Exploring Chemnitz,
Akron’s Sister City and the Mahlerweg

Hiking the towpath from Cleveland all the way down to Zoar is as exciting and as user-friendly as any hiking experience in Germany.

Brian and Tracy Davis were inspired to create ExploreAFoot while on a walking holiday four years ago on the Eifelsteig in Germany. They visited Chemnitz late last year. After being in Germany for work in November, the founders explored the “Holy Grail” of hiking trails in the Swiss Saxony area very close to border of Germany and Czech Republic. The beauty of the Bastei bridge and the peace and quiet along the trails, felt in many ways similar to the trails that they had hiked all over the Cuyahoga National Park. The purpose of their trip was to try to make contact with other hiking groups to encourage them to visit Northeast Ohio. The comparisons to the trails that weave through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Summit Metro Parks and the German Mahlerweg that they had hiked, were easy to make.

Brian and Tracy on parts of the Malerweg trail in Saxony. These images were taken in November, when
fall was drawing to an end in Dresden, Germany.

Why compare our hiking experiences in the Cuyahoga National Park with German overnight hikes? There is already a connection between a city in the eastern part of Germany, Chemnitz and Akron. In 1997, Chemnitz became Akron’s sister city. The partnership was formed to share ideas and technology, exchange cultures, and tie businesses together. One hidden-in-plain-sight benefit is the wooden cottages at Lock 3. They were placed there so vendors from Chemnitz could display and sell their crafts.

Wooden cottages set up at Lock 3, where vendors from Chemnitz sell their crafts. Image Courtesy, http://www.akronohiomoms.com/

Chemnitz was originally called Karl-Marx-Stadt. The center of town features a huge, imposing statue of Karl Marx. The city has an interesting history. It was virtually flattened by the Allies, and after World War II it was controlled by Russia until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The town center was re-planned in 1990 after unification with West Germany. A few years later, it was connected to a city more than 4,000 miles away: Akron, Ohio.

Karl Marx’s imposing statue in Chemnitz.

Brian and Tracy are working to encourage Germans from Chemnitz to visit Northeast Ohio, through hiking and cycling trips along the towpath and in the National park. They recently met with leaders and hiking representatives in Chemnitz to discuss ExploreAFoot, (funded through the Knight Foundation) and the beautiful trails in our area. During this visit they met with a few people to discuss the idea for their Knight Cities Challenge grant, including Heidemarie Matthes, president of “Sachsischer Wanderund Bergsportverband e.V.,” the most important hiking club in the area.

From left to right; Tracy Davis, Steve Kidder (consultant to the City of Akron who helped with English/German translations), and representatives of Wandersportveband, including their President, Heidemarie Matthes on the far right.

Why visit Germany? Why take on multi-day hikes in Northeast Ohio?

Brian and Tracy say the trips they discussed with the German travel agents were reasonably priced. Seven days of hiking, plus breakfast, cartage and accommodation, would cost $700 per person. Here in NE Ohio, ExploreAFoot multi-day hikes range in price, and include lodging for overnight trips and transportation of luggage. Hikers don’t have to worry about dragging along heavy bags for miles and miles. The only thing you have to worry about is whether the Apfelstrudel comes with cream or not! Moreover, for those of us who live in the area, no hefty airline costs to get a “German-like” hiking experience in your own backyard! It is all about taking the time to unwind and challenge yourself to commit to walking about 35 miles over three days. It is much easier in Northeast Ohio because of the wonderful towpath and the Scenic railroad.

Hikers in the Akron and Chemnitz areas will notice many similarities between the sister cities: rivers and canals along the trail, quaint houses, the sound of a train whistle, sandstone rock formations and more. Brian and Tracy have been keeping a photo journal of comparisons. Take a peek at the trails they compared with those in NE Ohio!

It was really good to get back to Northeast Ohio and plans for the first big season are in the works. Cyclists, runners and walkers are encouraged to look at the Exploreafoot site and see if any of the offerings are suitable. Hikes can be short as an overnight trip, or as long as 5 days, walking from Cleveland along the towpath, to Zoar.