Sunday, 17 July 2011

Waren - Cycling Through the Mecklenburg Lake District

Flags at Waren Marina
Yesterday we travelled 125km NNW of Berlin to Waren, the largest town in the 'Mecklenburgische Seenplatte' or the Mecklenburg Lake District. It lies on the northern tip of Lake Müritz, which is the largest lake entirely within Germany (the largest that is part in Germany is Lake Constance - aka Bodensee - but Austria and Switzerland also have shares in that body of freshwater). Apart from Lake Müritz, there are hundreds of other smaller lakes, left over from the last Ice Age. Unlike the English Lake District, there are no fells or waterfalls of course, but there are acres and acres of woodland and natural heath in the Müritz National Park and Conservation Area.

As the landscape is pretty much flat, the area around Waren is prefect for unstrenuous cycling, and this is what we did. We travelled in a group of 13 English-speaking photographers from Berlin to Waren on a Regional Express train with three Berlin-Brandenburg Tickets (Waren is just over the border from Brandenburg, in Meck-Pomm, but it is covered by the BB ticket). The bike compartment was pretty full, and sensibly most of our group had pre-hired bikes at Waren instead at the excellent Zweirad Karberg, but the journey was only an hour and a half or so with no connections.

RE 4538 Bike Compartment
'Waren' literally means 'goods' or 'merchandise' in English, and it looked like there were lots of these for offer at the market in the old town.

Neuer Markplatz in Waren.
Rennovated Fachwerkhäuser on the edge of the square.
 Apart from the usual flea-market stuff, there was some lovely Töpferwaren (ceramic ware) whose colours and patterns seemed to perfectly capture the shiny, fractured light of the sun on the lake and the flowers in the fields:

Pottery for sale at Waren
Of course the name 'Waren' doesn't actually come from 'merchandise'; it might be derived from the Slavic for place of Ravens, or might refer to the Germanic tribe of the Warnen (Varin). Anyway, it was first recorded as Virunum by the Alexandrian Romano-Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy in 150 AD, so the settlement here has a long history indeed.

It first came to prominence as a walled trade town in 1260, but devastating fires in 1568, 1637, 1671, 1673 and again in 1699, followed by heavy sieging and destruction during the Thirty Years War, means that little of the medieval town survived. By contrast, it was given up without a fight to the Soviet Army on 1st May 1945. Perhaps they had had enough rebuilding from the ruins. Ironically, the surviving old buildings were then subjected to demolition by the East Germans in the interests of 'Urban Planning'. Enough were saved by a concerted 'Save the Old Town' campaign during the 1970's that, post unification, the town centre could be effectively renovated. The result is charming but with a slight feeling that it is all artificial, which indeed much of it is. All the better to entice the tourist!

One example of un-authenticity/tourist trappings is the Ritterstuben on Neuer Marktplatz where we had a pre-cycle coffee and Apfelstrüdel energy boost. The outside eating area was picturesquely located next to the market and the fountain, but go inside the Ritterstuben (literally: knight's parlour rooms), down the steps into the dark interior, and you felt like you might expect to meet Scooby Doo running in the opposite direction. The stone vaulted cellars are done up like a spooky castle dungeon, with antique shields and weapons on the wall, and suits of armour that at any moment might come to life. Outside, as I say was pleasant, and you could seat yourself in the cosiness of a cheery Strandkorb. But the waitresses were dressed in long brown and white robes and caps, looking as if they were doing some mediaeval penance. Perhaps as punishment for dropping litter, of which there was none to be seen in pristine Waren.

Here are a few photos to give you the feel of the renovated 'alt-Stadt':
The modern fountain in Waren Neuer Markplatz.
Quiet cobbled side-street in Waren.
Not ideal for riding a bike down! 
Löwen Apotheke frontage
There must a reason why so many pharmacies are named after either a lion or an eagle (Adler) but I'm not sure what it is.
Neues Rathaus (Waren town hall) and Stadt-Museum
Another cobbled street
Another renovated Fachwerkhaus.
Marienkirche, Waren. The tower was first constructed back in the 14th C.
How many times it has been rebuilt since, Wikipedia doesn't say.
Back to the Marktbrunnen in Neuer Marktplatz.
OK, Waren centre isn't all that big!
The town also has examples of one or two more modern architecture. Okay, one, the Müritzeum, which is an introduction to the Müritz National Park - it bills itself as the House of a Thousand Lakes - and has a fresh-water aquarium of 40 local fish species. Apparently. We didn't go in to check. It does look a bit more like a cinema than an aquarium, but anyway that's about as modern you get in Waren's architectural town-scape.
The Müritzeum. Not to be confused with a cinema.
There are also some Fachwerkhäuser that haven't been renovated yet. Last chance to see, before they inevitably get covered up in plaster and paint. This example perhaps gives you an idea of how the pre-seventies town centre looked.

Un-renovated Fachwerkhaus
For our short (about 30km) bike tour of Müritz, we headed SE out of Waren, passing the Bad Feisneck public bathing beach.

Strandbad Feisneck
I love it how in Germany there are so many water-holes everywhere which people with their kids flock to and swim in the water or lay on the beach and generally behave as if they were at the sea-side. Never in England! But then in England you aren't ever far away from the real sea-side, and it does help that the vast plain of Northern Europe is mostly made of underlying sand. Which is great for building sand-castles!

Sandcastles at Feisneck
Soon we were cycling in open countryside along tree-lined roads with very little traffic. We saw an eagle circling overhead, and the many flowers were humming with bees and butterflies.

Cycling along Federower Weg
ein Schmetterling
We were heading for a small village called Speck, which sounds exactly like the German word for bacon but in fact derives from the Slavic word for an embanked causeway through a swamp. And looking at the map, you can imagine how all the small lakes merged with the Müritz at one point, with very little distinction between land and water other than that you sank slower into one than the other.

Places to stop were few and far between, but included huddles of services for the tourist like Federow, where you could get 'Bier vom Fass', or ice cream, or stroke sheep and piglets in the petting zoo. There was also this little chap.

Wooden woodsman at Federow
There are also two places at Speck to refresh yourself, but not a lot else. There was a small church though, which was cute enough nestling in the forest:

Kirche in Speck
Nearby was the gatehouse to a dilapidated Schloß. You couldn't go to it now, but an information board visible just behind the locked gates (and readable only through my telephoto lens) said that the Schloß was erected in 1937 as a hunting lodge by one Dr Kurt Hermann on the foundations of an 18th Century manor house. Ominously, after expropriation by the Soviet military, the information board goes on to say that the Schloß was the seat of the Soviet Kommandant for the area, and the grounds used as an internment centre for refugees. The German wikipedia page for Waren says that by the end of 1945 6,000 refugees from former German territories in the East (what was then Prussian, but is now Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian etc) ended up in the area, and that in 1946 a typhus epidemic claimed many victims. It also says that the Soviet NKVD (fore-runner of the KGB) used harsh torture to interrogate the refugees (trying to root out Nazis and fascist ideology). I wonder what went on beyond these locked gates, and shudder.

Specker Schloss Gatehouse.
Closed until further notice.
Nowadays the most populous presence around Speck are cows, and I wonder what the village (indeed, Waren too) is like outside the tourist season.

Calves near Speck.
About to do a three-cow pyramid.
The plattenbau block of flats are now succumbing to nature, and the scariest inhabitants are giant snails:

Speck Schneck
In fact, the whole area seems to be sinking into disuse:

Derelict barn, Speck
No time to ponder on the future of habitation in this area though, as we had to return to Waren before the bike hire period ran out. Hardly enough time even on the return journey to appreciate the abundance of wildflowers, the giant dragonflies, or the numerous skylarks singing high overhead.

Flowers in Müritz National Park
Time enough though for a stop on a wooden viewing platform on Feisnecksee and take in the panorama of land, lake, and sky. And to watch the many fish darting amongst the reeds and the grebes on the lake. If we had bothered to go in the Müritzeum we might have been able to say which of the 40 species of fish they were. Like we care.

Back in Waren we explored the marina area before heading back (either for a Bier on the Neuer Marktplatz or like us, for the train home).

Waren Marina
Smoked Fish
No idea what's going on here.
I guess it's what they call 'modern sculptor'
Cruise boats at Waren Marina

Evening on Müritz.
In conclusion, a great day out for a sunny Saturday, though for a photography club we spent more time cycling than actually taking photos. It is well recommended as an excursion from, and contrast to, Berlin. Though perhaps stick to visiting in season.