Who writes here?
Judith Smykowski lives in Berlin. She is a spokesperson and editor for “Sozialhelden”, an organisation in Berlin and a columnist for the taz newspaper.
Lusatia – a region known for its lignite mines, forlorn landscape and structural problems. These are the preconceptions that spring to mind when two Berliners think of the region. However, if you visit Senftenberg in the Lusatian Lakeland, you will find that you are mistaken. At least that is what happened to us – Jörg and Judyta from Berlin – when we went there.
On Saturday morning, we set off for the Lusatian Lakeland, Europe´s largest artificial lake landscape with over 20 lakes. We took a direct regional express train from Berlin Ostkreuz to Senftenberg railway station, where our trip started.
Our first destination was Lake Senftenberg. It is impossible to get lost on the way to the town´s marina. The distance is written on large blue boulders every 50 steps – so you do not need your smartphone to navigate and do not miss any bits of the attractive old town, which the path passes through. With its paving stones in the middle and cobbles left and right, the pedestrian zone is not too bumpy even for wheelchair-users.
Before our boat tour, we had lunch in the “Cucina” restaurant, which is at the town´s marina. Incidentally, the marina is suitable for wheelchairs, as everywhere there are ramps running parallel to the steps. There are no sandy paths and right on the marina, there are wheelchair accessible public toilets.
Our boat is the solar catamaran „Aqua Phoenix“, which is operated by the boating company M. Löwa. Getting on and off the catamaran is no problem as step-free access is via a stable metal ramp. We are allocated the first table, where there is space for a wheelchair. From the glass-built cabin, we can gaze over the countryside, while gliding almost silently over the water. Appropriately, the sun finally comes out as we approach Geierswalde.
After the 90-minute trip, we feel like a bit of exercise in the fresh air. At the marina, they give us a so-called “Rollfiets” – a bicycle with a wheelchair docked onto the front. These are normally available for hire from Eckhard Hoika cycle hire in Senftenberg Family Park. They also hire out hand bikes, which unfortunately were all in use when we arrived. On a “Rollfiets”, the person with limited mobility sits like a figurehead at the front and has to rely on the steering skills of his or her companion, who is pedalling the bike. It is a bit strange, but means you can enjoy the view and keep an eye on what is going on around you.
Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong and always blowing against us. Jörg soon realised that he was not going to set a new best time for the ride from Geierswalde back to Senftenberg. By the way, it is very easy to un-dock a Rollfiets. This meant we could stop at a café, lock the bike and go inside with the wheelchair. However, you have to bear in mind that the wheelchair is quite bulky. In addition, it has no hand rims, so that just like when it is attached to the bike, you are dependent on a second person, as you cannot manoeuver it alone.
The six-kilometre ride to Lake Senftenberg Family Park takes us just over an hour. Lake Senftenberg Family Park is, as the name suggests, perfect for a family holiday. They offer a choice of accommodation – a tent, a caravan, or would you prefer a villa? The villa is a small holiday home with a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom. In terms of barrier-free access, it is best to speak to the staff at reception or enquire in advance. The staff on site know all the advantages and disadvantages of each type of accommodation and are able to advise you well.
Barrier-free accommodation can roughly be split into two categories. Firstly, there are the older holiday homes, which have a ramp at the entrance, wide doorways, a low-built, wheelchair accessible kitchen and a large, barrier-free bathroom. However, it is not possible to take the wheelchair up to the side of the bed. Either you have to get on at the end of the bed, or someone has to carry you.
Then there are the newer cottages, which are not specifically barrier-free. They have neither wide doorways, nor low and spacious kitchens. It is possible to borrow a shower stool and handholds with suction grips from reception. We decided on one of the second, more modern type of holiday home. For those who prefer to stay in a tent or caravan, there is a communal washroom with a barrier-free shower.
The level and sand-free access to the water make it obvious that someone has been thinking about mobility. The path down to the beach is paved, although unfortunately the slope can only be mastered with help. The path continues on wooden planks across the beach and a concrete ramp down into the water. I resist the temptation to roll straight into the water, but this is something that they should introduce on all beaches everywhere. A further highlight in the family park is a tactile map of the Lusatian Lakeland, which helps guests with impaired vision to get an overview of the vast area.
The family resort has playgrounds, a cinema, shops and the ”Seestern” restaurant. This is a good place to eat out with the whole family at the weekend, for example, as an alternative to camping food. They serve fish cooked Spree Forest style, soups or waffles with hot cherries and vanilla ice cream. You can also start the day there with breakfast. This is exactly what we did the next day before our guided tour with Sören Hoika from iba-tours. Sören Hoika is passionate about Lusatia. We soon realise that. He knows every corner of the region and has a story to tell about each.
When you book a tour with him, you can tell him what you would like to see and do and what you need in terms of accessibility. Hoika will try as far as possible to arrange everything in advance. Before we set off to explore the region, we make a detour to the “Hafencamp”, another site with accommodation for campers right on Lake Senftenberg. The company “expeditours” has its landing stage right at the camp. They hire out a variety of boots and are equipped for tourists with restricted mobility. For example, they have a crane that can be used to transfer wheelchair-users onto a sailboat.
We spend the day exploring the Senftenberg Lakeland in a minibus. Flooding of the old mines should result in 20 lakes, 10 of them connected to each other so that you can explore them, for example, by passenger boat. Many projects and visions regarding development of the region emerged from the International Bauausstellung (IBA), held between 2000 and 2010. “Post Mining” is the name given to the scientific debate, which is also being carried out on an international Level.
In Lusatia, the focus is now on tourism. Sören Hoika shows us traces of mining that are still recognisable and tells us which projects are still in planning. We visit a completed but still dry lock, which in the future will connect two lakes to each other.
It is another good 15 kilometres to the IBA Terraces in Großräschen. Although Lake Großräschen is still only partly flooded, a venue for school concerts is already in place and even a small vineyard has been planted. By the way, the 1-hectare large vineyard is the only one in Brandenburg with a fall of around 30 percent.
Visitors can stroll in serpentine fashion through the vineyard and down to the landing stage. Thanks to the gentle slope, which has flat sections, Judyta can relax as she rides down in her wheelchair. Unfortunately, tactile guiding strips were not included when the new terraces were laid.
Once flooding has been completed, boats will wait here to take tourists on tours of the lakes. Until then the pier will serve as a viewing point. The slow but continuous progress of the flooding encourages people from the region to visit the IBA-Terraces often. It could also have something to do with the restaurant and café on the IBA-Terraces, which we visit before we leave. From there, you have a wonderful view of Lake Großräschen.
After two memorable days, we can say that the Lusatian Lakeland is definitely worth visiting and not only if you are interested in geology. There is something here for every kind of holiday, be it relaxing on the beach, walking along the lakes, water sports or delving into the interesting history of the region and the exciting new developments. We will definitely come back to check on the progress – but next time with our swimming gear.
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