My newest discovery: Rheinsberg

Summer Sundays in Berlin are beautiful, but I am somehow restless these days, always looking to see more and more new things outside the city. Because in the last weeks I had enough time to see almost all exhibitions and newest cake and coffee places in town, why not trying a new adventure from the series 100 Places to See in Germany? With a Brandenburg Ticket in my pocket I headed to Rheinsberg. Let’s the discovery start!

This small and green coloured locality is situated 2 hours away from Berlin. The train changed directions a couple of times, and I had time to say hallo again to Neuruppin, another recommended destination for those looking for a quiet Sunday afternoon. Did I already revealed the happy ending of my stay in Rheinsberg? Haven’t say the whole story yet.

ImageAfter I pick up the destination for the Sunday travel, I did my documentation homework, but apparently there were some information that I missed: the long history of ceramics. The first factory was created in 1762 and since then it continued to produce various colourful plates and cups. I’ve read all the history in the cups of tea and coffee presented at the Keramikhaus, a shop open daily close to the Carstens porcelain factory. Carstens introduced in Germany the tea service in 1901, almost 20 years after the UK. Its specific mark is the deep black with various email decorations. Also characteristic for the local porcelain is a certain marble appearance, that gives a certain weight to any small cup of tea.

A couple of minutes later, at the Tourist Information Center, I was admiring other ceramic works, this time done some local artists in glass and marble porcelain. A similar exhibition was also available at the small Museum of Ceramics, situated close to an open market where a big fair of pottery will take place mid-October.

For the next hour, I continued the exploration of small streets and had a look at the architecture of the places and checked some of the local menus. Rheinsberg reminded me a lot of Potsdam – no wonder as the famous Friedrich left some architectural traces here too – but less touristy. One of the reasons of the relaxed ambiance can be that it is not that close to Berlin, and the connections by train are limited to the summer time. The train that brought us there will stop operating from mid-October till the next spring. However, the accommodation offer is richer meaning that people keep coming here during the winter too, with all categories of hotels plus a lot of private rooms offered. There are also a lot of restaurants and icecream parlors – one of them offer a different type of icecream each day of the year, among the previous flavours being mayonnaise, strawberry/basilicum. The restaurants are serving a lot of fish-based meals – fishing is a common activity in the area. One of the famous restaurants here bears the name of Kurt Tucholsky, the rebel author who apparently was almost everywhere in Poland and Germany, including in a small town at the Danube where he was an apprentice police chief for a couple of months. A Tucholsky literature museum can be visited at the Castle, my next and most pleasant stop of my destination.

ImageThe most pleasant experience I had by far in Rheinsberg was the long walk around the lake visiting various domains of the castle. Initially the property of Friedrich the Great, that was intimately involved in the planning of the domain, especially the gardens, it was later transferred to his brother Henryk, who continued the work and brought some of his architectural ideas. Nowadays, the castle looks as a perfect Romantic retreat: a big castle in the middle of the lake, with a baroque garden and boats, with a wonderful green wild walking area through the woods, where you can find ruins of Temples and an obelisque with inscriptions in French in the memory of the 18th century wars. 

My next 5 km of walk and around 2 hours of my time were spent walking around Grienericksee, breathing deep the silence and the fresh air of the woods, with only short stops to take some pictures and gulp some water. Because the access to the castle is not possible by bikes – the coblestones from the yard and garden are very fine and can be seriously damaged by the rolling tires – I did not care too much to watch my path. We crossed path with many groups of tourists, including a family with children looking for a place to camp, but did not feel like the forest is very busy, as it happens sometimes in Berlin where I feel like somewhere close to a shopping center. 

ImageI had the luck of a perfect weather, despite some threatening clouds at the horizon, and the perfect time of the year for a long walk in the woods. On the way back to Berlin, I felt a bit tired, but carrying on a lot of good energy that may help me to resist the urban life for another couple of days. The next time I don’t have scheduled travel plans, I will return to Rheinsberg. It has the simplicity that I need for a perfectly relaxing time.

For more visual insights of Rheinsberg, have a look at the Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/rheinsberg-brandenburg/

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Travel. With or without apps.

A couple of hours ago, I caught on social networks a discussion about the pros and cons of travel apps against the ‘pure art and freedom’. Of course that such a discussion was referred to a place from Berlin, a cult destination for all the hippie alternative people, but also for some curious individuals keen to discover the history of the Cold War: Teufelsberg listening station. The app in discussion presents a combination of various texts and audio guidance aimed to explain the history of the building. The author was accused of aiming to turn this place of pure arts and spirits into a fancy hipster location, altering its ‘Romanticism’.

During the Cold War, at Teufelsberg – a hill created from the debris of the bombed buildings – the US, with the approval of its Western Allies, created the biggest listening station in the free world. It was said that all the conversations held in the East  where only sounds away from the ears of the analysts from West Berlin, qualified to decrypt and interpret the exchange of messages in order to understand what was going on the other side of the Curtain. Apparently it seems that the decoding was not easy to be make as long as the Cold War lasted for so long. In 1992, the activity was resumed. In the good days, I am sure that the place was looking interesting and with the latest technology at the time plus a nice green view – it was hidden by the trees of the Grunewald forest. Nowadays, it is a cult place where even those without the single interest in the Cold War will visit it for the graffiti art and the journey through various dirts and rests of drinking and smoking sessions. You walk through rests of windows and cables laying on the floor like the Americans left only a couple of weeks ago. I recognize that I still don’t understand why all those deserted former official buildings give this impression of being recently left, decades after they stop being used. I ‘visited’ the former embassy of Saddam’s Irak where impressive amounts of propaganda files are flooding the entire place. It’s like you expect a grinning Saddam to pat you on the back and send you to the prison for overpassing property.

At Teufelsberg, the deserted place is huge and not necessarily recommended to be visited during the night. There are people specialized in offering tours of the place – including a former American employee of the station, because without some guidance and explanation, anyone curious to learn something about the history of the building will never understand what was all about. Try to explain to someone in his or her 20s, for instance why were all those cables about? And what about the while big balloon on the top of the building? (Offering a proper phonic isolation, among others) Officially, it is illegal to visit the place, but unofficially, around 80 people are going there each week, especially during the week-end when it can be as crowded as a museum. 

Hence, I think that an app or written guide or any support to the traveller for the first or second time in Teufelsberg is useful. This place, as the Iraqi Embassy and other similar places – it is a deserted former Soviet base in Potsdam as well, with military uniforms left on chairs -, is already a kitsch. (Parties at the Iraqi embassy, anyone?)  Feel free to pick 10 beers and spend the entire vacation there, reading the not-always-so-inspired scribbling on the walls. Or start a graffiti work. But for the less talented and sophisticated ones, everything that can bring more light into the strange recent history of Europe is more than welcomed. For years, the area is already considered as a good real estate investment and I am not sure that the former listening station will resist as such in the next 5 years.  At the normal human scale, it takes an average of around 3 years to pass over a big distress. In historical terms, maybe it is about time to go beyond the cables left and try to look to something different. 

Apps will not destroy tourism, as the GPS did not eliminated from use the simple paper maps. I love my Kindle, but will buy physical books as well. Everything that can help someone be more than a visitor is openly welcomed into my world. Technique in itself is not prone to destroy anything. People without education and not understanding the past can destroy everything.