Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Another weekend, another day trip to the former East Germany - this time to the Spreewald.  The Spreewald should be easy to get to, but isn't because trains don't run there from Berlin at the moment so there is a transfer to a "replacement service" (i.e. bus). It becomes almost a 2-hr trip. The Spreewald is essentially a network of canals and tributaries to the Spree river (the river that runs through Berlin) that has been turned into a Biosphere Reserve. As with the national park, it is dotted with villages and is quite developed.

Memorial to the Soviet soldier . . . in the forest

A rare beam of sunlight

The activity of the day was canoeing (canoe = Kanadier in German. The same word also means someone from Canada). We rented boats near tourist information, and set out. There was a route through the canal system that we could have done, but we headed up the Spree instead (which, in retrospect, was probably a slightly more challenging paddling experience, but the Spree is a very sluggish river).

So peaceful
 Then we went to the pub for a late lunch. Traditional foods were sampled, and were found to be acquired tastes (look up Grützwurst on Wikipedia, and it will become obvious why). A pleasant way to spend a chilly Saturday.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Müritz National Park

Northern Germany is a soggy land, peppered with small lakes and ponds. To maintain all this standing water, it rains a lot. On the plus side, the soil is incredibly sandy and there are a lot of lake beaches. I have been loathe to commit to any major trips, and so have been going to beaches in the Berlin area, which are conveniently accessible by S-Bahn, on the rare warm sunny weekends this summer. However, the lakes immediately around Berlin tend to be crowded and are also unpleasantly swamp-like, with opaque greenish water.

I was looking for something a little more pristine, so last weekend, I packed a lunch (for the first time in almost a year) and day-tripped up to Müritz National Park, in Mecklenburg. It lies in the former East Germany, northwest of Berlin and took almost two hours by train to reach. We rented bicycles in the neighbouring town of Waren (another rarity for me) and went on a cycle trip around the park. Let it be said that Müritz National Park is not very similar to Canadian parks. It reminded me a lot of the area where I grew up – low hills, very green, lots of fields and forests and rural communities.

Church of Speck - one of the small villages in the park
It didn't feel like the city, but also didn't feel like remote wilderness.

A beer garden never more than a stone's throw away – this is Germany, after all.
I did get to go swimming in the end, and the lake was beautiful, and crystal clear. Worth all the bike riding I had to do.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Berlin Monuments

I love Berlin. I don't love the architecture or the neighbourhoods so much, or even that the city's history is so close to the surface. I don't even particularly like the urban parks. The weather is iffy, the public transportation is expensive and frequently out of service, and the cyclists are hazardous. In spite of all this, though, there's just something about the city that adds up to complete awesomeness and I'm having a great time. Berlin is cosmopolitan, affordable, fun to live in, and easy to escape from. Most days I have to work though, so this post is about all the tourism I can do during the short distance from my apartment to my office.

First stop, of course, is Potsdamer Platz.
Potsdamer Platz Berlin wall panels. These are extraordinarily popular with the tourists, for reasons unknown. There are much more impressive wall panels nearby. Also note that everyone is dressed for late fall in July
Holocaust memorial. It's artsy.

Then on to Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg gate. Also extremely popular with the tourists. The hotel where the Michael Jackson baby dangling incident occurred is also right here.

Brandenburg gate from Pariser Platz. An iconic view.
The Spree river runs through Berlin, and has also been diverted into a series of canals that crisscross the city. Boat tours are popular. I went on one, but unfortunately did not get to listen to the guide or go up on deck for the first part because the tour was doubling as a reception. My funding organization feeds me very well.

The glass dome is the Reichstag, the German parliament building

After this point the walk goes down hill into some less photogenic neighbourhoods and construction sites. Post on the museum to come sometime in the future.