maandag 4 januari 2016

Following the trail of coal and iron

A boarded up signalman house, some with graffiti daubed carriages, some forgotten semaphores, and a disused railway station. Silent memories of the old glory days of a railway track. You pass them along the Vennbahn cycle route.

Former Raeren station

Raeren is a German-speaking community in Belgium, halfway between Aachen and Monschau. Here you will find the remains of an old railway line, the Vennbahn. Today it is a 125 km long cycle route between Aachen and Troisvierges, which follows the original railway line fairly accurately.

For coal and iron
The Vennbahn was an important logistical link between the industrial area around Aachen and the steel plants in Luxembourg. From 1889, coal went from north to south and iron in the opposite direction. Until World War I, the trains ran day and night. In addition, the railway was also used for passenger transport.

The railway became an issue in border disputes between Belgium and Germany, with the result that there still are five German enclaves along the track. During World War II, the railway was badly damaged, especially in St. Vith.

Now, the Vennbahn is a beautiful tourist cycle route, partly on gravel, with very little traffic. The Vennbahn is part of the RAVeL cycling network in Wallonia (L48 and L47), which was built on old railway tracks. As the paths meander along the contour lines as much as possible, there are little steep slopes in the routes. So you can cycle through a hilly area relatively easy.
The Vennbahn leads past villages and towns where once there was a station. Only at the starting point Aachen-Rothe Erde and at the endpoint, Troisvierges in Luxembourg, you can still get on the train.

Until 1850, Raeren was the stronghold of the potters in the Rhine area. In the 16th century, there were more than 50 potters. Pottery from Raeren found its way all over the world via Cologne. There is a pottery museum in Raeren.
The population of Raeren has opposed the arrival of the railway with the result that the station was constructed far from the village.

During World War II, on September 12, 1944, US soldiers, among whom the writer Ernest Hemingway, reached Germany in Roetgen. However, before the Third Reich came to an end, the region had to endure the Battle of the Bulge.

A visit to the tourist town of Monschau involves a considerable descent from the Vennbahn and later on a heavy climb back to the route. In the 17th century, this town flourished thanks to the textile industry, which peaked between 1765 and 1790. Monschau then became a brand name for textile. Mechanization, changes in political conditions, and new fashion led to a crisis. The Vennbahn came too late to save the textile industry and in 1908 the last textile factory in Monschau closed.

Former Sourbrodt station

The station at Sourbrodt was built as a showpiece of the Vennbahn. For the inhabitants of this village the Vennbahn was a major employer.

Freiherr-von-Korff overpass at Born

In the village of Born we find a 285 m long viaduct with eleven arches, which dates from 1916. This bridge was built during World War I for a branch of the Vennbahn to Vielsalm, which was put out of use after World War II.

Burg-Reuland Castle

Near Burg-Reuland the Vennbahn offers a nice view on the castle, which dates from the Middle Ages. Reuland lies on the road between St. Vith and Luxembourg, a strategic location when the stagecoach was still an important means of transport. Along with the Vennbahn the first tourists came to Reuland by the end of the 19th century.

On November 5, 1889, Troisvierges greeted the first train from Aachen. The train journey took four hours (in 1924). The use of the Vennbahn track was completely terminated in 2001, after several years of tourist use. Nowadays, the bicycle is popular for enjoying the scenery along the Vennbahn.

Question: which long-distance cycle routes can you recommend?

More information about the Vennbahn: 
More information about the RAVeL cycling network: 
This blog post is a repost of my (Dutch) August 31, 2015 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.