Germany,  Lenzen

Heiko Berg in Lenzen, Germany

Lenzen
Heiko Berg
Knieperkohl

The Place: Lenzen, Germany

“Nestled a stones-throw away from the banks of the Elbe, Lenzen is a gentle reminder of civilisation when you’re travelling through the most sparsely populated part of Germany, and has about it an air of tranquillity; a sense of refuge in an unspoiled stretch of German countryside.”

Read About Lenzen

Lenzen is a snapshot of the past. Winding cobbled streets that you’ll never tire of exploring, buildings tilting on their foundations so they look like they’re a moment away from collapse and an ancient looking church mean that on arrival, it’s hard to believe you haven’t somehow stepped back centuries. Nestled a stones-throw away from the banks of the Elbe, Lenzen is a gentle reminder of civilisation when you’re travelling through the most sparsely populated part of Germany, and has about it an air of tranquillity; a sense of refuge in an unspoiled stretch of German countryside. Bird-watchers, nature enthusiasts and historians alike will be spoiled for choice, with Germany’s largest white stork population and an incredibly rich history. So forget about the world’s problems, pack a book and soothe your mind in an area famous for its’ nature preserves, and leave feeling like you’ve just spent a week in a spa.


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Heiko Berg, 37, Visitor Centre Vice-Manager

 

I have lived here for about five years. I’m quite happy about that, you can see this wonderful nature; this is my workplace. I moved from Berlin, but I originally come from a small town. I moved to Berlin to study and lived there for about eight years, before moving here to the countryside. I prefer it here. Berlin is near, we are right in the middle between Hamburg and Berlin, and in 1-and-a-half hours you can arrive in either of those cities.

 

I have two children, so I don’t have so much spare time, but I enjoy being in nature with them. We go canoe touring here on the Elbe, and we cycle. We have a an outdoor exhibition area here in the castle grounds the moment; we are trying to show our guests what the flood-plain is about, and to teach them about the river landscape. Our main game is environmental education. We are in a biosphere reserve, and each of those has a visitor’s centre. We are in one of them now. We educate people, show presentations and exhibitions about the landscape and the nature, and run a lot of conservation projects, too.

 

  1. What is home to you?

“…where I can feel free. It’s less a place, but more a feeling.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

Home for me is where my family is, where I can feel free. It’s less a place, but more a feeling. I can move with my family to another city or another village and make home there. So I would not say it’s a special ‘place’, but a feeling. You can make home anywhere.

  1. What is special about Lenzen?

This was the Eastern part of Germany, and just on the other side of the river, it was the Western part. So people who lived here could never reach the Elbe… They could not cross the river.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

The most important part is the history of Lenzen. It’s a very, very old town, over 1,000 years old. In more recent history, we had the border situation. This was the Eastern part of Germany, and just on the other side of the river, it was the Western part. So people who lived here could never reach the Elbe, because there was a fence. They could not cross the river. Only for the last 28 years, people have been able to go there, and feel the river and the floodplains. I think that’s the most important thing in Lenzen; the historical situation. You couldn’t even go up to the castle tower. But this is why the nature was able to find refuge here, because no one could disturb it. So it was a sad situation, but for nature it was a very good thing.

  1. What have you learned from living in Lenzen?

“…I learned something from this quietness. For me, I take it into my work. In my free time, I have learned to just settle down and relax.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

The landscape has a quietness about it, and I learned something from this quietness. For me, I take it into my work. In my free time, I have learned to just settle down and relax. Things will go their own way. Things are a bit more slow-paced. The quiet landscape shapes you.

 

  1. Have you been outside of Lenzen and Germany?

I lived for three months in Pakistan, and then Kyrgyzstan and Ethiopia… it’s a completely different picture there. It’s difficult to go there and see only men on the street because women wear the burka, and to not shake women’s hands. “

See Heiko's Full Answer

During my studies at university, I spent some time abroad. I lived for three months in Pakistan, and then Kyrgyzstan and Ethiopia. I think it’s important to “look over the plate” as the German saying goes. It means to ‘expand your horizons’ and learn other things. You should be a foreigner somewhere. Pakistan was strange, it’s a completely different picture there. It’s difficult to go there and see only men on the street because women wear the burka and to not shake women’s hands. But the people are very nice and friendly. Kyrgyzstan is my favourite place that I visited outside of Germany. It has huge mountains, very nice people, and a rich culture. We went there by train from Berlin, through Astana, Kazakhstan. The train links to that part of the world are all German, from the former GDR (German Democratic Republic), so they are ok… efficient. It took 5 days to get there.

 

  1. Can you think of a time you have been proud of Lenzen or Germany?

Proud? For many German people it is difficult to be proud of Germany because of the history.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

Proud? For many German people it is difficult to be proud of Germany because of the history. But I’m proud of this place, Lenzen. I have had some impact here. I do my work, and I can see what we achieve around me. For this, I am proud. Like this exhibition and the ones in the exhibition halls. I think the younger generation maybe finds it easier to be proud.

 

  1. What is your main concern or worry about Lenzen or Germany?

The society is a bit divided, and right-wing politics have a big influence now, and I’m afraid of that…”

See Heiko's Full Answer

For Germany, I think it’s as you said, people are proud. The society is a bit divided, and right-wing politics have a big influence now, and I’m afraid of that; that they can take power- the AFD (‘Alternative für Deutschland’ – the right-wing party). Merkel’s party is shrinking year after year, and the right-wing parties get more and more powerful. For Germany I’m afraid that they will be in charge in government.

  1. What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of People from Lenzen?

“There is a brain-drain happening in the past years, so people from the city just look to the countryside and say “ah, they’re just stupid”.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

That’s quite easy. We are really in the countryside here, this is the place in Germany with the most sparse population. There is a brain-drain happening in the past years, so people from the city just look to the countryside and say “ah, they’re just stupid”. You can find some true examples of that, but most are just regular people. It’s hard to find that sparse population in Germany, actually. People come here for vacations and say “wow, great landscape, great nature, conserve it!”

  1. What is the best thing to ever come out of Lenzen?

“…the castle here has been converted into an environmental education centre. When you look back on history, there was always fighting here, and now it’s just a peaceful place.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

I think the fact that the castle here has been converted into an environmental education centre. When you look back on history, there was always fighting here, and now it’s just a peaceful place. I think that’s a good sign for Germany. It was converted after the wall fell. It was handed to an environmental NGO called ‘friends of the Earth’, who took it for €1… it was a gift. And then they turned it into an environmental education centre, before turning this area into a biosphere reserve.

  1. What do you eat during the Holidays here?

“…traditional dishes like potato salad and sausages. But it varies a lot depending on where you are in Germany, too.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

Around Christmas time, we have duck with some dumplings and red cabbage. No spices or special way to prepare it. Just some pepper and salt. It depends on the family what you eat. There are also traditional dishes like potato salad and sausages. But it varies a lot depending on where you are in Germany, too. In this part, it’s the duck that’s traditional.

 

  1. What are your favourite and least favourite German Dishes?

“…currywurst with some French fries. It’s a sausage made with a special, slightly spicy curry and tomato sauce. You can have it on every street corner in Berlin.”

See Heiko's Full Answer

My personal favourite is currywurst with some French fries. It’s a sausage made with a special, slightly spicy curry and tomato sauce. You can have it on every street corner in Berlin. It’s street food. You can have a doner kebab, too. In Berlin, the choice is whether you have a doner or a currywurst. But then there are some special foods that are made out of intestines. That’s not my kind of thing. You can have it in a soup, or even as a sausage. There’s a sausage made of lungs. It’s just the knowledge about how it’s made. The taste is actually ok.

 

Reccomendation:

If you are in this area, we have a special kind of food called Knieperkohl. It’s like different sorts of cabbage mixed up. You might have trouble finding it. If you can’t find that, you should try the lung sausage. It’s called “Lungen-wurst”.

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The Plate: Knieperkohl

“An intense saltiness and the wetness of the kale combine to fill you up quickly, and you’ll find yourself craving a juice, a tea, or even just a sugar cube for a sweet counterbalance.”

Read About Knieperkohl

Like Lenzen, Knieperkohl screams “a recipe of the past” that has remained stubbornly unchanged for hundreds of years. Simple, filling, and easy to make though it is, I was presented with a problem when seeking it out. After trying three restaurants to no avail, I realised that it was too early in the year for this seasonal dish, and unless I wanted to hang around for two more months, I’d have to find the recipe somewhere and make it myself. This, in turn, brought me to my second problem. Knieperkohl is only called ‘Knieperkohl’ in certain parts of Germany, and after leaving Lenzen it became clear that no restaurant owner, chef, or hotel-staff had a clue what I was asking about no matter how slowly I said it. After pleading for help with hostel staff, and with the help of the internet, we determined that elsewhere, ‘Knieperkohl’ is actually called ‘Grönkohl’, literally translating as green kale.

Green kale alone, though, it is not. Grönkohl is a mixture of kale and meats, often served with a side of potatoes. To allow the flavour of the meat to infuse with the rest of the ingredients, it’s boiled with the kale. Perhaps because it was homemade or maybe because my Grönkohl was not up to scratch, I won’t lie, it wasn’t the prettiest looking meal I’ve had. That said, as soon as you taste it you understand why it’s a winter dish. Pure and heavy flavours quickly tire your pallet, and before long it feels like you won’t be able to eat for days. An intense saltiness and the wetness of the kale combine to fill you up quickly, and you’ll find yourself craving a juice, a tea, or even just a sugar cube for a sweet counterbalance.


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Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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