This past weekend for my birthday, Christian took me to the Elbsandsteingebirge -the Elbe River Sandstone Mountains. This is a national park straddling the German-Czech border and rising up hundreds of meters on both sides of the Elbe River valley. An ancient sea left behind towering deposits of chalk -sometimes streaked with iron, that have created the most unusual landscape that is something like the Jumbo Rocks campground in Joshua Tree set in an enchanted forest.
Amazingly, this place is only three hours from Berlin by train. Christian and I had taken this same line two years ago on our way to Prague and it’s a gorgeous ride along the Elbe River from Dresden. The cliffs towering above on each side are full of old fortresses, castles and bridges. We got off in Bad Schandau, took a ferry across the river and began walking towards our destination -the Berghotel on Winter Mountain.
Although the ESSG aren’t technically mountains, they can definitely be characterized by their steep ascents hundreds of meters high. Step metal steps and ladders have been attached to the rocks and it was often slow-going with our heavy backpacks. But once we got up top, the views were always worth the trouble. For miles in all directions, large plateaus and teetering towers of balancing rock dotted the landscape. It was like a wooded version of Monument Valley and in fact many of East Germany’s “westerns” were filmed here.
By the time we reached the hotel, we were drenched with sweat and exhausted but were quickly revived by the coolness of the evening on the mountain-top as we dined on the terrace with a bunch of other hikers. That night an amazing thunderstorm rolled in and the next two days were much cooler and pleasant for walking. Unfortunately, this rain seems to have also conjured a wretched, gut-churning abomination of a nature that has yet to be identified (the hotel owner is working on this). I call it the Worm Monster, and if you aren’t eating right now you can watch a film of it here.
Apart from this disgusting god-less creature, the ESSG are absolutely incredible. I loved finding our way along the labyrinthian trails through the fairytale forests and climbing the sandstone boulders for breathtaking views, over and over again. There’s too much to describe here, but suffice to say that it was an amazing trip and the ESSG is my new favorite place in Germany.