Iron Curtain Recycled as Bike Trail

The shadow of a splintered Europe is now a sun-dappled, cross-continent bike path


A generation since Soviet Communism came apart, anyone can trace its Western seam by bike (and on foot) along the Iron Curtain Trail. Offering a beautiful, poignant route through Central Europe with historical landmarks along the way, this soon-to-be-revamped bike trail is becoming a popular destination for visitors to — and residents on — both sides.

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Following old patrol roads along the former border of the Eastern Bloc, the trail is a 4,225-mile network of bike paths that stretches from the Barents Sea to the Baltic Coast. Inspired by the popular trail along the Berlin Wall, the route is designed to follow the old border as closely as possible, avoiding major roads in favor of historic sites such as Iron Curtain victims’ monument in Cheb, Czech Republic, and the Point Alpha US watchtower in Thuringia. In recent years, support from the European Union allowed organizers to rehabilitate the trails and install historical markers along them.

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Thanks to the continued efforts of German Green MEP Michael Cramer and his recent collaboration with Austrian EU commissioner Johannes Hahn, just-announced new financing from the EU will enable completion of the route’s planned 6,000 miles and bring this amenity into focus for cyclists worldwide. As the Guardian reports, €1.8m of EU funds have been set aside for improving the trail’s infrastructure and promoting it among would-be cycle tourists; although the route has been included in the EU’sEuroVelo networksince 2012, it hasn’t yet drawn many more than the most ambitious cyclists.

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However, with the release of a new brochure and plans to mark the route with blue squares already found along north-east German and Czech sections, Cramer and other EU figures hope to make the trail a feature destination in Europe’s growing cycle tourism industry. As Michael Hutchinson, a former competitive cyclist and and current bike tourist, explained, the Iron Curtain Trail zigs and zags but stays relatively flat, missing the Alps entirely: “[w]e racers are always looking for hills. But the flatness of the route means it might actually be doable for hobby cyclists too.”

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Images: NY Times, EuroVelo, Tourism Review, Český rozhlas

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