Saturday, August 23, 2014

Werder, fruitopia

I find I’ve been having a hard time sitting down to write these blog posts.  Initially train rides presented a good opportunity, but lately I’ve been socializing with my fellow passengers. On my last trip back from Wismar, a Baltic Sea town in northern Germany, I found myself sitting with a group of Spaniards studying nursing in Germany.  I had a great time speaking in Spanish with them, and they were excited as they speak little German or English, so I think this was a rare encounter for them.  They taught me a couple of games using a special Spanish deck of cards, which they gifted to me at the end of our train ride.  Now I’ve got to find people to teach me some more games with the cards when I head to Spain in September.

Anyway, rewinding back in time a couple of weeks, I’d been feeling overwhelmed by urban Berlin, so Nikki suggested I take a day trip to Werder, a small town near Potsdam, reachable with public transit. The old town is technically an island in the River Havel. It was my perfect sight-seeing day! Unfortunately, I was there on the only day in which the museum and windmill are closed, but I checked out some of the historic buildings in the old town area and the town square.  I walked a path along the Havel River for a little while.  The path dead-ended at a community of garden houses.  Basically, they are a block of allotments, dominated by gardens, but each also contains a little house for short-term stays.  This concept began in the mid-1800s as industrialization brought more people to the cities, but the poor suffered from malnutrition, so cities began to let them grow their own garden plots.  Over time it evolved into more of a social/nature movement and then again focused on food security during both World Wars.  Now they seem to mostly offer an escape from urban life, although many are still used to grow food as well.  Saskia and Andrew had told me about one of these communities in which Saskia’s aunt and uncle live in Amsterdam, but I was disappointed not to actually see it.  Turns out that I didn’t need to be disappointed, because these allotments are all over Germany – I’ve seen them from train and bus windows and walking around communities. According to Wikipedia, there are 1.4 million garden allotments across Germany.  However, the community in Werder was the first I saw up close, so I was still excited.
Market Square, and oldest urban center on the island.
The right to hold markets here was granted in 1459.

A picturesque view along the Havel River.
Doesn't it make you want to live there?

One of the best features of Werder (from my local agriculture-oriented view of the world) is that it is a traditional fruit-growing region for Germany.  Recently, the community developed Panoramaweg, a path interconnecting many of the fruit growing locations so that visitors can walk or bike between them, visit the growers, and sample the produce.  This seems like a great cultural and economic development.  
A cute and interactive bus stop mural celebrating
Werder's history of fruit cultivation.
I only visited a couple of these sites on the path, because I chose to take the portion of the path that goes to Petzow.  Petzow is referred to as a castle, partly because the manor house has turrets, but it is basically a historic estate that has been turned into a park. It’s a bit of a distance from Werder, so I began to wish I had a bicycle, which was clearly a highly used form of transportation among the locals who whizzed by me. On my way to Petzow I picked wild blackberries until my fingers and tongue were purple, and found an interesting garden/restaurant/store complexes with greenhouses and a farm nearby. I detoured to the store to check out the local wares and ended up buying dried Sanddorn (Sea-buckthorn in English) berries which were grown nearby. They’re touted to be high in Vitamin C and other nutritients, but quite sour, so I’ve had to mix them in with other foods.

I finally reached Petzow and began to explore the park and structures. A couple of the structures, such as the church are still in use.  The washhouse was restored and now houses as small museum.  However, most of the buildings have been restored but stand empty, with small descriptive signs in front for visitors. 
Historic Petzow Church completed in 1842.

Former fire engine house.
They are interconnected by walking paths and surrounded by big trees and views of the river. The manor house was inhabited by the family until 1945 and then used for “training and recreational purposes until 1990.”  I assume this is East German occupation code for something, but I don’t quite know what.  It was then a hotel and restaurant, which seems to have been vacated within the last couple of years.  Now the manor house is starting to show signs of neglect.  It is surrounded by fruit trees, mostly apple and plum, which also appear to be neglected.  Not wanting the trees to feel too neglected, and missing my normal Silver City fruit harvest tradition, I couldn’t help but pick some apples.  I ended up walking back towards Werder to catch the bus to Potsdam with a backpack full of no less than 24 apples.  It was a slightly heavier walk and uphill, but well worth the effort.  I walked back feeling fully relaxed and content to be walking in the countryside, having enjoyed my own little fruit harvest - my version of a perfect sight-seeing day!

My generous apple tree, with a portion of the abandoned
manor house in the background.