The Spree is the gently flowing river upon which Berlin was founded, and it runs through the city from the east before meeting the Havel river in the west. There is a bike trail that runs from the three sources of the Spree (three springs) in Ebersbach-Neugersdorf and Kottmar, in a hilly area near the Czech border, all the way back to Berlin. We decided to ride part of the trail over a 4-day long weekend.
The first hurdle was getting our bikes on the train – no easy matter in summer when the trains are crowded and a lot of people want to go cycling.
After a 4 hours train ride with three changes, we started our ride at one of the Spree sources in Ebersbach-Neugersdorf.
Then we started on the bike route, which took a meandering path through the hilly area known as the Lusatian highlands, more or less following the course of the Spree. We found the baby Spree very cute, after knowing the grown-up Spree in Berlin, down which boats full of tourists ride.
We saw some lovely things along the way: forests, fields, spring blossoms…and the Spree started to grow bigger. It was hard work with all the hills, though!
The hilly sections continue up until the old town of Bautzen (Budyšin), regarded as the historical and cultural capital of Upper Lusatia. Lusatia is a region now divided between Germany and Poland that is home to the Sorbs, a West Slavic people who have lived in the area since around the 6th century. Of course, their arrival caused some friction with Germanic tribes in the area, and there were intermittent wars over the ages to sort out boundaries. The language Sorbian shares a lot in common with Czech and Polish, which are also Slavic languages. In many towns in this area, the street signs are in both German and Sorbian, and we noticed that the Sorbian language has both the “ł” seen in Polish and the “ř “seen in Czech. For my Czech husband it was very interesting to see the similarities and differences to Czech. Lusatia was once independent but was then at various times part of the Czech lands, the Habsburg monarchy, the electorate of Saxony, Prussia, and then Germany. After World War II, part of Germany became Polish territory, and that is why Lusatia now spans both countries. However in Germany there are 60 000 to 80 000 Sorbs, and less than a 1000 in Poland. Because of the similarity in the languages, it’s possible that the Sorbs on the Polish side were absorbed into the Polish culture. The Sorbs on the German side similarly speak German, and apparently many of the younger generation do not speak Sorbian anymore, but there is an ongoing effort within their community to keep the language alive.
Our campsite for the night was just outside of Bautzen, and before heading there we went to a supermarket to pick up food for an evening barbecue as well as food for the next day, since the shops are closed on Sundays in Germany. Then we pitched our tents, enjoyed a grilled dinner, and settled down to sleep in our tents. A very loud nightingale sang throughout the night and my mat was not so thick, so it took me a while to get to sleep, but it was lovely to hear that nightingale singing in the darkness. Waking up in a tent in the morning and opening the flap to the outdoors is also a lovely feeling (especially when it’s sunny!).
In the morning, we discovered that we were not very far from a beautiful lake. But we had to head off for the next day’s ride. After Bautzen the trail flattens out a bit (mercifully) as you continue towards Spremberg. In terms of cycling, this was the best day, because it was flatter and the wind that would plague us the following day had not yet started. It was a very pleasant day’s cycling, and we ended up in a campsite near Spremberg, where we were treated to a beautiful sunset. A kind camper lent us his gas grill, since the reception was closed and there was nowhere to find a grill.
The next morning we set off for Cottbus, the second largest town in the state of Brandenburg. It was a windy day and it seemed that whichever direction we cycled in, we had a headwind. This made cycling very tiring. We took a welcome break for rhubarb crumble and coffee at a café next to the river. Energy restored somewhat, we continued on to Cottbus.
Not long after our break, we arrived in Cottbus. This town was established in the 10th century when the Sorbs built a castle on an island in the Spree, and gradually Germans also moved to the town. Cottbus became known for wool, and exported its products throughout Brandenburg, Saxony and Bohemia. We took a brief look around the town and then continued on our way, as we still had quite a way to go to get to the Spreewald, and the wind was slowing us down.
After leaving Cottbus, we had the wind on our side for a short while, though soon we were fighting with it again. We passed by freshwater lakes and found out that the area is known for its fishing industry. North of Cottbus in lower Lusatia, the river flows into the Spreewald, a large area of canals and Sorbian culture. Our campsite for the night was just outside Peitz. Spreewald is famous for gherkins and canals. On the canals, you will see locals propelling boats full of visitors along with poles (punting). At the campsite we were staying at, they offered a moonlight trip on the canal, but unfortunately we arrived too late in the day. Instead we pitched our tents and enjoyed one last barbecue. The Germans in our group cooled their beers by putting them in a bag and lowering it into the canal to chill – a good trick to remember!
We awoke on our last morning of the trip and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before starting off on the last day’s ride, something bittersweet. I would miss us being on the road, with the freedom to stop anywhere for the night with a tent. On the other hand, the strong wind on the last two days did not make for very pleasant cycling. Luckily the last day was slightly less windy, and we also cycled a lot through forests, which gave some protection. In the first section, we crossed some beautiful green forests alongside canals. Crossing some of the canals involved pushing our bikes up and down a few steep wooden bridges. We stopped for lunch for some “Backfisch brötchen” (baked fish on a roll) with a tangy sauce.
Travelling through the Spreewald, we crossed a landscape of canals, large flat fields and lakes, and passed by the towns of Lübbenau, Lübben and Leibsch, stopping for an ice-cream in Leibsch. Next it was a lovely cycle past a series of lakes, and then we left the Spreewald into some of the forests of Brandenburg, where we would leave the trail for the train station of Brand in order to catch a train back to Berlin.
The Spreeradweg continues on through Fürstenwalde, Dämeritzee and Müggelsee, to Koepenick and then to central Berlin, until it reaches the Havel in Spandau. So now we are back in Berlin, and still next to the Spree. The next time I walk alongside it, I’ll remember where it begins, far away in the hills of Lusatia.