Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Village of the Storks

Today we had a pleasant cycle alongside the river Elbe in north-west Brandenburg from Wittenberge to Bad Wilsnack. Along the way we called in on Rühstädt, which in 1996 was given the title Europäisches Storchendorf (European stork village). It is not hard to see why; as soon as you enter the village you are met with the delightful sight of stork nests on top of nearly every roof.

Usually the village gets over forty nesting pairs between April and August. Every nest has a board at street-level recording when the storks arrived and how many offspring they had.

The practice of providing nesting-sites for them began in the 1970's, when there were seven nesting pairs who had nine youngsters, but the environment around here is perfect for storks (fish, frogs and snakes in the wide gentle Elbe and acres of beautiful meadows) and with a bit of encouragement the numbers who returned just grew and grew.

Naturally, the small village (population 240) gets a lot of visitors to see this spectacle, and who could begrudge the locals from making a small revenue from their unique spectacle. Incidentally, this Minimarkt near the village church also does a good line in everything you could possibly make out of sanddorn too.

But it is for the real storks that people 'flock' here. The nests are not that high, so you can really get a close look at them. With a telephoto lens you can almost feel like you are on the nest with them.

I suppose they have got used to the tourists gawping at them, and just look serenely down on them like they are lords and ladies of the village.

The village itself dates back into mediaeval times and probably gets its name (Rühstädt means in old German town of rest) because the crypt in the 13th Century church was the final resting place of the ancient Mark Brandenburg knights of von Quitzow.

When the von Quitzow line died in 1719, the village and estate was granted by the Soldier King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia to his old Tabakskollegium chum Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Grumbkow. Von Grumbkow had the old castle at Rühstädt pulled down and replaced with an elegant single-story, three-winged Schloss. To commemorate the investiture of Rühstädt he had a 10 metre high sandstone obelisk erected at the Western end of the Schlosspark. This was the first thing we came across of Rühstädt when cycling down from Wittenberge, and we wondered what it was. Now we know! It might have been easier to decipher if the von Grumbkow coat of arms and inscriptions on it had not been eradicated by zealous anti-Imperialists when the village came under Soviet control after the war.

The heirs of von Grumbkow couldn't keep up the running of the village and Schloss and so they were acquired in 1780 by one Magdalene von Jagow (born a von Bismarck), who together with her husband Georg Friedrich Otto von Jagow had a baroque Schloss built to replace the old one.

Things trundled quietly on from then, with only the addition of things like a Lustgarten and moat to disturb the peace, until the last owner, Carl von Jagow, was forcefully evicted by the Soviet army in October 1945. The Schloss was ransacked and looted by the Red Army and those who came in its wake, and then was occupied by Germans displaced from Eastern Prussia (which was now Poland), before becoming a Old Persons' nursing home. Post-unification in 1998 the last Old Person was moved out, and the Schloss was sold into private ownership. It was fully renovated and is now a hotel. I didn't bother to photo it because it is a bit 'mah', but here is a photo of the nearby Töpferei im Schafstall  ('the pottery in the sheepfold') instead:

But you don't primarily visit Rühsädt to buy pots, or even sanddorn marmalade and liquor, but instead to see the storks, so here I will finish off with a couple more:

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