One of the best parts about living in Berlin is its location. Not only are there plenty of things to do in the city, there are also plenty of things to do just outside of the city should you want to escape the hustle and bustle.

When traveling outside of the city, the speed at which things change makes the contrast quite striking. One moment you’re in one of the capitols of Europe, with over 3.5 million people, the next moment you’re in the forest with only the sounds of the wind blowing through the trees.

On this trip we traveled just an hour by train outside of Berlin to a town called Lübbenau and the Spreewald. (Lower right of the map)

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So what makes this the Venice of Germany? Well take a look at this map :

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See all those blue lines like streets? They’re not roads, they’re rivers. The villages in the Spreewald don’t have roads between the houses, they have rivers. The people get around with boats. The mailman doesn’t have a truck or a bike, he brings the letters in his boat!

Now not all the rivers have houses on them, only a few small areas are populated, but you’re able to sail up and down the canals through the forest and it’s really magical.

We hopped off the train and walked for about 15 minutes before coming to a place where we could rent kayaks. You’ll see people getting around on either kayaks, canoes, or flat bottom boats called kahns. There are some very large kahns that have benches and tables on them ferrying tourists around the villages. (Interesting side note, all the tourists we saw were German. I don’t think very many international travelers are aware of this place.)

Renting a kayak was surprisingly easy. We just walked up, said we’d like to rent one, told them for how long, showed them one of our ID’s and paid them cash. Done. No paperwork to fill out, no background checks, nothing. Last time we rented kayaks in Boston in the US, we had to read through and sign about 3 pages of fine print legalese basically saying if we die we can’t sue. There was none of that here and it was really refreshing. The guy who gave us the boats quickly ran over the rules of the area and gave us a map with a suggested route.

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And off we went! Once we got out of the village, it was nothing but the river, the lily pads, and the forest.

 

Cows!

Check out the stre…er, canal signs:

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Our trip through the forest took about 2 hours. It was one of the nicest places I’ve ever visited. I’d love to have a cabin and a dog out here. I’d just also need to have fast internet and Asian take-out and I’d be in heaven.

After 2 hours we floated back into town:

Here’s one of the kahns with tourists:

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A few of them sailed past us and we gave them the right of way. It’s amazing that the one guy in the back can effortlessly push a boat with 20 + people on it. The visitors had food and drinks and seemed to be having a very good time.

After turning in out boats we stopped for a bite to eat on the water.

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Lübbenau and the region is known for their pickles. Each year they have a pickle festival, decorate the kahns, and have a boat parade of types. Someone is also named the pickle Queen for the festival. While walking around the town you can see pickles in various forms on sale all over the place.

We happened across a gurke radler beer and had to try it. (Gurke is pickle auf Deutsch, and a radler is a type of beer that’s half beer half something else, traditionally lemonade)

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Side story: The pickle is riding a bicycle because “Radler” is also the word for cyclist in addition to the type of beer. Here’s an old wordplay joke about it:

Fährt ein Vampir auf dem Tandem und wird von einem Polizisten angehalten. Der fragt: “Haben Sie was getrunken?”
Vampir: “Nur zwei kleine Radler.”

translated into English:

A vampire is riding a tandem bike and is stopped by the police. They ask him “Have you had anything to drink?” and the vampire says “Only 2 small radlers.”

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It actually tasted surprisingly good and refreshing, a bit like a Moscow mule cocktail. Insa now wants to get a crate of the stuff.

Within another hour we had left the complete quiet of the forest and were back in the heart of Berlin. No cabin or dog, but at least I’ve got internet and sushi delivered.