About halfway along its eventful journey from the Czech border to Berlin, the River Spree suffers a multiple personality disorder, breaking down into innumerable canals and tributaries to form unique wetlands called the Spreewald.
Situated in the state of Brandenburg, this UNESCO biosphere reserve is one of the most stunning natural wonders of Germany. It’s also less than an hour’s train ride from Berlin, making it a hugely popular day trip center in the warmer months. Dozens of long wooden punts glide through the canals past lush green forest and Brothers Grimm cottages, their passengers happily munching on gherkins, the local specialty.
If punting (boating, for you landlubbers) seems too sedate, hire a canoe and navigate the waterways on your own. And with cars banished from much of the landscape, cycling is another great way of getting around. The 250-kilometer Gurkenradweg (or “gherkin cycle path” – yep, they take their gherkins pretty seriously) encompasses all of the region’s highlights.
Along the way you’ll notice most signs are bilingual; that’s because the region is home to Sorbs, a Slavic minority who preserve their traditional costumes and speak a language related to Polish. Find out more in the Spreewald Museum in the region’s main town of Lübbenau.
While traditionally a summer destination, the Spreewald also makes a great winter getaway. If there’s snow on the ground but the canals are still navigable, you can glide through a Narnia-like fantasy world. Otherwise, skate across frozen flooded fields and warm up in front of the fire in a traditional tavern.