Summer this year was far too short. And that's being generous. More cynical would be to say we were royally cheated. July and August were wet and cold, as though Berlin were convinced it were late October instead of the middle of summer. Never too easy for a California girl like me, though I have to say this year was the worst of all in the 12 years I've lived here. And that's saying a lot considering summer here is always an "optional" season....
Harder still was the fact that we aren't really going to take a vacation this year. The vacation to the Bay Area in October was canceled for a variety of reasons, cost being the highest on the list. Now that the girls are both over 2, their plane tickets are nearly full price which means to visit "home" we're going to have to save, save, save. Not so easy since I've taken for granted at least one visit a year.
But being a California girl and therefore a natural born optimist, I didn't give in to despair but rather gave in to Brandenburg. For those of you who don't know, Brandenburg is the former East German state surrounding Berlin. It's pretty rural with not much going on and, at it's worst, can be a little scary in a back-pages-of-a-second-rate-Dostoevsky novel kind of way. Still, after a little internet research I was able to find a few nice looking places where I booked us a room for a little mini vacation. The first place we stayed was Lychen House.
Lychen House is a beautifully restored old building run as a charming hostel-like hotel with the family (a German/New Zealand couple) living on the second floor. There was lots of great East German and antique furniture around the house and a common kitchen area with lots of light. The Catos (family who run the place) also have two children close to Miss Mia and Little Li's age, so they are definitely child friendly with plenty of toys and a sand box in the garden.
Though I do definitely recommend Lychen House highly, I wasn't all that impressed with the town of Lychen itself. More than a village but definitely not a city, Lychen was just the size of town that makes me nervous. I kept on feeling like something should happen but then realized that nothing ever happens in such towns and then I started feeling desperate. Jasper felt the same. The whole hostel-like atmosphere was also a little claustrophobic. Family life doesn't exactly leave much room for personal space, making you all the more desperate for it when on vacation. Conclusion: Although we found Lychen House lovely and friendly, we just didn't come away well-rested.
Thank God then, for Burg Stavenow. Burg Stavenow is a small hotel run in a 14th century villa lovingly restored by an older couple from Hamburg. The place is literally in the middle of nowhere in the section of the state called West Prignitz. Whereas most of Brandenburg has drab houses and dense, sandy forests which add to the overall sense of the-walls-are-closing-in-on-you despair, the West Prignitz has a lot of warm, red brick buildings and rolling meadows mixed in with woods, leaving plenty of room to breathe.
We stayed in the Stall which was this charming little cottage with an attic sleeping room and lots of natural wood. The place was remote with no television, no internet. Even Jasper's cell phone didn't work (I had conveniently forgotten mine at home.) That left us with some signs of civilization....
....but mainly nature, nature, nature.
The stall was also so beautifully decorated. It had an aesthetic rustic cottage charm with a South Western flair that reminded me so much of my grandparent's house in Flagstaff, Arizona; a beautiful place my father was supposed to inherit but then didn't.
....but that's another story and should be told at another time....
If most of Brandenburg is Dostoevsky in the worst sense, then Burg Stavenow was like a fairy tale in the best sense. We even took a coach ride through the wood with the retired forester, a man full of stories with a beard like Santa Claus. His wife is a weaver who spins her own wool. I bought a pair of slipper she made and wish I could live in them they are so damn comfortable.
And, of course, Otto lives at Burg Stavenow, the world's most friendliest dog. Little Li and Miss Mia may be pinching his ears here, but Otto is still, as usual, nothing but smiles.
On the drive back home we were reminded we were indeed in Brandenburg when we stopped in a village with a run-down Renaissance castle. The museum was only filled with relics from the GDR, so we decided not to go in. I had to change Little Li's pants but couldn't find a trash can anywhere. Finally I did come across one but it was padlocked shut. This town probably had 300 inhabitants. Why would they padlock their trash cans? To keep out pesky tourist's noxious diapers I suppose.
We walked past the castle to a soccer field where I found a pile of old discarded furniture. In cities these pieces would be called mid century and fetch a price but in this village they were mouldering on a stack of wood at the edge of the forest.
Brandenburg is sometimes still a place where time stands still and you can't breathe because even the air is made of concrete.
But thank god for places like Burg Stavenow.