Auf und ab, Weinberge und Wald, Deutschland und Frankreich: Der Winzer Michael Gnägy erkundet seine südpfälzische Heimat am liebsten mit dem Mountainbike. Wanderern begegnet er stets mit Rücksicht – und mit einem Lachen im Gesicht.

The first view already is a magnificent one. Michael Gnägy has pedalled hard to bring his bike up the vineyard. Now, he stands at the edge of the forest and looks back. In the area around Bad Bergzabern and Schweigen-Rechtenbach, the Palatinate Forest flows down into the plain like gentle waves. The flowers of rapeseeds and red clovers have painted yellow and dark red stripes between the vines. On the horizon you can see the outlines of the Black Forest. Michael grew up here. But he still can’t see enough of this view, even after five decades. “I have been to the Alps as well, however, the variety here…is just very special.”

Schweigen-Rechtenbach: Here, the Palatinate Forest flows down into the plain like gentle waves.

Michael is a wine-grower as his main occupation. A few stretches of land of the colourfully striped vineyards at his feet belong to his organic business Nauerth-Gnägy in Schweigen-Rechtenbach. You can even see the roof of the wine cellar among the hills. However, the native of the Palatinate saddles his mountain bike whenever his occupation allows him to. He only takes a break of necessity during the five to six-weeks period of the annual grape harvest. After work, the wine-grower goes for a “quick” 45-kilometre flip one some days. On others, he rides his bike the entire day. And on his way, he examines the tracks and sees that everything is all right there. Michael and a friend of his take care of a track of the Palatinate Forest Mountain Bike Park in the Bad Bergzaberner Land region within the Südliche Weinstraße district. He checks the route markings or reports to the forestry authority when a fallen tree blocks a path. 

Michael Gnägy: a wine-grower and a passionate mountain biker.

Some 900 kilometres of tracks have been combined to form a network for mountain bikers in the Palatinate Forest: the ‘Mountainbikepark.’ Michael is by far no longer an outsider with regard to his hobby: This discipline is on the boom. It offers you arduous ascents, breath-taking views and bumpy descents—and a good thrill. And it takes place entirely in the country, in the open air. The park’s network comprises a total of 20 tours. Tour number 10 in Michael’s neighbourhood is one of the demanding ones.

“Bike-riding is an important part of my life,” Michael says. He used to play football until early in his 30s, before he had to undergo knee surgery twice. Without being able to move, he became nervous. He wanted to strengthen his muscles and at the same time go easy on the knees. So, he soon stepped on the bike regularly. A fall or two couldn’t keep him from going on. Michael laughs: “I enjoy overexerting myself.”

“Whenever I meet hikers, the first thing I do is: smile and say Hello.”

Michael Gnägy

The forest floor makes crunching sounds under the wide tyres. Even with an electric drive you can hardly keep up with the wine-grower. The track leads up to the Hohe Derst, which is the most elevated point in the Mundatwald forest, and through an espalier consisting of pine, beech, birch and oak trees. The Palatinate Forest presents itself in at least 50 different shades of green. It may seem as if Michael zooms past the woods and the vineyards—but they are much more for him than a backdrop for his sports activities: The nature lover and his family collect garbage from the tracks’ paths and he really had a hard time when his favourite birch at the viewpoint fell victim to the axe.

At a crossing, the smartphone suddenly reports: Welcome to France! Even if the border is actually a few more metres from here. Signs indicate that you are in the “Mundatwald,” an area with a special political history. It has remained under German sovereignty after World War Two, but the French took care to have permanent rights on water, timber and hunting. This compromise and many more facts illustrate how the national border in this region has become a rather theoretical construct. The Nauert-Gnägy wine-growing estate includes about one hectare of vineyards on the French side. Germans and French celebrate wine festivals together and visit each other on shopping tours. Michael says he has “fallen in love” with Schweigen-Rechtenbach’s French neighbour, the little town of Wissembourg. “There is vivid exchange. And that’s how it ought to be.” So the shock caused by the barriers put up due to the COVID pandemic temporarily hit the border region especially hard.

The view down from a height of 560 metres.

We have descended up to a height of 560 metres. And get rewarded with a view through a clearing onto the Rhine Rift Valley. Hikers or bikers, who reach the Hohe Derst peak and want to capture a great view to take it home, can also take a photo of the “Steinerner Tisch” (stone table) rock, a few metres from here. It is a formation composed of red-sandstone layers. Michael can’t decide whether he likes the up- or the downhill parts of the track better—he finds they belong together. “I enjoy reaching the top by my own efforts.”

Always friendly: Michael Gnägy.

However, we have to descend again and find our way into the valley, along curvy paths across soil and country. This day, it seems like hardly anybody else is in the forest. But this is not always the case. Not least because of the COVID pandemic, a growing number of people have rediscovered the outdoors right on their doorstep. For Michael it is, therefore, natural that mountain bikers have to be regardful of others. “The wiser head gives in.” This way you can avoid conflicts. At least Michael has practically always had friendly encounters with strollers or hikers. “Whenever I meet hikers, the first thing I do is: smile and say Hello.”

Tour 10


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