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The Kelten Erlebnisweg (KEW) is a long distance walking Trail. It starts in Meiningen in the former DDR and ends in Bad Windsheim in Bavaria. It is about 256 kilometer long.
When walking this Trail you get a good impression of this part of Germany and its history. It is a pleasant Trail with few demanding sections. Accommodation along the Trail is usually widely available and affordable but most are a few kilometer away from the Trail.
The Trail runs on unpaved roads through forest and fields, but also on quiet paved roads. The name implies a strong connection between the Trail and Celtic history. Along the Trail not much of this history is visible and most of the Celtic history lies buried or artifacts are only visible in museums. As far as I could find, the region the Trail passes through does not have a special significance to the Celtic history in general. But it gives the Trail a nice and catching name.
On the other hand the Trail passes through an area with many historic sights and it is littered with old castles and ruins, fortified churches and villages and you cross the former Iron Curtain. Part of the Trail runs through the former DDR, evidence of which is rapidly fading away.
The Trail itself appears to be designed to visit as much of these sights as possible and because of this, it sometimes meanders though the countryside. Major parts of the Trail pass through forest which is not always attractive. Because of this, the Trail as described in this guide deviates at places from the original KEW.
These sections are not marked but the Trail description makes them easy to follow.
The Trail is marked with a sign that depicts a Fibula with a birds head. It represents a fibula dating from 450 BCE that was found near the Trail. In general the Trail is adequately marked, but sometimes only just. In the Northern part, in Thüringen, there are even a few gaps in the markings. Leaving Thüringen, in the nature park Hassberge things get much better.
In the South, in the Steigerwald, large sections of the Trail run parallel to other Trails and it appears that the policy is not to mark the Trail as an independent Trail alongside the others but to make clear that the Trail happens to come along.
On some sections narrow tracks are difficult to see, especially in autumn with leaves covering the track. However these sections are well marked (mostly by the other Trails) so when careful this is not a problem. When following the Trail do not rely solely on the markings of the other Trails since some, after a while, go their own way.
Because of the way the Trail is marked, being able to read the maps in this Guide is an advantage. Because of this and because the length of the Trail it is less suitable for a first long distance Trail.
Speaking some German is an advantage since you will meet few people who will speak English. Because the Trail often passes through fields and forest and small villages you will, at times, meet few people.
The Trail starts in Meiningen, one of the major towns on the Trail and famous for its opera haus where major operas are regularly preformed. Meiningen houses a large workshop for overhauling steam locomotives.
The original Trail starts at the local castle. In this guide I skip this section and start the Trails at the local railway station. This because finding a Trail in a town is often difficult and because the town itself warrants a more thorough visit that the first 1.5 kilometer of the Trail has to offer.
One of my favorite places to visit does not have anything to do with the culture: when visiting Meiningen I go straight to the Sachsen cafe; they have wonderful pastries there!! It is not far from the railway station.
Accommodation should not be much of a problem; there are plenty of hotels and pensions. The more luxurious ones are west of the railway station. The more affordable ones are to the east of the station. Recently a hostel has opened in a former police school; it offers basic accommodation. There is also a campsite.
When you arrive by car it should be possible to park your car near the railway station but be careful, some places come with a parking meter.
From the railway station it is uphill for some kilometer. The Trail starts at about 300 meter and in 9 kilometer it ascents to 730 meters. So my advice is not to start too ambitious on your first day. This highest point is situated on the Dolmar hill. You find a hotel there and a good view over the surrounding countryside. Since early history this hill has been a focus point for the surrounding areas and there are signs of defensive activities. The name itself implies that once sacrifices were made here; Dolmen is offering in Celtic.
Just before starting the ascent of Dolmar hill you arrive at the local flying club (www.flugschule-dolmar.de). To the left of this airfield there used to be a Soviet military base and shooting range. There are still warnings to keep out of this area because of mines and other explosives. The flying club has accommodations for their activities, but you are also welcome. These accommodations can also be used after descending this hill.
Kühndorf is the next village to visit and has a nice castle, the Johanniterburg; it was built around 1300, but unfortunately it is not open to the public. From Kühndorf the Trail leads to Rohr.
Rohr houses the oldest church, the Michaelskirche, in Thüringen. It started as a Benedict monastery but is now a parish church. As with many churches along the Trail this is a fortified church surrounded by a high defensive wall. During times of trouble people found shelter behind its wall. Before passing through the gate of this wall, in the garden of the house to the right of this gate, there is a sign that Paul König was born here. During WW 1 Paul König was captain of a merchant submarine who made two journeys from Germany to the US. The submarine made it possible to pass the blockade imposed by the English navy. During the two journeys the submarine transported rare materials to the US and it returned with strategic materials for the German war effort.
Vachdorf is the next village along the Trail. It houses another fortified church. It is also the location of two large EKO agricultural communities. These are running the local bakeries and butchers. One of the communities also runs the local Hotel.
Along the first section of the Trail you come upon several very large farms. After the Wende, after the end of the DDR, large government run farms were transformed into privately run agricultural communities. Because of their large size, most of these farms are healthy enterprises.
A striking feature is that between villages the landscape is empty; nobody lives between the villages. When you use Google earth to compare the rural area of this part of Germany to parts of Spain, France or the Netherlands this becomes even more visible. Sometimes you pass through larger villages that have some facilities to offer. However, often the villages are not more than a collection of farms with only a schützen halle from the local rifle association as a collective building. Considering the wars that were fought during the centuries it appears logical that people choose to stick together for protection and support.
Jüchsen is somewhat difficult to reach because of a large gap in the marking of the KEW leading to this village. The Trail description offers directions. Jüchsen has a local museum (opening hours are not very conducive for a visit) and has useful facilities.
From Jüchsen the Trail passes the archeological site of Widderstatt. Already in the Bronze Age this was the location of a large settlement whose people were not only working in agriculture but also as craftsmen and traders. Later this settlement disappeared. Many interesting artifacts have been found here.
Wachenbrunn is the location of the former radio station Voice of Russia. Programs were recorded in Russia but broadcasted from this location. The antennas used to dominate the skyline. When I was walking on the Trail in 2013 I was about to mention the antennas as a landmark along the Trail but the next day I could not find them; they had been demolished.
Beinerstadt is reached on a paved road; the first time I walked the KEW was in 2007 and then this road used to be a gravel one. Since Die Wende many gravel roads along the KEW have been paved.
St. Bernhard is a small village just a few kilometer from Beinerstadt. Interesting while passing through these villages is that they have a sort of local public address system. When you look around you can see loudspeakers. Some of them appear to be old but when I asked about them they are still used.
During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), because of plundering and requisition of food and materials, these villages almost ceased to exist.
Dingsleben also suffered during this war; before the war it had about 315 inhabitants, after the war just 2. The village has some very fine timber framed houses.
From this village the KEW continues to a hill that dominates the surrounding countryside; the Kleinen Gleigberg. On its foot a burial mount was discovered and excavated. Near this burial mount you find a sculptured face on a wooden pole, appropriately named 'Schwarzen Stock' (black stick); it is a boundary marker.
On top of the Kleinen Gleichberg was a Celtic fortified settlement. Material from the defensive walls was later used as building material for roads. During excavations of the settlement many artifacts were found. Most of these can be seen in the Steinburgmuseum on the other side of the Kleiner Gleichberg. After passing this museum the Trail continues on the Großer Gleichberg. Along the way it passes a Hospital for alcohol and drugs dependent persons.
Römhild is not on the Trail but because of its accommodations and other facilities it is a town that many will visit. It has a castle that now functions as a local museum. The cemetery houses a memorial for foreign nationals who during WW2 were forced to work in Germany but died during the war.
Milz is the first of many villages along the Trail that is entered through a gate. It has a nice fortified church and a large agricultural community. Leaving Milz you pass a sign telling about the life near the border (in German). The Trail soon crosses the former border of the DDR. Not much of this border is visible, only a watchtower in the distance.
Crossing the border, the Trail enters the Hassberge district of Bayern or Bavaria. Bayern is the largest German state; only the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen has more inhabitants.
When going through villages I often visit the local church, most are open to visitors. Most villages have only one church; either catholic or protestant. The difference in interior is striking. I visited many catholic churches in Spain, India, the Netherlands, Belgium and France and expected the catholic churches in Germany to be more sober. This is not the case and the German churches are among the most colorful. The protestant churches on the other hand are very bare and plain.
Passing through the small village of Herbstadt, the Trail reaches Bad Köningshofen.
Bad Köningshofen is well known for its Spa, hence the name; which also makes it is a (local) tourist attraction. It has accommodation and it has a nice square. Some members of the Roter Armee Fraction went to school here.
Großeibstadt is the next village along the Trail. It is entered through a gate and known for its historic burial mounts dating from about 600 BCE and from the Hallstatt culture. Among the artifacts found in these burial mounts is a historic cart.
On the way to Kleinbardorf the Trail passes near a small aerodrome which also has a restaurant. The Trail skirts the village
of Kleinbardorf. This village is the location of a small water castle. Overlooking Kleinbardorf is a Jewish cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in Bavaria. Situated in an old ring wall it once housed about 20.000 gravestones. Over the years many of these gravestones have sunk in the earth and now only 4400 are visible. The cemetery was used between 1574 and 1938 for the burial of members of the Jewish community in the vicinity of Kleinbardorf. It is a steep climb to reach its location.
Sulzfeld has a small recreational lake and a campsite. From Sulzfeld the Trail continues mainly through forest. A few kilometer out of Sulzfeld the Trail passes the ruin of Ruine Wilberg. Build around 1200 it was destroyed during the Farmers revolt in 1525. The farmer's revolt was a large peasant revolt in Central Europe against their rulers on social/economical issues.
Later the Trail passes the Schwedenschanz; Schanze means a fortified position and it defended a intersection. At this place there is a lookout tower with a good view.
The Trail skirts the village of Eichelsdorf, shortly after passing this village you pass
Landschaftspark Bettenburg, a small park, built in 1789, with several follies.
Goßmannsdorf is a village with a nice fortified church.
A few kilometer past Goßmannsdorf the Trail passes along the foot of the Ostheimer Hügel; it is of volcanic origins. Notice narrow parcels of land leading to the top. From here the Trail passes through agricultural land for a change.
Königsberg in Bayern is skirted by the Trail but this town merits a small detour for a visit. It was burnt twice during the thirty year war in the early 17th century so it is an ensemble of wood frame houses from the 17th and 18th century.
Zeil am Main is a little town on the bank of the Main River. Already in prehistoric times people settled at this location. In the early 17th century there were many witch prosecutions in the town, an estimated 400 persons were executed. One of the mayors of the town carefully kept track on these executions but when he reached the 138th case the record stopped; he himself was accused and burned. An invasion of a Schwedish army passing through the region put an abrupt end to the witch hunt. A few years ago a small documentation center was opened with information on witch hunting in Zeil am Main.
During the course of the many wars in the history of Europe between France, Germany and Austria, Zeil am Main was used as a place for rest or through fare for the various armies.
In the region of Zeil am Main the first vineyards are encountered; for the rest of the journey the vineyards will be noticeable along the Trail.
In the recent history the Main used to be a shallow river. With the introduction of steam engines the river was too shallow to use propellers. To solve this problem a very heavy chain was laid on the bottom of the Main. Tugs were fitted out with a special contraption so that they could use the chain to pull them and a couple of barges up and down the river. Later canalization made the
river more navigable for regular propulsion.
Crossing the main the Trail enters the Steigerwald district. Sand am Main is on the other side of the Main River. Wine production is of major importance and also tourism. The name Sand originates from the Sand stone that used to be quarried here. From Sand am Main the Trail crosses a highway and then climbs a hill, part of the Steigerwald, through forest. Going downhill it reaches Zell am Ebersberg. After passing through this wine orientated village it is uphill again. Here the Trail meets the Steigerwald Panorama Weg, another walking trail. From here the two Trails run parallel, for most of the way to Bad Windsheim.
The Trail passes below the Schlosberg, once the location of a castle. After destruction during the Farmers revolt and later again during the 30 year war, the ruins of the castle were used as a supply for building houses in the village; hence there is little evidence the castle ever stood here.
Passing through forest the Trail passes one of the very few solitary farms on the way, Neuhaus. Later it passes through the village of Eschenau. From Eschenau the Trail continues through fields to the village of Oberschwappach. At Oberschwappach you find a castle with the same name. Once a monastery, it now houses a restaurant, a museum and a cultural center.
After passing the village of Wohnau the Trail continues uphill and into forest. On top of a hill you reach the remnants of an old fort, once the strongest fort in the region. However, it was destroyed during the farmer's revolt in 1525 but later rebuilt. Now only the ruins remain. Stones from this fort were used to build a church nearby. After eastern a small kiosk is open here that offers drinks and snacks. After passing Zabelstein you pass a large antenna, once used by the American armed forces.
Prüßerg is a small village the Trail on the way to Michelau were there are some accommodations. And then Handthal on the way to Ebrach.
Ebrach is a large village and is well known for its former Abbey and its garden. Guided tours are available for part of the former abbey; the rest of the abbey serves as a prison. In the church of the Abby the hearts of about 30 bishops of the diocese of Würzburg are buried; other parts of their bodies were buried elsewhere; their entrails in Marienburg and the rest in Würzburg Cathedral.
From Ebrach the Trail continues through fields and forest to the hamlet of Kleingressingen and then Gräfenneuses. This last village is part of the municipality of Geiselwind, a somewhat larger village. Although the Trail does not pass through this village it has a nice legend. During the 30 year war the village was besieged by a Swedish army. The major of the village wanted to prevent damage and plundering of the village so he went to see the Swedish general. Arriving at lunchtime the general was not inclined to negotiate. He said: Like I am eating this sausage I will devour your village. But just as he said these words, a cat appeared and snatched the sausage and ran away. The story goes that Geiselwind was not taken after that; either because the General kept his word or that the defenders were bolstered by this omen.
The Trail now continues on a ridge of hills through forest which are part of the Steigerwald. Because of the forest you miss the nice views that could be had from these hills. Along the Trail, villages are rare and for accommodation you have to make a detour to a village at the bottom of the hills.
Passing through forest you reach the former hunting lodge Friedrichsberg; unfortunately privately owned and not open to visitors. In this region there are several quarries from which limestone for construction was mined.
Castell is on the Trail and the influence of the vineyards on the landscape is clearly visible. Castell houses a large castle, the home of the count of Castell. The family of the count of Castell also own the Castell Bank, the first bank of Bavaria. From Castell the Trail passes through vineyards, uphill and later through woods. It passes near the Schwanberg. Easily defended because of its steep slopes, it has been a refuge over the centuries. A defensive wall and ditch, probably build around 1200 before Christ, is still visible. In more recent times a large castle was build here and later a large garden created. Now the castle and some new additions is the home of an Evangelic Sister order. It offers retreats and also accommodation.
For the next kilometers the Trail does not pass any villages. The Trail continues mostly through forest and passes another location of a castle but this time only a ruin remains. This is the ruin of Speckfeld. It was destroyed during the farmer's revolt. Rebuilt and then destroyed again during the 30 year war. The owner then built a new castle in one of the villages nearby and the site was used for obtaining building material. Now the remains houses some bat colonies.
In this region there are some large white buildings; chances are that these are part of the Knauf industry which produces, among other things, plaster. It is located in this region because of the lime deposits that are found here.
Hellmitzheim and the next village the Trail passes through, Dornheim, was mostly destroyed by artillery and bombing during the last month of the Second World War.
After passing through Dornheim the KEW makes a long detour through forest. The purpose of this detour is not clear, in the German guide no details or points of interest are given. Because of this and to avoid walking through forest again, the Trail deviates from the original KEW at this point. The Trail continues through fields and later alongside forest with a nice view over the surrounding countryside. This section is a few kilometer shorter, not marked but easy to follow and avoids walking along a busy road. The Kew and this Trail join for a short stretch in Nenzenheim, a small village which surprisingly has a small supermarket and a cash machine!
Schloß Frankenberg, close to the Trail, is one of the few castles along the Trail that is still standing. There is a large garden near the castle and it offers accommodation. However, this accommodation is beyond the price range of this guide. Near the castle is the ruin of another castle.
The next few kilometer pass through forest. Leaving the forest you pass through the hamlet of Wüstphül and then the village
of Herbolzheim, one of the few villages along the Trail with a protestant and a catholic church. Crossing hills the Trail, now for the last time, enters a short stretch of forest and arrives at the small village of Oberntief. From here it is just a few kilometer to Bad Windsheim, the destination of the Trail.
Bad Windsheim as the name implies has a large Spa. The explorer Steller; one of the first scientists to visit Alaska, was born in Bad Windsheim. The town has a large open-air museum.
When to go
It is best to plan your walk between the beginning of April and the end of October; the temperatures are good for walking with little chance of snow, available hours of daylight are adequate for covering a useful distance and most campsites are open during this period. Walking the Trail in winter is not recommended because of chances of snow and inclement weather.
How much time to allow
The Trail is approximately 256 kilometer long. Most, but not all, accommodations are close to the Trail. To reach accommodation you may have to walk a few extra kilometer which can add another 30 kilometer to the total journey.
How many days it will take to complete the Trail depends on the kind of walk you have in mind, your physical condition, and the pack you are carrying. For a relaxed walk (remember you are on a holiday!!), for a person in regular physical condition, carrying normal luggage for overnight stays in hotels or pensions, allow for 12 to 15 days.
What to bring
What to bring depends on the conditions on the Trail, the weather conditions, and the type of accommodation available. Below are some factors to consider when making your packing list.
Emergencies: Accidents and otherinconveniences do happen. Of course it is impossible to prepare for everypossible situation but I suggest you bring a basic first-aid kit and some knowledgeon first aid.
Also bring a thermometer, a space blanket, a painkiller like paracetamol, a pocket knife and a tick remover (see last section of
the introduction). For obtaining help, carry a whistle and a torch. Your mobile phone can be very useful for obtaining help. The number to dial for emergency service is 112.
Condition of the Trail: Most of the Trail is on paved and unpaved roads through forest and meadows. Only short stretches are on tracks. Walking or hiking boots are rarely essential. However, boots can be practical because some stretches tend to be muddy. In general, European class A/B walking shoes or boots will do, but consider a class B if carrying a heavier pack. In dry weather most of the Trail can be walked in sturdy walking sandals.
Drinking water: Tap water is drinkable in Germany. Bottled mineral water is available but along the Trail shops are far between.
Since you will often be passing villages there is no need to carry a large supply of water, but remember to carry/drink more on a hot day.
Food: Many villages do not have facilities in the form of a restaurant or shops. On some long stretches the Trail passes no village at all. Shops are closed on Sundays. Restaurants or hotels might have a closing day and few pensions provide dinner, so prepare to take food along.
When you keep things simple, a two-course lunch or dinner at a simple hotel or restaurant will cost around 11 Euros, excluding
Breakfast: Breakfast is usually part of the accommodation. Unless you are camping or staying in a Ferienwohnung, you do not have to worry about your breakfast. In most accommodations the breakfast is elaborate enough to make a lunch parcel; some even provide plastic bags for this purpose.
Snacks and Lunch: When lucky you start of with a lunch parcel in your pack. But to be on the safe side, take enough food with you to last a few days. Make ration packs, each containing enough food to last you one day. When it is cold, take extra food to give you energy to keep warm. The nicest thing is to get a quiche or a small pizza from a bakery or shop in the morning and save it for lunchtime. Most restaurants are closed at lunchtime. During the weekend you pass some snack bars along the Trail
Dinner: Dinner can be found at restaurants or at the hotel where you are staying. Few pensions provide dinner but some have kitchen facilities.
When walking from pension to pension I usually buy a ready-prepared meal at a supermarket. In the evening there is often a microwave available for heating this meal.
Weather: Germany has a mild climate with usually fine weather for walking. There is some sunshine, some clouds and a chance of some rain. However, during a day the weather can change and a sunny morning can be followed by rain in the afternoon. If you are lucky you can have a spell of beautiful weather and with bad luck you can have rain almost every day.
Long stretches of the Trail pass through forest, providing shelter against the sun and some protection during inclement weather.
Considering the average weather in Germany, bring serious rain protection and when walking in winter bring proper protection
against the cold. Do not forget a hat for protection against the sun. While the Trail can be walked the whole year, I do not recommend walking the Trail when there is snow.
There are different categories of accommodation on or near the Trail. Compared to the other Trails of Walking Trails of the World the price of accommodation along the Kelten Erlebnisweg is low.
On page 82 - 85, in the Trail and Accommodation planner, you will find the available accommodation on and along the Trail. The distance on and from the Trail is given, making it easy to plan your trip. Accommodations mentioned are also indicated on the map and when an accommodation is away from the Trail, a description is given how to get there.
In general only accommodations within 2.5 kilometer from the Trail are included. Accommodations that cost more than €80 per night for 1 person are not included.
Hotels: There are several hotels on or close to the Trail. However, without long detours it is not possible to walk the entire Trail using Hotels and you would need a large budget to do the Trail this way. Prices range from about 40 to 60 Euros per night; sometimes without the breakfast. Bring your credit card!!
Pensions: These are mostly of the Bed and Breakfast type. This is a pleasant way to do the KEW and there are enough of them to do the whole Trail this way. Expect to pay between 20 and 40 Euros per person, but sometimes higher.
Often it is also possible to rent a Ferienwohnung, a holiday cottage, for one night. It gives you even better facilities but without the breakfast. Travelling with two persons this is usually a bargain. However check the price beforehand, staying for one night in a Ferienwohnung is not always appreciated and extra cleaning charges might apply. For a Pension or a Ferienwohnung the bill is paid in cash.
Campsites: Campsites are not widely available and Wild camping is not permitted in Germany
Youth Hostels: There are a few Youth Hostels and Youth Hostel-like accommodations available along the Trail. When travelling alone, these facilities are slightly cheaper than a pension. When travelling with two persons this price advantage is often negated because they charge per person.
Booking: To becertain of a bed at the end of the day, my advice to book at least one dayahead. When making a reservation, write down or mark the accommodation you havebooked! This will save you confusion or even embarrassment the next day.
Other facilities along the Trail
Shops: Since some shops are in small villages opening times vary but most are
closed on Sunday. Shops are indicated on the map.
Banks: Most (but not all) of the larger villages on or alongside the Trail have ATM's (Automated Teller Machine). Be sure your bank supports this system abroad! The ATM's are indicated on the map.
In the Appendix is a map with available bus and railway lines.
Bus: Along the Trail are several bus lines and most villages can be reached by bus. Most lines are orientated on when the schools are open and services are limited.
During the weekend and holidays, services are even more limited, if they run at all.
Train: With a train station at Meiningen and at Bad Windsheim, the start and finish of the Trail are easily reached. Along the Trail there are a few train stops and for some you have to make a detour. Some villages have a bus connection to a railway station. For shorter distances, consider taking a taxi as an alternative for public transport.
Animals along the Trail.
Wildlife: Along the Trail you are likely to spot some deer; chances are that they are more afraid of you than the other way around. I have seen signs of boar but never seen one. When you spot boar, keep your distance especially when they have piglets.
Once while staying in a pension its chickens were attacked by a bird of prey. The chicken were in an enclosure so there was no danger, but for the rest of the day they stayed inside!!
Cattle: Only once the Trail went through a field of cattle, but it was possible to walk around this.
Dogs and Cats: Guard dogs are usually chained or keep to the area they are guarding; they will bark!! Of course you encounter cats; some villages have them and then usually many of them while some villages do not have them at all.
Horsefly: This is probably the most annoying animal that you will encounter. During the right?! season and at some spots you will encounter a lot of them; take plenty of insect repellents.
The Trail passes through an area where the tick transmitted Früh-Sommer-Meningo-Enzephalitis (FSME) / Tick-Borne Encephalitis
(TBE) is endemic; a serious and sometimes fatal disease. When you visit this region often, consider vaccination. Ticks also transmit Lyme disease.
The Trail often passes through grass and low bushes; a habitat for ticks. An active prevention of tick bites is recommended:
- Wear clothing with long sleeves and long pants
- Wear your pants inside your socks
- Wear light clothing so ticks can be spotted
- Use an insect repellant
- Check you body for ticks
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