Thuringia Forest - Suhl, Germany
I formed the idea for this 55k run while I was researching about the new high-speed train between Berlin and Munich that opened December 2017. I took the train for a work trip so I was curious about why this train line had just opened since the announcement for it mentioned the planning for the train line began in 1991. The reason for it being planned back in 1991 was it was one of the major reunification projects between East and West Germany.
But, why did it take so long? As with any large-scale project in today’s world there will be many political and environmental concerns to address. Politically, there was a very strong governor in a region between Munich and Berlin who wanted to ensure the train went through his district. In particular, he wanted a stop in the city of Erfut and lobbied that it was the perfect spot to connect North, South, East and West corridors in Germany. Problem is, this was not the most direct route between the cities and also meant the train must go through the region with the Thuringia Forest (Thüringer Wald). The Thuringia Forest is a popular tourist area in Germany known for hiking and winter sports. It wouldn’t have been allowed by the people to break this pristine landscape up by a train line, nor could a train travel over the rolling hills. The eventual route required the building of 22 tunnels and 29 bridges in just this region alone. The political wrangling and engineering challenges led to the multi-decade project.
The genesis for this run though came quickly through three things:
After reading about the Thuringia Forest and its extensive trails I knew it’d make a great ultrarunning destination
There was an upcoming mid-week holiday while I’d be in Germany, Ascension Day on May 10th
The fast train made it possible to get to the town of Suhl by 8:30am and back in Berlin by midnight (boarding at 5:30am and 9:30pm respectively) so meant I could do this run without taking an extra vacation day
On top of these things, my friend James would also be visiting family so he would be in the area and he was game for the run.
My day started by getting up at 5am and taking a short taxi to the Berlin Main Station. The beauty of rail travel in Europe is you only need to be there a few minutes before the departure time. I took a nap during the smooth ride to Erfurt where I made a quick connection on another train to the Suhl trail station. I got to Suhl and had about a half an hour before James arrived. I took the time to check out the city center to find a bathroom and a place to eat when we finished. I came across a hotel, Michel Hotel Suhl, that looked like it’d be a good spot for us. I went back to the train station and James rolled up right on time on his train. Wasn’t much point in standing around so after a quick check of the map on Gaia GPS off we went.
There are a ton of trails to run in this region, including portions of the Rennsteig Trail (including its highest point). So many trails in fact it was hard to choose, but also made it easy to put together a 50k run (ended up being 35 miles / 56k) with 5700 feet (1700m) of elevation gain. We could make a nice loop consisting mainly of forest trail but with a few spots on quiet roads and through small towns. The weather was great for most of the day, but near the end we got some light rain that turned into a full-blown thunderstorm. We didn’t have much choice but to keep going since it caught us out in the open. We found a place to shelter ourselves from the rain for a few minutes, but with our tight schedule had to get back on the road, so finished the run in heavy rain.
Little did I know Ascension Day is also German Father’s Day of which this article says, “For Father’s Day in Germany, men return to the wild – quite literally. Hordes of men known as Herrenentagspartie make their way to the nearest park/green space/whatever loaded down with beers and paradoxically, on wheels. Whether it be bike, beer bike, rollerblades, tractors, Bollerwagen(handcart) or even horse-drawn carriages, many men take a drunken day out”. We were able to take part in the festivities by having a beer at a couple pubs on the mountain and also got poured shots of schnapps out of the back of a horse-drawn wagon filled with men that we chased up a hill. We also saw a woman with a “shot bandolier” and handmade carts being pulled up the hills filled with beer. These events made for a fun, not so serious day, with plenty of good people watching.
When in Berlin, or almost any other city in Europe, nature is right at your doorstep or accessible via a quick train ride or low cost airplane ticket. The Thuringia Forest makes for a great ultrarunning destination by train if you find yourself in Berlin or Munich since Erfurt is just 2 hours away. It’s also fun to find destinations like this by researching something that isn’t even running related, so always be on the lookout for interesting places. I hope you can explore this region on your own ultrarunning destination trip!
Distance : 35 miles / 56k
Elevation Gain : 5,780 feet / 1760m