On Sunday Christian and I went on another hike from our book, this time west of the city in the Döberitzer Heide- a dry landscape that Christian figured would be less-likely to have mosquitos. Most of the hike was in the Heinz Sielmann Nature Preserve. Seilmann was a filmmaker who made documentaries about animals who died in 2006. In 2004, his foundation bought this land that had been used by the military for 95 years. In 1731, Frederich Wilhelm I trained his troops there. Frederich II lead a military-maneuver there involving 44,000 soldiers in 1753. In 1892, Kaiser Wilhelm II establish the area as an official military training zone, which led to the westward extension of Heerstrasse (Strasse 17 Juni, Unter den Linden), the long boulevard that traverses the whole of Berlin through the Tiergarten, under the Brandenburg Gate and right to the former castle in the old city center.
The most recent resident of the Döberitzer Heide was the Red Army, who operated there until 1991. A large part of the preserve is still inaccessible due to the possibility that there are still dangerous munitions lying about. But the main reason that there is no public access in much of the park is that there are buffalo there. Yes, buffalo.
A native European bison called Wiesent was almost killed off in the 20th century. After World War I, the population numbered only 54. These remaining Wiesente were kept alive in various zoos and parks and in 2010 eleven were brought to live in the Döberitzer Heide along with another endangered animal, the Przewalski horse.
The Przewalski is the last of the wild horses. They still lived in the wild in Mongolia until 1969. After WWI, there were only 40 known horses in various zoos. Today, populations have been reintroduced in Mongolia, Hungary and the Ukraine.
Christian and I saw a band of Przewalski horses from afar, their sable backs shinning in the sun. Unfortunately we didn’t see any Wiesente. They must be deep inside the preserve, far from the fenced periphery we traversed along. The whole area is really well protected -surrounded by three fences, the middle one electric. Periodically we came across Jurassic Park like access points.
In addition to the bison and horses, 5000 different kinds of plants and animals have been identified in the preserve -many of them endangered, such as the brown long-eared bat. We saw a Red Deer fawn and talked to a woman who had seen a wild boar. Just outside of the preserve, we saw several storks and a wise old hare who sat quietly in a field with his/her ears all amok.
We did the hike in reverse and after leaving the preserve, we got a bit lost. We were forced to bushwhack through an overgrown path used by fisherman along a wide canal and after twenty minutes, we were covered with weird plant spit and alas, mosquito bites. We knew we were back in civilization when we found a scary abandoned houseboat, and crossed over into the little village of Marquardt.
Marquardt has an old haunted castle that we didn’t get a chance to see this time. We rushed by the overgrown gates of the grounds on our way to the train station. We did however see a pair of old woman strolling along holding hands, and a giant stork’s nest. This is the pride of every town in Brandenburg, and in the golden glow of the evening sun it did seem to look like a crown.