Flood of History
After a great meal it’s good to get out. Where to? Once again in our travel feature we head to neighbouring Germany. If you think you know Germany well and there is little to surprise you, think again – our neighbour has more to offer than famous mountains, castles and chateaus, international trade fairs, world-renowned beer with bratwurst, and big cities pulsing with culture. Less than a hundred kilometres from Czechia’s northernmost point lies the Brandenburg region, brimming with delicious cuisine, beautiful nature, stunning lakes, boundless sporting opportunities and unforgettable experiences.
Brandenburg, a low-lying area interwoven with rivers and lakes, lies in north-eastern Germany near the country’s border with Poland. At almost 30,000 square kilometres, it is the fifth largest state in Germany. Although the map suggests that Berlin is part of Brandenburg, Germany’s capital city separated from the surrounding state in 1881. In 1995 the German government tried to reunite the city and the state, but the local referendum did not concur. The history of Brandenburg and its people goes back to the Middle Ages, when the region was part of greater Germania. From 1373 to 1415 – a period of some forty years – Brandenburg belonged to the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, and the House of Luxembourg with the Czech King Charles IV at the helm left their mark on the area. During the communist era Brandenburg lost its statehood status and was incorporated into several districts within East Germany, but this was reversed in the early 1990s following Germany’s reunification. It is hardly surprising that this rich history has left an imprint on the state’s historical cities, medieval castles and enchanting chateaus.
Some of the area’s most famous tourist destinations boasting world heritage prominence are Brandenburg’s capital Potsdam and the city of Cottbus in the history-rich Lower Lusatia region. The historical towns of Rheinsberg, Brandenburg an der Havel and Gransee are also well worth a visit. Although very popular, these traditional tourist destinations did not make it onto our itinerary.
Our journey steered us first to the city of Senftenberg in the remarkable Lusatian Lake District, about a two-hour drive from Prague. Since the second half of the nineteenth century this area has been highly prized for its vast resources of lignite coal, of which two billion tons have been extracted over the years. It is not difficult to imagine what the massive mining effort did to the previously pristine landscape. Although mining continues in some places, the vast majority of the region has been undergoing a very successful revitalisation programme since the 1970s, which by the end of this year will have seen the creation of the largest artificial lake region in all of Europe. The lakes fit so well into the landscape that it is hard to believe they had not been there for centuries, and that today’s green oasis resembled a devastated moonscape just a few years ago.
The first beach area opened on the shores of Lake Senftenberg in 1973, and its excellent water quality has made it a perfect place for water sports as well as fishing and diving. The lake is fringed with seven kilometres of beaches and a bicycle path, and it boasts an island – all places favoured by families with children. The town of Senftenberg is very welcoming, and as soon as we sat down to our first breakfast overlooking one of the largest artificial lakes in Germany, we knew we were in the right place to relax. The fresh breeze dissipated all our worries and feeling carefree, we set off for a walk towards the town’s harbour. Built in 2013 from a design by the German architectural studio Astoc, the harbour is destined to be the future hub of the lake region. It exudes a pleasant Nordic atmosphere, and its restaurants, shops and bike and boat rental places cater to locals just as well as to tourists. We hired bicycles and in a few minutes reached the neighbouring Lake Geierswald, which was linked to Lake Senftenberg by a canal in 2013. A future plan envisions interconnecting all the lakes by thirteen navigable canals, which will improve the overall logistics of the region and bring new opportunities for enjoying this wonderful water world.
Between Lakes Geierswald and Sedlitz stands a striking thirty-metre lookout tower known as the Rusty Nail. Built from rusting steel, the tower evokes the region’s mining past, its sculptural staircase a celebration of human achievement and of the future. If feeling hungry after a bike ride or a long walk, be sure to visit the hotel and restaurant Leuchtturm. The red and white lighthouse offers stylish accommodation and a wide selection of local specialities, including Pellkartoffeln mit Quark – potatoes boiled in their skin and served with quark. Another ‘must’ for foodies is the Senftenberg restaurant and cooking school known as Die Drogerie. Named for the pharmacy that was originally on its site, Die Drogerie features an exquisite interior inclusive of a wine cellar. The cooking school employs two chefs who create excellent seasonal dishes from quality ingredients, and they host cooking workshops and other culinary events.
The last lake on our tour through the lake region was Lake Großräschen, formerly known as Ilsesee. You won’t find any fish or boats on the lake, as the water has not yet reached the desired depth or correct pH level. What you can enjoy here is the unfolding process of creating a lake, with the tips of trees above the water line hinting at areas that were dry land just a year ago. At the edge of the lake stands the Seehotel [Lake Hotel]. Years ago it served as housing for unmarried miners, but today it offers lovely accommodation, a restaurant and even a small art gallery. Above the lake stretches a 270-metre long, concrete promenade built as part of the International Building Exhibition project. Its open terraces above a small vineyard include an exhibition centre and a café, and end with a lookout bridge designed with a nod to the region’s industrial past.
From the lake we continued north for less than an hour to the fairy tale world of the glassmaking village/museum known as Baruther Glashütte. With a history of glassmaking that goes back some three hundred years, the village furnaces are still glowing hot, though today glass is made there only in small numbers. Visitors can try their hand at glassblowing or purchase glass products and other handicrafts in the museum gift shop. The quaint village is complete with a flower shop, a small pub, a shop selling sausages, a café with a ceramics workshop, a gallery, a multifunctional hall and a small museum featuring the work of Rony Plesl – a star of Czech glassmaking.
To explore the sporting opportunities offered by the Brandenburg region, we headed south from Berlin to the flat countryside of Niederen Fläming [Lower Fläming] and Baruther Urstromtal [the Baruth glacial valley]. There we joined cyclists and inline skaters on the Flaeming-Skate bike and skate trail, Europe’s longest connected skating and cycling path boasting a length of more than 230 kilometres. If you prefer hiking, perhaps even hiking to abandoned or eerie places, then a visit to Beelitz-Heilstätten is a must. The former sanatorium for curing lung diseases opened in 1898 and during the war years transformed into a military hospital. From 1945 until 1995 the 60 buildings comprising the complex were occupied by the Soviets, and after their departure the complex became largely forgotten. But not by everyone, for the desolate space quickly became a hub of nightlife activity, luring looters as well as fans of horror. The site has served as a set for a number of films and as a venue for a few big concerts. Today the former sanatorium can be accessed only with a guide, and in spite of the pleasant tour, the surrounding greenery, the ever-present birdsong and the salutary fresh air, it feels very spooky. The hair-raising atmosphere is indescribable and must be experienced first hand.
Our last stop was Spargelhof Klaistow, a former family estate that has grown into one of the largest producers of asparagus in Germany. During the growing season between 50 to 100 tonnes of the vitamin-rich vegetable are produced there each day, together with blueberries, strawberries and pumpkins, and the produce is used for various locally-made delicacies and drinks. The estate is surrounded by a grove and a small game reserve and regularly hosts events of all kinds. It would be unthinkable to stop at Spargelhof and to not enjoy its namesake product, and so we fuelled up with a large portion of white asparagus served with Hollandaise sauce and followed it with home-made blueberry soda. A perfect culinary farewell to our unforgettable Brandenburg excursion.
You can read the whole story in the printed edition of Soffa 27:
partner for the article: The German National Tourist Board | text: Patrik Florián | photo: Tereza Menclová