The train station in Spreewald, Germany — just an hour or two outside of Berlin — is deserted. In fact, the basement bathroom below the station could set the stage for a horror film. At first look this place seems in hospitable and you might begin to wonder why you choose this destination, but believe me it gets better.
Spreewald is known for the vast waterways that spider throughout the town and pickles, yes pickles! Which is why, of course you came. As you wander away from the eerie train station it actually opens up into a charming town. The first site you see is a Denny’s type diner where no one speaks English, yet Britney Spears plays on the radio. We happened to forget our German dictionary so as we sat down we did the “point and see what comes out on the menu” technique.
Tip 1: Bring a dictionary and don’t do the point and hope for the best unless you want to run the risk of being served chewy river snake or a pile of sour cream. Needless to say we went hungry that afternoon.
Whether your stomach is empty or full, depending on how you’re using this guide, you can continue down the main road. Within a matter of minutes you’ll come to the river edge. It’s lined with boat rental places. They have large leisure barges that are guided and take you from different shops and bars accessed only by water. But we were Alaskan girls so we found the rental shop that had the most attractive and youngest German working, and with a little flirting we were loaded into two, two man self-guided two canoes, handed a highlighted map that was supposed to take us between 1-2 hours to complete depending on how long we wanted to stay at the bar. As the attractive man sent us off he said “if you’re not back in 3 hours I’ll send a search party after you. “We laughed. We grew up hiking Alaskan mountains, we wouldn’t get lost… Silly German boy.
Full of energy we started off at a rigorous pace following our map to a T. The waterways in Spreewald are vast. At every main fork you come to there is usually a sign, unfortunately they are in German with confusing photos of animated pickles and there are numerous smaller unlabeled forks.
Tip 2: So, if you want to get through this without a search party, follow your map closely and you might even want to have one person with eyes glued to the map saying, “left, right, right, slight U turn.” Also, don’t take off your shirt and try to sunbathe.
Let’s be honest, that is boring. So, as we got away from the main traffic we floated into a deserted area of the rivers. We slowed down to relax and take in the beauty of our surroundings. Warm sunlight began to peer out from lush greenery. Small deserted cottages were scattered among lush grasses lining the banks. Birds fluttered quietly. This place was ours. Away from other tourists as the sun got hotter we began to dare each other to take off our shirts. A little hesitant at first it started with a jacket here a tank top there. Before we knew it all four of us girls were topless, smoking cigs, and laughing at the adventure we fell into. Leading back to tan our faces and now bare chests we drifted past our first missed turn.
I picked up my video camera and began to capture our adventure on film. Then as my partner shortly forgot she was supposed to steer for me we drifted toward the thick over brush near the shore. As I snapped out of my video camera mind set I realized we were heading straight for the trees. I began to scream at her. My partner at this point began to laugh; finding this all hilarious and then lost all ability to function. As I was nailed in the face with a tree filled with bugs including aphids, beetles and large spiders we passed our next turn.
Tip 3: Choose a partner that doesn’t find it hilarious to nail you in the face with a tree and can pick up the extra slack steering if you want to videotape.
Now covered in aphid stains and angry spiders we decided it was time for a beer. I found the soggy map torn and ripped near my feet. And as my partner chugged the last of our water we passed our third turn. Now dehydrated and confused I called out to my friends, “Hey guys I think we’re lost nothing near us looks familiar on this map.” Panic set up. Cigarettes were put out, shirts were put back on and we pulled a full U turn in the middle of the waterway. As we began to vigorously back track upstream we grew tired, hungry and thirsty. We began to argue. Blaming each other for getting lost, all passing the map back and forth trying to be the savior.
Tip 4: Bring more than a small water bottle for four people. Dehydration and overheating are not conducive to working together to getting yourself out of a sticky situation. Pack emergency snacks so you don’t contemplate whom you’re going to eat first.
As desperation set in and our two our time limit came and went we began to only hope the attractive young Germany would come save us finally something looked familiar. Closely following the map while backtracking we were able to make it back to civilization. Still almost 45 minutes away from the dock, we sadly paddled past all the bars and restaurants filled with the old boring tourists who took the guided relaxing tour. At the time I might have envied them drinking beer from steins and stuffing their faces with sausage, but looking back I wouldn’t trade my topless adventure in the beautiful waterways of Spreewald for all the beer in the world. In getting lost and topless with my 3 best friends we learned things about each other we had never known. We shared something much deeper than beer.
Tip 4: If you want to go to the bars, don’t waste your entire 2 hours getting lost and back tracking.
As we finally docked we were happy to be back on land. I think our German boyfriend was happy also. He waved us in and was thankful, as he was about to get in a boat himself and come look for us. Technically we owed him additional money for being gone 4 hours instead of two, but a little more flirting and he let it slide.
As we left the Spreewald waterways behind us we took off in search of these famous pickles. We walked into the town square and began to ask locals where all the pickles were. We wanted to eat pickles. After many horrified glares and cold shoulders we found the part in down town where all the pickles were sold. We ordered chili pickles, mango pickles, garlic pickles. So many pickles.
Tip 5: If you say the word pickle in Germany you’re really talking about pimples. So instead learn the German word for pickle Salzlake. Don’t scare the old German women as you beg them to feed you pimples.
Among the various pickle carts there are some great ice cream parlors around. Sunburnt Tip 6: Pack sunscreen. A member of our party suffered severe sunburn and blistered in more places than just her face :-/ and full of pickles we headed back to the train station to catch our train back to Berlin. All in this entire tip lasted about 6-8 hours. You can do this efficiently taking a guided tour, or you can do this the fun way and get completely lost topless and contemplate cannibalism while cooking under the sun. Your choice J