Whether late Middle Ages, early industrial culture, or just pure nature: anyone who travels in the Eifel will walk in the tracks of an eventful past and a multifaceted present. The Eifel trails that I am going to explore on foot this weekend combine some historical sites with breathtakingly beautiful scenery.
Quietly it stands without a single twitch or sound. Its brass parts are polished, oil levels balanced, all pistons, valves, levers, belts, and gears in perfect condition. Still, the steam engine of the former Müller cloth factory in Euskirchen is not going to wake from its enchanted sleep today. Every day except on Mondays, it usually shows visitors of what is the LVR Industrial Museum today how local cloth production used to work until 60 years ago. Until 1961, this old lady was the factory’s heart, keeping all production processes running long after the rest of the world had switched to electricity.
The Müller cloth factory, the first stop of my Eifel weekend, is a vividly preserved piece of industrial culture that affords a first-hand experience of how the woollen cloth for coats and uniforms used to be produced in the early to mid-20th century. It’s a testimony to the times that is known far beyond the borders of Germany as an anchoring point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage that connects the most important sites of Europe’s industrial heritage. The spirit of the place takes a hold of me as soon as I enter the first room of the building, which was erected more than two centuries ago. This is where the wool delivered in tightly tied packages was loosened by the large teeth of a “Krempelwolf” machine.
The dye works in the next room have some hard-to-decipher chalk writing by company founder Ludwig Müller on the door, where he once recorded the recipe for a dye solution. A tear-off calendar that still shows the date when the factory’s machines stopped, and an orphaned coffee pot serve as further eloquent witnesses of the time. “Kurt Müller, the last owner of the cloth factory founded by his father Ludwig in 1894, was an unusual man,” says scientific consultant Dr. Christiane Lamberty, who is guiding me through the three floors of the L-shaped building that was still untouched as if resting in an enchanted sleep of more than two decades in the mid-1980s. “Not only did he close the factory in 1961 with the firm confidence that he would be able to reopen it again soon, which left the entire manufacturing facility untouched and eventually gave the world this unusual legacy. He also kept on using the steam engine, even though that meant he had to downgrade new purchases for his machinery from electricity to steam.” Was Kurt Müller a backward man always living I the past? Far from it: he was a pragmatist. “For him, the steam engine was the perfect all-in-one solution,” Dr. Lamberty explains. “The hot water it produced could be used throughout wool production, e.g. for washing and dyeing the wool. The machine also heated the entire building. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop doing so in summer, though,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye.
Our tour of the factory takes us past the carding station, where wool was prepared for spinning, then the spinning mill and the weaving mill. In each department, an employee starts up the respective machines just for us. “A weaver needed two days to set up a loom with 2900 warp threads,” the expert explains. About ten centimetres of chequered twill appear before my eyes within just a few minutes. “This loom can do sixty shots a minute. Modern ones send the shuttle racing back and forth over a thousand times a minute, though.” I get to touch Müller’s woollen fabric and find that it is dense, made almost impermeable to air by fulling with meadow thistles. It even keeps off water thanks to the wool fibre’s hydrophobic properties. It’s the perfect material for cold, rainy winter days.
Fortunately, that season is still a long way off. As we step out of the cloth factory, the August sun beams at us from a cloudless sky. I say my goodbyes to Dr. Lamberty and promise to return soon to see the steam engine in action. I would love to witness the spectacle when the grand dame comes to life with a puff and the belts and wheels creak and rumble their way across all the textile factory floors.
An hour’s drive southwest of Cologne, the castle town of Kronenburg is waiting in the municipality of Dahlem, embedded in the vast, green hilly landscape of the northern Eifel. Down in the valley, there’s a large, elongated reservoir, while the mountain ridge is topped by the ruins of a 13th-century castle. While just a few remains of the walls of the Kronenburg itself are visible, the castle village is still well preserved. Craftspeople and farmhands used to live in the pretty half-timbered houses where guests of the Hotel-Restaurant Villa und Burghof Kronenburg can enjoy the panoramic view of the low mountain range landscape in the adjacent castle courtyard today.
Tomorrow, I am going to go on the EifelSpur hiking tour “Tuscany of the Eifel”. I end my day with a refreshing swim in the infinity pool and a river pike perch with lobster foam enjoyed in a cosy spot by the open window of the rustic restaurant, followed by a walk across the quiet cobblestones to my room in the Burghof, where Konrad Adenauer once laid his weary head to rest as the halfmoon shines its light on the castle ruins and the beautiful Kyll valley.
My first glance the next morning goes into the sky: Sun! The Eifel’s Tuscany is calling me! A terrace breakfast precedes my departure for Ripsdorf, where my hike commences at the small village’s church. Instead of following a part of the popular Eifelsteig long-distance hiking trail, with a total length of 313 kilometres, my plan is to discover some of the diverse, themed 18 EifelSpuren and 94 EifelSchleifen, the shorter local hiking routes scattered across the northern Eifel region.
I have chosen an EifelSpur trail for today. Following the signpost, I cross the main road and leave the village. My path goes east, towards the sun. Gravel still crunching under my boots initially soon gives way to meadow paths lined with tall bentgrass. The view ahead reaches all the way to the rolling hills of the northern Eifel, stretching across the horizon. I am amazed at the varied scenery with small forests adding their fir-green accents to the geometric patchwork of fields, Eifel cattle chewing their cud in the shade, and farmers perched high on tractors bringing in the hay. A pleasant breeze carries the chirping of crickets and the scent of grass and warm earth to me across the late summer fields and meadows.
Along the path, nature has produced a colourful carpet of white wild carrot, yellow St. John’s wort, purple knapweed, pink field scabious, and tiny violet Carthusian pinks. Bees and bumblebees visit this buffet of flowers to exchange information about the most productive pollen providers. This is what a meadow should be looking like! I have heard that this district of Euskirchen has the greatest plant diversity in Germany to offer. The region is making an ongoing effort to protect this biodiversity by limiting fertilisation and late mowing. Farmers and biogeographers cooperate closely for this goal. Mowing is only allowed twice a year in order to preserve the abundance. The meadow is bordered by hazel bushes alternating with Scots pines and guelder rose. A squad of sparrows is escorting me to the closest cow pasture, where a group of handsome light-coloured ruminants have gathered on a sunny knoll, gazing into my lens with friendly interest without rising from where they lounge in their favourite spots.
My path continues on through woods and meadows, at times zigzagging and then again progressing in elegant sweeps. A road leads around a field with ripe wheat garnished by red poppies to a small cluster of houses with a pond surrounded by weeping willows that seem to be beckoning for a picnic.
Following a quick refreshment, I continue on along a rural avenue, past a cemetery, and through an idyllic river valley. My next highlight is going to be the Dollendorf castle ruins, locally nicknamed the finger of God. The path does indeed go up steeply towards the ruins behind a couple of houses. This marks the start of the most scenic section of my route. From the Calvary stone cross, my path leads downwards into a juniper valley. After enjoying the impressive panorama for a few minutes, I step into a cloud of juniper and pine scent. The pointy cones of the trees cover everything as far as I can see. I’d say the green makes this place even more beautiful than Tuscany could ever be.
I continue on my path along the slope, past young and older bushes and pines. Time and time again, the view captivates me, and I have to stop, take a deep breath, and absorb the soothing scent of the conifers around me. After about 13 kilometres, when the sun has gone down a little and the light has turned mild, I can once again see the Ripsdorf church tower among fields of sunflowers before me.
The Romanesque basilica in the municipality of Steinfeld, very close to the monastery of the same name, dates back to the early Middle Ages, just as the ruins of Kronenburg Castle do. Today is Sunday, and this lavishly frescoed house of God is brimming with worshippers. It’s Assumption Day. Every churchgoer has received a bouquet of heather and they all leave the service chatting. I am planning to follow the EifelSpur Heideheimat today, which starts right by the monastery.
This path leads me through a high forest, past pastures to the small village of Steinfelderheistert, where all the streets are aptly named after flowers! The butterflies are having a party in a lilac bush on Florastraße, where dozens of them are flitting from flower to flower. I count red admirals, European peacocks, brimstone butterflies, small tortoiseshells, and I may have even spotted a Scotch argus among them. That’s one of those dark fellows with striking orange eye spots, very rare and almost exclusive to this area. In any case, it doesn’t want its picture taken and is fluttering on busily until I lose track of it. Maybe it was a woodland ringlet after all. They do look confusingly alike. In any case, everyone seems to be feeling in the mood to be out today.
From a sensory bench that turns my midday rest particularly comfortable with its wavy shape, I proudly survey the part of the path that I have last walked to get here. The Krekeler Heide, the highlight of today’s hike is waiting just up ahead. I have a clear view of matgrass meadows and gorse bushes there. The typical Eifel landscape has grown rarer over the decades due to expansion of agriculturally used areas. This, however, is a piece of still-untouched nature. I hear that there are even some orchids to be found here! I do try to go looking for them, but they seem to be past their flowering time. Instead, I find spotted orchid and bell heather, both placing pink spots in the rough heath landscape.
A bend of a forest path takes me past meadows with lush foxtail grass stalks swaying in the gentle breeze. The last two kilometres follow the sparkling Kuttenbach brook. A wish for an icy apple spritzer in Steinfeld is coming over me. Even a full-body cool down would come in handy after this hot day. Isn’t the Zülpicher See quite nearby? I end up coming right past it on the way home even! As I dive into the refreshing water to be dried by the evening sun afterwards, I already know that I am growing jealous. I want to discover even more. I want to walk in the footsteps of the Romans, the knights, the flowers, and the butterflies – and I will go for another loop in the North Eifel again as soon as I can.
Author: Ilona Marx - Ilona Marx has travelled to numerous metropolises in NRW and all over the world. The author, copywriter, and trend consultant has loved culture, fashion, and design since her youth.