And Quiet Flows The Spree

I didn’t intend to impose my holiday snaps on you.  Indeed for the first day or two of my recent cycling trip to Germany, I didn’t even take a photo.

Buzzard (3)

But when a bird of prey glided past with a rat the size of a small child in its talons, my shutter finger itched.  And I was sure that you too would want to see a picture of a large, dead rodent.

Buzzard (2)

Birds of prey, like this buzzard, were as common as gherkins in this part of Germany

Buzzard (1)

and didn’t always flap off at the sight of a Nikon.  We saw swift hawks, black kites and distant, spiralling eagles.  Ospreys were zwei-a-pfennig too (not that I saw one) but whenever I did brake sharply and fish out my camera, it was nearly always a buzzard that had caught my eye – and disappointingly not an osprey nor a white-tailed eagle.

Red-backed shrikes (1)

But there was one bird I had never seen before, let alone photographed.

Red-backed shrikes (2)

We have red backed shrikes in the UK but you’ll be lucky to see one.  According to the RSPB, their numbers have plummeted here in recent years and they are “effectively extinct as a breeding bird” in Britain – though still a passing migrant.

Red-backed shrikes (3)

With her cute, good looks and pretty marbled chest this female shrike’s common name seems a misnomer – the butcher bird.  Shrikes make larders, you see, by impaling small mammals, birds, lizards and frogs on thorns.  Just for a laugh.  Or until they are ready to feed.

Swallow (5)

As in Poland last year, swallows weren’t camera-shy either.

Swallow (2)

I stopped to watch a fledgling,

Swallow (3)

before realizing what he was waiting for.

Swallow (4)

By chance I was clicking as a parent zipped past.  (I hadn’t appreciated just how very vestigial swallow’s legs are).

Swallow (1)

Quite an aeronautical feat.  I wondered idly whether, if I stood with my mouth agape, the parents would do the same for me: with pieces of wurst perhaps.



Germany is increasingly popular with holidaying Brits – which is galling.  I like it when friends raise an eyebrow when we say we’re off to Germany.  I like that some people don’t ‘get’ why we like Germany.  I like that it isn’t fashionable.  I also like that some celebrities find Germany cool and confess to how much they love it (but not too loudly.  They keep their love quietlike a well-guarded, jealous affair).  I like the food, I like the beer, I like the architecture.  I like the landscapes, I like the people, I like the culture.

Spreewald (6)

I like that houses are built to make access easier for Father Christmas.  I like that in four days of cycling, we didn’t meet anyone from the UK or from anywhere else for that matter.  We just met Germans; who were friendly, polite and a little surprised, bemused even at seeing two bicycling Englishmen.  I liked that it didn’t rain.  And I liked waiting-staff who delightedly produced little-used English menus and enthusiastically (if not always perfectly) switched to our tongue.  And I liked the waiter who insisted on addressing me as, “The Gentleman.”  “Would The Gentleman like a drink?” and “What would The Gentleman like to eat?”  I kept looking over my shoulder to see which gentleman he was talking about and what “The Gentleman” was going to order; and whether I should have the same.

Spreewald (2)

Jim and I cycled 160 miles along the River Spree – from Cottbus near the Polish border to Köpenick just outside Berlin.  This is the Spreewald, an area of nature reserves, huge forests, lakes, rivers, pretty villages and medieval towns.   We pedalled and free-wheeled almost entirely on cycle paths and occasionally along quiet country roads –  where the courtesy, patience and foresight of motorists was astonishing (if you’ve ever cycled in Britain).

Spreewald (11)

In places, the countryside was quite English in feel – with added beaver-gnawed, tree-trunks


and rather nice, random sculptures.

Spreewald (8)

There were no hills nor mountains, hardly any slopes at all actually – just day after day of gentle pedalling, our luggage transferred from one hotel to the next, with frequent stops for ice-cold

Flensburger Pils



and healthy snacks.  (Despite an explicit instruction, Jim refused to leave his cake alone until post-photo shoot).

Spreewald (9)

Each day smelt of pine resin, warm sun and cake.

Spreewald (3)

Sometimes we forgot that our route followed the Spree,

Spreewald (4)

until our path touched its banks

Spreewald (1)

or we swept across a bridge.

A non-Anxious Gardener

A non-Anxious Gardener

You’ll be relieved to hear that we didn’t wear lycra – unlike some guests at breakfast.    Incidentally, breakfasts were marvellous: bewilderingly diverse, savannah-sized buffets – stretching further than the eye could see or the stomach wish for.  But most certainly the breakfast table is no place for figure-hugging, cycling lycra.  And will always remain an absolute no-no for some of the people who insisted on wearing it nonetheless.

Spreewald (10)

But it wasn’t all smiles and contented tummy rubbing; initially we both had alarming saddle soreness.  (My John Wayne walk was a triumph).  At one point I was so very sore, I had to be physically restrained from hauling this 50th anniversary-celebrating couple from their cart.  A cart with soft cushions.

"Fish is Sexy" - apparently

“Fish is Sexy” – apparently

As you may have gathered, I love Germany.  But please don’t tell anyone.

I’m keeping it a secret.





38 thoughts on “And Quiet Flows The Spree

  1. I now have my head full of memories I would rather not have of erstwhile work colleagues wandering around the labs in Lycra. In retrospect we should have had a clear policy on Lycra. You can be too casual, even if it was good to encourage cycling to work. We provided good changing rooms after all!

    But back to shrikes and their practical if faintly alarming larder arrangements… Sounds like a wonderful holiday. I really like Germany too, very civilised on many counts but particularly for cyclists. Nice piece of advertising. Enjoy the resulting crowds on your next visit… Hope your posterior has recovered!


    • Hello Janet, a blanket ban on lycra in the workplace must be de rigeur surely? (Though lycra at the breakfast buffet trumps your lycra in labs, I’m afraid). The only shrike I’d seen prior to this trip was on a private estate my Dad played cricket at when I was a boy. On a tree the gamekeeper had made his own larder by impaling crows, weasels, stoats etc on a thorn bush. Nice. And amongst the grisly exhibit was a shrike. There’s a pleasant story for you. Hopefully any increase in German tourism provided by my post has been negated by Lou’s talk of rotten cabbage smells pervading the countryside and an alarming, unhealthy love of denim amongst parts of the population. D


  2. Great post. Sounds like you had a fantastic holiday. I liked Germany too. We lived there for a year. We were, unfortunately not in one of the most scenic areas, we were near Mochengladbach. I always thought it was a made up place until I met Wellyman and discovered it was where he was going to be living. I loved the German people. On one hand they could be so incredibly cool in a Scandinavian type way, but on the other hand there were plenty of men with incredibly dodgy moustaches and a love of way too much denim. I remember hiring a pedalo on a lake only to discover, as we approached the other side, that it was a nudist beach. You think lycra is bad…..

    Dusseldorf and Cologne were beautiful cities and so was the Mosel Valley and Trier. They did, I don’t know if they still do, have a some odd laws though like you couldn’t wash your car, mow the lawn or hang your washing out on a Sunday. And where we lived was surrounded by cabbage fields, the whole place smelt of boiled cabbage at the peak of the cabbage season. I was very partial to sauerkraut though, so I guess you can’t have one without the other.

    Fantastic shots. It all makes me rather nostalgic. Perhaps we should revisit Germany. Lou


    • Hi Lou, when I was a teenager, I cycled up the Moselle to Trier and on into the Low Countries – it was very beautiful and I’m keen to return. (And I didn’t even change my mind when I swam across the Moselle and almost got run down by a huge barge – that was scary). I don’t know Dusseldorf but agree re Cologne. The sheer size of the cathedral almost defies belief. But the constant smell of cabbage might turn me off my love of Germany a bit. Hopefully, even in parts of Germany, the allure of denim is waning? Fingers crossed. Jim and I are very keen to live there for a year – we regularly check apartment prices in Berlin. Just have to work out how to earn some money when we’re over there. The English Gardener maybe? D


      • Those barges are enormous – I can see how that would have been scary. Ian has a range of anecdotes from his teenage years which start with ‘I swam across….’. I wonder what it is with teenage boys and water? 😉 My memories of Germany are rather tainted by the fact we spent a year on a military base. We loved going to Amsterdam or Maastricht for the weekend. I wish I’d seen more of Germany though and I never got to go to Berlin, which I’ve heard is a really fascinating place. Hope you both manage to find some way of spending a year there. Perhaps you could contact the botanic gardens and see if there are any posts? Lou


  3. I love Germany too. Like Austria, they know the importance of cake. Lots of cake. Very important when walking or cycling. 🙂 Looks like you had a lovely trip, hope you’re suitably refreshed from your travels.


    • The importance of cake is little understood by too many people, Sara. And nations too. I am refreshed thank you but actually, I’d rather still be cycling. Especially as the saddle soreness only lasted a couple of days. Oh well, next year. D


  4. Fantastic photos. I can only imagine all the other good ones you didn’t post! And fortunately there were none taken of the lycra incident… or rather fortunately you did not make them public, in either case thanks.
    Love the swallows.


  5. Thank you so much David Marsden for allowing me to join your happy days.I have read a lot of all you did in Germany but you did not take a snap of the rat for which I am glad I like all the flowers bushes and trees and nice wild life. I did many years ago visit the Priory and I see you mentioned the Elizabethan Barn and one time with my mother and aunt we did go in the barn and was pleased. Ishall look forward to notes from you Best wishes Olive Date: Wed, 27 Aug 2014 17:48:22 +0000 To:


  6. Super photos of your time in Germany, you certainly saw some wonderful wildlife, scenery and architecture. It brought back happy memories from a few holidays I had there when a lot younger!


  7. Wonderful images of the birds, I’ll send them to my husband who is very keen on bird watching. I fear that if you love Germany so much you would hate Italy. The roads are full of holes (bad for cars as well as cyclists), drivers never give cyclists enough space when they pass (often on a bend and cycle tracks (when they exist) have steep ramps that make them a nightmare. You would like the birds though, we’ve seen white eagles and have Golden Orioles in the garden as well as beautiful bee eaters.


    • Hi Christina, I have cycled in Italy but many, many years ago. We started in the Black Forest, crossed the Alps and finished in Genoa. And yes, I remember the fear of cycling on Italian roads with Italian drivers! D


  8. Are you sure you’re not working for the German Tourist Board – a wonderful post on the delights of your holiday. I thought cyclists shoved a banana down their pants to make cycling more comfortable – or is this just an urban myth. Beautiful bird photos – the countryside looks just amazing.


  9. Gosh that beer looks good! (And I’m still on my first cup of tea of the day!) My uncle adored touring in Germany and kept a vintage Mercedes specifically for that purpose; that was back in the 50s/60s and I could never understand the attraction. Now I see why. Especially the polite manners. Can I suggest a sheepskin saddle cover for future trips?


    • Now you’re talking. I rather like the idea of pootling about in a vintage Mercedes (though actually I’ll stuck with my bicycle – you see so much more than from the inside of a car). We did have padded cycling shorts on under our trousers but fat lot of good they did. The fact that I hadn’t been on a bike for months beforehand didn’t help either! Dave


    • I love them too, Helen. For some reason we only get the odd one or two at the Priory. But they are very common and nest at the Old Forge. Unlike in Germany I find them fiendishly difficult too photograph though. D


  10. The Gentleman is a great photographer! Seriously, it all looks lovely and the wonderful time you guys had there really comes across your photos and blog post. I feel relaxed myself just reading it. Germany looks amazing, in a sedate and elegant sort of way. Perhaps next year….


  11. I’m so glad The Gentleman had a lovely time! Please don’t ever hesitate to post your holiday photos — it’s such a treat to see them. Even, perhaps, the dead rat. What beautiful country. I know you must be getting tired of this desert-dweller’s astonishment at greenery, but still — it’s all so green there!


    • Hullo Stacy, I did hesitate over the dead rat photo a little but knew, in the end, you’d appreciate it. Perhaps. Germany was so very green and what I didn’t mention (as I didn’t have any photos to back it up) was the astonishing array of wild-flowers. It seemed more like May than August and we cycled through miles and miles of wild-flower meadows and flowery verges. Very beautiful. D


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