Monday, March 7, 2011

Eastern Germany's Historic Schorfheide and Its Byways

My last two posts were about the former DDR and all the many changes that Hans and I experienced over a period of about nine years.  I hadn't planned to write more on those years, other than a little about the food.  As the Schorfheide, however, is an historic area and is comprised of more than just small peaceful villages, lakes and the ruins from Communist days, I decided to complete the journey by showing you a few of the sites we visited and sights we saw during our trips to that memorable region.  Perhaps one or two more small stories as well to remind you of what it was like in those early days after the wall.

Hans standing beside a carved stone that marks the entrance to a forest area of the Schorfheide.

The two pictures below show a quiet street in Hans' home town of Joachimstal (note the town pump to the right of the tree; the other is a picture taken on a quiet pathway at the edge of the town.  (Hans, as a boy during the war, took their goat to the pasture every day and then home again at night for it to be milked.)

One day in 1991 we drove into a quiet village off the beaten path.  We were driving our red 1990 Corvette, which we had decided to take up to the Werbellinsee that year.  A big mistake! That car was certainly not meant to drive over uneven cobblestones and pot-holed roads.  It was a disaster!  After parking at the side of the empty street, we saw liquid leaking from beneath the car.  (We had hit a huge bump.)  What to do?  No cell phones or Handies (Germany's name for cell phones) at that time and no phone booths anywhere; no large garages in the vicinity as yet either for repair work.

A middle-aged gent came along and before we knew it, several men surrounded the car in awe!  None had ever seen a Corvette or anything like it.  One of them--the only one with a phone--jumped on his bicycle and pedaled about two kilometers to his house where he telephoned a garage in Berlin for us.  (We had ADAC, which listed names of garages; it is similar to CAA and AAA.)  

Another of the men went home and brought us back something to drink while we waited for a truck.  Two hours later it arrived and off we went to western Berlin, sitting in the cab beside the driver, the car on back, with everyone waving goodbye as we left.

We were told the car would not be looked at until Monday (this was late Friday afternoon), but they gave us a car to use until ours was ready.  We had planned to leave for home that weekend.  We got back to our Pension near the Werbellinsee about 7 p.m. that night, several hours later, and left for home in the south the next day.  A week later Hans drove back up to Berlin to pick up the Corvette.  I remained at home and at work.  Luckily, all the costs were paid by ADAC, including a night in a hotel in Berlin for Hans.  Needless to say, we never drove the Corvette up there again, although we did drive back to that village to say thank you.

Kloster Chorin

During 1990 and the ensuing years, we drove to many historic and interesting sites in the area, most within just a few kilometers of Hans' home.  Others were somewhat farther away but still within an hour's drive or so.  On one occasion, we asked Werner and Gisela, Hans' friends who lived in his house, to accompany us on a drive to Kloster Chorin.  They had never been there although they lived only 30 kilometers away.  As Werner pointed out:  "During the Communist regime the majority of us didn't own a car because of the long wait and the cost.  Like most, we went without."  (Within the next year or two, they did become the proud owners of a car, as did many others.)

Kloster Chorin sits in a peaceful rural setting between the towns of Eberswalde and Angermunde.  Built between 1273 and 1334, it is the oldest cloister of the Backsteingotik style (red brick gothic).  Although the monastery is no longer used as such, an inner grass courtyard, surrounded by a wall, is the perfect spot for contemplation or for the music concerts that take place there in summer.

The small village of Chorin lies just down the road.  Quiet cobblestone streets and simple houses surround a small church.  Stopping there briefly, we felt moon years from civilization even though Berlin was just half an hour's drive south.

The Schiffshebewerk (ship hoist)

Not far from Chorin, at Niederfinow, stands the gigantic Schiffshebewerk on the Oder-Havel Canal, a magnificent ship hoist and an engineering feat.  Built between 1927 and 1934, it is 60 meters high and 94 meters long.  Within minutes it can lift a ship--weighing up to 4,300 tonnes--36 meters high.  Even after 80 years, it remains a technological marvel.

Several dozen times a day a ship is drawn into the trough by steel cables.  The gate closes, the ship displaces water, the bell sounds, and the lift begins moving upwards.  After five minutes, the ride is over.  The gate opens and the ship moves out into the canal under its own steam.  Despite the cost of 27.5 million Reichsmark, an enormous sum at the time, it was an economical solution to negotiating the 36 meters of elevation.  One can climb the stairs and walk along the top of this unbelievable construction and watch it in action.  From the platform one can see the surrounding countryside, including Poland, which lies just 10 kilometers east.

Below, former royal hunting lodge of Hubertusstock

Closer to home, near the Werbellinsee, is Jagdschloss Hubertusstock, the former royal hunting lodge.  We found it at the end of a narrow road in the forest, one that turned off from the highway along the Werbellinsee, about 10 kilometers from Hans' house.  (He remembers playing in the woods nearby as a child with Werner.  They would walk there through the forest from the house.)  Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV built it in the Bavarian style between 1847 and 1849.  In the early part of the 20th century Kaiser Wilhelm II had many hunting parties there.  In 1983 it was heavily guarded and out of bounds for all except the East German leader, Honecker, and his invited guests.  (We drove partway up at that time.)

In 1992 it became part of the famous Savoy Hotel chain as a hotel-restaurant.  We enjoyed dinner there one evening with the history of former days surrounding us.  It had, however, lost much of its Bavarian Gemütlichkeit as it had been "renovated" in the Communist style (much plainer), losing much of its rustic beauty.  It closed some time later but re-opened in 2009 as a hotel.

We haven't been back since then but hope that some of the original style has been replaced.  The grounds surrounding it are magnificent with many species of trees and bushes that flourish in a beautifully landscaped terrain, with paths leading into the encroaching forest.  A huge bronze Hirsch (large red stag) stands near the building.

Below, the entrance gates to Göring's Carinhall on a fall day.


Off highway 109 and once again through the forest, are the ruins of Reichsmarschall (Air Marshall) Hermann Göring's former hunting estate of Carinhall, named after his first wife, Carin.  Situated between two lakes--Klein and Gross Döllnsee--the site is now enveloped by nature with only the birds and animals as its residents. 
Down a path and overlooking the smaller lake, is the location where Göring's wife, Carin, was buried and where he had erected a mausoleum in her memory.  That mausoleum was later destroyed by the Communists and her body returned to her homeland, Sweden.  A part of it (shown at right) still lies on the ground--or did the last time we were there in 2005.  Göring himself had the estate partially blown up near the end of WWII.  The Communists finished the job, with nothing remaining except rubble, evidence of curiosity seekers digging for possible treasure. 

The top picture shows our car in front of the gates; the one below was taken in spring, with a long view of the chestnut alley.

A short walk away, a double row of towering chestnut tress marks the original road in from the large stone entrance gates.  That last tangible reminder of this once huge estate still stands, emblazoned with Göring's coat of arms with his Marshall's baton.  Although he is remembered infamously as part of the Third Reich's hierarchy and one of Hitler's small group of advisers, he is also remembered for his hunting laws and reforms, many of which are followed around the world today.  He also created one of the largest--if not the largest--animal and nature preserves of that era. 

Hans reading the inscription on the stone about Kaiser Wilhelm II and turning to explain some of it to me.

One morning Hans and I set out on a walk through the forest.  Towering jack pines, birch and hundreds-of-years-old beech and oak trees predominated.  Golden grass, touched by sunlight streaming through the tall pines, looked to me like angel hair as it waved from side to side in the gentle breeze.  Hans called it buffalo grass.  

We were listening to the sound of the cuckoos' mating calls as we walked along, when, about 100 meters away, a herd of approximately 30 Hirsch (large red deer) loped across the pathway ahead of us into the deeper forest.  It was a magnificent sight as each one gracefully followed the huge-antlered stag leading them.  These forest areas were the home to many animals, particularly deer and wild boar.  In later years, signs of deer were few and far between, as hunters had arrived from the western areas of Germany and Europe to hunt, resulting in many disappearing.

This picture on the right was taken in a different area on a different occasion; however, it does show some of the "angel grass" or "buffalo grass" beyond Hans and his son, Heiko, the blueberry pickers.

Kaiser Bahnhof (Kaiser Train Station)

The Kaiser Bahnhof was rundown when we first saw it in 1983.  Later, it was restored on the outside (as shown on the left).  It hadn't been used as a train station for many years.  (It now has families living in it.)  In the Kaiser's time--in the early 20th century--he would arrive on the train from Berlin and from the Bahnhof travel along the road past Hans' house to Hubertusstock, his country residence.  The regular train station is almost beside it and was in use in the 1990s.  We don't know whether it still is today.  Both are situated about two kilometers from Hans' house.

We don't know how long the Russian sign with a forest fire warning was located there at the side of a road, but note that it was not in German, only in Russian and English.

We came across the following when walking one day with our friends, Brenda and Mike, one of whom took the picture.  Hans now has to live with the world and me seeing that statement and never letting him forget it!  It says, for those who don't read German, "Janet, I love you."  I do wonder sometimes who that other Janet was!

We drove down many country roads, through rustic villages and past many lakes.  We sat outside small country Gasthäuser and beside the Oder River, looking across to Poland on the other side.  Many villages, such as Werbellin and Hans' town of Joachimstal, as well as a small Gasthaus beside the Oder were home to storks during the summer months.  We were always interested in whether both the female and male storks had returned safely from their winter homes to their nests, perched high above on poles and the tops of houses. As storks mate for life, everyone watches for them each year in early April.

The Schorfheide was tranquil and beautiful with little traffic on the roads during those years that we visited it.  I'm sure it is still much the same, though no doubt the traffic has increased and modernization has been ongoing.  Werner and Gisela said,"Having our freedom is important for us all but particularly for our children.  We know that for ourselves it won't be that easy, as we are too old to benefit a great deal from the changes that are ongoing,"  (Many lost their jobs as did they).  But they said, "We can read the books we wish and we can travel to the west.   For our children, it is a blessing.  They will reap the benefits as they are still young."

Windmills under a blue sky a little farther to the north.

 The Werbellinsee towards sunset

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