2011 is upon us, and I wish all a year of joy, good health, good fortune, happy trails — and delicious food.
In addition to making resolutions for the coming year these days, I like to reflect back on the past year. It began on a sad note with the loss of my mother on Jan. 3. I think about her a lot and am grateful that I was able to hold her in my arms when she died. (See my tribute to her in an earlier blog, “Homage to Helen.”)
On a brighter note, there were some fun times last year, including the highlight – our houseboat trip on the lakes and canals in Brandenburg, a region in northeastern Germany around Berlin that was part of the former East Germany.
The Katinka, a 13-meter (43-foot) long, 15-ton houseboat was our home during our five-day journey in early October in this region of 3,000 lakes and 30,000 kilometers (18,600 miles) of waterways. We were six, three couples, including the captain. Each couple had a separate cabin and head on board the spacious craft.
Days were mostly leisurely: lounging on board, admiring the scenery, reading, chatting. That is, until a lock approached. Then, all sprung into action. We navigated eight of these narrow passageways during our voyage. With the captain at the helm, two “mates” rush to grab the ropes for tying up. Others keep a careful watch at the bow and shout directions to the captain as we enter a narrow, walled channel. It’s a challenge to keep the craft from crashing into the walls. But this tricky navigation added fun and excitement to the journey and kept us on our toes. Most of the locks had attendants, but a few were self-service, adding more demands to the task.
Even though October is not swimming and sunbathing weather in northern Germany, we were content on our cozy ship. The Brandenburg panorama, Germany’s largest water landscape, was an awesome surprise for us (me and husband Bob), and our German friends (Heinz and Heti Lutz, Klaus and Dagmar Stark).
“I never expected the scenery to be so beautiful,” said Heti. “This was one of the best kept secrets in Western Germany – the beautiful scenery in the East…It reminds me of Finland, Scandinavia.”
Dagmar piped in: “We are so lucky to be reunited. I never knew Germany was so beautiful. It’s a shame people don’t know so much about the new states in the former East Germany.”
While we relaxed, Captain Heinz was always on duty. Occasionally someone would relieve him and take the helm. In the open water, steering the boat was child’s play. Locks and maneuvering the huge boat in and out of harbors were another story. Captain Heinz, who has a German motor boat license, was given a brief trial initiation before we set sail. “It’s challenging at first, but after a few turns and trials in open lakes, it’s easy to operate,” he said. He impressed us with his skills in those tight spots.
In early October there was little traffic on the placid lakes, wide expanses of shimmering water bordered mainly by forests. Along many of the canals connecting the lakes are pretty, well-kept houses with perfect gardens. Big villas and small cabins. Many were, and still are, the “datsche,” weekend homes of East Germans.
We cruised by willows whose branches skirted the water, reeds and water lilies, families of ducks, swans, the occasional heron, and fishermen. Sometimes we’d pass a small boat. Faster boats passed us. On shore we enjoyed a walk in the woods, a visit to the lovely spa town of Bad Saarow, and several tasty meals at harbor-side restaurants. It was all calm, peaceful and totally relaxing.
Our first day out, Heti’s brother, Hermann Riedemann who lives in Berlin and has a sailboat on the Wannsee, joined us. He gave us tips on the region and its waters, and suggested a super place to pull in for lunch. That evening we docked at the home of his friends, Thomas and Birgit Pfannschnitt We all huddled around a roaring fire in their terrace fireplace, drank red wine, and listened to their stories about life in the former East Germany. “Berlin is the most beautiful city. It’s multi-culti. The changes in the past twenty years are phenomenal,” said Thomas. “Most people don’t know about Berlin and all the water,” said Birgit. “Berlin has more bridges than Venice.”
The other evenings we tied up for the night at harbors where we could plug in to electricity needed to heat the boat, and take advantage of the on shore shower facilities. We could have showered on board, but the bathrooms were mini, and we had visions of a flood if we attempted a shower. We opted to keep things dry. We all slept well. There was a gentle rock to the boat which Dagmar said was like a water bed.
The Katinka galley was well supplied with dishes, pots and pans, cutlery and gadgets. Heti was our “chef” who planned and prepared scrumptious meals. We usually had two meals on board –always breakfast, hearty German fare of wurst, cheese, soft-boiled eggs and fresh Brötchen, then lunch or dinner. Someone would search out a bakery on shore to supply the Brötchen .
In addition to maps of recommended routes, the booklets supplied by our boat rental company, Kuhnle-Tours, provided restaurant recommendations. The culinary highlight of the trip was the four-course gourmet dinner we savored at the Schloss Hubertushöhe, a 100-year-old hunting castle which is now a luxurious hotel and restaurant on the Storkower See. The over-the-top meal began with appetizers served in small glasses: cucumber soup with smoked salmon and an Asiatic lemon grass soup with scallops. This was followed by variations of foie gras and green apple, pumpkin soup with lobster ravioli, rabbit with polenta and steinpilzen (boletus), and the finale, a gorgeous creation of white chocolate and peaches.
Our journey started in Zeuthen, a Berlin suburb where our boat rental company has a dock with its craft. We cruised about three to four hours per day at a top speed of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) per hour and covered about 115 kilometers (71 miles) in the roundtrip to and from Bad Saarow.
“The scenery was changing all the time. It was never boring. I did not expect our boat would be so big,” said Heti as we gathered to celebrate the end of the idyllic voyage with a bottle of Rotkäppchen Sekt (a “champagne” that was famous in the former East Germany).
Kuhnle-Tours (www.kuhnle-tours.de) rents houseboats in Germany in both Brandenburg and Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, as well as in Poland and France.
Feel free to comment on this blog. Click “comments” below. And, don’t forget the photos. Click on “Photo Album” center column. For a Quiche with flair, check out my Shrimp Quiche recipe in the far column.