Crossing the former border between east and west feels significant on this trip and there is a marked difference as you move further east. The main feeling is one of space – a huge agricultural landscape is laced into the ever present forest and a distinct adsence of people. Acres of rape gives a vibrant contrast to the deep forest green and as we moved east under a grey cloudy sky, temperatures began to lift. Clouds gave way to the sun and blue skies as we trundled through one small village after another seeking Popau and the Sieben Linden Eco Village.
When you research projects you tend to get reviews focusing on success, particularly when external funding is involved The reality can be somewhat less impressive. SL was exceptional in that everything about it surpassed our expectations. I intend to produce something on the environmental and ecological projects so won’t go into detail other than to say that I feel totally inspired. You just need the will to make things work – something that frustrates me on a daily basis in my job don’t worry, I’ll spare you that rant too).
SL is a peaceful place, yet there is an underlying feeling of industrious lives. People here are normal; children play, there is construction underway, meetings taking place, crops being tended, food being prepared, water being filtered, solar panels going up, bicycles being repaired. The forest is gradually and sensitively being reverted to broadleaf and birds are everywhere. The organisation needed for a project on this scale is perhaps illustrated by the woodpiles that are a feature of the whole village. The most orderly and attractive storage of an abundant fuel source I’ve ever seen. The abundance of the wood is not obvious in the care and value placed on this resource – no flaming oil fields here.
We were given a clearing in the forest to camp, complete with al fresco solar showers and compost toilet – the best facilities we’ve had to date. Showering on a fresh day under a blue sky when water is hot and under high pressure is an experience that cannot be replicated indoors. We ate amazing food in the communal building, marveling at the high standards of craftsmanship in its renovation.
We were invited to stay and shown round by a wonderful woman who has been there for eight years and gave us a very personal and honest view on life in SL. She calls it her paradise but told us of her personal conflicts arising from living in wonderland where all inhabitants see their own version of paradise.
Leaving SL was something of a wrench but we were still keen to see more of Sachsen Anhalt and Brandenburg before hitting Berlin. My overriding impressions of the east are of huge open spaces, fewer people and a friendliess and generosity that even surpassed our previous experiences of Germany
A perfect example came at the end of a really challenging day. The fiercest northerly made it hard to stand by the bank of the Elbe and the rain was so icy, our faces were raw. I sheltered between a couple of lime trees and crouched down while countless swallows spun around desperately looking for food, just feet from me – an awesome experience. Chris was desperately trying to communicate with the controller of the tiny ferry on the opposite bank, who had resorted to a megaphone, but the wind made it impossible to hear anything. We made it across but things went from bad to worse and after six hours battling the wind and rain we were soaked to the skin, desperately cold and the back wheel had six broken spokes, countless loose ones and we were reduced to pushing it fully laden along muddy tracks in the forest.
We emerged from the forest in Zabakuck and the campsite we were in search of looked every bit the oasis we’d imagined. Reception was warm and we stood dripping on the mat while the receptionist chatted on the phone, exclaiming horror at the state of us to whoever was on the other end. Chris asked for camping for a tent but she emphatically said no – ‘Not my guests!’
We stood desperately trying to compute this rejection while she continued to say ‘no’ every time Chris tried to ask for space for the tent. She then grabbed an umbrella and bunch of keys and asked us to follow to a building where she took us in regardless of the mud and grit we trailed through and insisted that this was where the bike would stay the night, we would have the washing machine room, the kitchen and the toilet and shower block keys and she would absolutely not hear of us sleeoping out in a tent.
We had no fuel and just a bag of pasta and some mushrooms so the kitchen was a godsend and we were able to make hot drinks and cook some food, strip off our clothes, which filled five washing lines indoors and sleep in the warm and dry. The bill for all this was less than we’d paid for a terrible campsite the night before, which resembled a barbed wire enclosed compound in the forest – its saving grace the red squirrels and greater spotted woodpeckers.