20,000 people live in the city of Bernau, about 19 miles (30 km) away from downtown Berlin in the direction of Stralsund. The wall surrounding Bernau’s old town core is about 300 feet (100 meters) from the S-Bahn station where the Berlin trains stop. This quaint little district town so typical of the March merits a quiet stroll. The path to follow runs along the old town wall, which has been completely preserved and is gradually being restored.
The imposing Steintor (Stone Gate), overshadowed by the Hungerturm (Hunger Tower) is all that’s left of the three original gates into town. The Steintor, which is in very good condition, has housed a museum of local history and culture since 1882, although it is only open during the warm months.
The city proudly shows off such old, restored buildings as the Kantorhaus, the Adlerapotheke (pharmacy), the hotel Schwarzer Adler and the Rathaus at the marketplace, as well as its modern apartment buildings, none of which is over five stories high and whose open inner courtyards fit in well with the small-town ambience.
A beautiful, four-aided, late-Gothic hall church from 1519 is the main attraction on the Bernau Market Square. The Pfarrkirche St. Marien (St. Mary’s Parish Church) displays a surprisingly rich interior. Art historians attribute the sixwinged main altar, which can be transformed twice by opening flaps, to the workshop of Lukas Cranach the Elder (around 1520). Experts have restored the Madonna under the Canopy, the nearly life-sized Triumphal Cross Ensemble, the Sacramental Tabernacle and other artworks. Concerts on the 29-stop organ are among the cultural highlights of Bernau.
Hikes around Bernau: Hiking out of the city in a northeasterly direction, you pass through the former city gate at the Pulverturm (Powder Tower). Immediately to the left, right up against the city wall, stands the Henkerhaus (Hangman’s House) Museum, with a display of the medieval instruments of torture used by Bernau’s executioner. A special hiking area beckons beyond the city’s cobblestones: the Liepnitzsee, a lake with what some consider the purest water in Germany. The water of the Liepnitzsee is of drinking quality, for its only feeder is a vigorous, cold, deep spring. To keep the lake and its shore clean, motorboats have been forbidden and cars prohibited from parking nearby. Only fishermen are permitted to try their luck at certain times.
Another charming hike, and one particularly rewarding for amateur botanists, leads from Bernau through Ladeburg, whose marketplace boasts two ancient trees, to Lobetal. Many different species of conifers from various climatic zones thrive in the forest park planted in 1930 a little way south of the village.
The path continues onward, first to Biesental, then to Lanke. More than ten lakes still provide swimmers and nature lovers with water clean enough to pass the most fastidious muster. In Lanke, people also swim in the Krumme Lanke, the lake that perhaps best illustrates the typical Berlin expression j.w.d. – janz weit draussen (out in the boondocks). Old, shadowy forests with perfect stands of silvery beech trees frame the crystalline lake and offer trails for long, meditative walks.
The idyllic nature preserve area between Barnim and the Eberswalder glacial valley is full of contrasts, and radiates a very special primordial quality. To fully enjoy and explore it, you should bring along a bicycle and perhaps a few days’ time.
Hikers in the Prenden lake area will be rewarded with unbridled, romantic beauty. A longer tour by car or bike (about 25 miles/40 km) leads from Bernau through Briesetal to EberswaldeFinow and to the ship elevator in Niederfinow. Like so many other towns of the March, neighboring Eberswalde also has a Heimatmuseum, with abundant documentation of local history and culture and of the industrial trials and tribulations of the valley of the Finow. The tourist office is located in the same building.
The itinerary then proceeds to Niedertinow (six miles/nine km on the F 167, and then north for another mile or so). The ship elevator is located here. This imposing technical construction received its present form between 1927 and 1934. A 502-foot (157-meter) canal bridge connects it with the Oder-Havel Canal. The elevator raises the ships into a huge, water-filled trough, bridging differences in height of up to 115 feet (36 meters).
Northeast of Eberswalde stands Chorin Monastery. This Cistercian monastery, which was built between 1273 and 1334, is one of the oldest constructions illustrating the North German Gothic architectural style using bricks. Friends of music should not miss the concerts of the Chorin Music Summer.