To the Lake District
Looking at guidebooks, you might think that Berlin is in the middle of a dessert. The around Berlin section of most guidebooks mentions Potsdam and Sachsnhausen (which are actually within the urban area of Berlin itself) and then goes on to Dresden and Leipzig, which are truly beautiful - but also about a two and a half hour drive to the south of Berlin. The rural area around Berlin, within the federal state of Brandenburg, is usually ignored by international tourists, as if there's nothing there. In fact, it is neither a dessert nor a wasteland, but rather a tranquil landscape of lakes, streams, forests and fields, well-traversed by German hikers, bikers and nature lovers. The more celberated attractions of Brandenburg lie to the south of Berlin, in and around the Spreewald (Spree forest) - but that would have to wait for another post, because today I'd like to tell you about our vacation in the northern edge of Brandenburg, on the border with the state of Mecklenburg - areas which are locally known as Oberhavel and Uckermark, but which we decided to call 'the lake district'.
Brandenburg is nicknamed 'land of a thousand lakes' and they are most abundant in the state's northern reaches. Each and every village is built on a lake, and the towns span several of them, all within walking distance. Some lakes are dominated by motorboats, which can be hired, while in others, only rowboats and canoes. Most of the lakes are surrounded by thick vegetation, in some areas protected as a nature reserve, which means that roads and bike routes usually don't follow the shoreline, only touching it here and there; In order to experience the lakes you need to walk - or make your way to one of the public bathing spots. We tried a few, our favorite being Lake Stechlin (Großer Stechlinsee) - a large lake which is known for the excellent quality of its water. Due to the water's exceptional clarity, the sun's rays reach much deeper into its depths, making it possible for plants to grow on the lake floor at a depth of up to 19 meters (62 feet). It also makes for a tranquil setting for a day on the beach.
We stayed in a guesthouse in Fürstenberg, the central town in the region, which has three Supermarkets, five restaurants, three lakes and one ducal palace. It also was the site of a hydroelectric power plant, built in the early 20th Century - but the plant buildings were torn down recently, creating a tranquil vista on the river. Walking through town, we saw quaint villas, half-timbered houses and an impressive wooden bridge, which overlooks two lakes - one on each side.
On the last day, we decided to drive along the Havel river, which connects most of the lakes and is lined with quaint fishing villages - places which really are just two streets and a marina. Deborah, my daughter, took a long nap in the back seat, enabling us to revel in the wide-open fields and the glimpses of river. Than she woke up just in time for us to stop at beautiful spot on the river and have a classic Brandenburg dinner at the Bootshaus on the river; the place isn't just a Guesthouse and Restaurant, but also provides all kinds of services for boaters on the river, from boat storage to a shower and some fresh water. The setting was great and the food was fresh and well-made; most of us opted for local fresh fish (trout was in season), though my sister-in-law opted for 'Seafarer's dinner' - a lavish combination of meat, meat and more meat, probably named because that's what sailors would order after weeks of feeding only on fish.
When we made plans to travel to Brandenburg, we noted a few tourist attractions in the area - a brick factory turned museum, a recreated Slavic village and even an Old West town where parts of "Back to the Future, part III" were filmed - but as we lounged on the lake shore, walked along the rivers or munched on fresh trout, these were always relegated to 'tomorrow', and ultimately never visited at all. Maybe next time (and considering the beauty and tranquility of the region, it's quiet likely there will be a 'next time'.