Monday, August 20, 2018

Sunday Walk in Pichelsberg

Caught between the noisy Olympia Stadium - especially when there is a soccer match going on, as yesterday - Spandau and Gatow, Pichelsdorf is one of those place you rather transit through than you stop. Without museums and any noteworthy restaurants or monuments, you rarely find it mentioned by the everyday Berliners, unless they are (lucky enough) to live there. But I believe in the charm of every single part of Western Berlin, and I am not afraid of the thread of boredom. I am rarely getting bored in this city - and during any of my travels in general - therefore I decided to spend a full Sunday afternoon exploring this part of the city. 


Once we are coming out of the 1911-built SBahn Pichelsberg station, all we can see are small one-storey houses surrounded by green yards and huge old trees. This is the predominant architectural style of this villa-residential area. 
Close-by, there is the so-called Britishen Siedlung on Kiplingweg, a couple of dozen of houses close to the then British Hospital and the British School - which nowadays is a private English-speaking school. Finished in 1958, by the team of architects Rudolf Ullrich, Alfred Gellhorn and Leo Lottermoser, it was aimed to answer the accommodation needs of the representants of the British Establishment living in this part of the city. Although the constructions look more or less all the same, what distinguishes a residence from the other is the choice of plants and size of the gardens, with the whole area looking almost like an enormous garden.


New blocks of flats are taking over parts of Pichelsberg too, but in a way which keeps in line with - at least - the average height of the surrounding buildings, although all of them are looking like copy-pasted Tetris blocks.  


When you are not having a garden party or an outdoor lunch in your home garden, you can find some small places where to spend your time and money: some small beer gardens or some Italian restaurants. Nothing fancy, minimal comfort and an usual menu, and good prices too. 


On a side street from the very long Heerstraße, it is situated since 1955 the Jewish Cemetery. It was created after the access to Weißensee - Europe's largest cemetery - was blocked following the division of the city. Here are burried personalities like the iconic Heinz Galinski, the leader of the post-War Jewish community in Berlin between 1949 and 1992, the chief cantor Estrongo Nechama and the representatives of the West Berlin Jewish families established in the city in the last decades.


A couple of meters away, on Heerstraße, there is another cemetery: War British Cemetery, one of the three Commonwealth War Centers in or near Berlin. Designed by Philip Hepworth, the principal architect for WWII Commonwealth War Cemeteries and Memorials in N Europe. Around 80% of those burried here - a total of 3,600 burrials - belong to the Royal Air Forces (RAF) Bomber Command. A number of 278 burrials are after the war. It is my second time here and I feel overwhelmed by the general feeling of stillness. No one around, only the thousands of replicated small white stones. 


Out on Heerstraße, the high buildings erected between 1968 and 1970 in order to accommodate the new needs of the West Berliners sprung from the tall trees. 


But the predominant architectural style of the area favors white, one- maximujm 2-storey family houses. Am Rupenhorn displays a couple of examples of architecture from the 1920s. One of the most famous is the building on no. 25 whose interior can be also visited by requests sent at least 2 days in advance.


Nature is inviting every tourn of the street and like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, invites to follow unbeaten path. As the entire area is on a small hill - berg means mountain in German, but in this case the term is slightly overrated - you can easily go up and down through small forests to reach small lake oasis or even to go as far as Grunewald - which is around 4 km. away. We are for the lake today, and the small port Am Pichelsee makes me forget for a second that I am only in an obscure part of Berlin and not in Monaco or who knows other glamorous place in this world.


You can easily rent a boat for a couple of hours or a day, if you are not lucky enough to have your own. On the street sides, glued on a tree, small anouncements on pieces of paper - the usual marketing Berlin-style - are offering boats on sale for quite good prices.


Under the massive metal feet of Stoßenseebrücke, both nature and boats and humans are grossly belittled. The association between nature and human work looks like a grotesque display of power.


Remains of former gates of entrance to Berlin add a majestic decay to the landscape. This area can be read in so many ways, from the old times to the industrial revolution era!


Times passed, the nature and their beautiful lakes stay always the same - maybe only a bit polluted by humans from time to time.


Time for a short snack, at a local fast-food establishment since 1961 - Ketch'up. The Frech fries are decent and the garden offers a pleasant oasis of freshness on a sunny day - plus live updates from the soccer championship!


Down on Siemenswerderweg, a short stop at the small boats port. People are waiting in line to rent a boat, with bags fulls of bottles of beer on the side. Cheers for the neverending summer vibes in Berlin!


A couple of meters up, the Freybrücke, originally built in 1910 and reconstructed in 1950, brings you - on bike, at the wheel or pedestrian - near to Spandau.


The sophisticated construction of the bridge is countered by the pre-modern view of the surrounding natural view on the lake, where people are stand-up paddling or enjoying the pristine environment.


In Alt-Pichelsdorf, the enormous park is one of the most important highlight of an area where everything is small scale: the little shops, the Späti - small stores open round the day and night - the houses and their gardens.
As we are walking back the 2,5 km. alongside Heerstraße to the S-Bahn station, we stop for a little while more than once to breath a bit more this quiet feeling of slow life. The more I explore the West Berlin the more I realize that I would not be able to live anywhere else in this city.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Tips for Exploring Strausberg bei Berlin


How the straus become the symbol of Strauberg, this relatively unknown part of Berlin which you rarely stop by on the way to best known places like Buckow, is not fully clear. Reacheable from Berlin Zoo station with the S5 S-Bahn line and the ABC ticket, Strausberg (b. Berlin to make the difference to the homonymous from Frankfurt/Oder) may be a pleasant and affordable destination if you are looking spending time in the middle of the nature. With part of it belonging to the picturesque Märkische Schweiz as well as to the equally picturesque Märkische Oderland, it has a lot of free time activities to keep you and your children busy for at least one full day.


The journey lasts around one hour, passing near small villages that make you forget that you are still in the big capital city. Berlin and Strausberg are connected via train lines since 1948. Since the 18th century, Strausberg used to be a so-called garnison city (like Wünsdorf, another interesting destination near Berlin I will feature in one of my next posts) and remains until today one of the biggest German Army headquarters in Germany' East. What we see upon arrival though, besides the blocks of flats GDR-style, are alleys bordered by old trees, an invitation to thoughtful walks.


The old walls are not only well preserved, but integrated harmoniously into the contemporary landscape. It gives to some part of the city the air of a fairy tale with an urban background.


In some cases, the old walls were converted into entrances to the relatively new - in centuries' time - blocks of buildings.


When I drove the first time through Strausberg on the way to Buckow, I noticed a group of visitors taking pictures in the front of a sailor statue. Apparently, this character, which reminds of the revolt of the Kiel sailors in 1918, in solidarity with the November Russian revolution is a local attraction, as people were this time also in the front of it for photo opportunities. The work belongs to Hans Kies, who also created the memorial art at Buchenwald camp, a personality - both political and artistic - among the GDR artists of the time. 


Although most of the city looks designed in the spirit of the late communist 1970s, there are still some old corners reminding of other times, especially on Bebelstraße.

A couple of meters away on th same street, there is the local museum. The name of the street is not accidental, as here, in 1898, August Bebel held a conference and the street was named in the honor of the founder of the German social-democracy.


Although I love history and to discover historical episodes during my travels, summer for me is mostly made for exploring nature and hiking. Strausberg has plenty of it to offer, starting with a small boat tour for 1.50 Euro one way, crossing Straussee.


On the other side, you can make a round hiking near the lake, with views over the city. A very creative idea was to offer once in a while some short explanations about the buildings and areas visible from the other side of the lake. For instance, the electricity factory or the Fishermen' quarter. Learning through hiking was a really interesting idea and experience.


The trail is relatively easy and all you need is a good pair of shoes and the desire to keep walking. You can also bike, walk your dog and carry your baby in a pram. There is no limits to your desire to be in a good shape. 


On the shores, people are sunbathing or picnicking, listening to music or just enjoying their own company.


Some lucky ones do have boats that brings you fast in the middle of the lake, with views on both sides and the immensity of the water surrounding.


Hiking around the lake lasted around 2 hours of slow pace, but it built up a lot of positive energy and strength, not only in my muscles.


Time for a tasty reward: an ice coffee at the welcoming Milchbar, near the city hall, a place where besides various bio and natural treats you can also have breakfast from 9.30 to 14.00. The service was friendly too and they do have some great icecream sorts worth to try at least once.


The city hall - Rathaus - building looks like a big mansion, elegant and with clean architecture lines.


We want to explore a bit more, and we arrive again in an area surrounded by old city walls intertwined with the modern one-storey houses.


The views from the Panorama viewpoint are smoothing and postcard worth.


A couple of meters away, on the lake, there is a boat competition taking place, on the occasion of the Dragon festivities, a local benchmark in the list of summer events in the city. Besides, the Volkspark is turned into a great playground.


The most surprising parts of Strausberg though are on the sideroads less travelled: Kürtzestrasse has some lovely timbered-houses built on a strong stone foundation and with colourful small doors that look simply lovely.


This part of the old city is by far my favorite and I slow my pace to admire one and every single one of the beautiful colourful houses.


In a short amount of time I am on Großstraße, the avenue where most shops are concentrated, many of them offering products, especially fashion-wise which remind of old, unfashionable times. In one small interior yard, there is the Alter Brauhof, a reminder of the glorious brewery times of Strausberg. In the Middle Ages there used to be at least 60 breweries, not few of them around the Dominican monastery. Following the 30 Years War (1618-1648) most of them were destroyed and 1880 marks historically the end of the local beer production. The building reminds as a historical memory, that can be admired from the white covered tables of the Italian restaurant nearby, apparently Strausberg's best foodie destination. 
Nearby, the Lindenplatz was quietly empty, but locals say that on Tuesdays, when the weekly market takes place, there is a completely, lively ambiance.


With its new and old part of the city, its beautiful nature and calming view of the lakes, Strausberg was a really pleasant travel surprise. Most probably, when I will be around the next time, I would prefer to stop and see more of it instead of just crossing it in a big hurry, lured by other unknown more appealing destinations.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

10 Pictures to Make you Fall in Love with the Märkische Schweiz (and some hiking tips too)

My three weeks of rest and relaxation in Buckow, in the Märkische Schweiz went away - way too - fast, but my time was filled with good people, extraordinary views and a lot of good healthy food. Maybe too much food, hence the need to burn some of the extra calories through day-trips and many many more wanderings in the area. 
Blessed with a beautiful natural surrounding, Märkische Schweiz is a paradise for hikers. The difficulty level is easy to moderate and all you need is a pair of comfy shoes and eventually a great companion. Most of the paths are suited to bikers and dog walking through the forest is also a funny way for a day outdoors. If you want to take a little baby with you and you have a solid pram, don't hesitate to do it. Learning children from an early age to enjoy nature and spend time outdoors is one of the best gifts parents can give, as it learns them to be brave, to understand nature and develop independent skills. A Per Perego or Maxi Cosi type of pram will definitely cope more than decently to the task.
Some of the natural corners look like nothing happened from the beginning of the time. Wild forests, surrounding esmerald lakes where the small fish bubbles were the only visible sign of life arround. Moors that seems the perfect background for a sci-fi setting. 
Making a selection of (only!) 10 pictures, out of a little bit over 100 I made during my stay was a really hard work. It took me a week to decide, ponder and finally select those who really spoke straight forward to my soul and that will help me keep with me round the year all the good things that happened to me during that time.
 

The wandering opportunities around the Brecht-Weigel memorial house abund. Regardless what time of the day you are visiting, there is always a oasis of quietness with no cars and only the sound of the birds playing duets.


From there, you can start an adventurous, but worth the effort 7-km. Scharmutzelsee round trip which may last around 3 hours. Follow the TK10 sign and make a turn to Ferdinandhöhe. Close from it you will also arrive to a very romantic place called Love Island.


The path will for a short time intertwin with the public road and some streets, but will mostly take you around the lake, where you can read your book or just round up the last events of your life and get more energy for the next life challenges.


Starting your early morning with such a view is for me an overwhelming way of getting more power and breathing deep into the day.


I am not a very sporty kind of person and my main activites involve a lot of walking and hiking. The advantage of such a hobby is that instead of facing some white walls and sport tools for hour while doing my exercises, I have the chance of being faced with the most beautiful nature corners. 


Although you may encouter houses with generous yards every couple of hundreds of meters of hiking through the Märkische Schweiz, as well as other wanderers on the roads less travelled, the human presence remains modest. In the summer, when the happy owners of summer residences from Berlin and all over Germany are coming for holidays, the houses in the middle of the forests may look more animated, if you take it for the number of cars parked in the front and the views of children toys spread all over the yards. But there is nothing intrusive or bothering in it, and even when there are outdoors summer parties it looks like the sounds are muffled by the thick forests.


You are rarely warned about what to expect while hiking. If you are here for the first time and no local is accompanying you, you may stumble upon eerie outwordly natural highlights. 


The wandering paths are not only easy and hard to get lost into, but also offer corners where one can stop and stop the time. Who needs tomorrow when every single moment is worth living in its fullest spiritual sense?


If you are familiar with walking through the forests you might know already that it is not recommended to hike during rains and storms. Fallen trees all over the places were the proof that it is always safe to ask the experienced hikers and avoid stupid accidents. In a fight between humans and nature, nature will often win, because it has the force on its side. 
Another interesting hike we did for around 2 hours was up from Neue Promenade street. You need to follow the path through the forest and some directions and you can spend the rest of your afternoon going up and down the wandering paths.


Near the beach - Strand - there is another chance to explore some interesting natural corners and put your strength on trial. On the way to Bölesdorf, you can either go direction Weißentraube or Winzelfichte. Either of them has its own beauty and hiking charm, with many small rivers you can cross on narrow wooden bridges. The Poetenweg - Poets' path - which reminded me of the Heidelberg's Philosophen weg, but only in name. Poets are more inspired by nature and wilderness while philosophers seem to be rather challenged  by the struggle to reach to the top - of the reason, probably.

As I leaved Buckow coming back to my non-poetic and anti-philosophical daily life in Berlin, I've learned at least one important thing: spending time in nature, surrounded by beautiful people, while also tasting the silence once in a while, was the best present I could offer to myself. Luckily, I am living in one of Europe's greenest capital cities and finding a proper hiking corner in less than one hour is a reward that I fully deserve after a hectic working week.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

3 Interesting Day-Trips from Buckow

One of my favorite passtimes after spending a couple of days in a place is to discover the places closer to home where can I visit. After my first week in Buckow, I already started to check the map and ask the locals where I can go for a one-day trip. Of course, the easiest answer is Berlin, but I promised myself to keep the countryside mood lit for my whole stay so I rather preferred to explore some unique, off the beaten place destinations. Which I actually did: I offered myself 3 trips exploring the surrounding, while also burning the calories after my extensive foodie guide research
With a bit of luck and a lot of energy, here is the list of my favorite three day-trips to take from Buckow.

Waldsieversdorf

This small hunters' village founded in the second half of the 13th century can be reached either by bus - the bus going to Muncheberg from Buckow - or by foot, through a quiet forest. If you know me, you know already which way I choose...


The forest walk starts near the train station, passing near a small farm of wild goats that were keen to do their best to jump over the net surrounding them to escape to liberty.


The forest walk is of around 3 km. and you can easily make it wearing comfy sport shoes. You can bike, walk your dog or push a relatively solid buggy. 


The natural surrounding is simple, with small rivers crossing the paths and refreshing the air. A welcomed encounter, especially during the hot summer days. The directions to the village are clearly mentioned so getting lost is not possible. Especially in the weekend, there are many people around, so you can hardly go half an hour without meeting someone. 


As we arrived on the streets, the village was perfectly quiet, lost in the summer Sunday laziness. A mechanical watch made of flowers looked like one of the few things alive in Waldsieversdorf at that time.


The small wooden houses with large gardens were looking like a perfect refuge against the heat.


The main cultural activities are hosted in the former summer house of the Dadaist, and politically engaged on behalf of the communists German artist John Heartfield. He was born Helmut Herzfeld, and took his new name after his exile in the Great Britain, where he escaped the political persecutions during the WWII in Germany. Bertold Brecht convinced him to set summer headquarters in the Märkische Schweiz and the blue and black house is part of the intellectual heritage in the region. A friend of the writer Stefan Heym who supported his membership in the Academy of Arts of the GDR, his political collages and artistic works were often considered not ideologically conform by the political leadership of the time, but he was not an open disident to the SED-dictatorship.


Although small, Waldsieversdorf offers a couple of entertainment options to the locals too. For instance, an afternoon to the beach or a visit to the Wasserturm - water tower. At the end of July, it took place the biggest event, a festival dedicated to the local hunting tradition.


The only place we succeeded to explore throughout was the chidren-friendly Café Tilia, a good stop not only for hikers, but also for bikers crossing the Märkische Schweiz.


The interior is decorated in a timeless GDR-chic kitsch, with the porcelain dolls are a constant present in the rooms that may look actually as a cosy refuge during the cold winter days. 


The Café offers homemade cakes, made of seasonal fruits, delicious icecreams and a variety of wines. It was a welcomed stop, given that we needed some fresh drinks and energy for starting our journey back to Buckow.


But when you travel with friends, time passes much easier. The way back looked not only easier, but we also made it faster. The calming nature landscape was a good companion and inspiration.

Bollersdorf


The 3-km. trip from Buckow to the 400-inhabitant village of Bollersdorf I did it alone, in the morning, following the path near the Strand - beach area. 


It is a very easy ride, and all you need is a pair of comfy sport shoes and an open heart to welcome the quietness and interesting sides of nature. 


After almost 30 minutes of hiking I ended up on some streets with huge wooden gates which reminded me of some small Transylvanian villages.


I was confused that I arrived to Bollersdorf so fast, but soon after talking with a local, I was directed to the next leg of my trip. I was just in a small no man's land where cats were welcomed. (Actually, during my stay in Buckow I've seen most cats on the street - not stray, but street walking - than in 10 years of German life).


The next stage of my trip involved a less romantic view, with a predominant agricultural focus.  


With larger than the eye view fields of corn, ready to be picked-up.


The 14th century old Bollersdorf has two main streets: Hauptstraße - the main street, and Buckower Weg. No shops, no coffee house, nothing but unique houses with front yards full of colourful flowers and a restaurant - Gasthaus Fischer - that was closed at the time of my visit. And an old Trabi - the symbol car of the GDR times - parked near the sound-soaked capitalist Audis or Mercedes.


The view of the golden fields is worth a summer painting, or at least a couple of pictures, for the less artistically gifted.


There are some former horse stables buildings made of hard stone, the same material used for the local church, but during the week, everything looked completely deserted.


I am back on the road to Buckow, saying good bye to the golden fields.


Welcoming the narrowing paths of the forest, reaching roads with names like Weißetaube - the dove, or Poetensweg - the Poets' path.


My short trip to Bollersdorf was refreshing and a good opportunity to put at work my orientation skills - as I refused to use any Google Maps being guided only by my well-trained sense of finding the right direction. Apparently, I am doing much better in the wilderness than in the city.

Müncheberg

From Buckow, Müncheberg is the closest destination if you are looking for some serious shopping, including food and clothes. I've been there twice, once only for exploring the area around the train station. You can use a day ticket for 3 EUR for your bus journey from Buckow - every hour during the week - to Müncheberg train station and back, plus the two-way ride from the train station the the central area.
You can also take the old train from Buckow.
The ride lasts around 30 minutes.


During my first stop, exploring the surroundings of the train station, I ended up in an area called Schlagenthin, with hills took over by beautiful horses. Given that this place is less than 10 km. away from Hoppegarten, it makes sense to see all those horses. Close-by, on Eberswalder straße, there is the horse-riding center of Galgenberghof, the local recommended destination for horse lovers of all ages.


The complete trip we took to the town, ended around Ernest Thalmann street, from where we started to explore the surronding. A small shop selling ceramics was our first sight. Actually, all round the area, you can see small ceramics and wood carving workshops whose works can easily spotted in the front of the villages' houses. 


Although the city was at a great extent destroyed during the war - compared to Buckow has larger streets allowing the tanks to easily enter, but it was also situated closed to the battle lines leading to Poland, which is a couple of minutes away by car or train - the old Middle Ages city walls survived at a great extent and are surrounding the city. They make it into the background of more modern settings, such as a kitschy games hall.


Most of the buildings are new, designed in the practical, anti-aesthetical communist mindset, with only a couple of traditional buildings left.


Fortunatelly, the summer decorated beautifully everything, and the ivy on the wall is for sure hiding some cracks on the walls. Although the town in its entirety may be described as the opposite of beautiful, some small colours added here and there make a tremendous difference as it uplifts not only the grey mood, but also bring some splashes of life to a street or a building.


As many other places in the region of Brandenburg, Müncheberg has a development potential, but it seems still has to cope with the heritage of the communist past. After the reunification, some industries become obsolete and assigning new economic functions didn't happened yet. Tourism and real estate could bring fresh life, but you may need also some other opportunities to the combo. Until then, old shops formerly used by companies closed at least 10 years ago, are waiting and waiting to be rented back and brought to the commercial circuit. 


As a visitor, the old Middle Ages remnants and towers offer at least a good photographic opportunity.


The local park is big enough to answer the movement needs of some energetic kids, especially in the summer when everything is covered in green.


While waiting for the bus to take us back to Buckow, we went back and forth, from a former tower bridge to the other, trying to connect histories and stories.


The natural line of the trees is doubled by the edges of the old wall, creating some narrow path for slow walking and meditation. Some corners are recluse enough to let your imagination of faraway lands and better places fly faster.


We left Müncheberg with no regrets; actually we wished the bus was coming earlier. However, I would be curious to return here in a couple of years to see how things changed. I am sure changes are around the corner here too.

Coming next in my Buckow installments: Hiking recommendations. Stay tunned!