Friday, June 14, 2019

A Lovely Guide of a Busy Day in Wismar

I planned my trip to Wismar for ever. At least 3 times the last year I was 24 hours before the scheduled adventure and something out of my control happened and had to put it on hold until the next time. And then the winter arrived and the idea of spending one full day outdoors at many degrees below minus was not a real temptation, even for a traveller like me.
This until two weeks ago, when I just ignored any other work and personal calls, bought a 36.70 Euro Ostsee ticket and arrived after a 3-hour trip from Berlin to Wismar. From the train station, I only had to follow the tourist directions and made my way slowly to the center of the city, direction Altstadt - old city.

Wismar was part of the Hanseatic league, an organisation covering Northern Europe made of merchant community that decided to protect together their mutual trade interests. Founded in the Middle Ages (between 13th and 15th century), the member cities developped independently from the economic point of view. The traces of their wealth and free spirit are still visible nowadays. 
My first acquintance with the city starts on Poehlstraße, where a mixture of red bricked houses and curvaceous roofs reminds me of Lüneburg.

Summer adds its personal note of charm as heavy roses bushes are decorating the entrances into relatively more modern buildings.

A couple of meters away, a big group of French-speaking tourists are gathering to take pictures at the Schweinsbrücke - Pig's bridge - a 19th century bridge over the river Grube.

The architecture of the houses, at a relatively non-eventful time of the day and the week, reveals in its full charm and beauty. On ABC Straße, for instance, many of those houses host at the ground level local art galleries - like the Baltic Soul Gallery - and antiques stores

There is more to admire on Lübsche Straße, where the houses are requesting for more space, as probably the inhabitants themselves, perhaps local merchants, were a social level upper. 

Lacking proper knowledge about the history of the local architecture, I am just using my eyes to work on patterns and styles.  

Amtsgericht building - the district court - displays a relatively controlled geometry, and has a generous backyard that can be visited for free.

The front entrance though, offers a joyous - and sensual too - aproach to life, with probably some beginning of the times Biblical references, when people cared way too much about a fully dressed dress code. 

Rathaus - the city hall - looks relatively modest size-wise, compared to the usual size of such institutions in Germany, a kind of small palace surrounded by same-size 2-storey buildings with restaurants of all sorts. 
Near the entrance to the city hall, a small patch on the walking area reminds that in Wismar was turned one of the first horror movies of all times - Nosferatu, by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, in 1922.  On the other side of the square, a noisy group of youngsters, are screaming from the top of their lungs while taking selfies surrounded by some freshly discharged garbage. Maybe there is some dark side of Wismar after all...

The rest of the square keeps the same architectural pace, with the well-coordinated geometry as the main visual feature. Almost every single colourful or bricked-house has an inviting restaurant or cafe or icecream parlour. As Wismar is not a highly touristic place, the prices are moderate and at the first sight, the service looks friendly. You only need to have some extra time to taste each and every one of it, which I am obviously - as usual - out of.

For a couple of minutes, I am mixing up with the local, accompanied by dogs or children or just on their own, crossing the big park. Jogging and cycling is also possible, and it looks like one of the city's biggest natural attractions.

The architecture calls me back on the beaten paths, with more house-admiration on Krämerstraße.

The side-streets, even emptier, are also an attractive view, and I am meeting again the river Grube, this time from the Frische bridge.

At the first sight, the architecture of the Fire Station reminds me of some patterns I've encountered in Hamburg. No wonder, as the architect Arthur Euler was a follower of the red-brick architecture that created in Hamburg the Chile Haus.

Houses with painted facades, giving short insights about their initial destination, remind me of the stories written on the walls of Bavarian cities like Füssen or some Swiss pretty towns.

If until now, the city was almost asleep for the first half of the day, I am about to meet a completely different vibe once I am entering the port area. There is even a New Orleans restaurant, although  if thinking about the live music and energy of the Bourbon street, the comparison is very unrealistic. 

The restaurants are even more inviting, with the predominant meals being fish-based, Italian style.

From the shores, there are several boat round-trips that can be booked. Most of them last around 1h30 and during the summer, are taking place every hour. Besides the relaxing sea view, one can also enjoy different treats.
For instance, the boat trip I booked, was called Pfannkuchen - Pancakes - tour. For the price of the ticket - 20 euro - you got non-stop pancakes feeding, with apple sauce, plus a drink. Could it be more enjoyable - maybe an icecream tour, for the very hot days.

Once in the waters, there is the maritime industry of Wismar which offers a different perspective on the city and confirms its status as an active merchant Hanseatic city. 

The sun is burning hot, and many of the local residents are enjoying the beginning of the summer from their boats.

Nothing is more quiet than the view of the enormous quietness of the sea. I might love to make an ocean cruise one day as well. 

In the middle of the waters, on both sides of the shore, some funky heads on a pole are smiling to me. They are Swedish personalities, representative from the time when Wismar, like Stralsund and other Northern cities, were under the Swedish occupation in the first half of the 17th century. Apparently, this occupation left non-conflictual traces in the local memory, as the Swedish flag can be seen once in a while waved on the windows of the city's buildings.

Stuffed with pancakes and apple sauce, I am returning to the shores, where a local fair is offering various affordable distractions to both children and their parents. For the adventurous at heart, a pirates boat is open to the public, for selfies and some short histories.

But I will stay on the ground for less than 20 minutes, as I decided to make another boat trip to Island Poel, considered Germany's 7th biggest island, the meeting point between the Bay of Wismar and the Bay of Mecklenburg.

With a population of around 3,000 people, living in several small villages, this 40-sqm. island is made of sandy beaches and salt marshes. It's neighbouring Island Walfish, which is well praised for its ornitological richness.

Although the parking spots in the port look busy, there is a certain stillness that breathes on Poel.

As my time is very limited, I am aware that all I can do during this small encounter is to take note of the possible attractions that might make it into a full stay on the island in the near future. 

As for now, I am just happy to breath deep the holiday spirit and dream about a full week of travel one day...That's the role of travel sometimes, to just call your name for even more and more adventures, which is exactly what I am looking for right now.

The architectural style I encounter is relatively simple, more suited for warehouses than for living spaces, but at least there is a hope of natural freshness indoors, as the red stones might keep the hotness at bay for longer than other construction materials. 

For museum lovers there is also a small Inselmuseum - with some miniature land of buildings and historical moments in the backyard, the remains of a Roman wall as well as a lighthouse which is completely out of reach for my short stay. I am not fully convinced that I have to come back, but definitely more research might change my mind one day.

Back on the firm ground and famished, I offered myself the chance of having one of those fish sandwiches - salmon, not hering - that are one of the typical foods for this part of Germany, generously served on the many old-style counters. 
At the end of the trip, I kept asking myself: was it worth to wait for so long to visit Wismar? After all, it was a quite simple trip, without a big overload on the to-do-list, but relatively interesting from the historical and architectural point of view. Every trip is different, and my full day in Wismar is one of the many travel stories in Germany added on my bucket list. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Hiking Tips in North Berlin

No matter how much I tried to explore the Nothern part of Berlin, there is apparently a lot left to still discover. There are small little towns where you can walk on small cobblestone streets with a view of the former communist blocks of houses all surrounded by lakes and thick forests like in Strausberg, but most of it is at a great extent left out of the usual travel lists. Unless you are a biker and you know your best routes in the middle of nature. 
As I am not a biker, but I love hiking and in summer and late autumn I am trying to plan as much time as possible outdoors, preferably in the middle of natural, green surroundings.
This time, I wanted to explore a small part of the Naturpark Barnim, which starts close to the Pankow area of Berlin.

Our SBahn ride stops in Buch, and from there, only a couple of minutes away from the train station, there is a little wild oasis of wilderness waiting for us.

A wilderness with an intensive human presence, as there is a Kindergarten operated from here, which, at least for the summer time, might be a delightful experience for the little children learning life skills in such a surrounding.

The more we walk the one-person pathways, bordered by unspoiled weeds and trees, the quietness is queen and only the view of the concrete buildings form afar and of the trains coming and going to the station remind that we are still close to the city. 

After one hour of very slow and easy walking - regular sport shoes can easily help to do it - there is not other human in sight. High-note screams of seaguls lost on their way to the big seas followed by more modest chirpings are the only remarkable sounds breaking the magic of our little urban reveries.

A big lake, well hidden adds more mystery to the entire landscape. It is surrounded by so much mud and wild vegetation that it can be seen only a bit later, from an observation point set up near one of the exits. From you can also eventually notice birds like herons or ducks that, according to the many presentations that we see during our hike, are the regular inhabitants of this area.

There is no way to get lost, and one can take the liberty of running up and down, back and forth through the green carpet of grass. 

The outwordly stillness of the moores a little spooky note to the hike, just when we were about to leave the area for continuing our exploration.

Out from the pristine landscape to the urban jungle, the wild summer flowers blooming from the concrete are a reminder that summer wraps in beauty even the ugliest city corners.

But we have just another small thing that we want to eff during this trip. We continue our SBahn trip to Röntgental, a small residential area bubbling with life, where people are either enjoying an open air family picknick in the Goethe Park - with a close-by Schiller Park - or trying the latest icecream flavours at the many parlours opened around.

Slowly walking surrounded by the bustle of motorbikers we are finally arriving Panketal, which looks like an old farming village, with its bricked houses. 

A couple of meters away, there is our final destination of this short trip: Zepernick Riding Center. Horses of all ages and breeds are either enjoying their lunch break or training in many of the arenas around. There are so many people around yet there are only the horses in motion that can be heard. I can keep watching those noble animals for hours and still not having enough of it.

The entire location suits the needs of the many 4-leg residents, with food supplies and personnel careful to cater to the everyday requirements of the horses.

As we are heading back to our connection back to the heart of Berlin, we feel refreshed by spending so much time in natural surroundings. Hopefully, would be able to come back in this area soon to explore more.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Germany Off the Beaten Path: Eisenhüttenstadt

The fact that many springs ago I had the best of my childhood time in a city that used to be called the city of Stalin doesn't weight that much in my decision to visit Eisenhüttenstadt that was given this name in 1953, after the death of the Soviet dictator. In fact, it was planned to name it Karl Marx Stadt, but somehow, Chemnitz was luckier to be awarded the name of the German ideologist of communism - not necessarily a must-read and whose works were not too much understood at all by the Soviet comrades. More than this miscellanous fact was that Eisenhüttestadt is a remnant of former GDR, with its faded glory of the metallurgical plant. I wanted to see with my own eyes how this city survived the end of the communist Germany and the reunification and although I've chose a banking holiday for this exploration - therefore not too many chances to see the city fully at work - I took it as a beginning of a study in the making of the former Eastern Germany human and social landscape.  

First, a short stop to Frankfurt/Oder that I've visited the last year and even wrote an extensive travel guide about it.

The streets were almost empty which allowed me to see all those small fine layers of cultural and architectural memories from the last decades. But the time has come to finally go to switch trains and reach my destination...

Eisenhüttenstadt is situated 40 minutes away by train from Frankfurt/Oder. There is also a bus connection with an irregular schedule during the weekend and banking holidays. The first encounter with the city was exactly what you might expect while visiting an Eastern German town and a former communist part of the world in general: empty derelict, with an air of sad emptiness.

But we are in Germany after all, regardless if former communist and not. A clean sense of order cannot miss from the encounter with the urban setting in this part of the world. The clean one-story houses with elegant gardens set in line for an almost beauty contest on Bahnofstrasse didn't dissapoint. They exhaled that sense of quiet countryside with middle class inhabitants enjoying their bourgeous priviledges. No traces of Stalinist ideology here, hopefully. 

As usual in such places, history left gentle reminders. A monument dedicated to the fallen Soviet soldiers with the typical Red Star on the top is an example.

We are crossing a very empty historical area, despite the advanced hours of the day. No shops, restaurants and soul in sight. Is it a real city or just a Potemkin village for charming the one foreign visitor in this unknown and for sure forgotten part of Germany?

Besides the small bright painted houses bordering cobblestone streets, thre are also bigger, discrete stylish buildings that once used to be institutional buildings. Surrounded as well by empty streets. This building used to be the city hall - Rathaus - with the old market - Markt - where local farmers were selling their products, long before the city went through a massive industrialisation requested by the communist ideals.

Maybe behind those colourful, typical German doors for this part of the country, there is more action and life?

After almost one hour of wandering completely on my own, I am just getting pleasantly used with the fact that I might have this Eisenhüttenstadt only for myself.

Which comes with the bonus of the perfect view of the Oder displaying all its greatness in the front of my eyes. The spring is almost at the beginning and naked trees are sadly reflecting their emptiness in the blue waters.

Right now, it seems that all the local life is concentrated at Zum Kiez, a local restaurant with a view over the Oder, buzzing with life and enjoyed by all the town's generations. From small children to seniors, everyone is out enjoying the weather in the company of a meal. I decide to have here my yearly Spargel - asparagus - plate. It's a kind of personal tradition that in the previous years brought me as far as Beelitz - a traditional place for the lovers of this German specialty. It comes with a pair of well boiled potatoes, and the typical Hollandaise sauce and Kraut - cabbage salad. All are fine except the Spargel itself which is a bit unfinished and taste-wise unattractive. The raspberry lemonade I ordered is one of those syrupy things that do taste more artificial than fresh fruits and the ice coffee is not a great achievement either, but I overall the pleasure of enjoying a meal outside compensated for the taste issues.

Now, also after a bit of chatting with my table neighbours, I am convinced there is even more to see from Eisenhüttenstadt - after all, I haven't seen any of the communist-style buildings I was expecting to see. And back on the cobblestone streets I am...

After a heavy meal, a bit of nature hiking is always welcomed and just had some glimpse of tempting invitation to walking alongside the Oder Spree Channel.

First, I am crossing the Neue Brückenstraße...

..which offers a pretty view of what I shall expect in terms of hiking trail.

Once starting to check by myself the opportunities, it seems there is a lot to be done: from biking to dog walking, jogging or just easy slow walking with a view that mixes nature and crane profiles.

Close by, there is a small colony of houses, where people are barbecuing and listening to music, everything well hidden behind a thick curtain of trees.

The hiking is going relatively easy - if you beware the fast running bicycles. You need some easy shoes and moderate energy. The pleasure of keeping walking will come by itself...

On one side of the train, you have fully nature trails.

On the other side, boat repair workshops and the traces of the communist past I was looking for from the very beginning of my trip here.

Sooner, my stereotypical curiosity will be fully rewarded. After filling my lungs with fresh air and rewarding my eyes with greens and blues, I am folowing a 2.5 km. pathway to the central area. Which is made exclusively of grey communist buildings. 

Some of them got a colourful remake and are looking like a normal housing project aimed at big urban concentrations, in the style of Gropiusstadt

Some or just empty, abandoned compounds that only the beautiful sprung of the pink spring flowers redeem their ugliness.

On the other side of Oder, the silhouette of the metallurgical plant (nowadays Arcelor Mittal) are hiding well behind the trees. Good they are not at work, otherwise this clear view will be hidden by the typical pollution clouds. 

And there are more and more abandoned buildings on Straße der Republik, near Karl Marx Allee. Once they were the glory of communism, nowadays there are here to mention a failure. 

I am almost close to my trail to the central area, and there is a different architecture to what I've encountered in the old part of the city. The typical Stalinist structures, eventually disposed in a carré. I imagine that here used to work the middle party bureaucrats and maybe their Soviet supervisors too. Everything is well arranged to offer the best visual and local control over the inhabitants. (I used to read too much Foucault once, I know).

The new city hall, currently operational, is reproducing the same housing style. Unfortunatelly, it is closed now so I cannot see the famous wall mosaic made by W. Womacka, aimed to outline the qualities of the socialist lifestyle. 

Built in the mid 1950s, the city hall was also a meeting place for various communist party meetings and other organised events. Despite the official unanimity used to describe life in the communist Germany, there were also moments of dissent and even strikes. One of those events took place in the summer of 1953, when the workers at the metallurgical plants went on strike and threatened to refuse working until the whole country is following their example. Unfortunatelly, the secret police was faster in cutting short their revolutionary plans.

On Lindenallee, the main walking avenue in the modern part of Eisenhüttenstadt, I am rewarded with a work of Womacka, titled 'Production in peace' - although some of the works of socialism were not peaceful at all. Such huge billboards were relatively efficient in keeping the 'dream' alive, at least at the beginning.

Like in the case of Frankfurt/Oder, this commercial avenue, which is lively with plenty of youngster enjoying their day off outdoors, there are many works of art freely displayed. Such an urban insertion makes life in urban cities a bit less rough.

In addition, the culture lovers in this town can enjoy the cultural program of Friedrich Wolf Theater, one of the few such venues I've seen during my journey. There is also a Technical Museum and the Fire Brigade Museum, as well as an art gallery displaying art from the DDR. Maybe I will come back one day to check those cultural attractions...

As the trip is coming to an end, I might confess that I am not disappointed by my unusual choice of a trip. There were some interesting things to see and think about, some of them reminding me of my communist experiences from the old country. Eisenhütenstadt was once labelled 'Germany's first socialist town' but right now is rather a typical city in what once used to be Eastern Germany. 

And if there is a reason to come back, it would be to understand the meaning of this bizarre statue on the top of a pole. Just because I am a very curious person that never has enough of strange and unusual encounters.