Dear fellow travellers
"It is not very likely that the branch line train will wait," said the train guard with an evident measure of glee as we sped north from Berlin on the red double decker train that calls itself a Regional Express, but stops at most stations along the line. Another day when the German Railways were beset by a medley of delays - yes, even the usually mega-efficient Deutsche Bahn has its off days.
By the time our late-running express reached the junction at Löwenberg, the connecting train to Rheinsberg should have long since left. Löwenberg means Lion Mountain, although there are neither lions nor mountains at this railway junction in the middle of a vast expanse of Brandenburg water meadows. The guard on the red express train, seeing the branch line service to Rheinsberg still waiting on the adjacent platform, seemed a little disappointed that his prediction that we would be stranded for hours at Löwenberg turned out to be unduly pessimistic.
On a beautiful spring day, the forty minute train journey from Löwenberg to Rheinsberg has to be one of the prettiest on the planet. And it was a beautiful spring day - one of very best in an April that has seen eastern Germany drenched in sunshine. We trundled through birch woods bursting with spring flowers, the morning sunlight sparkled on lakes and we saw lots of deer, kestrels, a buzzard and a fox who turned and watched our small train cross his territory. We paused at two country stations on the journey, but no-one boarded and no-one alighted from the train at either halt. Indeed, we were the only passengers on the train's entire journey. Just hidden europe and the driver. Not even a guard to check tickets and spread apprehension about possible missed connections.
That run out to Rheinsberg was a reminder of how wonderful rural eastern Germany can be in good weather. Much of Berlin's hinterland is sparsely populated, a wistfully beautiful landscape of lakes and forests full of wildlife. And the towns are interesting too - from places like Perleberg and Trebbin with main streets that seem scarcely changed from the days of the German Democratic Republic, to pretty Rheinsberg with its picture perfect chateau on the shore of a lake.
hidden europe 26 preview
We report from another small town near Berlin in the May / June 2009 issue of hidden europe. Bad Saarow is, like Rheinsberg, a lakeside gem. And like Rheinsberg, Bad Saarow has aspects of its history that its inhabitants would rather forget. In Rheinsberg, there was once a nuclear power station, now long decommissioned. Bad Saarow was home to East Germany's Academy of Military Medicine, where potent cocktails of performance enhancing drugs were devised to ensure that East German athletes claimed more than their fair share of medals in the Olympics.
Nowadays Bad Saarow is seductively beautiful, a place that Berliners visit at weekends and on holidays to enjoy boat trips and lakeshore walks. But until 1990, the finest parts of the Bad Saarow lakefront were sealed off to the general public - a town within a town reserved only for those with special permits.
Elsewhere in this new issue of hidden europe, we take an in-depth look at two villages: one on the coast of Croatia and the other in the Basque Pyrenees. And we report from Roskilde in Denmark, a town most noted for its summer music festival. But Roskilde has other strings to its bow, as we find as we probe Danish history. In hidden europe 26, we mark the centenary of Europe's first national parks and celebrate the lives of three Swiss-born women travel writers who travelled way beyond the boundaries of Europe in search of themselves - passionate nomads indeed.
You can preview the table of contents for this issue here. hidden europe 26 is already available for online purchase.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)