Aachener Weiher parkrun, Cologne

Aachener Weiher parkrun route.
Aachener Weiher parkrun route. 2 laps, starting below the pond, in the middle, heading East.

Alphabetically, this is the first parkrun in the World. One of the volunteers described it as the hilliest 5k in Cologne – they have done great work in cramming a 5k in, up and around the hill in this park, in a pretty flat city. The Weiher of the name, incidentally, is a pond, and running round that bit is at least flat. The rest of the course is not.

View over the pond (Weiher)
View from the SW corner of Aachener Weiher.

The numbers, as with most other German parkruns for now, are relatively small, which means a chance to chat with almost everyone before or after the event. Some even managed to chat during it, which is a great effort. There’s only one hill in the park, but you go up it one way, come back up it from the back, and then find another bit of up before returning to the waterfront part. And then repeat.

View of tower in distance and pond nearby
The view from the meeting point.

It’s a course that never lets you go. The twists and turns mean there is plenty to look at, from the tower (shown in the picture above) to the tree-lined parts, to watching parts of Cologne appear and disappear between the greenery.

View of grass and trees in front of the pond
View from a little way up the hill.

I really enjoyed the run, and the cafe afterwards – very near, to the West, just over the road and between the two numbers 264 on the map at the top – was very hospitable. It doesn’t open till 10, so no need to rush over.

Cologne has good public transport, but the park is only 3km from the central train station. I was staying a little further away, in the North of the city, but there’s green belt of parks and walkways, much of the way round the edge, and I walked that for a total of just over 5km. That gave me a view of parks and the tower, and is a great way to explore a little more of the city.

Results from event 29, Aachener Weiher parkrun.

Neckarufer parkrun, Esslingen

Neckarufer parkrun route
Neckarufer parkrun route. East to start, back past the start/finish line then West, over a covered bridge.

Several of the events in Germany put on an extra parkrun for German Unity Day – their equivalent ‘one extra run’ for the UK’s Christmas day, Canada Day and Sweden’s National Day. Friends joined me in Stuttgart to hop on a train to Oberesslingen (the stop after Esslingen station, 20 mins from Stuttgart Hbf – catch the 7:55 or 8:25) to run it.

Paper Berlin Wall at the start, 'die mauer muss weg' and 'Freedom' written on it
A paper wall at the start.

With plenty of UK tourists, plus locals from other runs that weren’t offering an extra event, it was a festive atmosphere throughout. Several of the event team are from the UK and have been based in Germany for years, so can switch between the two languages with alacrity, helping everyone feel at home. As a tribute to the occasion, we had a paper ‘wall’ set up on the start line, for keen people at the front to break through.

Group of runners posing in front of the paper wall
My club mates (mostly – also Teri, fourth from left, and Mark, on the right).

We were there in plenty of time to look at the route. The start is a tiny downhill, flat with a small rise towards the turn around point, just over 800m away. Out and backs are great for spotting everyone and letting you run not just with those at your pace.

View of people gathering at the start, in front of an 'aching läufer' sign
View from the bridge (not run over, but we walked over it to the cafe on the island).
View of the river, trees on either side and clouds mostly obscuring a blue sky
Looking down the river from the bridge.

After the turnaround, and a gallop with the river on your left, you pass under the bridge shown above, with the start on your right, and head along for a while longer. It isn’t totally straight, though, with a tight turn onto a narrow wooden bridge, and another 180 on the path beyond taking you onto a snaking, if short, downwards section. It’s probably possible to run it very quickly, but the snaky nature made that difficult on a first attempt.

View of the briefing over an apricot-shirted runner's shoulder.
Chris, the event director, switching from German to English in the briefing.

The rest of the route is straightforward, and soon you’re turning – at roughly 3.3km – round a cone to head back to the start. That snaking downhill is now a sapping short uphill section. This parkrun has previously had between 13 and 36 participants, so 104 loaded the course up, but we were fine, with a few people checking their stride or making sure not to swing wide onto the bridge if someone was coming the other way.

Runners around a cone at the final turn
Celebrating the final turn (just over a mile to go from here).

Post run we mobbed the cafe; finding our cards generally didn’t work we jumped on the few people who had enough cash to make sure the cafe’s good start to the day didn’t turn into a lot of poured but unpaid-for drinks. There is another run (Kräherwald) even closer to Stuttgart, and Monrepos is just to the North and a similar time away by train (catch the 7:38 or 8:08 S-Bahn), so you have options in the area. Consider Neckarufer if you fancy running by the river, and testing hip sway on the twists.

View from the riverbank; trees on the opposite bank showing splashes of orange and red
Autumn colours on the river.

Results from Neckarufer parkrun event 27, 3/10/19.

Neckarau parkrun, Mannheim

Neckarau parkrun route
Neckarau parkrun route. Clockwise from bottom left.

Mannheim is a big transport hub for the region, by road and water, and the smoke stacks  of the industrial area are visible as you approach. Yet it makes good use of the water on the West and East side of the city, and the parkrun is in a beautiful spot, through tree-lined tarmac and mud paths. It is a flat and fast one, so long as you aren’t distracted by views of the river that appear on your left. Take my advice, and walk or run there from the North (where the station is, and the large youth hostel, both under 4km away) and take in all the river views you want beforehand. Or just, hey, more river views. Run or walk it how you want, gaze at the trees and water.

River view through trees
The river appears through the trees.

The run generally gets around 70 runners (for now – parkrun in Germany is growing. Hasenheide, in Berlin, with today the day before the marathon there, got 733). Today we had 77, with a record of 105 that will one day look tiny. The route can certainly take more if necessary.

Wide tarmac path with trees on both sides
The start area (after the start, so the sign has gone).

The run directors are well set up for visitors, with separate first-timers’ briefings in German and English. In the latter (smaller) group alone, there were visitors from Greece, England, Australia and Poland.

Runners and volunteers at the finish line
Scott, from Australia, contemplates marathon legs after his finish.

I got talking to Scott, from Australia, before and after the run. He was fit, if tired, from the Sydney Marathon a few weeks ago, and here on business. It’s probably the kind of city, or region at least that attracts as many people for work as pleasure, but it’s a parkrun not to miss if you have the chance. Despite being here for work Scott had, admittedly, travelled from tourist-friendly Heidelburg, which was recommended to me multiple times over breakfast. It’s about 15 minutes by train, but I didn’t go, preferring to spend my day in Mannheim, in Mannheim, but it is banked for later.

View of the finish line
It isn’t exactly hidden, but the finish line is tucked just round the corner. Accelerate before you see it, if you have anything left!

Post-run/walk chats are at PURiNO, right on the river front – but a different-looking part of same, more open and with hard paths, round the bend of the river from the run. It’s just a short walk from the finish.

As ever, a glorious run with friendly folk and great organisation. It’s also one for any kind of weather because of the tree cover and good surface underneath.

Finishing straight; hard-packed path, with trees on either side
The finishing straight, looking the wrong way

Results from Neckarau parkrun event 96, 28/9/19.

Volksgarten parkrun, Düsseldorf

Volksgarten parkrun route
Volksgarten parkrun route. 2 laps, anti-clockwise.

Dusseldorf is a lively place, and another Germany city with a lovely park to run in. Though if you’re not near it, head for the riverside, from where you can go for miles. Still, for parkrun, this works well. 2 laps, anti-clockwise, on a course that wiggles enough that I didn’t really know where I was. Not that it mattered, as it was marked with cones throughout and easily navigated. The only hazard was a lone cyclist, who saw me coming and paused while I ran in front of her path.

Volksgarten group photo
Volksgarten group photo.

Once again, I have found myself at a relatively new parkrun, without having targeted it. Dusseldorf was a little easier to reach from Holland, for friends, so we went there rather than Cologne (that also made the decision for me, as to whether to get the train home, or the ferry from Holland – the latter is now nearer, and cheaper). Event 7, with 15 of us running. Three of us tourists with a number of parkruns to our name, one a semi-reluctant tourist who isn’t fussed about a result, and happy to appear as an unknown in results.

We also had a new course record; some might say it’s a female course record, but given that Hannah ran faster than anyone has yet on this course, for now at least, it’s one for everyone to beat. I lowered the 45-49 best, but given I was beaten by both Hannah and a local in the over 50 bracket, it’s a properly pyrrhic achievement, if there is such a thing.

Volksgarten parkrun start line
Volksgarten parkrun start line. Deserted, because the meeting place is behind this point.

The marshals and organisers were as friendly as ever, the low numbers made it easy to chat to people afterwards, and on a sticky early morning, running in well-shaded park was a pleasure. It’s a quick course, with only the twists and one small incline toward the end of the lap to slow you down. You can see the terrain in the banner picture at the top – hard-packed paths, with a little covering of gravel. There was the odd patch of mud and puddle, after morning rain, but it is a good surface generally.

It’s also easy to get to. I jogged 2.5kms from accommodation near the central rail/bus station, but the S-bahn (Düsseldorf-Oberbilk is slightly nearer the start than Volksgarten) and U-bahn (Kaiserslautern-Straße) are nearby if needed.

Results from Volksgarten parkrun no. 7, Düsseldorf.

A walk round Hamburg

Sculpture of rowers in a park
Rowers.

Hamburg comes highly recommended. It is set on the banks of the River Elbe, which is wide and deep enough to allow Hamburg to be Germany’s third-biggest port, and also scenic. It has a hippy vibe in the St Pauli district, with the football club internationally famous for their politics and fans, rather than their football. The museum for that district is small, and cheap, but was free for me, because they were re-doing the exhibits and hadn’t yet put up English descriptions. It was still a nice, but short, stroll, and I had a cheap beer in the bar there.

Tugboat on the river

Large church with spire to one side
Large church.
Large, long, buildings dominate both sides of a canal
Buildings dominate the canal.

Sitting and looking over the river at the Federal Government buildings was a cool highlight on a warm day.

View over the river
View over the river.
Sculpture of a bicycle in front of a crate decorated with graffiti
Cycle sculpture.
Sculpture of a bicycle in front of a crate decorated with graffiti
St Pauli FC.
Reeperbahn, and its S-Bahn station
Reeperbahn.

I was only in the city for a couple of nights, travelling West to get to Dusseldorf for parkrun (though there is one in Hamburg) and then Holland for the ferry home. I didn’t, therefore, go wild down the Reeperbahn, but it is clearly a hub for culture of all types, albeit, as drinking centres are, very different at day compared to the night.

I used Flixbus to travel in and out of the city, which was easy. And, as with many other German cities, you have the choice of over (S-Bahn) and underground (U-Bahn – though actually, much of that is overground, too) transport along with buses to get around. Something for everyone.

Świnoujście parkrun, Poland

Swinoujscie parkrun route
Świnoujście parkrun route. 2 laps, anti-clockwise.

Świnoujście is a ferry port with service from Trelleborg, Sweden, so very convenient for a trip after, say, Malmö parkrun. It is also very close to Germany – so close that my jog post-parkrun saw me cross the border without having had any intention to do so. The parkrun is in a park in the city itself, near to the port and to the beach.

The port itself is on the other side of the river, which divides the city, and Germany, from the rest of Poland. There’s a ferry, which runs through the night; free to all, but not available to anyone without local licence plates between 4am and 10pm. The reviews on Google maps include some irate tourists who have found that out the hard way. Equally, a sat-nav may take you South, to the other ferry, which is not necessary if you are on the late ferry, which arrives at 11:15pm.

Group gathered on the start line
Group gathered on the start line. The girl on the bike is Margaret – we talked briefly at the end.

So long as you’re staying on the West side of the river, the run is not far from anywhere in town. For me, it was under 1km along a couple of roads. Although the park spreads through the local area and is thick with tree-cover, the start/finish area is visible from the road, Boreslawa Chrobrego. There are toilets right next to the start/finish.

Crossing the finish line
The event director gave those of us she knew – including the two English tourists she had only met on the day – a shout-out by name.

The course is marked by permanent signs. Just remember to look up for them, as they are on fairly high poles. I had it easy; not only is there a lead bike, but an absence of quicker runners meant I had him to myself, so just had to follow along (though I ignored one slight detour, to high-five a couple of marshals).

Finish token holder
Finish token holder, no further sorting required.

The course is almost entirely covered by shade, which would be welcome on a sunny day. We’d had a downpour at 8:00, leaving the air clear, and there was a breeze from the ocean, a few hundred metres away. It’s pretty flat, though the terrain changes from paved path to hard-packed mud for variety.

Finishers 1-2-3
Finishers 1-2-3.

The run director was excited to have visitors – I had the impression they don’t have that many here – and led me off to meet Keith. I knew another Brit was due to be there, as he had also run one of the Swedish events. In fact, I’m pretty sure we were both checking how to buy a ticket for the (free) river ferry last night, just after midnight.

English tourists
English tourists and locals in a photo frame.

A friendly welcome, a flat and well-organised run, a beach to visit afterwards and another country to dip into if you feel like it. What’s not to like?

Results from event 153, 8th June 2019.

Pieschener Allee parkrun, Dresden, Germany

Pieschener Allee parkrun route
Pieschener Allee parkrun route.

A short jog from where I was staying, not far from the centre of Dresden, yet a km into the run and you are away from civilisation almost entirely. Pieschener Allee is on a section of land left mostly wild, while the surroundings of the start and finish area is used for other sports grounds and car parks, because this is flood plain and so not suitable for heavy development.

A couple of those car parks were in use by camper vans, too, if informally, which would put you very close to the start of the run.

 

The route itself is a pretty simple out and back. There’s a right turn off the pavement and onto the track (signposted), and then at the end of the track (after about a mile) you turn sharpish left – you can see that in the route above – onto a slower section. Slower because there is a choice of either running on the grass, or picking your footing in two narrow hard-packed, mud, tyre tracks. I aimed for the latter, but the wider flattened grass would probably have been just as good.

Me, in a picture frame. Green plants and trees all around
Me, in a frame.

The first (and last) mile is shaded, the rest, the slower bit, is open and exposed. Today, that meant it was pretty warm. It’s also the ‘wild’ bit, with fairly high grass to either side of the track. There are a couple of orange-topped poles off to the right – keep them on your right, don’t be distracted if there is anyone running nearer to the river than you, you just stay on the track. Eventually (perhaps, say, flagging in the heat) you make it to the turn-around point, and do the whole thing again, in reverse.

The main long, straight, track
The main long, straight, track.

It was a small field of just 17 parkrunners today, but still an international one, and the small numbers meant we all met more or less everyone. The event director was Russian, one of the volunteers American, and my fellow runners included an Irish student – wearing a “Dresden Hurling” top – and an Australian-German who splits his time between the two countries.

Wild flowers, long grass and the River Elbe
Wild flowers, long grass and the River Elbe.

Afterwards they head for coffee, a wander back along the path into town, but I had to check out and hop on a bus North, so jogged back along the river, in the shade of Baroque churches and stone walls, over the Augustus bridge and back to Dresden’s Neustadt.

Lovely run, clockwork organisation, and Dresden is a great and inexpensive city to visit.

Results from event 29, Pieschener Allee parkrun.

Westpark parkrun, Munich, Germany

Westpark parkrun route
Westpark parkrun route; 2 laps, clockwise. The finish is just past the start.

A bright and sunny but cool May morning, and I jogged through the streets of Munich – wide, separate cycle paths a-plenty and greenery everywhere, not just in the parks. Westpark is also near to several stations if you want to use the excellent public transport.

The course is straightforward enough to find – head for the SE corner of the park and then walk in, West, if you don’t think you’ll get to the right spot by going through the park itself. The course is marked with cones, so those will guide you in the right direction if you’re there once it has been setup.

Sharpish right turn onto a shaded path
Sharpish right turn onto a shaded path. This is the very top of the course, on the map.

This isn’t an old event, with this being event 18. Attendance varies, with 39 the week before, 65 this week, and 103 at the inaugural back in January.

Fountain in Westpark
Fountain in Westpark.

Westpark is lovely, and well-used, but the paths are wide and can accommodate a lot more runners, and plenty of other park users. It is a bit like Dulwich, in the UK, with wide paths making you think about what is the most efficient line through.

Finish line, Westpark parkrun
Finish/Ziel; plenty of volunteers in attendance.

I ran the whole thing with another runner, who was just a little quicker up the hills. They aren’t big, but there are two that are just cruel enough to hurt if you are pushing, and both near the end of the lap. He ended up passing me, so we chatted once we had our breath back. It turned out he had just moved from London as part of the current brain-drain, knew Hertford and often ran there. And he was at this run to bring his mother-in-law, a fellow Ware Jogger. I hadn’t noticed her at the start, but we got to chat at the end. All the way to Germany and I end up running with people from home.

It’s a fairly English affair, but with plenty of locals in the field as well, making it feel German while being totally accessible to an English-speaker.

On a sunny day, the park itself is a glorious thing to stroll around once you’ve finished. Almost any direction is the right way for one of the transport stops, so stroll and be happy.

Results from event 18, Westpark parkrun.

Nidda parkrun, Frankfurt

Nidda parkrun route
Nidda parkrun route.

My second parkrun in Germany, and it’s a different course to Berlin. Which isn’t saying much – they’re all different in some way. This one is still in a lovely park, even on a brisk Autumnal morning, with occasional sunshine to warm bones.

It’s pretty fast and flat, none of the turns too sharp, and just a few muddy patches to slow us down a little. A straight on after the left at the top left of the course, as shown above, wasn’t completely obvious on my first run through. Second time round, the signs had been put back up, presumably after blowing down; either side of the path, they made the only indistinct section completely obvious.

Running Nidda parkrun
Running Nidda parkrun.

There were marshals on course, too, and an American event director. She speaks German but, for speed, did the pre-run briefing just in English. It was a bit cold before we set off, though the day was warming up a bit so for running, at least, it was a lovely day.

At Nidda parkrun finish
At Nidda parkrun finish.

This close to Christmas, the finish was decorated with some stand up wooden snowmen and the like, with a nice festive feel. My whole morning was great. Getting to the start is, I am told, simple using public transport. Even better, I thought, was the run there – along trails, once out of the centre, and I took a slightly more scenic route back, South through the park before joining up with trails again. Frankfurt has plenty of riverfront to run along, too, so it’s a great place to explore on foot.

Results from event 51, Nidda parkrun.

Hasenheide parkrun, Berlin

Hasenheide parkrun route
Hasenheide parkrun route.

My fastest parkrun of the year, and quickest since almost exactly two years ago, when I ran at my 250th different venue, Beckenham Place. Add a visit from Rosie Swale-Pope, who has run round the world, sailed across the Atlantic, and who ran here from the UK, and this was a great parkrun for me.

It’s also a lovely place to run, even on a freezing-cold day. I ran there in hat and gloves, and regretted neither (despite usually running a little warm), though I did take the hat off for the run itself, mostly so I could tuck my phone in it and leave it at the start, in a pile with other people’s bags and coats.

The course looks more complicated than it is. Start in the middle, and head West, to go clockwise. You do one big loop round the edge, ignoring the circle. And you only run the very bottom right section once, on that first big loop. The second time round, you take a right turn (marshalled) to run up the hill and complete the circle. Once you have run the circle, you are back where you made the turn, so this time you have to run past the turn. Which might be confusing. Run round the top section and take a right turn into the finish. Here’s a Strava Fly-By.

Hasenheide parkrun finish area
Hasenheide parkrun finish area.

The run briefing was in English. Germans have taken to parkrun, and the number of events is growing steadily. Less than half the crowd, however, headed off to one side for the announced first-timers’ briefing in German, while the rest of us stuck around to hear the English version. And like an English parkrun, the start was pell-mell, with several people heading off very fast and then slowing. Noticeable for me purely because I just haven’t experienced that for a long time, so can’t help thinking it’s a British thing, though it may just be what happens once you get a larger field of people – 97 here, when recently I have been at runs with 11, 13, 30 odd, etc.

Rosie Swale-Pope and event director Steve
Rosie Swale-Pope and event director Steve.

It’s a fast course, despite my watch deciding it was a little bit long. Although a whole group of people were out of sight in front of me, I was very pleased to feel like I was moving quickly, and see my mile splits were within a few seconds of each other. The difference was caused by the bit with the hill in. It is otherwise a pretty flat course, gently rising up one side and down the other, with one dip and climb, which is very short but feels tough at any sort of effort. The park itself is picturesque; autumnal now (what, in Autumn, you mean?) but must be green and pleasant in summer. There are trees all around, so there will be blessed shade on a hot day, too.

For me, a lovely gallop, a nice chat with a couple of Germans at the end (they weren’t so hard to find, despite all the Brits) and with Rosie in passing, and a whole new parkrun-country added to my profile. If I can just get to South Africa (technically Namibia and eSwatini have parkruns too, though for now they come under South Africa) then I will join a select group who have run in each country. Till the next one starts (editor’s note – the next one, Japan, has now started, with Netherlands following on 29/2/20).

Results from event 50, Hasenheide parkrun, 15/12/18.

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