Three hours drive and only six miles from home

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We were supposed to go to the Saxon Switzerland, that dramatic landscape alongside the Elbe between Dresden and the Czech border. The visit had been a long time planned, because we had last visited in autumn 2004 – a Lotte-lifetime and then some – and we wanted to experience again the great colour-change of the leaves on the trees, the mist on the river, and the spectacular rock formations that make this place one of Germany’s natural wonders. And we would get some excellent photographs for Under a Grey Sky whilst we climbed a low mountain at the edge of the National Park. That was the plan.

Unfortunately, our car had other ideas, deciding to only get us halfway to Dresden before taking a break on the side of the Autobahn sliproad. Thankfully, he came to life again, but with a heavy sense of disappointment we decided not to risk it, turning tail and driving back to Berlin instead where we left him in the capable hands of a mechanic. So it was midday, we had rucksacks filled with flasks and waterbottles, first aid kits and maps, waterproofs and sandwiches, and we stood on the side of a busy road in Berlin-Friedrichshain and wondered how we were going to save our day.

Thankfully we were within striking distance of one of Berlin’s loveliest parkland spaces, and in the Treptower Park we discovered all the riotous red, orange and yellow colours we could have hoped for, as we walked along the river. We passed through the melancholy collection of shuttered huts for the boat trips that are already running on an off-season schedule. We walked by the few remaining houseboats, the once proud community on the water here has been forced to berthings  new, and then gazed across the leaf-covered tables and chairs of the Zenner biergarten, where in the summer pints are poured, sausages grilled, and old gentlemen and ladies swing to Schlager on the open-air dancefloor. There were a handful of outdoor drinkers enjoying the October sunshine, and they were being well rewarded. Not only was the views across the water beautiful, but it was unseasonably warm.

We stopped ourselves to eat our picnic on the Insel der Jugend – an island on the Spree that houses a venue and event space, canoe rental and (of course) a biergarten, as well as a residence for young people, set around some small but lovely gardens and tree-lined embankments. We watched kayakers and rowers make their way around the island, a working barge plowing its way south, and the joggers and cyclists at the bottom of the Stralau peninsula, on the opposite bank. It was peaceful at the water’s edge, as Lotte tried to identify the ducks and sneak a second bar of chocolate, and we talked of where we could go once the car was fixed once again… and the sandwiches tasted as good as they would have done at the top of a Saxon mountain… I am sure.

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Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig

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