Road trip in Germany: “The B3 is the German Route 66”

Ein chewing gum machine after another. They have been hanging – red, rusty, scratched – on house walls and garden fences for decades. Some of them are out of order, others are functional. With coin slot, viewing window, rotary handle and this somewhat unhygienic fold-out compartment from which you can find chewing gum balls and other odds and ends. Strategically placed near bus stops, school routes and restaurants along the federal highway 3.

The “B3” stretches a good 800 kilometers from north to south-west, through three federal states, from Buxtehude in Lower Saxony via Frankfurt in Hesse to Weil am Rhein in Baden-Württemberg. First straight: through the Lüneburg Heath and the North German Plain, often lined with avenue trees.

Continue through the winding Calenberger Land and Weserbergland, over mountains and valleys through Northern Hesse to Frankfurt. From there it meanders along the vineyards and castles via Heidelberg and Freiburg into the Markgräflerland.

Follow the old route of the B3

And she is very old. The B3 was already used by the Celts as a trade route and by the Romans as an army route for the legions. Roman paving stones were accidentally excavated in the 1950s during canal work along the Odenwald and are now on display in Heppenheim.

In Heppenheim, cobblestones from Roman times can be seen

Source: Wolfgang Groeger-Meier

Here and there are weathered milestones along its course (near Marienburg Castle in Lower Saxony) and watchtowers, such as the watch tower from 1589 in Weingarten near Bruchsal. At that time, a toll was levied for their use of the road, now replaced by the truck toll.

The B3 has long been bypassed in many places on bypass roads or ends in expressways and motorways such as at Marburg or Soltau. It is often called Bundesstrasse 3n or 3a.

It is more attractive to follow your old route. The “3” is only pasted over on old traffic signs, street names such as “Frankfurter Straße” are reminiscent of the former long-distance route.

A highway of the economic miracle

If you look closely, Bundesstraße 3 is today, not only geographically, the West German counter-model to the East German B96, the federal highway that runs from Zittau in Saxony via Berlin to Rügen, the dream route in the East for GDR nostalgics.

Trees line the B3 near the small town of Pattensen in Lower Saxony

Trees line the B3 near the small town of Pattensen in Lower Saxony

Source: Wolfgang Groeger-Meier

The B3, however, was a trunk road of the economic miracle – and in many places it looks as if it has been preserved on this stand. It is worth leaving the autobahn for a lovely retro tour “over the villages” along the B3.

For example in the Lüneburg Heath near Schneverdingen: Here you can find Heidschnuckenbraten in the restaurants and organic heather honey on the roadside, cafés that still offer “only jugs outside” but put huge pieces of cake on the plates, gooseberry sauce with cream from the Grandmother freshly baked.

Bundesstrasse 3: There are still cafes here that offer “only jugs outside”

There are still cafes here that offer “only jugs outside”

Source: Wolfgang Groeger-Meier

Country inns with 1960s interiors, wing chairs, kidney-shaped tables, crocheted tablecloths and those thick wooden sling rods on the rigid curtains so that the curtains sit neatly upright.

Motorcyclists love the notorious Schedener hairpin bends from Göttingen to Hannoversch Münden. Cyclists appreciate the new romantic cycle path next to the B3, which meanders along the Fulda valley under avenue trees to Kassel.

“This is where Germany begins to become Italy”

The B3 also offers a real piece of contemporary musical history. In Bad Nauheim, Hessen, the owners of the “Hotel Grunewald” the originally preserved room 10 from the 1950s, because the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” lived there for a few months. At the end of 1958 Elvis Presley commuted back and forth on the B3 in his BMW 507 between the hotel and the barracks in Friedberg.

Massive furniture, wall mirrors, picture frames with golden ornaments, scratchy, pink-patterned armchair covers, a bathroom with flower tiles and – legendary – the original black toilet seat. 1950s chic.

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At the Odenwald, further south, the B3 becomes a tourist holiday route. For a good 68 kilometers between Darmstadt and Wiesloch, it is called the Bergstraße holiday route, runs at the foot of the Odenwald and mostly a little above the Rhine plain.

Almond trees bloom on its slopes and excellent wine grows thanks to the mild and sunny climate and the fertile loess soil. Even figs thrive here. Emperor Joseph II (1765–1790) is said to have exclaimed during a rest on the Bergstrasse: “This is where Germany begins to become Italy”.

A photographer shows us the charm of the federal highway

In culinary terms, the B3 is also coming to an end. A break at the wooden carts (“Zweschtgen-Schäs”) full of Bühler plums, which the traders on the roadside in the Markgräflerland behind Rastatt sell. In long curves past orchards, on hills with a view of the Rhine plain, through Freiburg to Weil am Rhein, where it ends at the border crossing to Switzerland and Basel.

Her biggest fan is the Munich-based photographer Wolfgang Groeger-Meier, who like me grew up near the B3 in Lower Saxony. Since 2017 he has been driving his mint green BMW classic, built in 1975, on this “dream road” for months.

Photographer Wolfgang Groeger-Meier is a fan of Bundesstraße 3

Photographer Wolfgang Groeger-Meier is a fan of Bundesstraße 3

Source: Wolfgang Groeger-Meier

Even a blog (bundesstrasse3.de) and he has dedicated a book to her: “Allure of the South” (Corso Verlag). The BMW Museum in Munich shows until September 2019, unsponsored, photos of the trip in the special exhibition “Traumstrasse B3” – and of course the mint green vintage BMW 2002 from 1975.

Wolfgang Groeger-Meier says: “For me it is the German Route 66.” He drove it with friends, kilometer after kilometer, “on a dream road towards the sun. Because the longing begins right after Buxtehude. The route is varied because the people who live there make it so. “

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He discovered hand-painted advertisements on house facades such as the “Hotel zur Post” in Bad Schönborn, an advertisement for a “Berg Bräu Brauerei Leinem” that had long since closed. But the facade advertising survived.

He attended the Stettfelder mill in Ubstadt-Weiher in Baden. Kornelia Dewald runs the mill together with her siblings in the third generation and tells about the family and the location on the B3.

A policeman brews beer in a garage next to the Stettfelder Mühle. Matthias Prestel started doing it in 1995 and called it PB Prestelbräu; The hobby turned into a real brewery with pilsner and dark beer, which he runs today together with Dieter Harlacher.

By the way: Wolfgang Groeger-Meier has never seen so many old chewing gum machines as on the B3. It must be because of their retro flair.

Course of the federal highway 3

Source: WORLD infographic

This article was first published in July 2019.

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