Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/33 posted by hidden europe on

We took a day out on Friday to orbit Berlin. In truth we have never really been fans of motorway driving, but a gorgeous frosty autumn morning with clear skies tempted us out of suburban Berlin onto the motorway that encircles the city. At exactly 200 kilometres, the Berliner Ring is the longest orbital motorway in Europe, beating even London's infamous M25 to the record.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Orbiting Berlin

We took a day out on Friday to orbit Berlin. In truth we have never really been fans of motorway driving, but a gorgeous frosty autumn morning with clear skies tempted us out of suburban Berlin onto the motorway that encircles the city. At exactly 200 kilometres, the Berliner Ring is the longest orbital motorway in Europe, beating even London's infamous M25 to the record. In truth, there was a bit of business that inspired this orbital excursion, so we made the odd detour off the Ring to photograph various communities in the vicinity of the road.

Yet there was something rather exciting about seeing Berlin from all angles within the span of just a few hours. We tangled with a medley of trucks sporting licence plates from far flung lands - even distant Moldova and Kazakhstan - and then dived off the motorway to find rural Brandenburg villages where half the population has left, in search of a better life further west, and the other half was evidently still asleep.

Prosaic journeys sometimes make for the most engaging travel writing. Iain Sinclair showed that in his wonderful book London Orbital, a nice essay in psycho-geography. For London Orbital Sinclair spent many weeks trudging footpaths and lanes that broadly follow the route of the M25 motorway around London.

Our Berlin circuit was by car, so we only scraped the surface of Berlin's rural fringe. But we had an eyeful of the rubbish that increasingly clutters the edges of European cities. Long slung aluminium sheds invading meadows, car showrooms and abandoned farmland. Yet there was much delicate beauty too.

We saw frosty power lines reaching in great spans across empty water meadows, a leash of deer looking in awe at the passing cavalcade of international cargo and a lone kestrel that purposefully circled the motorway. We felt the pounding madness of rude tarmac, and we smelt the luscious sweetness of rotting apples in villages full of elaborate brick barns. The highlights were definitely coming out of orbit from time to time to touch base with sleepy villages before rejoining the frenzied race to nowhere.

hidden europe 29

In the new issue of hidden europe magazine, published today, we take the slow boat to Iceland, spend a day in the Czech town of Domazlice, travel from Berlin to Budapest by train, visit Crete's Lasithi Plateau, and look back at the Penguin Cerise paperbacks which were consigned to literary history fifty years ago this autumn. We also report from the Finnish / Russian border post at Salla (a community which brands itself 'the place in the middle of nowhere') and take a look at what has happened to eastern Germany twenty years after the fall of the Wall.

The full table of contents of hidden europe 29 is available online. The editorial makes a hard hitting point about the continuing importance of good travel writing. You can download that text as a pdf file here.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.