Support our mission
 
Cyclists ride by the shelter on the Vennbahn bike path at Reichenstein, around three miles from Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The path travels 77 miles from Aachen, Germany, to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, crossing in and out of Belgium on the way.
Cyclists ride by the shelter on the Vennbahn bike path at Reichenstein, around three miles from Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The path travels 77 miles from Aachen, Germany, to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, crossing in and out of Belgium on the way. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Cyclists ride by the shelter on the Vennbahn bike path at Reichenstein, around three miles from Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The path travels 77 miles from Aachen, Germany, to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, crossing in and out of Belgium on the way.
Cyclists ride by the shelter on the Vennbahn bike path at Reichenstein, around three miles from Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The path travels 77 miles from Aachen, Germany, to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, crossing in and out of Belgium on the way. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
The half-timbered houses that the town of Monschau, Germany, is famous for reflect in the Rur River on Sept. 1, 2020. The Vennbahn bike path, which runs for around 100 miles from Aachen, Germany, through Belgium and into Luxembourg, passes just above Monschau.
The half-timbered houses that the town of Monschau, Germany, is famous for reflect in the Rur River on Sept. 1, 2020. The Vennbahn bike path, which runs for around 100 miles from Aachen, Germany, through Belgium and into Luxembourg, passes just above Monschau. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
The Evangelical Church dominates the main square in the town of Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. Restaurants on the square offer German and Italian cuisine, homemade ice cream and local specialties featuring mustard.
The Evangelical Church dominates the main square in the town of Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. Restaurants on the square offer German and Italian cuisine, homemade ice cream and local specialties featuring mustard. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
A couple rides past a farm and wildflowers on the Vennbahn bike path near Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020, about 100 yards from one of many points where it crosses into Belgium. The path goes from Aachen, Germany, in the north to Troisvierges, Luxembourg in the south, via Belgium.
A couple rides past a farm and wildflowers on the Vennbahn bike path near Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020, about 100 yards from one of many points where it crosses into Belgium. The path goes from Aachen, Germany, in the north to Troisvierges, Luxembourg in the south, via Belgium. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
A window on the Eschbachstrasse side of the Hotel Stern in Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The other side of the hotel, which is housed in one of the half-timbered houses for which the town is known, looks onto the Rur River.
A window on the Eschbachstrasse side of the Hotel Stern in Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The other side of the hotel, which is housed in one of the half-timbered houses for which the town is known, looks onto the Rur River. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Woodcarvings depicting winter scenes are on sale at the covered crafts market in Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020.
Woodcarvings depicting winter scenes are on sale at the covered crafts market in Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Cows graze in a pasture next to the Vennbahn bike path near Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The path passes back and forth across Germany's border with Belgium as it passes on a ridge above Monschau, a town on the Rur River, known for its 300-year-old half-timbered houses.
Cows graze in a pasture next to the Vennbahn bike path near Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The path passes back and forth across Germany's border with Belgium as it passes on a ridge above Monschau, a town on the Rur River, known for its 300-year-old half-timbered houses. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
A sign near the cloisters at Reichenstein, Germany, points to the Vennbahn bike path, with free parking. The 77-mile path runs from Aachen, Germany, in the north to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, in the south, criss-crossing the German-Belgian border numerous times on the way.
A sign near the cloisters at Reichenstein, Germany, points to the Vennbahn bike path, with free parking. The 77-mile path runs from Aachen, Germany, in the north to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, in the south, criss-crossing the German-Belgian border numerous times on the way. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
People walk down one of the cobbled streets in Monschau, a town on Germany's western border with Belgium, on Sept. 1, 2020. Called Montjoie in French, Monschau lies at the northernmost end of the battlefront in the World War II Ardennes offensive, known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge.
People walk down one of the cobbled streets in Monschau, a town on Germany's western border with Belgium, on Sept. 1, 2020. Called Montjoie in French, Monschau lies at the northernmost end of the battlefront in the World War II Ardennes offensive, known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
A view along the Rur River toward the center of Monschau, a small town near Germany's western border with Belgium, on Sept. 1, 2020. On the left is the Evangelical Church and on the right, the 300-year-old half-timbered houses for which the town is known.
A view along the Rur River toward the center of Monschau, a small town near Germany's western border with Belgium, on Sept. 1, 2020. On the left is the Evangelical Church and on the right, the 300-year-old half-timbered houses for which the town is known. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Metal fish sculptures hang from a bridge in Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The 77-mile Vennbahn bike path, from Aachen in Germany to Troisvierges in Luxembourg, passes just above Monschau.
Metal fish sculptures hang from a bridge in Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The 77-mile Vennbahn bike path, from Aachen in Germany to Troisvierges in Luxembourg, passes just above Monschau. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
A fountain in the center of Monschau, Germany, depicts the town's past as a hub for textile production. Monschau lies near Germany's western border with Belgium, below the 100-mile Vennbahn bike path, which runs from Aachen in Germany, through Belgium, to Troisvierges in Luxembourg.
A fountain in the center of Monschau, Germany, depicts the town's past as a hub for textile production. Monschau lies near Germany's western border with Belgium, below the 100-mile Vennbahn bike path, which runs from Aachen in Germany, through Belgium, to Troisvierges in Luxembourg. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)
Cows on the left, cyclists on the right on the Vennbahn bike path near Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020.  The path travels 77 miles from Aachen, Germany, to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, crossing in and out of Belgium on the way.
Cows on the left, cyclists on the right on the Vennbahn bike path near Monschau, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2020. The path travels 77 miles from Aachen, Germany, to Troisvierges, Luxembourg, crossing in and out of Belgium on the way. (Karin Zeitvogel/Stars and Stripes)

My idea of a good vacation used to be discovering somewhere new and doing something active, like running a 10-miler to the ancient Greek amphitheater in Epidaurus or canoeing down a river in Madagascar.

But then the coronavirus happened, most mass-participation events were canceled and international travel became risky. So this year, I looked to Germany’s vast network of bike paths as I planned a summer break from city life.

I’d already biked part of the Glan-Blies trail that goes from Rheinland-Pfalz to Sarreguemines in France, so I looked toward Belgium and found the Vennbahn trail and Monschau. It was the northernmost town involved in the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last-ditch attempt to turn the tide back in their favor in the closing months of World War II.

The 77-mile bike path wends its way from the German city of Aachen to the town of Troisvierges in Luxembourg, taking in Belgium along the way. Much of it follows a disused rail line, which means it’s fairly flat. The Vennbahn.eu website said the entire trail was open without restrictions, even when it crisscrosses the Belgian-German border as it passes near Monschau.

I accessed the path from a small parking lot in Reichenstein, home to a Benedictine monastery, and set out to ride the 5 miles to Monschau, a former textiles hub now best known for its 300-year-old, half-timbered houses and, arguably, its mustard.

After pedaling straight past the sign that told me to turn right to get to the town, I stopped to check the map on my phone and found I was straddling the border between Belgium and Germany. This kind of thing fills me with childlike glee — as if I’m doing something superhuman or breaking the rules and getting away with it. But it also made me wonder if border closures were enforced along the path at the height of the pandemic and, if they were, how.

The smell of fresh-cut grass filled my nostrils as I pedaled back toward the turn to Monschau. A few hundred yards later, a sign warned me that getting into town via a very steep, gravel path might be easy, but coming back, not so much. It was getting late and I was saddle-sore, so I rode back to the car and drove in.

Monschau did not disappoint. Everything, from the covered crafts market to the narrow, cobbled streets and the half-timbered houses reflecting in the waters of the Rur River, was even more stunning than pictures I’d seen.

And for mustard lovers like me, this was heaven. The Senfonie shop on the way into the center sells the mustard equivalent of Heinz’s 57 varieties of ketchup. There’s mustard with figs, with garlic, with tomatoes. You can even get mustard chocolate at the Historic Mustard Mill. The homemade ice cream cafe on the main square probably has a mustard flavor, but I didn’t check because I’d spent my last euros at the crafts market.

There were German, Italian and generic world cuisine restaurants around the main square, one of which had mustard soup on the menu. Most diners were seated outdoors at tables set about 6 feet apart. Many people who weren’t eating wore masks.

One really good thing about Monschau — besides mustard, the houses and the nearby Vennbahn — is that, despite the coronavirus, they haven’t ruled out having a Christmas market. Last year, it was held on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, starting in late November. If it’s snowing then, the Vennbahn would be great for cross-country skiing and I can do one of my other favorite activities, Gluehwein tasting at Christmas markets. All I need is a mask that takes a straw.

zeitvogel.karin@stripes.com Twitter: @StripesZeit

DIRECTIONS:

Monschau is about 2.5 hours from Kaiserslautern, 3 hours from Wiesbaden, and just over an hour from Spangdahlem. To get to the free parking lot in Reichenstein, put Venn-bahnweg 52156 into your GPS. If it’s full, there’s a bigger lot down the hill, in the opposite direction from the cloisters. In Monschau itself, meter parking is 2 euros per hour and there’s a multistory lot after the covered crafts market.

INFORMATION:

Senfonie and the Historic Mustard Mill are online at senfmuehle.de; for the Christmas market, go to monschau.de/en/experience/christmas-market; The Vennbahn is broken into stages on vennbahn.eu, or for more route information go to monschau.de/en/experience/Radfahren.

Migrated

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up