Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Cloisters, Storks, and Canals in the Sky

Today we went for a cycle-ride in NE Brandenburg, through the wonderful Biosphärenreservat (UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) of Schorfheide-Chorin near to the Polish border.

We started at Chorin, after a short Regional Train journey from Bernau (on the Berlin S2 line), and soon followed the cycle path through a charming village to the wooded shores of the nearby Amtssee. We had bought a monthly Fahrradkarte (bike ticket) for taking our bikes on the train, but if you haven't got a bike, we noticed that there was a large bike hire place at Chorin station that has a wide selection, including a Trampelbus - a bike-bus for twelve people to pedal at once, or even a six-seater electric 'Safari' car! Price-list for bike hire at Chorin Bahnhof.

Apart from being a pleasant village that wouldn't have seemed out of place in the English Cotswold, Chorin is famous for its Cistercian monastery, and it is this we found on the edge of the Amtssee.

Having been used to visiting English monasteries - that is, piles of masonry, collapsed aisles, and the foundations of buildings that used to be there - it is always something of a surprise to find German abbeys in such good condition. This isn't wholly just because King Henry VIII's vandals didn't get their hands on them and strip them to their foundations. Germany also had its own Protestant Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries (in Chorin's case, in 1542), and they also had the terrible Thirty Years' War that left Brandenburg (and most of Europe) a deserted, plundered, battle-field.

No, Kloster Chorin did indeed become a picturesque ruin haunted by wistful Romantic artists, but it was saved (as many other ecclesiastical buildings in Berlin and Brandenburg were) by the architect and state planner Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who had the church and monastery at least partially reconstructed in the nineteenth century. Anyway, the abbey looks magnificent with its Mediaeval red-brick Gothic and lake-side woodland setting. We wouldn't mind having a look around, but we had only just started our bike-ride!

Our next stop was Brodowin, but to reach it we had to cycle along the 5km long Denglerweg, a cobbled path through forest. Riding on uneven cobbles for that distance was not much fun, and our legs and behinds were soon complaining! Half-way along though was a good sandwich stop by the Dengler Stone ('Denglerstein').

Denglerweg? Denglerstein? Who is this Dengler then? Luckily there is a cast bronze portrait of the man himself on the stone, and a plaque informing us that Dr Dr Alfred Dengler (1874 - 1944) was head of the main Forestry school in Eberswalde and author of the walk and handbook 'Waldbau auf ökologischer Grunlage' - or 'Forestry based on ecological principles'. So now you know!

Finally we got out of the forest and into a landscape of rolling, ice-age formed hills in which nestled the rural community of Brodowin. There to greet us were a pair of majestic white storks nesting high on a specially erected platform above the village green. One of the storks soared off into the blue sky on enormous, outstretched wings, but its mate stayed behind and allowed me to photograph her:

The local news at the moment is full of stories about a blue stork nesting in Biegen, which is SE of Berlin on the road out to Frankfurt Oder. Nobody knows how it got to be blue, but if it's a Berliner punk stork it might be the result of a feather-dye gone wrong.

From Brodowin we carried on East, passing glacier boulder-lined fields and sparkling blue lakes. And then, a big suprise, a real hill! With steep sides and a proper peak and everything. This was the Rummelsberg, and admittedly it was only 81 metres high, but it did offer a wonderful panorama of the surrounding countryside.

And there's Brodowin church steeple again in the distance, but no sign of the storks.

Strangely (having not seen a soul for miles), whilst we were admiring the view, half a dozen young men appeared over the brow and joined us on the Rummelsberg peak. When we climbed back to the bottom we saw that they had hired one of the Safari electric cars from Chorin train-station. We wondered if they had driven that over the same cobble-stoned forest path we had taken, and hoped it had good suspension if they had.

Not far from here we came to Pehlitzwerder, which seemed to be not more than a camp-site on the SW shore of the lake Parsteiner See. There did used to be another Cistercian monastery here at one time, Kloster Mariensee - or The Lake of The Virign Mary - but if there is anything left there now it is hidden under a caravan. Down by the lake, the waters were crystal-clear and the most unbelievable blue.

It was interesting to see that by the edge of the road around the Partseiner See there were barriers to stop migrating toads crawling onto the road, and tunnels under the road for them. We used to spend many an early Spring evening in Derbyshire with a bucket and a torch helping toads across the road, and here there was protection specially for them!

After refreshments (Pflaumekuchen mit Sahne!) at another campsite on the Eastern edge of the Parsteiner See, we joined the busy L29 (a proper road. With tarmac!) and headed south for Oderberg. This was a busy market-town, and as you might gather by its name it is on the river Oder, and hence close to the Polish border. We had no time to look around and headed along the old course of the Oder (diverting around the Teufelsberg - Devil's hill) towards our final destination, the Niederfinow boat lift.

This truly is an amazing piece of engineering. The lift is 60m high and raises a trough containing a section of the Oder-Havel canal, with boats of course, up to the rest of the canal on the plateau above that stretches as far as The Netherlands. Opened in 1914, it is Germany's oldest working boat lift. And it is still working; whilst we were there it took a barge up in about five minutes.

For the modest price of a euro, you can climb the path up the hillside to the top and walk along the canal-side to the dizzying heights at the top of the lift.

After gawping at the sheer scale of the boat lift, we cycled to the small station at Struwenberg and caught the train home.

Amazingly, because of the increase in traffic on the Oder-Havel canal, they are building another boat lift right next to the existing one, and this one will be even bigger. That should be ready in 2012, and will be something to see.

A great day out, and about 35km of cycling (though it felt like more after all the cobbles).

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