It was a chance query to a vet on a forum along the lines of ‘I fancy Germany, any ideas?’ that led 14 families to Proitzer Muhle in Lower Saxony very close to the former East German border. Rather than a chateau where we all self-catered, this was a converted water mill that offered half board.
Proitzer specialised in dancing classes and Heike (the owner) was fascinated by 14 cycling families from England exploring the area, and so on Monday we headed west for the lateral Elbe canal. Built to allow barges to avoid a 3 sided section of the Elbe, it cuts a swathe through the countryside, taking gas and coal north to south. The area is mainly agricultural, and so needed irrigation and one advantage of leading on the first day is being at the front, so it was with a smile that I just got through the sprinkler as it inched its way over the road. The fact it was hot and we’d climbed the steepest road (all of 5%) that week was the bonus. Onto the café stop at Brunnenhof and this was better than France, the cakes were bigger and there were trampolines for the children. Of to the canal and we were in luck as the lock was in use. The barges are huge and the lock even bigger and it took about an hour for the water to be pushed to side tanks and the barge rose. A picnic lunch by the canal and back along cycle paths split from the road, very nice. The evening finished with a film night as Ice Age 4 entertained the small ones and the Hunger Games the elder ones.
Safari Parks and expansive zoos, been there done that. An attraction dedicated to Otters and Pine Martens was a little different and it was to here we headed. First though, another glorious teastop with enormous fruit laden cakes washed down with coffee. For the children, trampolines, tree houses and pedal cars. Into the Otter Centre, beautifully organised with feeding shows every 15 minutes coaxing the inhabitants out of the bushes in their large enclosures. My favourite was the Beech Marten shed, where a pair explored half a car and a workshop. Back at the watermill, several of us tried the pool/pond and in the evening Heike led us through Scottish Country dancing in Germany which even the teenagers tried for the first dance.
Wednesday saw families doing their own thing. Some went by train to Hamburg and the enormous model town, others tested out the local pools. Sarah, Robin and I visited Bergen-Belsen, very moving.
Health and safety day yawned on Thursday and showed us the way to a 50metre wind turbine which we were allowed to climb. With the top simply opened like a car bonnet, groups of 20 sat astride the turbine and admired the local views protected by an enthusiastic guide one side and a safety ropes the other. Gary loved it, with a head for heights and full of birthday cake from Tindlings Park it was an interesting way to celebrate. We’d reached these having cycled through 4 of the Rundling villages. Highly distinctive with a central green surrounded by tall decorated wooden houses laced with ancient script.
The Berlin wall fell in 1989, marking the end to East Germany, however evidence still remains and we explored this today, starting with the cobbled section of road north of Mussingen where East Germany started. Many of the watchtowers were pulled over but the 3 storied concrete structure at Dahrendorf remained. A magnet for geocachers who were we to disappoint as we climbed to the top. Across the old border again south of Bergen and a larger wooden watchtower with a picnic spot, ideal. Sunny afternoon, where better than Bergen outdoor pool, where the two diving boards and large balls tied with rope provided great entertainment, supervised by just one lifeguard. The day finished with the border museum at Gohr. A private collection gone mad, loads of uniforms, photos and an East German truck.
The pool was so popular that Saturday was re-jigged and we headed south for Dahre where it was rumoured that ice cream would be found. Heading south meant the former East Germany and the cobbled streets through village centres bounced us all merrily. Into Dahre, a small village in the middle of no-where and there it was; a full blown ice cream parlour. Suitably refreshed it was north again for Bergen pool, slightly chillier this time, but everyone enjoyed it. The traditional last night BBQ finished of a fabulous week where the food and our hosts were fantastic.