In the Middle Ages, robber barons besieged the trade routes along the Elm. And, in the 19th century, the audacious robber chief Rose and his band committed thefts in the communities in the Lappwald region. We explore the area by bike.
Fortunately, things are a bit quieter and safer in the forests and on the hills near Helmstedt and Königslutter today. We set out by bike to double-check for ourselves and explore this beautiful and varied region.
The Elm-Lappwald Nature Park extends over an incredible 470 square kilometres – which equates to over 65,000 football pitches. Luckily, the landscape is much more attractive than a mowed sports pitch: there are four mountain ranges here, the largest beech wood in northern Germany, and the Drömling and Mittlere Schunter nature reserves, to name just two of the total of 13 nature reserves in the Helmstedt district. Nature is cared for and is a top priority in the Helmstedt district. A new geopark sponsoring association founded just back in 2016 and a central information centre for the FEMO association (Freilicht- und Erlebnismuseum Ostfalen e.V., or Ostfalen Open-Air and Adventure Museum) was set up in a typical half-timbered house in Königslutter.
This unique natural world is best explored by bike. We can recommend five different tours in particular:
1. Elmkreisel (Elm circle) – the difficult version
Even the very first tour challenges our riding skills. We have set out by mountain bike into northern Germany’s largest beech forest – in search of the early inhabitants of the Elm region.
Soon after the descent into Schöningen, we notice that the mountain range is now largely uninhabited. Trails take us past the springs of Goldquellenhütte, Schunterquelle and Osterspring to Lutterspring. Our sole companions: birdsong and the sound of our tyres on the soft ground.
At Lutterspring, we stop for a bit to watch the bubbling water. The total of seven springs with an output of an average of 230 litres of water per second are among the strongest in northern Germany.
In Königslutter, we pay a visit to the mighty Emperor Lothar lime tree behind the Kaiserdom, or Imperial Cathedral. The emperor is said to have personally issued orders to plant the tree in 1135.
But back to the trail. A long ascent up the Drachenberg – the third highest peak in the Elm – gets us out of breath. Our efforts are rewarded with a rapid descent into romantic Reitlingstal vallley.
At Rittergut Lucklum manor, we take a further break and enjoy the peace of the picturesque little village before tackling the highest mountain in the Elm, the Eilumer Horn (323 metres). At the summit cross, we enter our names in the summit register, then head downhill – much more quickly this time.
At Tetzelstein, the next stopping point, we have to conquer a few more metres of elevation. Trail and gravel sections then head past the burial mounds and the Elmsburg historical site back towards Schöningen. We don’t encounter any living knights or robber barons. Just their more or less well-preserved dwellings.
Length: 76 kilometres
Ascents: 1,350 metres elevation
Condition: 5% asphalt, 60% gravel, 35% paths
2. FEMO-Nord tour – through Dorm and Lutterheide
We now want to take a cycling tour of Lutterheide – with a few detours on foot. As a result, our equipment also includes sturdy footwear.
We start in Königslutter and head towards the Findlingsgarten (boulder garden) set up by FEMO (Ostfalen Open-Air and Adventure Museum). We are amazed by boulders in a recreated Ice Age landscape before we continue cycling to Rieseberg. We now find ourselves in a charming landscape. Meadows with sandy grasslands alternate with pine forests that release their fragrance in the sun: we have arrived in Lutterheide.
We discover more about Lutterheide and its botanical features on a short walk along the Rieseberg geology and forest adventure path. We now continue cycling via Rotenkamp and through Boimstorfer Sundern to the spot where the Uhrau stream joins the Schunter River A viewing platform here offers a view over the Lutterlandbruch nature reserve and the Schunter floodplains.
On the way to Groß Steinum, we take a detour to the megalithic tomb on Dorm Mountain. The reconstructed monument is around 5,500 years old. At the Bockshornklippe, a legendary rock formation in Groß Steinum, we discover that the quartzite blocks found here were the ideal building material for megalithic tombs.
This is also the start of the Dorm geology/nature adventure path, a further FEMO tour. We immerse ourselves in the secrets of the Earth’s history on foot and discover the flora and fauna of the hilly deciduous forest.
We cycle back to Königslutter via Rottorf and end the day by visiting the central information office of the Braunschweiger Land Geopark. It’s well-hidden in a half-timbered house between the town hall and town church.
Length: 27 kilometres
Ascents: 140 metres elevation
Condition: 50% asphalt, 45% gravel, 5% paths
3. Heeseberg route – over mountains and through valleys to find the flowering Adonis
The unique landscape around Heeseberg in the south of the Helmstedt region is now on the agenda. The biggest challenge awaits us right at the start of the tour: we start at Warberg Castle and have to scale the heights of the Elm. At 300 metres above sea level, the Haukhütte is the highest point on the tour.
As we arrive at the edge of the forest, we halt our rapid descent to enjoy the view. Before us lies the Große Bruch, a wide plain. Brocken Mountain rises majestically in the background.
We continue downhill to Twieflingen. From there, we travel past fragrant rapeseed fields to Jerxheim via Dobbeln. After Jerxheim, the climb to the 200 metre-high Heeseberg awaits us. On the mountain plateau, we climb the viewing tower, which rewards our efforts with a magnificent panoramic view.
This is followed by a short walk. The ‘Heeseberg’ FEMO adventure path shows us the way to the Adonis, which is adorned with yellow blossoms in spring. We’re sorry to say goodbye to Heeseberg. Yet there are still some highlights in store for us in Schöningen on the way back.
On the very first bend after the entrance to the town, the former St. Lorenz monastery church with is biblical garden is worth a visit. We enjoy the tranquil atmosphere behind the wall that surrounds the garden.
The rope-making museum and the remarkably painted St. Vincenz Church await us in the centre of Schöningen. We linger a moment at the statue of a girl carrying water in front of the town hall and observe the goings-on on the marketplace before getting back on our bikes. The return journey takes us back to Warberg via Esbeck, Buschhaus and St. Ludgeri Südschacht.
Length: 38 kilometres
Ascents: 450 metres elevation
Condition: 60% asphalt, 40% gravel, no paths
4. Through the Lappwald hills – on the trail of robber chief Rose
We get our mountain bikes out of the garage one more time for the last tour. We want to try the south-eastern area of the Lappwald hills, a very popular cycling area among the people of Helmstedt.
The tour begins at the clubhouse in Helmstedt. We take the trail to Alter Badeteich pond, and a longer climb needs to be overcome from here to reach the first Walbecker Warte. This watchtower from the 13th century bear witness to the activities of the former Landwehr. Not only did the Iron Curtain at the border of the GDR run through the Lappwald hills, but also the border between the Duchy of Braunschweig and the Prussian province of Saxony.
Flora and fauna were able to develop undisturbed there in the decades before the opening of the border in 1989. We now enjoy the fresh greenery of the trail as it gently descends from Gläserner Brunnen down into the Brunnental valley.
Once we arrive in Bad Helmstedt, we ride round the large pond and take a break at the Clarabad pond. The ducks quack happily over the leftover bread we bring, while we enjoy the sun.
We now really have to get pedaling, as the route leads up to Mesekenheide. From the former forester’s lodge, we travel at a leisurely pace through the forest to the Marienborn German Division Memorial. Following a foray through the border fortifications along the A2, we ride onward.
Our next destination is the cave of the robber chief Rose. We tackle a rugged and romantic path and push through the last few metres. Here, too, everything is peaceful and deserted, as the robber was deported to America after being caught.
We now head for Harbke. We take a stroll In a landscape park created in the English style – while pushing our bikes – following in Goethe’s footsteps against the backdrop of the palace ruins. The writer was a guest at the castle in 1805. He is said to have been deeply impressed by a gingko tree planted in 1758 (now 15 metres high), which we can still admire today.
And we feel inspired by the magical surroundings. So, we get back on our bikes and cycle past the Magdeburger Warte observation deck back to the starting point of the tour. And on to new adventures.
Length: 33 kilometres
Ascents: 440 metres elevation
Condition: 20% asphalt, 50% gravel, 30% paths