The Pomeranian Amazonas
In the era of the ‘new normal,’ we found joy in exploring the lesser-known corners of our adopted country. While searching for suitable travel locations, we stumbled upon the Rewilding Europe project. It aims to bring back wildlife and natural habitats Europe used to have before humans took over. Germany has been participating in the project for several years.
Yet in industrialized and densely populated Germany, it’s hard to find such untouched places. The valley of the river Peene in the northeastern tip of the country, close to Poland’s border, is one of the few exceptions. No artificial dams interrupt the river’s gentle flow on its 100 kilometers (62 miles) long way from the Kummerower Lake to its mouth in the Baltic Sea. As part of a rewilding project during the 1990s and early 2000s, the water pumping stations used for agriculture disappeared. Shortly after, the wilderness began to thrive again.
Nowadays, the river winds through a maze of reed beds, forests, re-naturalized ponds, and former turf fields. The valley belongs to one of the largest fen areas in Europe, providing habitat for many species. We spotted true toads, sand lizards, beavers, Eurasian otters, white-tailed eagles, and kingfishers.
Tip: Beavers are nocturnal. To see them, find a quiet spot on the riverbank after sunset, which in the summertime can be as late as 10:30 pm, and listen for loud wood-cracking noises. Look in that direction, and sooner or later a small beaver head will appear on the water surface. As with all animal watching activities, patience is the key.
The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania proclaimed the Peene Valley a nature park. The park advocates for sustainable eco-tourism. Adventure seekers can discover the river on a kayak or solar boat tour. Trips range from self-guided tours lasting a couple of hours to guided multiple days adventures.
Good to know: Because of the extremely flat stream gradient, the flow of the river Peene occasionally changes its direction. The phenomenon called upstream flow occurs when strong winds blow from the Baltic coast, and the sea level rises. In that case, a five-day kayak safari can take much longer.
It’s also possible to explore single areas of the Peene valley on foot if the weather conditions allow it. We hiked 10 km (6.2 miles) through Anklamer Stadtbruch. A surge storm in 1995 turned the former peat harvest area of Anklam into the wilderness it is today.
During the walk, we experienced the bog with its unique plant world and typical scent face to face. You can find a description of the tour here (German only).
History fans will appreciate a walk close to the settlement of Menzlin. Nowadays, an inconspicuous sandy hill called Altes Lager (Old Camp) marks the spot of an important trading post during the Viking Age. Excavations unveiled remnants of an old bridge and a cemetery. The current German name of the place dates back to the 17th century. The ancient name remains a mystery to this day.
There are several charming places to stay along the Peene such as the villages of Liepen or Stolpe an der Peene. Accommodation possibilities range from simple camping sites to boutique manor houses. On the Rewilding Europe website, we found a historic manor house directly on the riverbank called Gutshaus Stolpe. It was a perfect hideaway from everyday distress. In the masion’s huge yard, social distancing was not a problem. We were able to clean our heads while listening to the sounds of nature around us.
City trip to Stralsund
If you miss the city flair after spending a couple of days in the Pomeranian Amazonas, Stralsund is worth the one hour detour. The proud city was a member of the prosperous Baltic trade & defense confederation in the middle ages called Hanseatic League.
For its authentic historical structures representing the evolution from the Hanseatic period to the Swedish era, UNESCO awarded the old town of Stralsund the World Heritage status in 2002. The typical Brick Gothic architecture defines the streets. The town hall of Stralsund is one of the masterpieces of the building technique.
With good weather and acceptable fitness, climb the tower of another Brick Gothic building, Saint Mary’s Church. The unforgettable view over the Baltic Sea, the neighboring islands, and the city itself is worth conquering more than 350 steep stairs.
Stralsund’s marina’s stalls offer typical Baltic fish snacks such as pickled herring sandwiches with a horseradish dip. The popular Ozeaneum, located in the harbor, is a world-renowned public aquarium and maritime museum.
The Peene Valley belongs to one of Germany’s less frequented locations. It has much to offer, though. The region can quench the thirst of adventure seekers, wildlife enthusiasts as well as history fans. That makes it a perfect social distancing getaway.
Traveling during the ‘new normal era’: Due to COVID-19 pandemic, research opening times and ticket availabilities before visiting. Each federal state of Germany has its own pandemics restrictions. Look them up in advance to avoid unnecessary surprises. You can find detailed information on the website of the health authority of the State of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania here. In general, a mouth and nose cover is necessary inside shops, museums, and restaurants (except when seated at a table). If unsure, contact your booked restaurant/accommodation.