• Sternenhimmel im Westhavelland,

        Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Thomas Rathay Sternenhimmel im Westhavelland, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Thomas Rathay
    Stargazing without Barriers

    The stars are particularly bright in Westhavelland Nature Park. Here, even mobility-impaired amateur astronomers can get very close to the stars and planets. A special offer makes it possible!

    The stars are particularly bright in Westhavelland Nature Park. Here, even mobility-impaired amateur astronomers can get very close to the stars and planets. A special offer makes it possible!
    Ort: Rathenow

The West Havelland Dark Sky Reserve Accessible for Everyone

18. September 2017 of Manfred Fischer

We were planning a trip to gaze at the stars and planets in the West Havelland Dark Sky Reserve. How exciting! The West Havelland Nature Park has been a dark sky reserve since 2014. It is one of the darkest regions in Germany and a paradise for stargazing enthusiasts and amateur astronomers. As an amateur astronomer and wheelchair-user, it was exciting for me to discover whether I could take advantage of the special package offer without incurring any problems. Up front – yes, I could and it was an eventful and interesting trip to the stars and the countryside. But first things first.

About the author: Manfred Fischer is a freelance journalist and awareness-raising trainer. In his workshops and media articles, he focuses on the lives of handicapped people. Astronomy is one of his hobbies.

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Arriving in Ferchesar

Day one - Afternoon
We arrive in Ferchesar in the afternoon, having travelled almost 700 kilometres from Austria. We have booked a barrier-free holiday home in Lochow, a few kilometres from Ferchesar, through the agency “Ferienhausvermittlung Zemlin”. The Zemlin family provides amateur astronomers with a variety of telescopes for sky viewing. These can be used after instruction or under supervision.

As our holiday home is located in a very dark spot, it is ideal for sky viewing. The barrier-free facilities include everything I could wish for as a wheelchair-user. Access from outside is via a ramp and inside there are no steps. There is plenty of space for me to manoeuver my wheelchair without hitting any obstacles. The shower and WC have all the recommended handholds. In the shower, there is a shower seat.

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Barrierefreies Ferienhaus Barrierefreies Ferienhaus, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Manfred Fischer

Waiting in suspense...

On the first evening, my family and I waited in suspense for darkness. We had binoculars with which to get a first impression of the starry sky over Lochow. Our darkness measurement tool – a SkyMeter – was showing values above 20.0 (mags/arcsec²). For the uninitiated – the Milky Way was clearly visible as a hazy band of light stretching across the sky from west to east. There were lots of stars and constellations sparkling above us. I found this first view of the sky so inspiring that I could hardly wait for the next evening.

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Sternenpark Westhavelland Sternenpark Westhavelland, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Steffen Lehmann

Visiting Premnitz the River Havel

However, before night there comes day. We leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind us and enjoy the morning. We buy bread rolls from a small bakery in Stechow, a short distance away. The boys explore the area and the spot for wild swimming in Lake Lochow. Afterwards we head off to the viewing platform in nearby Premnitz. The town on the River Havel was one of five that hosted the National Garden Show in 2015. The then new river promenade is now the town´s boulevard. From the observation tower, which is fitted with a lift, you can see across the Havel, which winds its way through green countryside towards the River Elbe.

We tour around the Havel landscape by car, to get to know the area better. We always choose our next destination spontaneously. Our boys scour the map on their smartphones. Why? Because we have a passion for visiting places with “special” names. By making short detours, we are able to visit “Knoblauch“ (Garlic), “Wassersuppe” (Water Soup) and “Kotzen” (Puke). For such a small area, we do really well.

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Havel bei Premnitz Havel bei Premnitz, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Manfred Fischer

Scouting out our observation spot

In the afternoon, we scout out our observation spot for the evening´s star viewing. West Havelland Nature Park has published an attractive brochure, in which you can find the best locations. We decide on one on a track between Hohennauen and Spaatz. The surface of the track and observation spot are paved with concrete slabs, so that I can easily manoeuvre my wheelchair – even in the dark. The spot offers a close view of the horizon in all four directions.

Our landlord offers his guests an “Erlebnispaket Natur und Sterne” (Countryside and Stars Adventure Package). This includes large format-binoculars on a tripod and maps for identification of the stars at night, as well as plants and animals during the day. We take them with us, also to help us recognise the plants and animals. The observation point is easy to get to, even in the dark. That gives its rating a big boost. Next to the spot is the so-called “Grosser Graben” waterfall, which two swans and some other birds had chosen as their territory. But of course, our focus was on the evening. Which telescopes did Detlef Zemlin have for us?

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Beobachtungspunkt im Sternenpark Westhavelland Beobachtungspunkt im Sternenpark Westhavelland, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Manfred Fischer

Learning how to use the equipment

Stargazing is about taking your time, slowing down and letting the stillness take over. It takes around 30 minutes just for the eye to adapt to seeing properly in the dark. During this time, you can see more and more stars until finally the adjustment is complete. However, when we arrive at our observation point at the holiday homes, it is still light. We have to learn how to use the equipment and there is a lot of it. It is meant for professionals and includes everything we need. From large-scale astro binoculars to a Dobsonian telescope with a diameter of 300 millimetres, various eyepieces and filters, everything is there.

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Rollifahrer bei Sternebeobachtung Rollifahrer bei Sternebeobachtung, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Manfred Fischer

From my wheelchair, I can use the Celestron XLT telescope with its diameter of 150 millimetres comfortably. The eyepiece is so low, that I can look through it from my wheelchair. Standard telescopes are mostly designed for use while standing and cannot be used while seated. On the first evening, Herr Zemlin helps me to steer the telescope, using an integrated computer.

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Better visibility the next evening

This evening there is a veil of mist across the sky, so that visibility is not very good. That should improve considerably by the next evening. At the viewing point, we meet two astronomers from the observatory in Berlin-Spandau, who have set up their own telescopes. Their knowledge and equipment are to be of help to us the next day.

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A surprise in the morning

The next day begins with a surprise. Our new friends from the Bruno-H.-Bürgel-Volkssternwarte (observatory) in Spandau are already viewing the sun. For this, they also use a hydrogen-alpha telescope. Through it, the sun appears a deep red colour and, alongside sunspots, you can see solar flares, radiation bursts (flares) and the larger prominences on the edge of the sun.

They have set up the h-alpha telescope so that I can easily look through it and see the beautiful prominences on the edge of the sun – for the first time live and not just on a video on the internet. Prominences look like torches, burning from the sun´s edge out into space. With these, the sun throws out matter into space. It was a great experience to look through this relatively small and inconspicuous device. At the same time, these special sightings sparked a desire in me to add to my own astro equipment.

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Rollifahrer bei Sternebeobachtung Rollifahrer bei Sternebeobachtung, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Manfred Fischer

A short trip to Brandenburg an der Havel

After viewing the sun, we dedicated the afternoon to the city of Brandenburg. There are plenty of disabled parking spaces in the city. In the three medieval sections of the town, there are impressive brick buildings such as Brandenburg Cathedral, several large churches, the Old Town Hall with its Roland and St Paul´s Monastery. The Roland is the statue of a knight with a drawn sword, which is seen as symbolising the rights of the city. The town hall dates back to the middle of the 15th century. In the beginning, there were only the council chambers and writing rooms. The main building with its tower was built later.

The footpaths in the historic areas of the town are paved with granite stones, but most of them have a smooth section in the middle for wheelchairs. Brandenburg Cathedral is another important brick building. It is dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul and is the oldest preserved building in the city. The cathedral is considered to be where the history of the city of Brandenburg began. Premonstratensian monks laid the foundation stone in 1165. The River Havel flows through the city. On a city walk, you keep on returning to the river and the waterways with their many boats. This is charming and gives the city its own character.

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Altstädtisches Rathaus in Brandenburg/Havel Altstädtisches Rathaus in Brandenburg/Havel, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Steffen Lehmann

Getting to know the famous "Waldmops"

Do you know what “Waldmöpse” are? We did not know either. The comedian and cartoonist Loriot, Vicco von Bülow, came from Brandenburg. He kept on inventing unusual animals, such as the Waldmops. It is a pug dog with horns like those of a moose. Since 2015, in memory of Loriot, 20 bronze figures, each about 50 cm high, have decorated the city. They are sitting, sleeping or cocking their legs. You will find them in the most impossible places. We saw almost all of them, without having to look for them.

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Waldmops-Figur in Brandenburg/Havel Waldmops-Figur in Brandenburg/Havel, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Steffen Lehmann

A variety of telescopes

By the time we returned from Brandenburg, it was almost evening. The sky was clear and looked promising. Herr Zemlin had set up a variety of telescopes. A guided tour of the stars for guests in the holiday homes was planned. Herr Zemlin explained the constellations. Everyone recognised the Plough, but that was where their knowledge ended. More and more stars emerged before our eyes. As the number of stars increased, so did the number of questions. Where is the Polar Star? Which star is that? Can we see Virgo? Herr Zemlin and the astronomy enthusiasts among us answered each question in turn. I was also able to pass on my knowledge to the others.

Slowly the hazy band of the Milky Way appeared in the sky. It stretched from east to west and became increasingly easier to recognise. The Swan, the Eagle and the Harp constellations were visible. When you look through binoculars at the Milky Way, the seemingly endless number of sparkling points of bright light is fascinating. Each one is itself a sun, just like ours. We also had the opportunity to try out an interactive “Universe2go” star viewer. It uses a smartphone app to connect the real starry sky with the digital world. As you look at it, each star appears on the display.

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Sternenbeobachtung für Rollifahrer Sternenbeobachtung für Rollifahrer, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Manfred Fischer

Somewhere above the horizon

Also shown is information such as the name of the star, how far away it is, its size, which constellation it belongs to and much more. You do not need to keep searching in books or star atlases, but have the information in front of you. Amazing! With the 150 mm telescope, I concentrated on the planet Saturn, which that evening was visible just above the horizon. Seeing its rings through a telescope is always a special experience. It gives you butterflies in your stomach – at least it does with me – when you imagine that this planet is 1.2 billion kilometres away and you can draw it close to you with a telescope. Its light takes around 46 minutes to reach earth.

Afterwards I looked into the “deep sky” area, i.e. to objects that are far outside our solar system. Their light is years or rather millions of years away from us. Everyone was able to discover the wonders of the sky that evening and sense what we could actually see night for night over our heads. Unfortunately, unnecessary light pollution caused by badly aligned lighting prevents us doing so. In a dark sky reserve like the one in West Havelland it is possible.

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Sternenpark Westhavelland Sternenpark Westhavelland, Picture: Fotograf / Lizenz - Media Import/Steffen Lehmann
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