#yknots – Explorer Belt 2017

While ‘Ellie & the Twirl Bites’ were gallivanting round the Iron Curtain Trail, Leah, Megan, Simpson and Ross were completing their own Explorer Belt expedition in and around Berlin, as team ‘#yknots’. Leah has recounted their travels below:

MONDAY – TO BERLIN

For our team an extremely early start followed by a flight to Berlin was the agenda for Monday 14th August. Once we’d arrived in Berlin, we eventually worked out how the public transport system worked (not as well as London’s, basically) and navigated our way through the city to the Heart of Gold hostel – a ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ themed hostel we’d be staying in for the night. The afternoon was spent doing a bit of sightseeing and planning the start of our expedition for the following day.

TUESDAY – DAY ONE

As the start of our expedition, we spent the morning exploring Berlin and its many historical landmarks including the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and several of the memorials around the city. We then made our way north to Oranienburg – a town just outside of Berlin – where we visited the Sachsenhausen Museum and Memorial. This was the perfect place for us to start gathering information that we could put towards our project of learning about the socioeconomic and cultural changes in and around Berlin.

A few hours later we started heading towards a campsite we’d found, in the hope that Marlon and Steve would be able to find us and drop off the items of kit we couldn’t take on the plane with us. With the help Google’s ‘share location’ function and some loud horn-beeping, they met up with us easily enough and we grabbed the final bits of kit before continuing our journey to our first campsite. We soon arrived and, with the help of Megan’s limited German, were able to find the right site to pitch our tents. We spent the rest of the evening cooking whilst listening to the radio series ‘Cabin Pressure’ (something that soon became an evening tradition) and planning the next day of the expedition. Before long, we were all in our sleeping bags and fast asleep.

WEDNESDAY – DAY TWO

The next morning we had relatively early start, packed up and were on our way by 8:30am – ready to make the most of the day. Unfortunately just as we started walking, the weather decided to change and despite our reluctance to remove our bags from our backs, we were soon in our waterproofs for the first time of the expedition. However, this didn’t sway our spirits and we continued on our way.

We soon found ourselves in Wandlitz but were a little puzzled by how small the town seemed when we arrived. After talking to a few locals, we soon realised we were in the outskirts of town and still had a couple more kilometres to walk before we could stop for a lake-side lunch break. Finally making it into the centre of town, we enjoyed our break and by now, the rain had stopped; the change from waterproofs to suncream was done within a matter of minutes. Embracing the Explorer Belt experience, we decided to spend the afternoon asking in the nearby libraries, churches and shops about whether they knew anywhere we could stay or if they would be able to offer us any type of accommodation.

Unfortunately, none of our attempts brought results other than a few recommendations of a campsite about 5km down the road, so we went to the supermarket to buy ingredients for dinner and breakfast before we headed off towards this campsite. Whilst in the cake aisle debating over whether to get a unicorn (einhorn!) cake or not, a woman came up to us and started speaking to us in German. Although none of us speak much German, we managed to pick up a few words and the combination of ‘Pfadfinder’ (scout), ‘Campingplatz’ (campsite) and ‘Auto’ (car) with a variety of hand gestures, was enough for us to understand we were being offered a lift to the campsite; something we gladly accepted. We eventually worked out that the woman actually worked at the campsite – this also explained why she was buying about 50 rolls of bin bags – and we arrived and pitched our tents in no time.

Due to the fact we didn’t need to walk to our campsite, we found ourselves with a couple of hours to kill before dinner, so we headed down to Liepnitzsee, the nearby lake, for a swim. When we got there we were amazed by both the view and how clear the water was and spent about an hour and a half swimming, relaxing and even attempting to catch a fish (something the other team executed much better!) before heading back to camp for dinner and an early night.

THURSDAY – DAY THREE

We started our day with a morning swim down at the lake as we couldn’t resist not making the most of the beautiful water and its surrounding views, but soon enough we were packed up and on our way again. We’d planned to spend the next two days making our way towards Strausberg so had marked out a few towns along the way that we could potentially shop or stay in – today’s aim was to make it to a little town called Rüdnitz for lunch before continuing on to a campsite. However once we had made it to Rüdnitz we quickly realised that, although it was quite a built-up residential area, there were not many shops. In fact, we were told by a local that there were “no shops for food” and the only things other than houses were a hairdresser’s and a donkey circus…

By this time, we were all very hungry, tired and desperate for any sort of food. For short relief we ate some carrots Megan remembered she had in her bag but, as nice as they were, they were nowhere near enough so we headed to the train station down the road and jumped on the train to Bernau. After we’d arrived and shoveled some food down, we set off exploring the town. We soon stumbled upon the tourist information office and decided it would be a good idea to ask if they knew any campsites nearby as our original plan had been thrown off by Rüdnitz (a place we now have a deep hatred for).

Megan and I went in whilst the others waited with our bags outside and the first thing we were told was that the nearest campsite was the one we had just come from. However, after a long discussion in German that neither Megan nor I could understand, the two women told us they knew somewhere and proceeded to show us where we could stay.

Meanwhile, Ross and Simpson were still waiting outside and had no idea what was going on or why we’d been gone for so long. Ross soon decided to come inside to see what was happening but when he did, he found the room we’d previously been in locked. There was no sign of either of us or the tourist office workers
so his mind automatically jumped to the perfectly reasonable assumption of “they’ve been abducted”. However, about thirty seconds later Megan and I came back, beaming with excitement at the prospect of having somewhere other than a tent to stay in for the night.

FRIDAY – DAY FOUR

After an extremely good night’s sleep, we were well rested for the rest of our expedition and said our last goodbyes and thank yous before heading off. We spent the morning exploring Bernau by visiting a few different churches and parks as well as climbing a tower which provided us with a spectacular view of the city. We then jumped on the train and headed for a town called Erkner. We had lunch by the river before beginning our walk to a campsite we’d found. It was another lovely day and the route was a really nice path along the side of a lake that lead us almost directly from the centre of town to where we were staying.

We arrived, pitched our tents and immediately set off toward the lake for a swim. However, after Liepnitzsee being the first lake we experienced, unfortunately none of the others lived up to its standards of sandy beds, beautiful views and crystal clear water… we were later told that Liepnitzsee is renowned for being one of the most beautiful lakes in Germany.

A few hours later, we were sat round eating cake and listening to ‘Cabin Pressure’ when we suddenly heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. At this point, we were under a shelter and when the rain initially started, we were unphased by it. About ten minutes later, however, the wind had picked up dramatically and we were being thrashed by horizontal rain – something we took as a cue to get into the tents. The next hour and a half was one of pure panic and hysteria, containing rushes to the toilet block in the pouring rain; getting stuck in the toilet block because of the pouring rain; getting stuck in the pouring rain because Ross is apparently incapable of opening a tent door, and magic puddles… but that’s a story for another time.

SATURDAY – DAY FIVE

As we were now about halfway through our expedition, we decided that day five was a good time to have a ‘rest day’. So, after a slightly later start, we packed a few small bags and headed off on a nice hike around the nearby lakes. Along our way we found giant ice creams, a very angry dog and, much to my history excitement, Karl-Marx-Straße. We arrived back to camp in the early afternoon and spent the next few hours reading, napping and swimming before cooking dinner and settling in for an early night.

SUNDAY – DAY SIX

We started our day by catching a train through Berlin and into Potsdam, a historic city on the west border of Berlin. We then spent the rest of the day in the Museum Barberini art gallery learning about various collections (and making the most of their phone-charging facilities) before we headed to a park to look for some locals to dance with for one of our challenges. As we had passed the park earlier on in the day, there had been a small group of people dancing so we thought it would be appropriate to ask them first.

Once we had explained about our expedition and the challenge we’d been given, they gladly agreed to give the ‘WWESU dance’ a go and we created a small flash mob of our strange dance. In return, the group offered to teach us some salsa and we hesitantly agreed and then continued to make a fool of ourselves. Although, we were rewarded with some delicious homemade apfelkuchen (apple cake) making the whole experience totally worth it!

Soon after we had made it to our campsite for the night and, of course, immediately changed into our swimwear and headed for the lake. Again this lake was nowhere near as nice as Liepnitzsee but that was something we’d learnt to accept and the super cute labrador retriever puppy who sat watching us from the bank made up for it! There were definitely no conversations deliberating over whether it would be possible for us to take it with us…

We then headed to the toilet block and made the most of the showers we’d kindly been given free tokens for before our usual routine of dinner, ‘Cabin Pressure’, sleep.

MONDAY – DAY SEVEN

The next morning we woke up and decided now would be a good time to wash a few of our clothes as we had time to wait before our train arrived. The wash went well. The dryer, however, turned out to be absolutely useless. This drying disaster created what we soon came to call ‘the drybag baby’. As we had to leave to catch our train, we put all the damp clothes in a drybag and carried it to the station. To put it simply, carrying
the drybag baby was exactly like carrying a small child. Quieter though.

We spent the whole day in central Potsdam, exploring some landmarks including the Brandenburg Gate (the Potsdam one, obviously) and Sanssouci Palace. Just as we were working out what train we’d need to get back to the campsite, we were offered
accommodation from Yvonne, a Potsdam Scout Leader, and her family – for two nights! So instead, we got the bus out to a small village called Schenkenhorst; we’d describe it as “the Potters Bar of Germany”. When contacting us, Yvonne had not specified where we could sleep so we were all very surprised and extremely grateful when we were shown a whole summerhouse we could use – kitchen, sofas, beds and all!

TUESDAY – DAY EIGHT

We awoke the next morning and looked out of the window to see baskets full of food sat on the windowsill. As it turns out, Yvonne’s dad had driven to the bakery and bought us some fresh bread and croissants and then given us jam, marmalade, meat, cheese and tea to go with it! Needless to say it was the best breakfast we’d had all week and was the perfect start to our morning. We soon set off into Potsdam again for the last time. First we went to the Potsdam Museum and learnt a lot about the history of the city, its art, culture and architecture, before heading through Park Sanssouci for a nice walk. We also stumbled upon a local deli where we bought a selection of cheeses to make into a cheeseboard for later on – it was incredible.

WEDNESDAY – DAY NINE

The next morning we were provided with breakfast again (with coffee this time!) and packed up our stuff before leaving. We made sure to swap badges and scarves as well as thank Yvonne and her family profusely for their hospitality.

We’d found out about the Spandau Citadel and decided it sounded really cool and that we wanted to go, so we spent the afternoon wandering through the museum (which had super squeaky floors when wearing hiking boots!) and learning about the fortress’ use over the years as well as climbing its tower and walking through its gardens.

Part way through the day we got a message from a Scout Leader in Kreuzberg offering us a place to stay, so once we’d finished at the Citadel that was where we headed. We soon arrived and Simon, a Scout Leader at VCP Kreuzberg, showed us around the church/community centre/scout hall building that we could stay in for the night. It had a kitchen, showers, sofas, table football and even a few musical instruments as well! But before we could settle down, we were taken on a tour of Kreuzberg. Simon and his fellow leaders, Catherina and Felix, showed us so much of the culture of the area – rather than the typical tourist sights – and we were all amazed by both what they knew and how much they knew. After an extensive tour of the district, we all went to a Turkish restaurant and tucked into some traditional food which included hummus!! The evening was one that none of us will be forgetting anytime soon as we learnt so much about the area and scouting in Germany as well as meeting some amazing people.

 

We headed back to our home for the night and spent the next few hours relaxing and playing the piano before settling in for our last night on expedition.

THURSDAY – DAY TEN 

On the last day of our expedition, Simon offered to give us another tour as we made our way back through Berlin. Of course, we gratefully accepted and had a thoroughly enjoyable and educational walk back to our hostel. We finally arrived and met the other team in our room before heading straight for the showers and the clean clothes that had been waiting in Steve’s car for us all week. Once freshened up and changed into comfy
clothes we sorted out our stuff and relaxed a bit while the other team went out to explore central Berlin.

When they arrived back from an apparently jam-packed two hours of sightseeing, we all headed over the road to a German restaurant and enjoyed a dinner all together. The next few hours were spent enjoying the amazing food, exchanging funny stories from the past ten days and catching up with each other. We soon headed back to our hostel and, as we were all absolutely shattered, wasted no time getting into bed.

FRIDAY – TO LONDON

On our last day in Berlin, we spent our time visiting a few more sights we hadn’t already seen before making our way to the airport. The journey home was relatively smooth and we all returned home exhausted but happy, and proud of the achievements of the last ten days.

– Written by Leah

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