Czech Republic: history lessons on the Elbe Cycle Route

Irritating ride on the banks of the Elbe

The cycle path also passes the Děčín Castle, which is located at the confluence of the Elbe and Ploučnice.
(Photo: Getty Images)

Those who cycle in the Bohemian Switzerland and further along the Elbe, come through places with terrible history. And meet people who are looking for a new approach to the past.

In places like these, the story is carved in stone. Everyone can read them on a rugged cliff below the Děčín Castle: on the basis of the years, which mark the water levels of the Elbe there . Very high up is the number 2002 . “That was the last big flood, twelve meters,” says Sven Czastka with a slight shudder in his voice.

Gradually it comes again, in every respect – and not only in Děčín, but in many other places in northern Bohemia. Those who roll their bicycle along the Elbe can not only marvel at the high water levels marked on rocks and houses, but also learn a great deal about the extremely varied history of this area. And will meet again and again on people like the casual and thoughtful city and cycle guide Sven Czastka; He belongs to the generation of thirty to forty-year-olds, who sharpen their eyesight for the past – and at the same time, with a lot of energy, make the start of the future.

In the so-called “Bohemian Switzerland” on the border with Germany, the water is groundbreaking in every respect. Not only because Czastka says that one stands here on the former seabed; not only because it makes one think of Ingeborg Bachmann’s famous poem “Bohemia is by the sea”. No, the sea is really very far away in the Czech Republic , but the Elbe also flows pretty wide. Anyone who travels along the Elbe Cycle Route between Děčín and Roudnice, for example, will seldom lose sight of the water. In its transformed form as wine or beer, it is also a source of joy, and as medicinal water it has been attributed a special power in spas such as Teplice for centuries.

The route is well signposted.
 (Photo: Antje Weber)

No wonder, then, that tourism is growing strongly on the Czech sections of the Elbe Cycle Route; Germans and Czechs are also working together more and more cross-border marketing. And that’s how a border town like Děčín woke up: “Five years ago, the city was completely unknown,” says Czastka, but meanwhile “a lot has changed”. Děčín presents itself as a “city for active people”, with via ferrata, paddle and bicycle tours . In an “adrenaline challenge” at the city festival, they even had a slackline stretching across the Elbe, from climbing rock to the castle.

In general, this castle. It is worth the small climb to the baroque garden to the moat, in which a loving gardener has planted a green heart. The fact that you can walk around here as a matter of course and let your gaze wander over the surrounding volcanic hills is “a small miracle”, as Czastka says. Actually, the army had spread here for 70 years; After the Wehrmacht, the Soviets placed their tanks under the castle. “You can not imagine what that looked like in the 1990s: it was a ruin,” says Czastka. Today, the site belongs to the city, was renovated with the support of the state and the EU and opened three years ago.

On the castle hill visitors of the not everywhere idyllic port and university town also better understand that Děčín was once a health resort. “One hundred years ago there were excursion restaurants on every hill,” says Czastka.

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