Magdeburg’s come back

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Magdeburg was one of the first cities I visited when I moved to Berlin seven years ago and at the time, I did the usual tourist checking: the Hundertwasser complex, the central old city with the city hall and the famous golden horseman, Technical and Natural Science and History museums. This time, I was back for another one-day trip, but without any travel focus, just for some work assignment. This how I discovered a different face of the city, off the beaten path.

20150819_111324(0)After the reunification of Germany, Magdeburg was often quoted as an example of failure to bring the East at the same successful level with the West. The keywords often associated in the local media with this city were: unemployment – two digits till 2006, communist ugly Plattenbauten, neonazis and despair. Thanks to the smart subvention policy and the EU various fuding, the wisely used money was spent for infrastructure and education and from the Cinderella of the East, upgradet its status in 2012 as ‘Germany’s most dynamic city’.

20150819_112422Compared to Dresden and Leipzig, that are considered one of the most attractive destinations for both tourism and investments, where the prices for rents are slightly increasing, Magdeburg remains a good deal among the real estate investors. Especially the area near Neustädter See, close to the highway from Berlin, with many new apartments recently offered to rent. The precarious economic situation pushed many people to leave Magdeburg but in the last years, people from other part of the country and from abroad are moving here. Compared to many countries in the world, people in Germany prefer to rent instead of buying properties, with many people who never owned a real estate. Prices for rents are controlled by the state and in this particular part of Magdeburg, you easily find 2-room apartments for around 400 Euro. As for now.20150819_124204

The communist standard buildings were dramatically repainted and refurbished, and added impressive concierge services with cleaning services and other facilities included. But there are is another advantage that may bring people in this part of the city: the green area in one of the greenest cities from this part of Germany. The water sports facilities created around the lake, the new parks and restaurants as well as the advantages for families with children are also added to the list. Since 1993, the city also has its own university, the youngest in Germany, which brings in this area a lot of international students. Huge former industrial spaces were converted into business hubs for startups and engineering workshops.

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From the top of one of the highest Plattenbauten around, the buildings introduced to the real estate market as samples of the ‘1970s flair’ – I have enough communist memories to remember how flairless they used to be, boring buildings for grey people – are painted in happy colours, every block a buildings assigned a different colour. A young face to a city with history.

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The 1,200-year old city created by Charlemagne is changing his face and is getting back on its path to the future. Nothing stays the same and in a way, I am grateful that I had the chance to see this city besides the usual travel-touristic stereotypes.

Cold War Memories in Klein Machnow

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I did not know too much about Klein Machnow until a couple of months ago when someone outlined the real estate potential of this place, as many local VIPs, of various calibers, do have villas here. The decision to spend a whole summer day here was more the result of my curiosity than determined by some economic purposes. Plus, I assumed that I know quite a bunch about Berlin and its neighborhoods. What happened that I missed this apparently famous place?

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I arrived there with a local bus from Berlin. Then, I took the Karl Marx Street for around 20 minutes, not before a long stop at the local weekly vegetables market. Triangle-roofed houses hidden by the high vegetation were the first noticeable observations in my first hour of exploration in Klein Machnow.

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If at the first sight there were not too many traces of the former communist legacy, those little details familiar to someone that grew up in this (crazy) world were easy to spot. Maybe the attitude of some local people towards foreigners, or some buildings or just the overall impression…

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Many buildings were renovated in the last years and sold to successful entrepreneurs from Berlin. The situation of real estate in Klein Machnow was subject not only to economic considerations. During the Cold War, this locality was part of the communist part. Following the reunification, around 8,000 people lived their houses that were in fact occupied illegally from owners that went in the West. It seems that history repeats itself, but this particular dispute was assigned a name: “Klein Machnow Syndrome”.

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A couple of streets before we were reading about what to do when meeting wild boars, a frequent presence around it seems, but now we are in the middle of the small central area and everything make you feel centuries distance from the above mentioned wilderness.DSC01768

The main shops and restaurants are concentrated in the area around Sehquartier. There is nothing exquisite, just everything you need to make your life bearable before the first ride to Berlin.

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The same when it comes to food. The Salumeria is the most attractive place for food and I took a seat outside, a good observation point to notice the locals between the food bites. The bruschettas are edible, not too elaborated in terms of taste – was expected more spices and maybe a bit more olive oil.DSC01771

The pasta arabiatta are spicy as expected, but not too well cooked. The sauce compensates everything though, including the clumsy customer service.

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With renewed forced, I continue my trip, convinced that there must be many hidden histories in these places. The street art is colourful, a testimony that there must be young people with ideas around.

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The architects seem to try their hand here too, as the Bio Company shop is hosted in one of the most interesting buildings dedicated to this business, the repeated wood detail and the transparent entry being a good illustration of the messages of this company.

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The only school in the locality bears the name of the Russian (Soviet) writer Maxim Gorki, a memory from the old communist times maintained in Germany without the similar shame from other communist countries – as the Karl Marx street that lead me to the city.

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After a little bit of bus riding and more hiking, I arrive at one of the trademarks of this neighborhoods of Berlin. The Teltow Kanal, inaugurated in 1906, that played an important role in developing the trade network between Berlin and different locations in Germany or Poland.

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Nowadays, here you can follow some short historical tours. The entire place is too peaceful to make you dream about the busy trade that used to be here just couple of decades ago.

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Nearby, the old tram tells a different story. Now part of history, the 96 tram was took out of service following the establishment of the new borders of Berlin. As nothing went further the Checkpoint Bravo, this tram witnesses the isolation and alienation between the two parts of Berlin. The interior is decorated with black and white pictures from the old times and the custodian of the place is kind enough to answer my many questions around the topic: And how was is then?

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As it happens often, intuitively my steps are taken to places with interesting histories. I am walking through the yards of the Hakeburg castle, a construction built in 1600, supposedly turned soon into a posh real estate destination. Old stained glass and statues covered by the rain, winds and snow, large interior yards and high walls. Used first as a castle, during the war as a private residence of the Reichpostminister, Wilhelm Ohnesorge. Destroyed by the bombings, it was opened again only in 1950, first as a school for party leaders, but also used as a private residence for various guests of the communist leadership. DSC01801

Such a small place, so many histories, many of them not yet revealed to me. As my long years of travel taught me, there is no single new place on Earth were you cannot learn something. You just need keep following your journey.

For more insights about what to do and see in Klein Machnow, check the dedicated Pinterest board

When the animal world disappoints you…

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My arrival to Große Schönebeck station, with the OEG train that continued my trip from Karow, near Pankow area of Berlin, for another 30 minutes, did not announce anything but just another trip agenda. My aim was to visit the Schorfheide Natural Park, which on the maps and travel recommendations was indicated as 3.4 km. away from this station.

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Before arriving to the real animals park, I take a tour of the hunting castle of the Hohenzollern – just another one of them, with an interesting garden of statues and coaches, an attractions for the kids of all ages.

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Following different arrows and not always very clear signs, I optimistically start my journey to Schorfheide, near gardens and small houses with agriculture tools in their yards.

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Less wild horses are treating me with curiosity but they leave me alone with my camera within seconds.

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Some locals also treat me with curiosity, as it seems that pregnant women with a camera and a notebook walking in the village is not a very common view.

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Maybe I am just the victim of the misunderstanding of an arrogant city girl. After working hard harvesting, local people just want to rest and treat the intruder with a distant politeness, just offering them the information they want with a minimal use of words.

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Compared with my usual timing, this time the 3 and something kilometers look never ending. Hundreds of meters away from the park I stop at the Esel (Donkey) coffee, exactly when the rain starts and the outside chairs are collected. An icecream might be enough as an energizer for the rest of the trip.

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According to my homeworks, this natural park, part of the wider Biosphere Schorfheide Chorin, has many animal breeds threatened by extinction. Built in 1996, it shows to the visitor the lynx, European elks, wild horses, red deer and wild boars among others. It seems my long hours of walking will be compensate with some great encounters…

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Before entering the borders of the park, an adventure park made me feel a bit frustrated that at least for now I cannot put on trial my trees climbing abilities.

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After a very short stop at the local restaurant for an overpriced poor cup of cappuccino, I am ready to meet the special animals, that for sure are waiting for me somewhere hidden in the bushes of this huge park. For now, I am greeted by some crazy playful goats.

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And by some gracious elegant horses too…

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The dirty curly Mangalitsa are too busy to say hello, having a great time in their natural muddy environment.

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The herd of cows are not enjoying the intruders either. The German-English explanations are mentioning that this is one of the oldest domestic breed of cattle.

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Still I am waiting for that big meeting with some unique creature. The big alleys of the natural park are bathed in the light and warm of the summer sun, making my ride more enjoyable. My sport shoes are making this long trip easy. Every couple of minutes I am crossing paths with families or groups of German travelers looking to photograph interesting animals, just like me, or exhausted after so many searches, just need a nice place for a picnic.

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Far away in the middle of the fields, the Wisent (European bison) is having late lunch. Extincted in the German areal since the 16th century, it weights around 1,200 kg, being considered the heaviest land mammal in Europe.

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For the rest of the trip, my luck just went away. The solitary wild boars keep staying in their kiosks, the European wolf is nowhere to be seen. Instead, I have another long encounter with horses, this time the Konik breed, a very primitive East European breed, considered very resistant to cold and generally undemanding.

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The European otter made a lot of problems. First, I had to wait for a couple of minutes to spot it, till a very curious sound alerted me and another photographer lady nearby. It sounded like a gross animal laugh. It went into water instantly and appear only too late for my camera to catch it. Finally, although a bit unpolite, I had to take a picture of the otter in the middle of the animal act of devouring the fish, before running again very fast.And that was almost all for this visit. No European elk and no Lynx available to say hello to me, although I stayed for more than 20 minutes at the vantage point hoping desperately that I will spot anything.

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On the way to the exit, the racoon initially hidden in his kiosk, made an afternoon tour, just in time for me to take a last picture of him.

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Very tired and disappointed by my journalistic achievements, paid my last respects to Groß Schönebeck. Let’s say that this trip was a successful proof of physical resilience. I just hope one day will have the chance to return and meet more special animals.

For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board

 

Green summer day in Briesetal

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This summer, my travel plans and dreams were strictly limited for a good reason. Which does not mean that I was easily convince to spend quiet weekends at home. Rather the opposite: I just use the opportunity to discover interesting things to do around Berlin. And I was rewarded with a lot of worth to share discoveries. Briesetal, for instance, is just 40 minutes away from Berlin. You take the train till Fronau and from there a couple of stations more a local bus till the city hall. From there, you just need to follow some of the arrows and start walking. DSC01204

We just started the travel day by following the yellow circle sign, leading us from small forests to small lakes with empty boats and white water lilies. Short arched bridges were guiding our steps till the next polite concrete paved path in the middle of the quiet trees. We met many other short time travellers, but we just passed by without not even looking to each other.

DSC01213For a little treat on a hot day, we made a stop at the Boddensee restaurant, a small wooden hotel surrounded by water. Waiters in uniforms welcomed us with a menu whose prices were worth at least a half shining of a Michelin star. Disappointed by the scarcity of our demands, they brought us the cold cokes and smiled when we left.DSC01218

But not for food experiences we were in Briesetal, but for more walking and deep breathing. Just took another 0.6 km tour around the lake Monchsee.DSC01225

There is a little bit more in Briesetal to see. For instance,some spectacular street art decorating the walls of a youth center.

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Or the interesting architecture of the main street, combining old high wooden balconies with modern cubic architecture.

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The shopping opportunities are minimal: the usual food supermarkets and some small local clothes or gardening businesses.DSC01237Without consumerist temptations, I keep documeting the green oasis, tooking just another concrete paved way. You don’t even need special shoes or previous special hiking training. DSC01252The next and last stop was in a small birch forest inspirely located on the Birkenwaldstrasse (birken means birch). The locals cleaning their cars or fixing their yard noticed us with a shy smile, enough to fell us less intruders.DSC01264

The forest continues through a short walk through a newly harvested wheat field. A large area with plain golden roots. On the sides, bushes of wild plants, aparently inspiring enough some street art artist.

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The rest of the trip we slowly walked the streets near Hohen Neundorf. Nothing especially to notice except the big houses with curious eyes not used apparently with expats talking a bit too loudly for this time of the afternoon. The discovery of a gladiola field, at Blumenfelde (flowers’ field) interrupted the monotony. You just need to leave some money in a box and make your own bouquet. I did never appreciate this type of flowers and chose to leave the flowers for someone really in need for some special decorations. In the middle of the overwhelming green, the richness of the colours reminded me how easy is to be happy with your lot, your travel lot,of course.

For more images from Briesetal, check the dedicated Pinterest board

Bikes, castles and the longing for the sea at Senftenberg

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The first time when I wanted to visit Senftenberg was following some short notice read in a newspaper regarding the castle there. As I feel that I neglected this noble side of travel, felt compelled to have this trip in mind for the next one day trip. But time passed and more than 10 days after this first acknowledgement only I was on the road with my Berlin Brandenburg Ticket in my pocket. After too many stops, I arrived at the train station, enoying the sunny Sunday.

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Right from the train station, arrows are heading the tourists to the historical area. As usual, I like to go off the beaten path and thus after I made a short turn from Bahnhofstrasse I ended up in the front of the Theater Neue Bühne, a local cultural institution sharing the building with a local high school, a Bauhaus style construction originally erected in the 1930s. Besides hosting the most important cultural events in the city, it also has a cadrillon (Glockenspiel) donated by the local Greek-German businessman Sokrate Giapapas.DSC00374As a reminder that Senftenberg used to be part of the former communist Germany, recently painted and renovated Plattenbau are surrounding the area.  DSC00376

I return on the main road, heading back to the historical area. Metal billboards presenting in medaillons old images from the city are creating a bridge between the modern present and the industrial past. DSC00381The locals are right now busy in the main square in the front of the historical city hall with an open air celebrations that involves, naturally, beer, a lot of music on the stages organized around and many shopping, including of local products. DSC00388But I do have my own travel agenda and this time I am decided to follow up the plan which has as top priority the visit at the castle. The first encounter is with the art gallery – Gallerie am Schloß – which is closed this time. DSC00392In order to arrive to the castle, I go through some long dark paths bordered by stone arches. Outside, one explore the fortification systems and the Bastion built in the second half of the 18th century. Wonder where a princess can hide here…DSC00398

Back to the light, right in the front of the entrance, there is not a white horse waiting, but an original bike model between two citizens. No prince today,  it seems.DSC00407

Let’s enjoy life then. The castle is hosting a temporary exhibition presenting various models of bikes from the beginning of their history till the communist Germany and beyond. Even not passionate about technique, you still can enjoy the cultural histories told by the bicycles. DSC00406The prototypes, some of them very interesting, especially if we think about the different models produced separately for men and women, are scattered among pieces of local history, many presenting local colourful costumes and interios of the interesting Sorb minority still living in the area. After the war, having a bike was the equivalent of having a horse in the time of the princes and princesses, hence the saying: If you have a bicycle, you are king. (Hast du ein Fahrrad, bist du ein König).DSC00408In a way, this two voices dialogue of various historical times makes sense. Senftenberg was part of the industrial area near Cottbus, providing energy for various industry. A mini-mine, another local activity, can be visited at the museum too. Nowadays, there is not too much of this past left, following the fall of communism and the resettling of the economic priorities. DSC00418The castle, displaying a simple and strict elegance that I encountered in many such residences in the North and Central part of Germany, also hosts an art collection of artists originally from the area.  DSC00422Outside, the gardens are more inviting and the preferred transit areas for the many biking routes across the city and the region.  DSC00430I am heading closer to the sea this time, with a short stop at the Tierpark, which was recommended as a local travel attraction. It can also be visited by bike, otherwise, it has a couple of funny residents, many of them welcoming their guests out of their little residences. If you are patient enough, you can even cross paths with some hurried peacock going fast who knows where.DSC00443With more than half of my to-do-list for the day covered, I am finally free to enjoy the quiet view of the lakes and the shaking boats.  DSC00446The best standpoint is the busy Pier Eins terrace, where I find a nice place near the water and get ready for at least two hours of doing nothing, except having a meal and probably an icecream too. My zen mood is troubled though by a waitress who just refused to take my two orders: a pasta, plus a special home made icecream. ‘Pasta is enough’, she kept saying and I feel like a disgusting hungry animal. After unsuccessful negotiation and the promise that I will pay here everything, she only bring me the pasta at the end, which are not as a huge portion as I might excepted: not too much oil, well boiled, with some interesting spices and the refreshing leaves of ruccola. I order also some fruity icecream after all, from another waitress, which does not have a spectacular taste, but keps me around the shore for the next half an hour.DSC00449For the siesta, I keep my eyes on the boats and walk around the shores. Besides bikes, also Segways can be rented and I promise to myself that one day I will be back in a good shape trying various healthy transportations during my trips too – not only cars, trains and airplanes. DSC00455There is so much nature around in Senftenberg, that I forget sometimes that some ugly former communist buildings are just around the corner.  DSC00460But not everyone is ready to take an aggressive distance to the communist (recent) past. Back in the historical area, the celebrations continue but people are more busy to check the good deals. Among the offers, former books and other popular objects from the time of the DDR, presented on a table decorated with the flag of the former communist Germany. DSC00465

My obligations of travel writer are bringing me to a different part of the city, where I can go only by walking around 20 minutes. No sea or nice sky at sight, only gas stations and some dusty buildings till I am in the garden city from the Brieske area.DSC00467It is a settlement built at the beginning of the 20th century for the workers involved in various industrial sectors in the area. Protected buildings from the end of the 1980s, the complex is considered an example of industrial architecture. DSC00471The quarter was provided, besides the buildings for the new industrial class, with a church, a shop, a school and kindergarden for children and big street whose cobblestones are kept in the original shape. DSC00475Nowadays a quiet residential area that was looking almost empty that Sunday afternoon, it has a strange architecture though, with very small windows attached to big walls and conic roofs that may look with the military metallic hats from the time of the Prussians.  DSC00483

There are regular guided tours introducing the area to the visitors, as well as a small museum that was closed at the late afternoon time of my visit. The anxious feeling of living in a big house with small windows can be balanced by the view of big yards connecting various buildings, a guarantee that some social life was in sight for the busy residents of the area.DSC00490

I keep developing my sociological consideration on the solitary way back to the center and after, on the way back to the central station waiting for my train back to Berlin. Maybe I did not find here a spectacular castle, worthy of a Disney movie, but at least I did enjoy the quietness of the waters and the sunny day and realized how much I am missing the sea. Plus, some party gang of international students dancing in the train. Life can offer funny things sometimes…

For more insights, photography and recommendations, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/senftenberg/