Wittekind, Widukind, Weking – the Saxon leader who defied Charlemagne had many names and even more myths surrounding his life. The best way to get to know this infamous leader and his region is along the 100-kilometre (62 mile) Wittekind Trail (Wittekindsweg) in northwest Germany. You cross legendary paths, pass historic villages and stone monuments, and hike through the heart of an ancient landscape with green forests, hilly meadows, and babbling brooks.
The Wittekind Trail doesn’t just reveal the history of this impressive leader, it also leads through the 1,550 square kilometre (932 square mile) TERRA.vita Nature Park, the Northern Teutoburg Forest Nature and Geopark, the Wiehen Hills and Osnabrück Land. TERRA.vita was the first nature park to be designated a UNESCO Global Geopark. Stretching back 300 million years, the park’s history is evident time and time again along the Wittekind Trail, for example in the dinosaur tracks in Barkhausen.
As leader of Saxony, Wittekind also left visible traces in this park. From 777 to 785, he led the Saxon uprising against Charlemagne. Two Wittekind castles line the path. You also climb the Wittekindsberg hill during the hike and pass several Wittekind springs that are shrouded in legends. I don't want to give too much away, but I’ll give you a small clue: the presumed origin of the springs led to peace between the Saxons and Charlemagne.
Over almost 100 kilometres (62 miles), the trail leads from the Lower Saxon city of Osnabrück across the state border to Porta Westfalica in North Rhine-Westphalia. The five official stages of the Wittekind Trail make up part of the European long-distance path E11. However, there’s so much to see en route that’s worth stopping for that I’ve divided the route into six stages in this Collection.
Each stage ends in a place where it’s possible to stay overnight. It’s best to enquire whether an overnight stay is possible before you arrive. There are bus stops, train stations and car parking near every start and finish point. This makes it easy to hike the Wittekind Trail in one go or to take on this ‘classic’ hike in northwest Germany one stage at a time.
There are several ways to reach Osnabrück town hall, the starting point:
If you arrive by train, you can either walk from the main station to the old town or take the 15, 20, M2 or X585 bus to the Nikolaizentrum stop. Porta Westfalica, your destination, also has a station. From here, you can return to Osnabrück or travel in the direction of Bielefeld.
There are several long-stay parking options in Osnabrück where you can leave your car whilst you hike. You can easily take the train back to Osnabrück from Porta Westfalica.
Although there are many geological and historical sights in the Wiehen Mountains, there’s one thing to do above all else – relax. The small low mountain range boasts beautiful nature. You walk through dense forests and meet open, helpful locals. The paths are rarely overcrowded, and local initiatives are committed to preserving and maintaining shelters, monuments, and other places. The Wittekind Trail offers you the opportunity to unwind, relax and be yourself – just like the people who live there.
It is still pulsating around you, because you start your tour on the Wittekindsweg in the middle of the old town of Osnabrück at the town hall of the Peace of Westphalia. If you have time, it is worthwhile to spend some time there before the tour starts and take a look at the historic town hall where the Peace of Westphalia was concluded to end the Thirty Years War.The Wittekindsweg leads you out of Osnabrück. During the 19-kilometer stage you leave the fourth largest city in Lower Saxony through the Hexengang and the Bürgerpark in the direction of the Nackte Mühle. Then the Wittekindsweg follows the course of the river Nette. You follow it through the wonderful Osnabrück hill country to just before the village of Rulle. Because there the history and the life of the Saxon Duke Wittekind is tangible for the first time: You reach the ruins of the Wittekindsburg in Nettetal via an ascent. If you like, take some time to get to know this place.We continue through Rulle itself, along the pilgrimage church of St. Johannes, towards the Wiehen Mountains, which you will climb today. The destination of the stage is the Mühlenort car park and the village of Engter. The "Schlentrup Engter" bus stop is near the car park. From there you can take the 585 line to Engter. Alternatively, you can walk the route. You can find overnight accommodation in Engter itself at the Rothert Inn.On the route there are, among other things, food options at Forellenhof Nettetal and Gasthaus Kollmeyer.
From Engter, you go on the second stage of the Wittekindsweg into the million-year-old area, today's Geopark Terra.vita. The hiking trail leads you over the ridge of the Wiehengebirge over 16 kilometers to the small Lower Saxon community of Ostercappeln. It is important on this tour: If you are traveling on a public holiday or a Sunday, make sure that you have enough food with you. The only food options on this stage are the bakery and the village shop in Vehre.You will continue to hike in Wittekind's footsteps today, but on this tour you will get to know some places that have a much older history than the Duke of Saxony. The Kammweg leads you first to the Süntelstein, an almost four meter high granite block, which, according to the working group Straße der Megalithkultur, was used for cultic purposes in the Neolithic. Only a few hundred meters further you will come across the two stone graves: Devil's dough trough and Devil's oven. Can it get more mystical today?Next, you will pass a very tangible natural monument on the Wittekindsweg: the Vehre black chalk pit. If you've always wanted to know what oil shale from the Jurassic period looks like, then you've come to the right place. Otherwise, turn on the Wittekindsweg towards Ostercappeln and enjoy the path through the forest landscape of Wiehens.Your goal today is Ostercappeln. There are a few holiday apartments and the Hotel-Restaurant Leckermühle in the village that offer you overnight accommodations. If you want to leave Ostercappeln by bus, you can do so from the “Friedenshöhe” stop in the direction of Osnabrück, Preußisch Oldendorf or Wimmer (Bad Essen).
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The third stage of the Wittekindsweg leads you on over the wooded ridge path of the Wiehengebirge to Barkhausen. Right at the beginning you can take a look at the impressive Hitzhausen Viaduct, before you head towards Bad Essen on the hiking trail. Parts of the 18-kilometer section also take you over the so-called DiVa Walk. From Ostercappeln, this path, whose name is made up of the first letters of the words Dinosaurier and Varusschlacht, runs parallel to the Wittekindsweg.Because your path leads you through a region in which, on the one hand, the Germanic prince Arminius won the legendary Varus battle against the Roman senator Varus and his troops in the 9th century AD. On the other hand, your goal today is the site where the dinosaur tracks were found in Barkhausen. You can marvel at the large dinosaur footprints in a rock wall.Shortly before your destination, you can follow in the footsteps of the Megalosaurus on a short themed path that also runs parallel to the Wittekindsweg. When you arrive in Barkhausen, you can take a leisurely look at the dinosaur tracks.An overnight stay at the end of this stage should be well planned, because there are no official guesthouses or hotels near the destination. However, the small town of Barkhausen has its own school camp, which is worth inquiring about and a call to the local parish of Barkhausen-Rabber cannot hurt.You can also easily get to the nearby town of Bad Essen by bus. You just get on line 221 in the direction of Bad Essen at the Barkhausen, Friedhof stop. The so-called “Willi-Bus” runs every hour, but has to be booked in advance by telephone.There are several places to stay in Bad Essen. The next morning you can simply take the bus back to the dinosaur tracks and continue your hike on the Wittekindsweg. Otherwise, you can easily get back to Osnabrück from Bad Essen by bus.
On the way to Oberbauerschaft you will become a cross-border commuter: The fourth stage of the Wittekindsweg takes you from Barkhausen in Lower Saxony to the municipality of Rödinghausen in North Rhine-Westphalia. After the first 4 kilometers, which lead you back over the ridge of the Wiehengebirge, I suggest you take a short detour to the Green Lake. The lake with the beautiful bluish-green water is one of the largest bodies of water in the Wiehengebirge.After the short "detour" you return to the official route of the Wittekindsweg and make your way to the 273 meter high Nonnenstein and the Bismarck Tower, from which you have a great view over the community of Rödinghausen.On the remaining section of this stage you will then pass another place that is directly connected to the Saxon Duke Wittekind. Shortly before the destination point, turn left from Wittekindsweg into a small path that leads you to the Alten Verbrenn. A place where the Saxons used to make burnt offerings in earlier times.Back on the Wittekindsweg, it is not far to your destination: the Kahle Wart open-air theater. If you have planned your tour to match the dates of the theater groups, then definitely check out one of the performances.You can stay overnight in the Hotel Kahle Wart at the foot of the Wiehengebirge. To get there, follow Kahle-Wart-Straße on foot towards Oberbauerschaft. In the restaurant you will be provided with delicious East Westphalian specialties.The Hüllhorst-Oberbauerschaft, Kahle Wart bus stop is right in front of the hotel. From there, for example, line 542 goes in the direction of Lübbecke. From the Lübbeck train station, the RB 71 runs at regular intervals in the direction of Bielefeld and Rahen.
On the fifth stage of the Wittekindsweg you will again follow in Wittekind's footsteps and hike the almost 18 kilometers to the legendary Wittekindsquelle in Bergkirchen. On your way you can not only enjoy the view from Kniebrink, but also get to Heidbrink, the highest point of the Wiehengebirge.As a newcomer to the summit, you have earned a break at kilometer 12 afterwards. My personal tip for all hikers on the Wittekindsweg is the wonderful Café Waldkristall.From there you will set off to your today's destination: Bergkirchen. There you will find one of the two Wittekindsquelle on the Wittekindsweg. Their creation leads back to a real miracle, so to speak. According to legend, Wittekind and Charlemagne met there. Charlemagne wanted to convert the Saxons to Christianity. A dispute broke out and Wittekind demanded proof of his belief from the emperor. Then Wittekind's horse is said to have exposed the source with the hooves. Wittekind was then baptized and submitted to Charlemagne.The explanation for the second source on the Wittekindsweg is probably the same, because it was probably not entirely agreed where the one “real” Wittekinds source is to be found. A third source of the same name can also be found in the area of the city of Lübbecke. Still, it's a nice story.At the end of the fifth stage, the Hänsels Hotel & Gasthaus offers an overnight stay. It is right in Bergkirchen. If you are dependent on a bus connection on this stage, then the 613 bus to Minden from Bergkirchen is the best option. You have good connections from the train station there.
In front of you on the sixth stage of the Wittekindsweg is one of the most beautiful excursion destinations in East Westphalia: the city of Porta Westfalica with the Wittekindsberg, the Wittekindsburg and of course the symbol of the region - the Kaiser Wilhelm monument.The last section of the Wittekindsweg leads over a scenic section. You hike through dense forest and areas with ground cover blooming in spring and summer. Halfway along the way, the Zum Wilden Schmied restaurant is waiting for you to take a break. From the outside terrace you have a great view of the mountains and the valley in front of it. Strengthened, it goes on the last kilometers over the Kammweg.Shortly before you arrive at the monument, three important historical buildings cavort along the way: the remains of a cruciform church with three Christian graves, the Magarethenklus and the Wittekindsburg. All of them gradually emerge from the lush green of the forest in front of you. On information boards on each building you can find out something about the moving past of this part of the Wiehengebirge. Caution: It quickly happens that today's Wittekindsburg with its pointed roof is mistaken for the original castle. The historic Wittekindsburg is the old rampart that runs all around in the forest around today's restaurant.Shortly before the Wittekindsweg comes to its eastern end a few hundred meters further, the view from the spectacular Kaiser Wilhelm monument rewards you for hiking the long path. The Weser breakthrough extends in front of you in the valley between the Wiehen and Weser mountains and you look directly at the opposite Porta-Kanzel in the Weser mountains.The Wittekindsweg finds its final end point after the descent to the now dilapidated Kaiserhof. There the hiking trail turns into the Sigwardsweg, an approximately 170 kilometer long circular pilgrimage route.The train station in Porta Westfalica is ideal for your departure. It can be reached on foot from the end of the Wittekindsweg.