My cycling tour of the German version of the Pyramids

“Dirty menhirs. I curse them. I curse every stone. I curse the ice that brought them here.” Twenty kilometers into a bike trip through the blossomy lowlands of Northeastern Germany, my 10-year-old daughter was pretty.

We were on the “Radroute der Megalithkultur” – a week-long cycle path among the Neolithic tombs scattered between the medieval cities of Osnabruck and Oldenburg. For 380km, the Radroute zig-zags through dappled forests and hidden pristine villages, along sparkling rivers, placid swimming lakes and ancient heaths. An old-fashioned, unspoilt, child-friendly family holiday; a perfect combination of cardiovascular exercise and cultural education; but it goes over many stones.

There were once thousands of megaliths (literally, large stones) dotted around the countryside in Northern Germany. They were brought here 330,000 to 130,000 years ago and floated down here (now in mid-air) by glaciers from Sweden. For a short period of 700 years (3500-2800 BC), the Funnelbeaker people (so named because of the funnel-shaped pottery they made) built them into tombs, like rustic versions of the Egyptian Pyramids.

No one knows why, or for whom or exactly how they did it. The results, where they are still finished, look like the card tables of a short-legged giant: a roof slab on side stones. They should be almost covered in baize. Despite using the most modern lifting equipment, modern builders were sometimes unable to return the gargantuan boulders to their original positions.

Writer Alexander navigating the

Writer Alexander launching the ‘Radroute der Megalithkultur’ with his daughter

Only a hundred or so of the graves now remain. Most of the sites have been blown up and looted by farmers or (occasionally) vicars who want building material for their barns and churches. The lovely wide farmhouses in this part of Lower Saxony often have piles of menhir rocks at the edge of their yards.

One of the scariest is from the Kleinenkneter group (“Klein” means “small” in German): as long as an Olympic swimming pool. The main capstone is 42 tonnes.

“That’s over eight elephants,” said my daughter in amazement, as we cowered in the cramped burial chamber below.

Who was the bright spark that first suggested placing elephant-sized lumps of granite on top of each other? Why did everyone else agree with him? Are they neolithic projects, led by neolithic Donald Trumps? Megaliths can be seen all over the world: the accumulation of boulders is a common human urge. The enormity of the stone, the impossibility of the task, the improbability of the conclusion: these strange buildings represent the longest stretch of human endurance and will; the point at which the divine takes over.

The Neolithic tombs are scattered between Osnabruck and OldenburgThe Neolithic tombs are scattered between Osnabruck and Oldenburg

The Neolithic tombs are scattered between Osnabruck and Oldenburg – Alexander Masters

“And then there’s the matter of the ice,” I called across my arm to my daughter. “What we see here is the future as well as the past. If we don’t stop driving gas-guzzling SUVs and taking unnecessary plane trips, stones like this will also fall out of the melting water in the Arctic.”

“Please!” cried my daughter. “It’s not a sensible discussion of climate change either!” and she ran on, whooping, to grave 28b.

The best way to do the “Radroute der Megalithkultur” is. Don’t try to do every 380km, and instead take advantage of the fact that these tombs appear in clusters. Find a base and head out for day trips, swimming against the lakes or swimming in woodlands and playing tag on the heath respectively. We were in the northern cluster, so chose the excellent Gut Moorbeck, a spa B&B in the countryside.

It is close to Dötlingen, considered by many to be the most beautiful village in Germany. An hour after he arrived at Gut Moorbeck, after a swim, a sauna and a night out in the massage chair, happiness was restored. For €190 a night, four people can have a three-bedroom apartment with a galley kitchen and a view over the mill pond, which has a beaver called Justin.

The cycle route makes it a family friendly routeThe cycle route makes it a family friendly route

The cycleway makes for a family-friendly route – Alexander Masters

At breakfast the next morning (€15 per person; served on a cake stand; enough to feed six people) we immediately started filling the rolls whenever the waiter left the room. The waiter’s smile. She knew what we were doing. It was our breakfast: if we wanted to stuff our oily and smoked trout into bread rolls in strange combinations with German cheese and salami, covered with decomposing paper napkins and eat them old on top of a tombstone after three hours the clock of cycling, that was our business.

One tomb we saw was unexcavated. He was lying on the edge of a sun-dappled wood. Blackthorn marked the way in bursts of white. A deer bounded among the trees. These small, little-visited graves (several are dotted along the route) have an inspiring sense of relationship and trust.

Here, meters below your feet, on the edge of the quiet wood, there may still be an amber necklace, ax heads, pottery shards: the remains of people who worshiped the unknown. A microlight puttered overhead; we bent our heads to look: 10,000 years ago, that was the height of the ice: half a kilometer high. There are huge wind turbines everywhere here; during that ice age, you would have to climb six of them, one after the other, to get to the open air.

At the museums in Oldenburg and Meppe, you can see what burial treasures have been collected by archaeologists and farmers. The rough construction of the pottery is encouraging; maybe you made the mysterious markings yourself. It feels psychologically closer to an attractive Greek amphora or a smooth Roman statue. If you could go through the glass cabinet, you could touch the hand that created these rough and elegant things from riverbank clay and a bone-fired oven.

Families with young children should aim to cycle 25km per dayFamilies with young children should aim to cycle 25km per day

Families with young children should aim to cycle 25km per day

I have only two complaints about the Radroute der Megalithinkulur: first, it’s impossible to go wrong. We tried. We made a wrong turn, went out onto the entryways and into the exits, headed north when the unsuspecting guide said, “Go south”. None of it worked. Even in the middle of the deserted woodland, with no one to be seen for two hours, cheerful signs showing a green bicycle emerged from behind trees to lead us back to the Radroute der Megalithkultur.

The exception is when you leave one cluster of stones to go to another. At this point, the designers of the Radroute fell asleep. After Groom Visbek’s tomb, there is a bridge over a motorway followed by a terrible stretch of normal road with several lorries looking left to avoid you. Don’t do it. Take a short road north to Ahlhorn, or south to Visbek, and take the train to Cloppenburg instead. And remember to buy a normal ticket as well as a Fahrrad ticket, or else, like my partner, you’ll spend the whole trip trying to convince the ticket inspector that you’re a bicycle.

A very fit person can cycle 100km a day. A family with a 10 year old should aim for 25km, expect to get out at 30km and be happy with 20km. Pack plenty of water alongside your bandit breakfast, remember that more than four graves a day is entertainment for adults, and don’t start an instructive meditation on the wonders of history after the 15th kilometer: follow these three simple instructions and you will smile. time

“I cursed those pieces of ice and now I’m blessing them,” said my daughter as we nibbled the last of our stale Gut Moorbeck sandwiches. Then she stopped and said, “…a little”.


Alexander was a guest at Gut Moorbeck (0049 4433255; where family bed and breakfast (minimum two night stay) and single rooms cost €190 (£165) per night. €115 (£100) per night, no minimum stay.

A map and more information about the Bike Megalithic Culture can be found at all tourist information offices along the route. Bikes and e-bikes can be hired from many places along the route.

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