Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Alien Critters of Oranienburg

The long winter seems almost over. The main roads are clear of snow now, but the tracks through the woods are still icy and the lakes are frozen over.

But the sun has made a welcome appearance and it is time to get our bikes out for a cycle-ride to Oranienburg, a town not far north west of us.

After what seemed like interminably long and straight cycling on a flat cycle path next to the road from Schmachtenhagen, the first sign you are approaching Oranienburg is Lehnitzschleuse, a lock connecting shipping from Lehnitzsee to the long-distance Ober-Havel canal. As you can see, it has been a few days since an ice-breaker ship had been this way.



Oranienburg itself is a sleepy, pleasant town well away from the bustle of Berlin. It is dominated by Schloss Oranienburg, a wonderful white-walled château built in the Dutch style.



The history is that this formerly Slav town named Bötzow was given as a gift by Friedrich Wilhelm I, Elector of Brandenburg, to his wife Countess Louise Henriette of the Dutch house Orange-Nassau in the middle of the Seventeenth Century. Bötzow was renamed Oranienburg (in 1653) and became the preferred palace for the Electors of Brandenburg until it was sold by the cost-saving and frill-cutting King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia (as the Electors had now become) in 1802. The Schloss passed into private ownership and variously became a cotton mill, a sulphuric acid factory, a paraffin and tallow candle manufacturer, and a seminary for Protestant teachers from 1861 until 1925. Inevitably it became a barracks for the SS during the war, and yes, was extensively damaged by Allied bombing, not least because the Nazis were researching nuclear weaponry there. What remained of the castle was partially rebuilt by the Red Army after the war, and used as a barracks for border troops of the DDR. Finally it was fully restored in 1999 and now houses a museum and restaurant.

What Louise Henriette of Orange would say about what happened to her beloved Dutch home from home I couldn't imagine, but her statue has been standing on the Schlossplatz in front of the château since 1858 (the 191st anniversary of her death).


BTW it is no coincidence that the Oranienburger Straße S2 S-Bahn station is tiled in Orange - it is a reminder of the town's association with the Dutch house of Orange.

You can't talk about Oranienburg nowadays without remembrance of the awful Nazi atrocities that took place here too. Just on the outskirts is the site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the prototype for all Nazi concentration camps and the barbarity of The Final Solution. It is worth a visit for its chilling interpretation of the atrocities that took place on the site, and a few of the cold, haunted barracks have been preserved which give you a hollow feel for the inhumanity of the place. Not a fun day-trip out from Berlin, but an educating one none-the less. Here's the inevitable 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign over the entrance (German: "Work will set you free") to be duplicated from Auschwitz to Dachau.



But what of these alien critters in the title? Whilst cycling by the Havel in Oranienburg we were rather surprised to see a family of enormous nutrias, or coypu, who really should have been more at home in South America. What they are doing here I couldn't say, unless they have escaped into the wild from a nearby zoo, but they do seem to be thriving!



The total ride was about 25 miles, and you can see a map of the route here.

Julie is getting in practice for a 65 mile cycle from Retford to Skegness, England, in aid of The Stroke Association. More details and a chance to donate here.

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