top of the rocky formation.
The view from atop the Lorelei delivers a scenic panorama of the Rhine valley below.

Our first stop is the Lorelei, a large rock located on the east side of the Rhine. A winding road breaks off the river route and twists up to the top of the rocky formation. Marking the narrowest point of the Rhine between the Konstanz and the North Sea, the Lorelei has been a source of inspiration for German writers like poet Heinrich Heine. Myth attributes the rock as the place where a spurned lover jumped to her death, haunting the treacherous river bend afterward as a siren who claims unwary ships and their crews. One thing is beyond doubt - the sweeping panoramic view atop the Lorelei is worth the ride.

We head northward for lunch in Koblenz before backtracking south to our hotel in Boppard. The touristy town caters to the numerous river cruising pensioners. A fact confirmed by our marketing liaison, Erick, who returns blushing from the sauna – which was nude, co-ed, and extremely wrinkly with an average age of well over 60.

Strolling up and down the alleys of the village, we find a hole-in-the-wall more our speed and right on the river’s edge. A salty bartender serves drinks, pouring weissbier bottled from a Koblenz brewery. Reserved locals make small talk. The tang of cigarette smoke lingers. Live records of the Rolling Stones and the Doors pulse out of the sound system and remind me of home as the Rhine quietly flows at my back.

KOLN
The Cologne Cathedral is rightly considered an artistic treasure and a World Heritage Site.
The Cologne Cathedral dominates the Cologne skyline - something it has done for over 600 years.

The ride from Boppard to Cologne, or Koln as it is known in Germany, is a quick one, with the scenic riverside turning more and more industrial. Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city, would be our base of operations for three days covering the INTERMOT Bike Show – one the largest in the world.

Our hotel is located on the Severinstrasse, an old street which contains segments of the town’s medieval wall. I wander up the road through a collection of modern shops and stands, contrasting its medieval lineage. Much of metropolitan Germany has been rebuilt since the catastrophic destruction of WWII, but there is still an aged aura permeating the country. Rounding the corner in the town center I understand why.

The Cologne Cathedral shoots straight up in the air – its sheer verticality warping perspective. Lit at night with haunting yellow/green lights, the gothic architecture and exterior sculptures are a strange balance between holy and sinister. The interior is just as impressive. Words like breathtaking and awe-inspiring are too cliché. The Cologne Cathedral is rightly considered an artistic treasure and a World Heritage Site.

230 KPH
German Rules of the Road
1. LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING ONLY! Every American should experience the Autobahn to see what US freeways could be if the left lane were used as an actual passing lane!
2. Drinking and riding is verboten. Hopefully this is already a steadfast rule and it’s worth noting our libations always occurred after the bikes were safely stowed away for the evening. If you need an incentive other than safety, Germany has very strict DUI limits as low as 0.03.
3. The Autobahn is fun, but riding super frickin’ fast gets old quick. Research your route for twistier backroads.
4. Traffic rules are pretty intuitive and riders should have no trouble acclimatizing to the numerous roundabouts.

Three days of actual work, if you want to call it that, covering INTERMOT get us anxious for more riding. The 358 miles from Cologne to Munich sound like a full day in the saddle, but we sorely underestimate the speed of the Autobahn. Although rain impedes our journey at first, we still make incredible time. The Autobahns are made for speed, they even include purpose-built fuel and food stops directly on the freeway.

Burning through the miles, the rain stops and a dry, empty road stretches out ahead. It’s time to bury the needle. Crouched behind the windscreen I max out at 220 kph. Making the metric-to-mile conversion in my head, I realize the windscreen is at its highest setting. The road starts to slope downward and I gingerly move my thumb over to the left handlebar control. The windscreen drops and I see the speed needle creep upward - 225, 226, 227… I keep it pinned as cars blur to the right of me and look down at the speedo one last time.

I can’t contain a big grin and loud yell. I’m not a grown man with a mortgage, I’m a kid crouched behind my 10-speed as it coasts out of control down the steepest hill in town. Beaming under my helmet I let off the gas and glance over my shoulder to see Erick gaining. He’s beaming too. He lifts his hand and I know exactly what he’s going to sign.

Two. Three. O.

HOFBRAUHAUS

Hofbrauhaus has been a tourist detination for well over 100 years.
Munich's Hofbrauhaus has been a popular tourist destination for well over 100 years - its current location opened in 1897.
After blurring the space-time continuum from Cologne, we drop off the bikes at BMW’s press fleet HQ, back in Munich for one last day. The free time requires a visit to the famed Hofbrauhaus, an historic bier hall associated with Munich for hundreds of years as the Bavarian Duke’s official weissbier brewery. A tourist sensation since its current location opened in 1897, the Hofbrauhaus also caters to a devout local clientele who keep their steins locked away in a special safe. The whole variety of Hofbrau brew is quite satisfying, as are the Bavarian foodstuffs shoveled out to patrons.

The final day is suited to picking up knick-knacks and checking out the more sober side of Munich. But realizing I may never be this way again, there’s one last important thing to do. I walk over to one of the many outdoor biergartens near the Marienplatz town center. Sidling up to the ordering window I know just what to say.

“Weissbier, bitte.”
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German Motorrad Tour Information
AIRPORTS
Munich - “Franz Josef Strauss” Airport is a modern, easy-to-navigate facility, but is almost 25 miles away from the main city center. Fortunately, Munich has a fine public transit system and getting from the airport to the city, and around the city itself, is simple and straightforward.

Cologne - Located between the Rhine cities of Cologne and Bonn – the aptly-named Cologne Bonn Airport services numerous international flights, although none from the US at the present time.

Frankfurt - The Frankfurt am Main Airport is the busiest airport in Germany and as a hub for Lufthansa is a major destination for transatlantic flights.

LODGING
Hotel Konig Ludwig II
Our Munich digs due to its close proximity to the BMW press fleet center, the Hotel Konig Ludwig II is located in the suburb of Garching. Clean, comfortable and affordable – the Konig Ludwig II is located right next to a major subway station taking you to the heart of Munich in minutes.

Hotel Schönblick
Schiffstrasse 12, 78464 Konstanz
Located to the northeast of Konstanz town center, Hotel Schönblick is within easy walking distance of the Bodensee shore and the Ruppaner Brewery, which provided the best food of our trip. Trips into Konstanz downtown require a drive or hitching a ride on the hotel minibus.

Leonardo Hotel Heidelberg
Bergheimer Strasse 63, 69115 Heidelberg
A well-kept, if somewhat pricey, locale. For intrepid tourists, the historic downtown and castle are a brisk walk away.

Best Western Bellevue Rheinhotel
Rheinallee 41, Boppard, 56154
Don’t let the Best Western moniker fool you, the Bellevue Rheinhotel is an elegant hotel with posh accommodations and a stellar view of the river. Pay the extra dough for a river-side room.
Mercure Hotel Severinshof

Mercure
Severinstrasse 199, 50676 Köln, Germany
Located in a historic section of Cologne, the Mercure delivers comfort and class within a short walk of the town center and the Cologne Cathedral. Also located right next to the city train station.

ATTRACTIONS
Cologne Cathedral - As a World Heritage Site the Cologne Cathedral is an artistic monument. Construction began in 1248 and continued on and off for 640 years. Restoration of the aged stone makes it one of the most beautiful architectural works in progress.

Marienplatz - A town square in Munich's center, the Marienplatz showcases the Mariensaule - a column erected with the Virgin Mary atop. The gothic city hall is also prominently featured. The Karlsplatz square is a short walk away through the downtown shopping district, with the spires of St. Peter's Church visible nearby.

DINING 
Hofbrauhaus - Munich
A famous Munich institution, the Hofbrauhaus was originally the weissbier brewer for all of Bavaria, with the right to brew the wheat beer a ducal privilege of the Bavarian royalty. The food is good too. We ordered something that we later discovered on the English menu was dubbed “pork knuckle.” It was one of the best dishes of the trip.

Ruppaner Brauerei - Konstanz
A restaurant located on the shores of the Bodensee, the Ruppaner brewery features a seafood menu, some of which is fresh out of the Bodensee itself. The best food of our journey was complemented by the best brew too. A full selection of tasty weissbiers, including the filtered kristalweizen we mentioned.

RENTALS
AdMo-Tours
Provides rentals in Berlin, Frankfurt and Holzwickede. The widest variety of bikes are available in Munich, however, where the Bavarian countryside awaits and Austrian Alps are a tank of gas away.

Bosenberg Motorcycle Excursions
A touring company, Bosenberg provides individual rentals too. Multiple bikes are available at various rental centers across Germany, including Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich.
RATING THE RIDE - GERMANY
ROADS ****
More thorough route planning would have certainly fetched a five, but we saw way too much Autobahn. More of the scenic twisty two-lanes is our only real regret.
SCENERY ****
Started with the old/new at Munich, one of Germany’s largest cities, headed to the smaller old world feel of Swabia and the Black Forest - followed this up with Heidelberg castle and the scenic Rhine River. Of all the sites, however, nothing matched the grandeur of the Cologne Cathedral.
FOOD *** BEVERAGES *****
Meat and potatoes-type food mirrors American tastes, which makes sense as German immigrants are the largest ethnic population in the States. Simple dishes could be on the bland side. The highlight, for me, were the Brezel – large bagel-esque pretzels. Did we mention the beer is pretty good too?
PEOPLE ***
Our German photographer was salt of the earth and a fantastic travel companion. While German folk may not be considered the most, how shall we say, warm or inviting... our experiences were cordial and pleasant.
ACCOMMODATIONS ****
Affordable luxury is the best description of our European hotel experience. While 100 Euros are steep compared to Motel 6, German rooms are comfortable and clean, most coming with a fantastic breakfast spread.
BIKES *****
The BMW R1200RT was perfectly suited for our Bavarian motorrad tour. The distinctive Boxer Twin was amenable to low and high-speed exploits, the RT delivering personality and comfort combined.
WHAT TO DRINK IN GERMANY
1. Weissbier – cloudy unfiltered wheat beer, popular in Bavaria and Southern Germany. Variations include filtered Kristalweizen and stronger, dark Dunkelweizen.
2. Bier. Many books can, and have, been written about German beers. Most establishments carry a variety of types from of a local brewery. Helles, Pils, Bock…
3. Believe it or not there are drinks beside bier in Germany… Or so we’ve been told. Actually, wine snobs will be quite content with the beer snobs, as there are many notable German vinters.
4. Wasser, or water, in Germany is an oddity for a first-time American. In our experience public drinking fountains were non-existent and bottled water is mostly carbonated mineral water.

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Comments
twowheelflyer   January 4, 2012 12:36 PM
Save your money and just go rent a bike. Europe is easy to navigate and with a little effort spent on the internet, you can have the same vacation at a third the price. Edelweiss is overpriced and you don't get much for your money.
Dave -Clothing  June 28, 2009 10:08 AM
What outer (and inner) wear did you guys use? Thanks Dave
Army Brat -Beemers And Bier  April 15, 2009 11:46 AM
As an army brat I spent 5 years in the Schwarzwald during the 80s. Many a weekend was spent driving those same switchbacks and autobahns around Germany. It was a great article to reminisce about those great times. Yes, the autobahns are made for speed, but the true joy for a motorcyclist is hitting those mountains...oh, yeah, then stopping for the absolutely fantastic local brew that is what makes Germany so special. Loved the srticle, loved the pictures, now have to drag out my photo albums and reminisce a bit.
Mike from PA -Great writeup!  April 7, 2009 08:29 AM
I need to somehow finagle my way on to the MC-USA staff, you guys seem to have way more fun than the rest of the motorcycle rags/blogs! I have a mechanical engineering degree, some basic writing skills, and an unhealthy passion for motorcycles, do you think I'm qualified? ;o) I even studied German for a few years in college! Thanks for the article, you really let the experience shine through your words.
Giancarlo Falappa -Deutchland!!  April 7, 2009 07:37 AM
Impossible to write an article about "Germany".Nice try,but like a picture,the real experience has to be lived over years or seen in person,to fully appreciate it.G.F.
Harry Ozzie -Awesome  April 7, 2009 04:46 AM
What a good journey, more than just a ride where you can say you've been there (but seen little). This is the essence of motorcycling adventure.
Andrew -Could we be witnessing...  April 7, 2009 03:46 AM
...the emergence of a new power to be reckoned with in motojournalism? Madsen's prose matches the nuances and power of his observations. Add to that a solid veneer of culture--Twain, Heine, architecture, language--and you have a writer who can address almost any audience. Add to all of this the image of innocent joy of the 10-year-old luxuriating in the thrill of speed, and you have a writer who should be making copious notes for a book.
NBS -Stunning  April 7, 2009 03:00 AM
Stunning photos and trip. I'm jealous.
Moto Freak -BMW fan  April 6, 2009 06:05 PM
Thank you for some awesome screen saver pics. The BMW's are just plain beautiful bikes.
Desmolicious -Kristalweiss bier!  April 6, 2009 11:31 AM
Bart! How cool. Lindau is beautiful and is just a short ride across the Austrian border to Bregenz - my hometown which is also the site of the Festspielhaus which was featured in the last James Bond movie. My g/f and I actually skateboarded from Lindau to Bregenz! We had to bring a bit of SoCal culture to Europe and show them how we roll! Kristalweiss bier is fantastic, I wish we could get it here in the US. It goes fantastically well with a real donner kebab, or schnitzel. Not sure if you rode any in Austria, the Bregenzwald is beautiful. But pretty much anywhere in that region is great. One question, why did you pick the rainy cold season to ride? Summer/autumn is amazing...