When George Mallory the mountaineer was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he famously responded “because it’s there.” I take a different attitude when cycling: if it’s there, I’ll generally find a way to go around it.

This is why my last ‘big’ excursion was around the extinct volcano near my apartment and not over it.

It’s probably also why I’m an occupational therapist in Germany rather than a very famous mountaineer, but hey ho.

First step was crossing the main road through the village. This is usually full of cars racing towards the river bridge, but on Sundays Germany has a collective lie-in which is why it looks like we’ve had a zombie apocalypse.

Leaving the village the first major obstacle is the Autobahn. I’ve lived here twenty years and I still find the idea of just driving or riding into Switzerland incredibly exotic.

The route around the volcano is roughly triangular; section one is along the south to Breisach and the French border, which runs along the Rhine.


We have a “Mediterranean climate” here apparently, which doesn’t explain why it has largely gepinkled it down for the last few months. Nonetheless the hills to the north are terraced with vines growing on them, and every village has a fairly large wine cooperative. The vineyards are terraced and every bit of land is used, long fingers of land pointing out into the sky.

The wine wholesalers and bottling plants get bigger until a massive concrete bunker announces the edge of Breisach. This is the regional wholesaler and has all the charm of a nuclear bunker. Fortunately Breisach recovers pretty quickly and the centre is a very pretty place, with the old town standing on its own bonsai volcano right against the Rhine river.

These two facts of course meant it was very handy real estate for anyone in France or Germany with territorial ambitions. You know how it is: you aren’t actually at war but you may need this bit of high ground if you did end up in a war, so you start a war to make sure you’ve got it, just in case. As a result it has been burned down and occupied several times.

In keeping with my general principles regarding hills, I’ve been to Breisach many times but I’d never climbed the hill in the centre. This time I’d decided to find out what was up there.

The summit features a the Minster of St. Stephen, which is visible from a very long way away, but seen close up is smaller than some parish churches.

I found myself watching a pair of kestrels feeding their young on the roof of a house below, and talking with a Sri-Lankan German who gets a mention here by having immense taste and discernment; he said my bike looked cool. He switched to English when he realised I was from the UK; he has many happy memories of holidays in England, although he always ended up spending his spare cash in the Indian restaurant, because he didn’t like British food “They gave me beans in tomato sauce; for Breakfast…“.

The summit of the hill used to be the centre of Breisach until one army or another ransacked the place and they rather sensibly rebuilt the market and associated buildings down to the plain. In the days of the hilltop centre water supply was obviously a preoccupation and this tower housed the town pump, which was apparently operated by a treadmill. It also housed the town jail and torture chamber.

Back down on the plain I headed north between the Rhine and the Kaiserstühl again. If I had a hankering to take the direct route back to my apartment, I could go straight up that hill and down the other side. I doubt it would be any quicker than going around though.

The villages change here and feel more isolated; we’re away from the Freiburg suburbs and into the rural Breisgau region, historically more isolated and cut off from Freiburg by the Kaiserstühl itself. We’re also so close to the French border that I was frequently closer to a French mobile phone mast than a German one, so I’d get messages “welcoming” me into France. The villages seemed to agree with the phone company and took on a distinctly French feel.

All of these villages are also surrounded by vineyards: it must have been a relief when the railway came in 1895 so they could transport it to other places and didn’t have to drink it all up themselves.

Now crossing to the north of the hills, I wandered through a couple more postcard worthy villages before deciding that instead of taking the rather indirect cycleway I’d risk the road. I hadn’t cycled on a main road for a very long time, and there was no cycle lane, but It was in the middle of nowhere, and it was mid morning on Sunday; as usual the only people up appeared to have gone to church. Also it was only 4k so what could go wrong?

Nothing much as it happened: I was passed by very few cars who generally gave me plenty of space, and arrived in Endingen faster than usual.

Endingen is the centre for the north of the Kaiserstühl, as Breisgau is the centre for the south, except that being more isolated it’s a fair bit smaller. It’s one of those really pretty towns in Germany that would be famous, except that there are about twenty similar towns nearby. It also belonged to Austria for some time because… reasons something something, someone died, Hapsburg Monarchy. If you just change the names this sums up history for a lot of regions of south Germany.

Oh, and surprise surprise, it also makes wine.

It was also rather busy; either people wake up earlier there or I was meeting the Sunday tourists coming the other way.

The next section after Endingen always comes as a surprise. Endingen has the feel of an isolated rural market town, but it’s a fairly short hop the next town of Riegel, which is completely different. Riegel is perched right on the corner of the north east corner of the Kaiserstühl massif, the hills disappear and suddenly we are in the “main” part of the valley again, with fast roads and trains to Freiburg.

It’s also a startlingly short hop from my apartment: after leaving the touristy centre and a cut through an industrial estate (featuring a large stable and horse accessory wholesaler which shows a lot about local requirements), I was back on the river path following a dead straight route back to my village. I arrived about twenty minutes later feeling like I’d teleported back in to normality…

On the other hand I’d just cycled 60k for the first time in a while but I didn’t feel like my legs were about to drop off, which was nice. If it doesn’t get stupidly hot next week I may just be a bit more adventurous, maybe even involving hills…