You learn quickly that history and how it’s told is an especially sensitive matter in the Balkans. It reminded me of traveling in places like El Salvador and Chile. People wanted to make sure that we knew their side of the story.
It’s impossible to start with the headlines you might be vaguely familiar with from the ’90s. You want to talk Tito? Milošević? Yugoslavia? Fine. But you have to eat your veggies first––2,000-plus years of Balkan history. Even when I said I was interested in learning more about Yugoslavia and its downfall in the late 20th century, the response was, “Okay, so 500 years after Christ…” referring to when Slavic tribes first started moving into the Balkans. That’s as early as anyone was willing to start the story.
If we’re going to start that far back, I better grab a snack.
Südtirol. Alto Adige. South Tyrol. It’s a border region of Europe that confuses and makes complete sense. You don’t know if you should say “Danke” or “grazie” to show appreciation for a meal, but it all comes together when you dive into the history.
But I first dove into the region by the rails, grabbing a morning high-speed train from Berlin to Munich where we transferred to an Austrian line that runs through Innsbruck and down to Bologna. I’d ridden it before to Verona, taking note of the Dolomites outside of my window and vowing to return.
And so I did, this time spending most of my time in Brixen / Bressanone before an overnight in Bozen / Bolzano––the capital of South Tyrol.
A trail race conveniently scheduled after the first month of training for the 2021 Berlin Marathon called us down to the Dolomites. I signed up for and ran the Ladinia Trail 29-kilometer race with nearly 2,000 meters of climbing––the most I’d ever done on my own two feet. But before and after the race, there was plenty to see and do in town.
Last Fall, just days before the big shutdown started, I went on one last trip to run the Märkischer Landweg trail from Templin to Angermünde across the state of Brandenburg. I had vacation days to kill and itchy feet that wouldn’t do well sitting at home all day. There was plenty of that to come anyway.
So I hopped on the train in Berlin for an hour ride north to Templin––a gateway of sorts to Brandenburg’s Uckermark region, a vast chunk of land left remarkably untouched considering its proximity to Berlin. This land has seen glaciers from the Ice Age, Slavic tribes, the Holy Roman Empire, and Prussia before turning into a battleground during World War II, leaving many of its towns severely damaged.
On the day I was out there, it was blissfully quiet and I couldn’t think of any other place I’d rather be than Templin where I set off on a 30-kilometer run to Ringenwalde. You know. For fun.
Today I’m running through my top 10 places to visit in Germany that aren’t painfully obvious. That means your Berlin, your Munich, your Neuschwanstein-Disney Castle all gone. Why? Because listicles can be irritating enough without someone stating the obvious like, “Berlin is a place in Germany to visit! It’s got history! There was a wall. And now there’s not! (mostly).”
Instead, I’m showing off my favorite spots around the country that I don’t think I would’ve ever found without living and traveling around here for four years.
I think it’s appropriate that my first trail video isn’t from one of the better-known spots of Germany or Europe but rather from this haphazard collection of trails I connected between Eberswalde and Chorin in the state of Brandenburg.
The Black Forest is probably the second German region behind Bavaria that most of us have heard about from overseas. We know it’s, well, a forest and that it has something to do with fairytales. The Brothers Grimm, perhaps?
I’m of course talking about the fairytales in their original version––not the cutesy, sanitized versions that found their way to Disney. The German versions wouldn’t give two Scheiße about our modern conceptions of protecting children from violence and gore. The violence and gore were front and center in these stories. And many of these stories were inspired by the region of southwestern Germany we know today as the Black Forest.