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Beautiful, but a little bit grey
Rügen Island (Germany), June 18th 2013 

The northern part of Germany was never a destination that was high on our wish list of places to visit. But when we were on our way to the Baltic States, we found it a good opportunity to visit some of the places. Our first destination was the little village of Gartow, located along the Elbe River. We weren’t sure yet if we could visit the place, because of the high water level of the Elbe and some of the other major rivers in Germany, causing huge problems in many areas. Many cities and villages already felt victim to the combination of melting water from the Alps and a high level of rainfall. And when we entered Gartow, we immediately knew that the threat was serious.

The little village wasn’t run over yet by water, but it was with Feuerwehr Leute (firemen and women), volunteers of the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (German Red Cross) and many men and women of the army, all busy with sand bags to prevent the water coming in. We were surprised to notice that the camping in Gartow was still open, maybe partly due to the fact that many people of the fire brigade, Red Cross and army made use of the sanitary facilities of the camping. At the entrance of the camping stood a huge communication container of the German Army, to keep contact with all the people in the field. The lady at the reception was a little bit surprised when we asked her if the camping was open: ‘Off course’ she said … it is 99% sure that the dykes will hold … so there no reason to worry.

Trying to find birds in the Elbholz forest near Gartow

We spent several days in the area of Gartow on bicycle. Fortunately, only on the last day we were told that the dykes are off limits to all ‘normal’ people. We met some people on one of the dykes who had the task to keep people off the dykes. ‘This is still catastrophe area, so you have to leave the dyke’, is what they told us. He also told us that the Elbe had probably reached the highest level, but normal people were still not welcome on the dykes. ‘Just to keep you safe’ was their argument. We still had a great time in Gartow. The area is beautiful and a great place to explore on bicycle. The area is also interesting for people who like birds. We saw many Cranes and different species of raptors.

Our next destination was a few hundred kilometers to the north: the Müritz National Park. We based ourselves on a perfect camping near the town of Waren and explored the park on foot and bicycle. It was also our first experience with the German tourism hordes. The national park is a very popular holiday destination, for especially elderly tourists. The high season didn’t really start yet, but it was still very busy. Waren has many small family hotels that can occupy thousands and thousands of tourists. Not only Müritz NP is a popular place to visit, but also the old center of Waren attracts many grey haired tourists. Bus loads come and go for a short visit to the ‘Alt Stadt’.

Good views from a viewpoint in Müritz National Park

Also the perfectly constructed biking lanes in the national park a very popular with the older visitors. A decade ago these lanes were probably too heavy for them, but the electrical bikes (or regular bikes with electrical support) open a whole new possibility for them. When we have to gear back to conquer a hill and experience a huge drop in speed, these old men and ladies pass us with a big smile on their face. What an invention!

Our last destination in Germany before we crossed the border with Poland, was the island of Rügen in the far north of Germany. This island has a spectacular national park, called Jasmund. Unesco recognized this park as a very special forest and is off course protected. The park is bordered on the east side by spectacular cliffs that drop sharply into the East Sea, sometimes more than a hundred meters high. We spent several days hiking and biking in the park. The most beautiful walk you can do is the hike through the park from south to north (or vice versa), from the town Sassnitz to the small village of Lohme. The 12 kilometers long walk takes you along the cliffs through the national park, with often fantastic views on the white cliffs and blue East Sea.

We greatly enjoyed our stay in North Germany. The landscape is spectacular and the facilities are world-class. The roads are very good, the camp grounds are clean and luxurious, and the national parks are very accessible. The only ‘but’ that we can find for this part of Germany is that it mainly attracts older tourists. Most camp grounds are full with huge caravans and luxurious camper vans, owned by grey haired people, who retreat into their ‘little homes’ as soon as the sun disappears. So, camping life isn’t very active in this part of the country. That means that young people and families with young children that are looking for more ‘swung’, probably prefer a different destination. It is as one of the older camp site fellow guests told us: “you are now really in the middle of the grey wave”.

North Germany is great for biking
A couple of sand bags are just enough to prevent the overflowing of the Elbe River
A Mute Swan in an area that is normally dry
Good walking and biking tracks in Müritz NP
Observation towers are everywhere in the German National Parks

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