Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why Calau is a very successful example of travel branding

If you are looking for a long list of places to see and for entertainment, food experiences and cultural enchantment, Calau is for sure not your place to spend an adventurous day. But if you are curious to discover a destination that is trying its best to attract tourists and to learn some lessons in travel branding, this is where you should go. The train from Berlin takes around 1h30, and starts the ride every hour from Lichtenberg - or Ostkreuz. The first observation: from the train station till the city, you should walk around 30 minutes (the distance is of 2 km.)- or more if you are a bit slow. The joke goes that the reason was because the founders of the city 'wanted you directly from the train tracks'. 
This is one of the many jokes part of the city's living histories. The way to the city center is not very spectacular, with some green patches, a city swimming pool, some industrial stores and many typical, but only 4-storey Plattenbauten, the classical staple of communist architecture.
The small central area where we finally arrived when I was almost sure that we are on the wrong track looks clean, silent and invaded in all its corners by black metal dwarfs caught in different activities: reading, stumbling or just making grimaces to the visitors. There are the famous Kalauers, a kind of local jolly jokers ready to make your spirit low or high, depending on your sense of humour. A humouristic publication dedicated to such jokes used to be published here. At the local bookstore, small books with jokes are on the front row. You can use this visit as an opportunity to improve your sense of humour, why not?
The Cottbuser street is the main street, where you can find some of the big stores - many looking like the Berlin Wall was not destroyed more than a quarter of century ago. It starts with the Hotel zum Post, apparently the only posh destination with a local gourmet restaurants, and it continues with various other convenience locations. At the Tourist Information Center, you can not only obtain some maps and other information about directions, but you can also register for some guided tours - in German. Among others, there is a Old Timers bus tour - there is a very impressive collection of vintage cars - or a tour of the main churches. You can also visit the tower of one of the churches from where you can have some vistas of the area.
In the central square - the Markt - the city hall looks like a small castle, with an Italian restaurant welcoming the visitors near the entrance. Near the Markt, there are many icecream parlours or other small bakeries - like Bubner  - where you can stop for a cake or a coffee or both. 
But the visual unexpected surprises, not included in any guided tours that usually make my travel day. On a side street from the Market, a huge wall painting of a tree looks almost real from the distance. It is aimed to cover an otherwise ugly looking exterior elevator and it does it in a very artistic way. All my due respects to the artists and to the local authorities that understood the transforming power of the street art.
The old city area is covering a small area on the back streets of the Markt. The buildings were preserved in their historical originality and are hosting various museums sharing stories about Calau and its personalities. For instance, I've learned about Carl Anwandter, a former mayor and local politician who participated at the 1848 revolution and after moved to Chile where he encouraged the German immigration. 
There is one of the last days of the summer, and on the streets near the city exit huge tracks are hurrying up to go to the land for some latest agricultural works. If you are in the mood for some hiking, you can easily do it in the middle of the yellowish fields.
On old cobblestone streets, the jolly joker is surprising the visitor, just to be sure that you are not falling asleep or start thinking that Calau is too dull. 
Buildings bearing the architectural traces of the 18th and 19th century, create areas where you feel more like a traveler from Berlin, but a courageous time traveler.
Old Medieval walls destroyed by time, rains or wars were integrated into the local landscape, bringing some Romantic feeling into the busy industrial life. It makes you curious to find out more about the life that used to be once behind those walls. On the same street, there are also some small art workshops of local artists, a demonstration that Calau is more than jokes and ruins. 
On the (long) way back to the train station, I had enough time to consider once again my travel lessons in Calau. I cannot say it was the greatest trip of the year or even of the week, but in a couple of hours, I've learn something new about a place in Germany, that welcomed me with some nice surprises and a lot of jokes. Only for those small achievements and it is worth a little travel try.

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