Castle ruins above the barren hills. Wide rivers bustling with boats and barges. Vineyards so steep you wonder how they’re harvested. Such is the scenery found along German highways. And for just one day of the year, some of the country’s most picturesque stretches of road can be enjoyed at a much slower pace.
Auto-free days are locally organized initiatives in which all motorized vehicles are banned from certain sections of highways. Cyclists, in-line skaters, hikers and other nature lovers come out in force to savor the surroundings they’re more used to passing by in a blur of speed. Road closures last from mid-morning to early evening and can stretch from 15 to 50 miles or more. They are generally organized on Sundays or public holidays from spring on into the autumn months. No costs are associated with taking part in these events.
Participants can tackle the routes from either direction or jump in at any point along the route. Taking a bike on a train to the outing is a popular tactic, but designated places for cycles on the carriages can reach capacity quickly, so it’s wise to plan to arrive early or well after the event has started.
Auto-free cycling days offer more than just the chance to enjoy the scenery. Entertainment by local performers is often offered at the start and end points, as well as in the towns along the route. Dozens of food and drink stands are set up to keep the masses fed and watered.
Although these days make a great day out for families, crowds and the odd careless cyclist means they’re no place for very small children without basic riding skills. They’re also not meant for those looking to race or cover vast distances. They’re best enjoyed in the company of friends at a leisurely pace, punctuated by picnics and refreshing drinks, perhaps even those produced from the vines you pedaled past just a mile back.
Here is a sampling of auto-free days near military communities in 2015. For info on additional rides, see the website of Germany's national cycling organization, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club, at adfc.de/termine/index.php
May 3: Rheinradeln, 16 miles along the old route B9 between Oppenheim and Worms; road closed to vehicles 10 a.m.-6 p.m. rheinradeln.com
May 14: Gutedel Tag, along the Baden Wine Road on highway L125 between Staufen and Müllheim, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. markgraefler-wein-ev.de/gutedel-tag/
May 17: Fränkisches Weinland, 26 miles between Volkach and Hirschfeld; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. volkach.de/veranstaltungen_detail_de,2730,7328,detail.html
May 17: Radelspass in Sickinger Land, 13 miles of the L363 encompassing Landstuhl, Queidersbach and Waldfischbach-Burgalben, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
May 17: Saar Pedal, about 32 miles along the Saar River between Merzig und Konz, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. saarpedal.de
May 25: Nim(m)s Rad, about 18 miles along the Eifel Valley between Rommersheim and Rittersdorf, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. nimmsrad.halverkamps.de
May 31: Happy Mosel, 53 miles along the Mosel between Pünderich and Winningen, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. happy-mosel.com
May 31: Fahr zur Aar, 24 miles between Diez and Bleidenstadt; 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. fahr-zur-aar.de
June 14: Tour de Ahrtal, various routes from 10 to 25 miles between Blankenheim and Altenahr along Eifel highways B258 und L73; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. tour-de-ahrtal.de
June 21: Natürlich Mobil, 21 miles along highway B 27 between Heilbronn und Mosbach, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. heilbronnerland.de/Redaktion/details/Natuerlich-mobil---AOK-Radsonntag
June 28: Tal Total, 75 miles along the Rhine through the Loreley Valley on Route B 9 between Koblenz and Bingen and the B42 between Lahnstein and Rüdesheim; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. taltotal.de
July 12: Gelbachtag, through the Gelbach Valley along the Lahn River between Montabaur and Weinähr, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. gelbachtaltag.de
July 19: Kylltal Aktiv, in the Eifel region along the Kull Valley between Gerolstein-Lissingen and Kyllburg, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. kylltalaktiv.de
Aug. 2: WeiltalSonntag, north of Wiesbaden in the Taunus, along the Weil River valley between Weilrod and Weilburg, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. autofreiesweiltal.de/
Aug. 2: Autofreies Lautertal, along the B270 between Kaiserslautern and Lauterecken, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. kaiserslautern-kreis.de/tourismus/58/autofreies-lautertal.html
Aug. 2: Liebliches Taubertal, 28 miles between Tauberbischofsheim and Freudenberg am Main, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. liebliches-taubertal.de/Veranstaltungen/Autofreier-Sonntag-2015.html
Aug. 30: Erlebnistag Deutsche Weinstrasse, 48 miles along the German Wine Road between Bockenheim and Schweigen, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. pfalz.de/erlebnistag-deutsche-weinstrasse
Aug. 30: Von Tal zu Tal, 19 miles through the Nahe River Valley between Stromberg and Langenlonsheim, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. naheland.net/de/outdoor/radfahren/radevents/von-tal-zu-tal.html
Sept. 27: Rad-Erlebnis-Salm, Mosel area between the castle in Dreis and Klüsserath, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. maare-moselradweg.de/page.php?lang=d&p=106&eid=1427