Welcome to the Bodensee
When people hear about Lake Constance, also called Bodensee, they usually think of summer vacations with swimming, sailing or wine tasting. It’s the biggest lake in Germany and lies at the northern edge of the Alps. But the best thing is: Two more countries are connected to the lake - Austria and Switzerland! So, if you cycle around the lake, you’re going to cross three states! It’s no wonder that you can actually find a popular bike path to do just that - the Bodensee-Radweg. It’s about 160 miles (260 kilometers) long and leads through hauntingly beautiful landscapes. You can either pay one of the cycling tour companies to guide you - or find your own way. I’d say it’s pretty easy to do it by yourself if you use Google Maps, Komoot, or if you just keep an eye on the bike path signs. Most of the path is on asphalt, and you can even shorten your trip by taking one of the ferries that connect Konstanz to Meersburg.
And that’s exactly what Mitch and I did, because…
It was still winter when we set out on our quest
Ever since we arrived at Lake Constance in the middle of November, we talked about riding all the way around. Unfortunately, the temperatures were somewhere around zero most of the time, and we didn’t have proper winter gear up until recently. That’s why we rode from Immenstaad to Überlingen and back during most of our rides, which is about 30 miles altogether. Sometimes we went the other direction towards Friedrichshafen and Eriskirch, but it’s not as scenic, and it doesn’t run directly along the lake.
Experiencing a vacation area during the off-season is interesting. Everything that’s usually open - mini golf, public restrooms, hotels, ice cafés - is closed. I heard that the bike path can be quite crowded with tourists during the summer, so we lucked out on that. The landscape with its vineyards, orchards, and half-timbered houses was stunning despite the grayness of winter, and I can only imagine how it’s like to cycle there when the trees are in full bloom! During bright days, you can even see all the way over the lake to the mountains of Switzerland while you whizz past the water. Also, I’ve seen some of the most stunning sunsets here, which made the lake look like it’s drowning in a sea of red.
Our typical route
Since it was winter when we started cycling to Überlingen, it was essential to be prepared. More than once I came back with my hands and feet so cold that I could hardly move them anymore. I bought hand and toe warmers, liners for under my Grip Grab gloves, Castelli overshoes and neck warmers. I wouldn’t say that I ever perfected my winter cycling gear, but at some point, I got at least halfway comfortable while riding in the cold.
Our typical route would start in Immenstaad, which is where my mom has a vacation home that we were lucky enough to stay at for a couple of months. The bike path would lead along the lake through several small villages, and all of them were pretty much dead during the winter season. Only when it warmed up significantly during the end of our stay in February, some ice cream places and cafés opened up, and people flocked out to enjoy the sun.
From Hagnau to Meersburg
In the small town of Hagnau, there’s a fantastic ice cream place called “Kibele Eis” and a path directly along the water, with majestic lake houses on one side and the shore on the other side. This stretch reminded me somewhat of certain parts of the bike path in Los Angeles, and it surely was a great place to take pictures.
Behind Hagnau, there’s something like a look-out tower with a bench that you can reach over a poorly paved and very steep path (some spots went from 28% to 40% ). No shame in walking that one, if you ask me!
The view up there is stunning, especially during sunset. It’s probably the highest point I’ve been at along this route.
Next town coming up is Meersburg, which has some beautiful castles, cobblestone streets and a bunch of cafés directly on the water - perfect for watching the sunset with a glass of wine on the way back! That’s also where the ferry runs to and from Konstanz, which is convenient if you want to ride a decent amount but don’t have the time to go all the way around the lake. You pay a couple of Euros more for bringing your bike, but it’s definitely worth it!
Last stop before turning around: Überlingen
Leaving Meersburg, we’d pass through several small towns like Uhldingen-Mühlhofen (which has a lovely pier that’s worth a visit) until we’d reach the last city on our regular route: Überlingen. It’s definitely one of the bigger towns in the area, with a sporting goods store and several bike shops. I’m only mentioning this because there’s really not a lot of these in the other towns, so if you need bike repair service or an extra pair of merino liners because your hands are freezing off, Überlingen is the place to be!
To warm up a bit, we’d usually grab some coffee and a Brezel at a bakery located inside of “Jona’s Nahkauf”. There’s a counter to sit at with a direct view on the bike stand outside, so I was able to keep a keen eye on our darlings at all times. No need to take risks, right? It quickly became a nice little ritual, which I think is super important on rides like these.
Why not check out the other side of the lake?
We’d usually turn around at this point, although on one of our last rides before moving to Berlin, we rode all the way to Konstanz and took the ferry back to Meersburg. It’s about 25 miles from Überlingen, and several bike paths are leading to Konstanz. Make sure to either stick to the signs (it can get quite confusing in the area around Radolfzell) or to use your phone. It’s a very scenic ride with a couple of climbs, although the path doesn’t run directly along the lake. Once you’re in Konstanz, it’s not too difficult to find the harbor from where the ferry goes to Meersburg. Needless to say, taking the boat back was the cherry on top of that ride!
Why did I leave this beautiful place and move to Berlin?
Since we stayed at my mom’s vacation home that’s meant to be rented out from spring to fall, I arranged with her that we’d leave by the end of February. Mitchell and I tried to find jobs and an apartment in the Bodensee area for months, but it was really tough. A lot of places are being used as vacation homes for tourists, so naturally, there are less available apartments on the market. Most places were rented out quickly, too far away or simply too expensive. Also, although I enjoyed the peace and quiet, I wasn’t quite sure if I really wanted to live in a small village without access to a bigger city. I started to miss working at cafés with Wifi, ordering more than just pizza during a cozy night at home, and overall, the freedom to hop on the S-Bahn and get from place A to B.
Sure, I could’ve lived with that if I had found a challenging and fun job in the area, but that wasn’t the case either. I felt like there’s a lot of engineering jobs in the area (Airbus Defence and Space GmbH is a big employer and has its seat in Immenstaad, for example), and more than enough hospitality jobs during tourist season - but nothing that matches my qualifications and goals. I would’ve been merely working to pay my bills. It was especially hard on Mitchell because he was still waiting on the approval of his freelancer visa, and couldn’t find anything where he didn’t have to speak German right away.
By the end of February, we had to make a tough decision, and we voted for trying our luck in Berlin. My sister and friends live there and the job market is a lot more international and creative. So, we packed our stuff, rented a car and drove 10 hours from the south of Germany all the way up the capital.
Cycling in Berlin is a lot different than at Lake Constance, as you can imagine. I'll make sure to talk about that another time!