About an hour drive south-east of Berlin, in the middle of the green German countryside, you will find the small town of Lübbenau, where the locals speak in thick accents and munch on gherkins all day long! This town is situated in the Spreewald, which was declared a biosphere reserve in 1991 and is made up of about 1300 canals. Some of these are nature reserves, however around 900 are free to be explored. You can take a guided tour on one of the traditional punts or hire your own canoes. Our tour guide, a robust gentleman in a white shirt and green vest, was very annoyed by the canoes – he made this blatantly clear by shouting at anyone who passed by! Either, they made too much noise, paddled with poor technique or splashed excessive water around. In contrast, he was extremely charming to the sixteen passengers on board his vessel, so we had a very pleasant time, free of insults!
As we paddled down the channels of water, we passed half-timbered houses tucked in amongst the forest, small wells, blackberry brambles and ferns. A squirrel scrambled up a tree, blue dragon flies hovered by the edge of the canals and a snake slid its way across the surface of the water. All the trees and grassy fields were marvellously green and it felt as though we were stepping into a magical new land. The whole area was once self-sufficient, but these days, the people of the Spreewald rely on tourism for survival.
In Winter, the canals are so shallow that they freeze over and you can go iceskating on them! Another interesting fact I learnt was that, in the past, the punts were kept beneath the water when they were not in use. This storage method helped to preserve the boat. The water seals the pores in the wood, stopping it from rotting away. These days, as the punts are used all year round, they are stored above ground and made from aluminium.
During the tour, we passed through several sluice gates. It was fun to watch the water level rise or fall, before being let out on the other side. The people operating the sluice gates rely on tips from the travellers coming through and, with the amount of tourists frequenting the area, they must collect a fair few coins!
We stopped in the village of Lehde at around lunch and sat down to a hearty meal of fish and potatoes! I ordered the Sanders fish with Kartoffeln and the others ordered Kartoffeln with Quark (a thick yoghurt-style mixture), accompanied by Spezi (Fanta mixed with Coca Cola). We finished off the meal by sharing Rote Grütze, a sweet berry dish topped with vanilla custard.
Our next stop was the gherkin-tasting platform. We sampled three different varieties from the region – sweet, spiced and mustard. We particularly enjoyed watching our tour guide put whole large gherkins into his mouth before rubbing his belly contentedly!
Our stomachs well-satisfied, we carried on through the leafy green canals, enjoying picturesque houses and local wildlife. A family of eight ducks were sun baking along a wall – one looked as though it was about to topple into the water.
Climbing out of the punt in the afternoon, we said our Danke schöns and Bitte schöns before strolling back through the historic town centre, past the town hall and down the cobbled laneways. There are many more attractions in the area, from open air museums, town halls and palaces, but they will have to wait for another time.
What are some other great day trips from Berlin? Have you explored the Spreewald? What were the highlights of your trip?