I traveled to Fürstenberg for this story as a guest of Brandenburg Tourism. As always, all opinions are my own.
This is like Suchitoto, I thought to myself in my first stroll around Fürstenberg. The lake town in northern El Salvador is dressed in cobblestones lined with stocky, colorful homes––just like Fürstenberg. There was even a smoky aroma in the air that I’ve come to associate with small town Central American life.
But I was not in Central America. I was a short train ride north of Berlin on the Havel River surrounded by the lakes of the Uckermärkische Nature Park. By boat, as most would’ve traveled until relatively recent history, it’s a two-day journey. I learned this upon my arrival to the Culture Gasthof Alte Reederei where I was staying.
Getting a boat is what you do around here with so many lakes at your doorstep. My host at the Reederei dressed the part with dark horizontal stripes across his white shirt, pants rolled up against his shins, and water-ready sandals.
He took me out to the docks behind the hotel where row boats were stored away and a couple had just come back from a paddle. A traditional boat that would’ve made the journey between a town like Fürstenberg and Berlin floated alongside the docks.
“These are the boats that built Berlin,” he said.
“You can get to Berlin from here?” I asked in disbelief.
“You can go to Paris,” he answered, doubling down.
Of course, everything changed once the trains started up and life on the lakes is more leisure than industry these days. In any event, I wasn’t in town to go sailing anyhow. I was in town to see what underappreciated sights lay just outside of Berlin and to immerse myself in it by way of what I usually do––hitting up a nearby trail.
I shouldn’t be surprised at this point to find yet another Fernwanderwege or a long-distance hiking trail broken up by stages. When I first started discovering them while living in Düsseldorf, it made sense to me that there was the Rheinsteig along the popular Rhine River or the Moselsteig along the Mosel. But then I started finding multi-stage trails through German towns the Germans themselves have never heard of.
Most Berliners have probably never heard of the Märkischer Landweg––the 217-kilometer route broken up into 10 stages starting in the western edge of the park in either Feldberg or Fürstenberg/Havel and ending in Mescherin on the Polish border. But they should know this region or at least come to learn about it. An amateur Google Streetview researcher can see that there are a number of charming villages in the region and that it’s sparsely populated, which just means more opportunities to be completely enveloped in natural surroundings.
My trip was a quick overnight. So, I woke up in Fürstenberg, filled up on a breakfast of a veggie omelette and a mug of coffee I could almost fit my face in at the Café und Gästehaus INNFernow down the street from the hotel, and hopped on a bus to start the stage in reverse from even tinier Himmelpfort. At the southern-edge of the Stolpsee, I found the blue ‘X’ over a white square painted on a tree and followed it for the next 20 kilometers back to Fürstenberg.
The region is flat, yes, but it’s not boring. Trails are densely forested, a mix of sandy off-road tracks and dirt covered with fallen leaves, and often along a scenic river or lake with the occasional leisure boat passing by. It was also blissfully quiet (save cutting through a couple of campsites). But even then, the weekend retreaters appeared to be on their first beer, and therefore, still in full grasp of their wits.
I would’ve been interested in visiting and hiking through this region with or without the pandemic. I would’ve preferred without the pandemic, but I regrettably don’t have that kind of power.
What I do know, however, is that in the midst of this new craze to support domestic tourism in your backyard, Fürstenberg and its surrounding wonderland of lakes should be an obvious escape for anyone in Berlin. I felt blissfully recharged by the serenity of my simple surroundings and the surprisingly crisp summer air filling my lungs.
At a time when we should really be looking out for our lungs, what more can you ask for?
Looking for more Germany? Check out the Germany off the beaten path travel guide, my top things to do in Germany, the most important German travel phrases, and how to ride the German train system. Want something more literary? Read chapters from my upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany — There Must Be Order.