When the animal world disappoints you…


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


And by some gracious elegant horses too…


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Buckow, the little German Switzerland


It is amazing the fascination of Switzerland. There are so many places and corners compared to the country of cantons that it is very hard sometimes to make the difference between the copy and the original. As someone that spent some impressive amount of time in the real Switzerland, I am very cautious with the comparisons. A bit of curiosity, a bit of boredom and my limited options of travel this summer brought me to Buckow, just another destination less than 2 hours away from Berlin, situated in the so-called Märkische Schweiz. From Müncheberg train station, we embarked on a vintage train from the 1980s ride that for 3 Euro ticket (one way, two-way costs 5 Euro) will bring us to Buckow. The train is working only from May to October.DSC01321

The ride lasts for around 10 minutes, and I can even go on the top cockpit to follow the railway road through green forest and camping places or houses with tiled rooftops. In the forest might be many protected birds, as the entire area is considered a natural park, covering around 205 sqkm.


Those curious to discover more about the train history can visit the small museum situated in the station. DSC01328

From the one and only train station in town, we just followed the Berliner street, following only our travel intuition – as there were no arrows to direct the travelers through various destinations in the city.


The streets are empty, but I already got used with this first impression after visiting many other places around Berlin. It seems that during the summer either everyone is hiding  behind the stone houses or they just left the area during this unusually hot season.DSC01334From the concrete of the town we are heading smoothly through the forest. The air is much fresh and the temperature get balanced so I wish I can spend here the rest of my trip this time.DSC01336Some people not only wished they spend more time here, but are just having a great time for more than a couple of hours. Some early morning campers – some of them accompanied by their small children – are just getting out of their tents and having a breakfast with a view over the lake and the historical city. DSC01338And it seems that people are doing more than camping. Some may come here to study and meditate in the middle of a collection of stones from all over the North of Europe.DSC01344The famous literary couple Bertold Brecht-Helene Weigel chose this quiet place to spend some creative summer time. Their house is open now as a memorial museum.DSC01350

But you do not have to be excessively creative to decide living or spending a lot of time in Buckow. Many of the big houses have a view and even special access to the lake. Such a lake made me feel for a while to the many enjoyable boat rides around the lakes of Zurich or Geneve. Some of the big houses do have wooden decorations and paintings in the upper part, another reminder of the picturesque Switzerland.DSC01353Our efforts to get into a boat that is supposed to start a tour around the lake in less than 40 minutes failed. Especially after the captain of one of the boats kept making very uninspired jokes in presence of ladies. The time spent waiting for the boat to leave was enough to give us a view over the Schermützelsee. Wish we are one of those lucky owners of a personal boat to just go in the middle of the lake without depending on other doubtful options…DSC01360A good food can lift the spirits and from the balcony of the restaurant of Strand Hotel we keep observing the movement from the lake while tasting some seasonal local mushrooms – Pfefferlinge – meal accompanied by boiled potatoes adorned with fresh parsley and cooked with onions. A very simple meal without excessive oil.DSC01361The soup made from the same Pfefferlinge is creamy and salty.The brown bread with various seeds is a good taste companion. DSC01362When the weather is so hot, except the boat trip in the middle of the lake, sunbathing and swimming is an option not only for the locals but also from groups of youngsters arriving by car from Berlin. DSC01369

I may be tempted to hurry up to go back to Berlin, but I feel there is something else that can be seen here. For instance, the big castle park Bukow, with its special rehabilitation clinic park. Besides Nordic walking and simple hiking – on the Kaloerienpromenade – , it is also possible to try walking bare feet through the water. I take the last challenge, but my swollen feet were not exactly ready to cope with the many little stones.


A walk through the streets of the historical center was a more enjoyable experience. Many of the houses are available for summer renting which might be a good idea, as the area looks quiet, without too many temptations. There are some small exhibition spaces such as Közwolf bei Brecht presenting local German works, and even a Korean restaurant and a movie theater, enough things to do for offering a right balance between the secluded time for rest and a minimal social face.DSC01396

Not an artist and not on vacation, I prefer to take my regular test around the lake, looking envious from my wooden bench at the kids jumping bravely in the warm water.


Before taking the bus till the train station, a short visit at the colourful pottery shop bring more impressions about this visit. Maybe the comparison with Switzerland does not make too much sense, but at least it makes me feel I am very very far away of the busy city life. For now, I feel less guilty for my limited travel agenda and it is enough.

For more insights from Buckow, check  the dedicated Pinterest board: https://de.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/buckow-germany/

Neverending summer feeling in Kladow


The local bus took me from the Spandau train station in Berlin leading for 30 minutes through forests and shadows of the leaves in the Brandenburg area. Not very far away from Potsdam, but on a relatively discrete road, there is a small place call Kladow, just another summer destination of my one-day journeys from Berlin.


In 1992, Kladow celebrated 725 years, and the old streets and houses are reminding a certain nostalgia. At the first sight there are not too many visitors around, and I enjoy taking notes of different buildings and mentions of anniversary both for the use of the local and of the foreigner.


The historian in me cannot ignore the old age of the settlement, the over 100 of years of the Firebrigade, or the 20,000 years of the big stone brought from the Scandinavian mountains. Near the lake, an old solar watch catches my attention as I am trying to guess different time settings.


Close to the historical area, a metal statue of the local sculptor Volkmann Haase is aimed to represent the values of friendship. Me and travel, we are friends for ever and more, of course.


There is no sign of life behind the windows of the old tradesmen houses. Is just another one of those unusually hot days in August and the streets are, as usual, empty.


It seems that the entire life is concentrated near the lake, in the many restaurants and small icecream parlors. The sounds of the boat engines ready to go far away are like winter cat snores. Although most part of the boats from the sea parking are privately owned, renting your own is also possible, at affordable prices, like everything around Berlin.


I change the perspective trying to follow the sound of the rhythmic paddling. Some just chose to enjoy this day by hard work…


All the way from Potsdam, there is a big group of party boats coming my way. Accompanied by the unmistakable bottles of fresh beers, young groups descend noisily into corners of land. Everyone is having today!


Expansive villas in the middle of green trees and flowers are interrupting the rustic reveries. As in the case of many other places around Berlin, Kladow is also becoming an attractive real estate destination.


On the Masha Kaleko road I turn on the left and get lost in the field. I am not alone as many children and families are taking their walks or lunches on the grass. Lying on the grass I am watching a horse being walked around.


The old big trees are creating natural labyrinths that I wish I am bold enough to follow. Or at least less lazy.


Slowly, slowly, I am returning to the lake area, ready for another little detour around the waters. Families on bike, with or without dogs running hard to catch up warn me to watch my steps.


As usual in the last weeks, I make some steps, I stop for a while, took a picture, take my breath and keep walking.


The lake is very crowded with different types of boats, big white spots on the clear blue bordered by summer green. A German riviera, simple and discrete.


Wish I am right now on one of those lazy boats, going nowhere, doing nothing, maybe just taking a little sunbath.


Long walks require some good meal and after wandering for more than 5 hours, I need a long tasty stop. Out of many choices, I decide – how unusual for me – for a Chinese restaurant, Regent, offering the most diverse menu although not with a view over the sea as I would have imagined the happy ending of my trip here. My sweet champignons, with summer sprouts and other typical vegetables are brought on a hot plate, accompanied by a complimentary plum wine that I should politely refuse. The meal is just fine, with too much drops of oil poured on the vegetables.


I throw one more view over the lake, hoping that there is still time to make just one more such a simple trip around Berlin and I start the long way back to the bus station. Swallowed feet and heavy breath, I offer myself another treat, this time some berries and pamplemousse icecream at the parlour on Sakrower Kirchweg. Fruity sprinkling cold taste that keeps me energized till the next bus chair from where I say good bye to the secret Kladow paradise.

For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board

A day at the dairy farm Gläserne Molkerei Münchehofe


As I child, I visited a lot of factories – including chocolate and icecream factories -, dairy farms and even vineyards – without tasting, of course, and as a curious person, I enjoy understanding what I wear, eat or drink. I found always interesting the small details of the preparations and now, as a grown-up adult, I love to see with my own eyes the mysteries revealed. As a frequent visitor of the Bioladen – bio/ecological shops – in Germany, I noticed various advertisements for tours of Gläserne Molkerei Münchehofe, and after a while, I decided that I should pay a visit myself to this dairy farm, not that far away from Berlin, in the green Spreewald area of Brandenburg.

Dreaming is one thing, making it real might take a bit longer. Used so much with the precision and failure-free transportation connections in Germany, I disregarded a highly important aspect, well known by the local, but not too much disclosed to the wide public: from Königs Wusterhausen, S-Bahn station, there is a bus that connects Münchehofe, maybe once or twice the day. From Halbe, where I stop following the recommendation of some Deutsche Bahn employee, there are around 12 kilometres that without any proper wheel-propelled transportation, must be made by foot. With a lot of optimism and a good weather as trustworthy company, I started my walking journey.


At 9 o’clock in the morning, everything looked fresh, with some last traces of the fading summer stubborn enough to still kept being around. Fresh air, flowers and colourful mushrooms diminished my lack of mental preparation for such a sudden early long walk.


Accompanied by the silence of the woods, I made it relatively fast till the Märkisch Buchholz, near the Dahm river. With not too many people on the streets, except the one who brought me the bad news that there is no bus connection till the dairy farm and eventually I should keep walking and walking, I suddenly started to worry. With my appointment at the farm for a guided tour starting in less than 30 minutes, I was not able to be in time, unless will find some unconventional transportation way: hitch-hiking that I haven’t done since my final high-school years, when I went through Bulgaria for one week with only 100 USD in my pocket.

I think more than twice, pondering all my blogging priorities, especially the need to keep my word and be in due time at the appointed schedule. I set myself on a place near the main road, from where I can eventually grasp instantly the reliability of the driver. After a couple of minutes, a nice local old man stops, and in less than 10 minutes I’m there. Was simple, although my heart went as small as a sparrow.


As I arrived a bit earlier – a deep sigh of relief after so many worries within less than 2 hours – I am using my time for getting to know the neighbourhood. Quiet, populated mostly by cars coming a going, the traditional Brandenburg country life.


When it is about time to go, I go through the green alleys, bordered by happy relaxed wooden cows – it is a bio dairy farm, after all – and I’m ready to join the other members of the guided tour. The visit can be done only as part of such a tour, and dedicated tours for children of various age categories are also available by request.


The dairy farm is hosted in a very modern looking building, that replaced the former communist Germany construction. A similar farm was created in Dechow, in the Mecklenburg Pommern.


In the lobby, old wooden instruments, from the old times are only used as didactic material. Everything is mechanized now. The downside of a visit in a normal day of work can be that some of the machines must be under revision at certain times of the day, so during the tour, we did not see too much from the real processes that lead to the creation of the delicious dairy products – cheese and milk, especially.


However, we are lucky enough to have a good guide – in German – that explains in the smallest detail everything related to the quality of the milk used – bought from producers, after a careful verification of accomplishing the standards requested by the bio production. Mostly, the animals should live free and not be treated with antibiotics. There are three main types of milk produced here: the pasteurized one (the green package) – which has a sour-cream like taste but the normal milk consistence, the usual milk – from the light blue packages – and the one meant to last longer – from the dark blue packages. After the presentation, I can test all of them, but it’s a bit difficult to make one and final choice, as all of them taste fresh and ask you for one more glass, and one more glass. And this comes from someone not so keen to drink too many glasses of milk per day. Wish my mother is still around to read this!


The most spectacular view is in the front of the windows leading to the cheese production section. Almost 6,000 liter of milk are used, in order to produce around 600 kg. of cheese. The big bathtube-like made of copper, produced by a Swiss company offers the guarantee against microorganisms and also keep the composition warm as long as needed before the final production.


Besides the impressive number of cheese produced daily, there is also a significant production of curd, with different fat concentrations. Our guide explains in detail about the salts used, and their qualities in creating various tastes. Except for the production of butter, which needs more human involvement, everything is mostly done automatically by the machines. The 1o0,000 liter of milk produced daily, for instance, is packed by the robots. The local laboratory keeps an eye on the daily quality of the mixtures, which the level of humidity is checked twice the day, in order to be sure that no additional micro-organisms are produced.


At the end of the tour, after resisting heroically and some even taking notes in an ambiance calling for lunch, brunch and dinner, we are invited to spend some extra time testing and tasting the various types of cheese we’ve been explained about. Except the classical bio stores, the milk from this dairy farm can be found also at the classical German supermarkets. A stamp on the right side of the upper side of the package indicated when and where the milk was produced. With the cheese as a common topic of conversation, I am improving my language skills talking with the tour companions about the different qualities of different pieces of cheese and milk. Everything is delicious.


Outside, some lazy cows are enjoying their day out. During the production process, mostly milk from Germany – Mecklenburg Pommers and the Southern part – is used. Also, certified milk from Denmark, Poland or the Czech Republic can be employed for covering an over-increasing need. Outside the farm, I walk a bit across the small garden, with some veggies and colourful flowers.


Outside, on the streets, the same quietness and emptiness, except a postlady, with a minivan, who is running from a house to another to deliver the mail. Now, that my journalistic mission was accomplished, it is about time to think how to make my way back to Berlin.


This time, I’m luckier, as I am around for one of the 1-2 regular bus rides. A classical car, maybe from the old times of the DDR. My adventures on the road put aside, I had a very useful experience, learning about cheese and milk. Now, that I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears how everything is produced, I might be tempted to increase the consumption of milk in the house. The knowledge I got through my travels can lead me in the most unexpected places…

Disclaimer: I was offered a free tour of the Gläserne Molkerei Münchehofe, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

For more pictures and impressions from the dairy farm, check the dedicated Pinterest board

Exploring nature and science in Potsdam


After spending almost one full day in the wonderful dream factory of Babelsberg Film Studios, we are too tired to do anything else than taking the train back to Berlin. Although the to-do-list for the day was slightly complex, we preferred rather to delay all the priorities for a new trip, maybe when the weather is better. A couple of days after, here we are, back to my favourite part of Germany. This time, we avoid the urban area and the tempting coffee houses as all we want to do is hiking. The first stop, almost 15 minutes away from the train station, the climbing park – AbenteuerPark.


We are near the Wissenschaftpark/Science park, an area with many interesting science institutes, going fast forward in the woods. Joggers and bikers are outstripping us, but we just walk, enjoying the pleasant ride and the fresh air. Wooden tables and chairs are inviting the exhausted explorers to stop for a pick nick or a stop. Maybe the next time.


As we arrive in an open field, we hear voices amplified by megaphones and we are sane enough to stop and figure out what is going on. It is not an illusion, but something is going on and maybe we would like to join the party too! We see a high yard and a brown bricked building and curious, we enter through the gate. A man hurry us to a small arena, where we sit on benches watching explanations about eagles, hawks and owls. The explanations, in German, are giving insights about the behavior, eating habits and mood of those birds.Image

We are told, for instance, that the feather up on the head of the owls means that they are in the good mood. Hopefully, the ones we are showed are happy ones, otherwise I don’t know how I would have react seeing them flying centimetres away from my head. All the birds from Falkenhof – the name of the place we arrived by accident –  are well trained and friendly and recording them on video is uneventful.


Back to the city – as we apparently went a bit lost, but it was for a good birdy adventure though – we pass the Am Wald street bordered on one side by houses with interesting roofs – reminding me of some interesting sample of architecture in Bad Saarow and on the other side by the forest. At least during the summer, it is good to live here.


We are back at the Central Station area and we go again till the Wissenschaftpark/Science park. Science and research are well appreciated in Germany and very often the research institute benefits of important funds and also interesting architecture. Several institutions, among which of Astrophysics, Weather observatory and also Physics are hosted here. It is situated on the Telegraphberg – the Telegraph mountain – an important standpoint in the newly telegraph line created in this part of Germany at the end of the 19th century.Image

One of the most famous buildings on the Telegraphberg is Einstein Tower. It was designed by the architects Erwin Finlay Freundlich and Erich Mendelsohn and was aimed to demonstrate that Einstein’s theory of relativity doesn’t work. Even though the experiment failed, the building remained and it’s nowadays often visited by tourists. The science park was given the name of Einstein, who lived for a short while also close from here, at Caputh.


I never leave Potsdam with an easy heart and after so much walking and many interesting discoveries, I want to stay a little bit more. The Latino open air bar El Purto, near the harbor, is my last stop. After a crème brulée and a coffee, I am ready to go. But promise to be back soon. The memories of the summer in Potsdam always keep me warm during the long winters.

For more pictures from Potsdam, including from previous trips, have a look at my dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/potsdam/


In the city of horses – Neustadt an der Dosse


After the horse racing in Hoppegarten, I want to continue my week in the company of horses. And as I was told that in Brandenburg there is a city created especially for horse breeding in the 18th century, one of the biggest in Europe of this kind, I am heading in the next day by train to Neustadt an der Dosse, less than one hour away from Berlin.


It is Wednesday and the streets are quiet, disturbing quiet to be honest. The houses are small, with maximum two levels, with big yards with rooster singing gloriously. Add to this the smell of grass freshly cut and you have the whole feeling of the country side life. Keeping this in mind, I keep walking an alley bordered by chestnuts in full bloom.


Neustadt an der Dosse was created in the 18th century, by Friedrich the II as a state stud center. The horses for the Prussian Army were brought from Wien but also from outside Europe, till the center was able to produce its own breeds. Many old houses nowadays used as shops or medical cabinets or housing look like horse stables because they were created originally to serve as accommodation for horses.


With so much beautiful nature around, there is no wonder that the horses are feeling so good and healthy here. They feel the humans around, as in the case of those three beautiful horses that hear me coming from afar, resumed their eating and welcomed me with curiosity according to their own mysterious and elegant ritual.


After another 30 minutes of walking, I arrive at the Forstlehrgarten, a small park where families with children can enjoy the experience of the life in the middle of the nature, either by learning more about old tools used in the agriculture or about birds and animals living in the Brandenburg area. It is a nice piece of wood where you can walk and enjoy your time while learning a little bit as well.


Nearby, a beautiful park, near the biggest hotel around. Otherwise, people can find easily private accommodation. As for food, there are a couple of small restaurants with fast-food look, but open in the afternoon.


Neustadt an der Dosse doesn’t have a center in the proper sense of the word. There are a couple of small shops, even an insurance company with extensive services offered for horses, and even some historical old buildings. While I was thinking about what exactly you can do here except horses, I was reminded that this can be enough: a carriage carried by a beautiful black horse broke the silence of the street. I was feeling in a film studio with a remake of old country movies. A beautiful feeling, I might say.Image

For more quietness, near the river Dosse there are enough spots where to stay and look around at the beautiful colourful flowers.


Otherwise, everywhere where is a small piece of healthy grass, there will always be horses. They are used with humans, but still, educated enough to keep an elegant distance from them.


On the way to the historical training center, one of the most important in this part of Germany, there are even more horses: of all ages and breeds, more or less annoyed by the human curiosity. Grandparents bring their children to look at them, and tourists are renting big carriages for a round around the city. As there are not too many cars on the streets, they can relatively walk unharmed.


At a certain extent, the history of the center in Neustadt an der Dosse reflects historical episodes of this part of the world too. Friedrich the II wanted to introduce the use of horses part of his larger plan to reform the army. During WWII, around 4,800 horses were used for infantry, many of them being killed. When the Red Army arrived, 300 horses at least were took away to the Soviet Russia. Nowadays, they are part of more peaceful plans, being mostly trained for sport competition.


When I am leaving, I feel under the spell of beauty for a long time after. Back in the busy city, I know that I can hardly expect to see a horse graciously walking in the crossroad. But I least I know that the beautiful creatures are not that far away from me.

For more insights about Neustadt an der Dosse, check the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/neustadt-an-der-dosse/

Beelitz, beyond the spargel plate


Beelitz is usually associated in the Brandenburg area, with the famous German national spring food – asparagus/spargel – the kind of meal that I’m still doing my best to cook and maybe like it too – one day. As one of my biggest challenges when I travel is to go beyond stereotypes and too-much-beaten paths, two summers ago I visited this city trying to find more than a bundle of spargel. We arrived quite fast by bus, via Potsdam, on a sunny day, enjoying the green scenery and the quiet streets.


The streets kept quiet for the most part of our stay. Either we headed to the center or explored small streets we rarely had any encounter with the local people. In addition to the classical fast foods and local bakeries, a restaurant serving a variety of Balkan cuisine caught our attention.


Once part of the then GDR, with a significant Soviet present nearby for decades, Beelitz was still looking at the time of my first visit for for its post-Cold War identity, with many buildings left from the war times waiting for a new yet unknown destination.


Walking more, we discovered that the traditional spargel gardens are a relatively ‘new’ reality – in historical terms, being created only in the 19th century, by Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Herrmann, a local personality whose memory is reminded with a simple statue placed in a square.


The quiet streets allowed us to observe more of the city. It looks like time stopped here a couple of decades back, with many small traditional shops looking as back in the 1970s or 1980s. In the era of photo sharing and electronic devices, this photo atelier with old photos displayed in the windows makes a big difference.


The same for the small door that makes as stop for a while thinking about the impressive model-size of the inhabitants.


Two years later, I am back in Beelitz the last week, this time in spring, the high spargel season. I took the train and stop at Beelitz-Heilstätten, near the historical military sanatorium. The connection to and from Berlin is every hour and it takes around 30 minutes. Prepared to explore the ruins of the sanatorium, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter the modernist perspective of the glass and wood tower of the local fire brigade. This community service has a long tradition in Beelitz, with a special volunteering service that probably explains the architectural special identity and high-profile.


As in the case of the historical city we visited two summers ago, the streets are quiet again, with a discrete bus commuting every 30 minutes. Private owners are ready to rent their houses to holiday refugees from the city and there is probably a high promise of enjoying a very reality disconnected holiday.


Since moving to Berlin, I explored frequently ruins and abandoned buildings: the former Iraqi embassy or the former CIA listening station on Teufelsberg, among others. Fantastic historical sources once, especially if visited in the fist post-unification years, but nowadays a mass of wreckages. The Beelitz military hospital entered my travel agenda at a time when I lost curiosity for such experiences, but also when the building itself is in an advanced stage of deterioration that makes such an adventure risky. Thus, I limited my adventures to taking pictures from outside and observing the architecture, without jumping inside.


The huge complex, situated in the middle of a green area acquired in decades by the diverse administrations of the hospital, was created starting with the end of the 19th century, when the newly-born health insurance society of the newly united Germany was looking to create a tuberculosis station and a nursing home. In 1902, the Beelitz facility was opened, with a 600-bed capacity, open to both men and women. The architecture reminded me other medical facilities I visited in Berlin recently, such as Charité and Westend hospitals, created around the similar period.


During WWI, most of the facilities were operated by the Red Cross that increased the capacity to more than 1,500 beds. Over 12,586 persons were treated here, among which the maniac who will lead Germany to destruction during WWII. The hospital returned to the usual civilian use in 1920. One of the most sought speciality for a long time will be the lung treatment, that included also long relaxation and walks around the newly acquired green area. As I was walking from a building to another, I was feeling the fresh air maintained by the green trees. But as far as I was getting closer to buildings, the smells and the swarm of flies kept me away.


Many of the 60 buildings part of the complex are vandalized and covered by many layers of paintings and graffiti. During the Cold War, the Soviet Army turned the sanatorium into the largest Soviet military hospital outside the USSR, and it kept this status till 1994, when the Russians left Germany. While walking, was trying as much as possible to do not get lost. The idea of spending more time that I need around, wasn’t on the to-do-list of the day. Regular tours are organized in the area, with in-depth explanations about the architecture and history, but I feel at a certain extent for me it was a one time experience.


In December 1990, another German dictator, Erich Honecker, the GDR president, was treated here for liver cancer. The red-bricked buildings hide many state secrets probably, but from a dead world. In 1997, part of the buildings were reopened for medical use, with the creation of a special facility for Parkinson disease and neurological disorders. As it is listed as one of the largest historical sites in Brandenburg, assigning a new destination or the simple destruction is not possible.


Being far away from the ruins was a good feeling, and I kept walking around the green area, breathing deep the fresh air. The doctors were right, again, there is a special air quality that makes the place so healthy and relaxing.


Taking the advantage of a sunny day, I continue my exploration by foot for another one hour direction Fichtenwalde. Riding by bike is also a good idea. Once arrived in the small village, with colourful flower gardens, I entered again the quiet spirit of Beelitz. Local products, as honey, are on sale, colourful billboards inviting you to go home with some natural healthy souvenirs.


Another consequence of spending so much time in open fresh air, I got hungry. Back in the sanatorium area, I stop at the restaurant of Landhotel Gustav that I spotted before. Besides the big pieces of naive sculptures in the yard, following the basic advertising made by a big black board announced with chalk hand written words that they serve – what else? – various specialities of Beelitz spargel. I followed the curiosity and entered. The place is hosted in a construction built in 1902 for the use of the sanatorium. Many years after the Russians left, the building was turned into an accommodation facility, with a beauty saloon and a restaurant. The interior is crowded without a special style line with various old pieces of furniture, mirrors and even some toys. It also has some tables outside, a good choice for the sunny days.


The service was too slow for my taste, although there were only two more customers in the restaurant. I ordered a classical spargel with season potatoes and sauce Hollandaise, a simple countryside meal. The spargel was smooth and well boiled and the sauce brought some special flavours and taste. A good healthy meal, but not necessarily my style of menu.


Near the sanatorium buildings currently used for medical purposes there are more abandoned buildings, in a better state, but still marked by the traces of decay.


What the future of the former sanatorium buildings will be, is not yet clearly known. The ruins are not only very popular among tourists and travel adventurers, but were also chosen as filming locations for movies such as Operation Valkyrie and Schindler’s List.

I left Beelitz again, this time curious to return sooner than two years to check what the whole area will become. With so many histories and secrets hidden behind old walls, it seems that this place has more stories than spargel recipes to tell.

For more Beelitz insights, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/beelitz/

Spring hiking in Kremmen


Nothing compares with the smell of spring in the air. Give me some rays of lights and a clear blue sky and I am instantly at the door ready to spend the rest of the day outside. In one of those days of the unusual early spring, we took a train to Kremmen, a relatively less known destination in the always surprising area of Brandenburg. In less than one hour we were at the train station, without too many people around, and in the middle of an old looking train station. At least, it was a colourful invitation to the bar.


Hopefully, there were a lot of arrows indicating the way to the main areas of interests and we took Berliner Chausee till the first stop: the Spargelhoff/Asparagus yard. I hardly knew what ‘spargel’ is till moving in Germany, except for the decorative plant with the same name. ‘Spargel’ is a national food, with various celebrations organized on the occasion of the first – and second, and third – degustation. As we are relatively out season, the area looked empty, except some accidental visitors (us included). 


We made a little tour, had a surprised look at the big agricultural machines – the city girl doesn’t have too many ideas what you can do with them – and tried to made a timid eye contact with the fury residents of the area, not yet ready for guests. Image

Five minutes later, we were in the Scheunenviertel, a well preserved quarter of old peasant’s houses – despite the frequent fires that affected it from time to time -, changed into location for different cultural and foodie attractions. It seems that here is the liveliest area of the little town, with many restaurants, coffees, dancing classes, art galleries and little antiques shops. Here is also a bar where the motor bikers area gathering, and we already noticed a couple of big metal machine monsters around. Image

I preferred to stop at the Antiques shop, finding my way and the sense through the diverse pieces of furniture, from different stages of the history of interior design. Image

The weather was so lovely that I didn’t want to stop: we arrived at the central area Am Markt, with the small city hall, took the quiet street of Berliner Strasse, and after to Ruppiner strasse, where close to a war monument we saw a small barefoot path. Kremmen also has a spa/thermal center, closed till April.Image

Although Scheunenviertel offered a couple of foodie temptations, we decided to have a longer refuel stop at the former gingerbread factory – Zur alten Leibkuchen – for a coffee and more. The place looks a bit too crowded for me, with many reconverted pieces of furniture, but cozy and with a friendly service.Image

While we were planning the next stop while chewing the poppy seed cake – a bit too sweet, but lovely taste – and sipping the excellent coffee, one of the customers was reminding loudly his memories about the gingerbread factory as a kid. Somehow, knowing the local language always helps to get better travel stories.Image

With new energies, we were on the road again, direction Grosse Ziethen. The 5-km. walk is very easy, in the middle of a green scenery, with fields and farms. Accompanied by the birds returning back home the walk went faster and we enjoyed every breath of the new spring.


For those who dare to go farther by car or foot, there is a horse-back riding center, with beautiful horses getting ready for the high season.


At the end of the walk, there was a castle, Schloss Ziethen, nowadays an elegant hotel and restaurant. The garden is open to the public, and we continued our discovery of new spring signs. An art installation, by Janine von Thuengen, in the middle of the luxuriant garden, creates a certain feeling of unusual and unexpected.Image

But it was time to go back to our busy city life. The day was almost over but the spring air gave me more strength and an optimistic view for the rest of the season. When it’s spring, I know that only good things can happen. If not sure, will take a new trip to Kremmen for the confirmation.

For more visual insights about Kremmen, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/kremmen/

Quiet winter in Bad Belzig


Until the snow reached couple of inches I couldn’t believe the winter has a late come back, but despite this cruel reality, I refused to cancel my travel plans for discovering more places to include on my list of ‘100 Places to See in Germany’. Only a couple of towns away from the half of the project, I decided to be courageous and not give up my visit to Bad Belzig.

I arrived early in a cold morning, following a 45 minutes uneventful – i.e. no delays – train ride from Berlin. This rail connection is operated since the end of the 19th century, part of then Berlin-Metz route. Despite the cold, I prefer to not take the bus and discover the small city by foot. I go first direction Bahnhofstrasse, having a look at the tempting offers of holiday houses for rent. I take Karl Marx till the crossroad with Fr. Engels – I am in a respectable ex-DDR location after all. The hospital on Niemeckerstrasse looks as a spaceship and is quite big for a small locality.Image

Back to the Bahnhof/Central Station, I follow for the Kunstwanderweg route, a local project aimed to integrate arts into the natural landscape. The museum dedicated to the literary and artistic works of Roger Loewig is closed, but I continue my wandering through the virgin snow. I enjoy my couple of moments of silence, breathing deep. But the cold doesn’t encourage poetry and I need to move, Solitary dog walkers are the only human presences around.Image

From the top of the hill, I can have an overview of the entire area. As I am looking at the picture right now, I enjoy the view, but then, all I wanted was to be able to feel and move my feet.Image

Back on the concrete, I am heading to the Burg Eisenhardt. Nowadays, it hosts a gallery, an old hotel – where Tsar Peter I slept once – a chocolaterie and a library. The castle was mentioned first around the 12th century. Belzig, previously Belezi, developed as an original Slavic settlement starting with 1000 CE. The local legend says that Luther visited it too in 1530. In 1702, it acquired town privileges. At the 1819 Congress of Vienna, it was transferred from Saxen Anhalt to Brandenburg, an administrative unity it still belongs to. As everything at the Burg was supposed to be open only later in the day, I only take a tour of the inner yard, trying not to bother the intensive shovelling efforts around.Image

The harsh cold cuts short my chances of contemplation, again. I need to move fast, passing through an old brewery on Wittenbergestrasse, with huge copper recipients shining in the window, old small traditional houses and the former theatre hall on Bahnhofstrasse.

The town hall is part of the well preserved historical center. At the information office, I am told that there are guided tours of the historical area, but only on Sundays. However, I leave the office with a couple of maps and useful directions for the next stop.Image

Bad Belzig hides another memories though. In 1934, ammunition construction were created here, using around 1,500 forced labourers. Between 1940-1945, a subcamp of women’s concentration camp Ravensbrück was created, with around 750 prisoners, mostly from Poland, USSR, France, Belgium, Hungary. The camp was liberated on 3 May 1945 by the Red Army, saving the life of 20 seriously sick women. Every year, on 3 May, ceremonies are held in the memory of the victims.

The memorial is hidden in the forest, at the end of a long street of houses and trees. I needed to ask for directions several times, till finding someone knowledgeable about the exact location.Image


It seems that branding was considered a serious option to outline the city’s offer. Directions and long explanations are provided at the noteworthy locations and is not easy to find one of the most famous destinations of Bad Belzig: the Stein Therme. Thousands of people are visiting it every month – mostly from Germany, but not only -, enjoying the spa, massage and wellness treatment. Accommodation and fine cuisine recommendations can be part of the packages offered to visitors aiming to relax for a longer period of time.

The area around the huge location may be very pleasant for walks in the summer. As I look at the brave humans swimming in the sauna steam outside, I am a bit jealous of their courage. Image


I have more than one hour till my next connection to Berlin and I am trying to learn more about the town. Besides the usual Asian menus, there are too local restaurants offering local cuisine. Culturally, it belongs to Fläming, a historical area comprising parts of Brandenburg and Sachsen-Anhalt, characterized by a cuisine based on potatoes. Many traditional occupations, such as pottery, survived the industrialization and are more than tourist hobbies. Image

Bad Belzig is trying to get a new makeover. New blocks of flats are ready in the newest part of the city, trying to integrate alongside the small traditional houses and the strong and colourful personality of the bourgeois residences from the central area.

As I was invited to spend one full day at the Stein Therme in a couple of weeks, I am curious to discover more about this little corner of Brandenburg soon. 

For more insights about Bad Belzig, check the dedicated Pinterest board.

In the tropical forest. From Potsdam


The Celsius degrees are getting lower and lower each day despite the sunny appearances. I feel the autumn running away and me getting more and more annoyed by the prospects of the long winter. With a very busy week of intensive travel ahead, I wanted to say goodbye to Potsdam for a while, with a visit to a place I never been before: the tropical forest of the Biosphere.

I go to Potsdam at least once the month because I love being there more than anywhere else in Germany, but never been to Biosphere as it is relatively far away from the central area. However, with a direct tram from the Central Station, I arrived in less than 30 minutes.

As when I went it was Germany’s National Holiday, there were plenty of people on the street, especially children that made the most part of the public of the Biosphere. But the Biosphere is for every age category. It combines in a very smart way the complicated scientific explanations with practical experiences.


The tropical forest was full of life: the dinosaurs are moving their head and screaming strange warning, the colourful birds are tweeting in their cages and the kids are running around asking repeatedly their parents if the lizards or the sleeping bats from the ceiling are real or trying to spot the snakes hiding under the sandy pieces of wood in the aquariums. On a table, in the tropical forest, bowls with different spices invite the visitors to touch, smell and taste the various types: ginger, muscat, cinnamon, pepper among them.


I liked wandering in the tropical forest and looking up at the huge trees. The orange fish were jumping in a small lake and the flowers of different colours were bringing more life to the green background. I also spent some long minutes watching the rodents eating or sleeping all together in a small corner. But nothing compared with the experience of staying in the house of butterflies. A small room, with colourful butterflies flying carefree between the visitors ready to take pictures of them. I even saw the next generation of butterflies, some white caterpillars laying lazy on a big green leave.


There are so many flowers in the tropical forest, but unfortunately, there were not too many details about what types of flowers I was looking at. The basic explanations are in German, but I also some presentation leaflets in English. As in the case of Kew Gardens, the Aquarium part is rather modest, but at the scale of the project of the Biosphere, the fish should be only a small part of the plan of explaining the nature. At the beginning and the end of the journey, short movies are introducing the world of the dinosaurs and the situation of the tropical forest, useful but I could not wait to be back in the real green area. Three hours went so fast, but time doesn’t matter too much when you enjoy every second of your stay.

For more images, check my Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/biosph%C3%A4re-potsdam/

The visit was kindly facilitated by Biosphere Potsdam, but the opinions are, as usual, my own