The forbidding-sounding name of the Iron Curtain Trail belies a mostly rural, unhurried route along the former border between West and East Germany.
The notion of a cycle route following the frontier of the Eastern Bloc was conceived by a German green politician, and it’s here in Germany that the trail has the starkest reminders of the frontier that once divided Europe. Many of the border posts have been preserved and there are frequent memorials to those who died trying to escape the East. But perhaps the main legacy is that so much of the surrounding area is underdeveloped and unspoilt: you’ll spend days in the saddle where you barely pass through a settlement of 1000 people.
The southern section, following the border between Bavaria and Thuringia, is without doubt the most picturesque and also the hilliest. Climbs on little-travelled roads through the Rhön mountains are rewarded with views over deep forest. Once you’ve passed over the Harz mountains and into Saxony it becomes much easier if less dramatic. Finally, after Lübeck, you can join the Baltic Coast route for an easy, level pedal beside the sea.
Point Alpha is the best known Iron Curtain site. Not just any observation post, it overlooked the Fulda Gap where it was popularly believed any invasion would come. Soviet and US forces were stationed just a few hundred metres from each other. EV13 passes right by it as part of its passage through the Rhön: there’s a fascinating museum and a reconstructed section of frontier. (And e-bike charging facilities!)
Not all of the route is signed and there are significant unpaved sections, which will be ok on a touring bike but not ideal for skinny tyres. It’s roughly 50-50 on/off-road, which means more road riding than the EuroVelo river routes, but generally the road sections are quiet and well chosen.