Yesterday, our friends Gregor Gregorov & the lovely L drove Erica and me to a little town called Lübbenau, which is about an hour southeast of Berlin, in the Oberspreewald-Lausitz district of Brandenburg. I’d never heard of the place before but was immediately struck by the charm of the old buildings and churches, the castle, the apple trees, the biergartens and most of all by the miles and miles of gorgeous canals in the area. The first thing we did when we got there was go on an hour and a half Kahnfahrt (boat tour) with a portly old Lübbenauer rowing and babbling away on the back. I say babbling away because he spoke so haphazardly and at such a rapid and blithering clip, with such a heavy Sachsen accent, I had to really concentrate to even get even a slight gist of what he was saying. Luckily, I had a beer and a plate of Spreewald pickles (the local specialty), to keep me from feeling too demoralized.
After the Kahnfahrt, we went to the market in the center of that town of 18,000 and sampled the pickles and mustard in the little stands. Then we got beers and some delicious fish sandwiches and sat at a table overlooking the passers-by. German tourists, mostly. White, comfortable, content-looking, safe, but representative of a declining population. Germans just weren’t reproducing like they did in the old days. It was a money thing. It just wasn’t practical anymore to have babies, hence the need for refugees. But the refugees all seemed to get sent to cities like Berlin. Anyway, there was nothing for them in Brandenburg. Brandenburg was drying up. The center wouldn’t hold. Lübbenau had lost almost 1/3 of its residents since 1971, despite its beautiful canals, architecture, beer, pickles, so forth. There was no work there. The center wouldn’t hold.
We visited two other towns in that area yesterday. The first was called Fürstlich Drehna, and we went there seeking game. It was Gregor’s idea. My birthday was August 11th, the day before, and he had offered to buy me game at this restaurant with a carved wooden deer’s bust hung on the outside wall. Unfortunately, it had closed at 5 p.m., about an hour before we arrived. We got out of the car anyway and walked up to the castle that was nearby. The castle was 500 years old, and there was a moat around it, and a field of dry grass and a forest in the distance and sunflowers dying in the heat. On the other side, there was a little brewery that been there since 1853. We walked around the castle and past the brewery, but there wasn’t much to say about either. We were hungry and needed beer. We headed to the next town.
The town was called Luckau and it was full of pretty houses and towers and cathedrals and cobblestone streets, but the main square was empty, and the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed. Everything looked closed in that jerkwater town but a place on the corner that probably wanted to be a pizzeria but had spelled it incorrectly on the sign. They’d spelled it PIZZARIA. That was the first red flag. Never trust a place that doesn’t know how to spell the thing it claims to be. We got out of the car and stood in front looking over the menu. The menu was the second red flag. It didn’t just offer Italian food, the PIZZARIA also specialized in Greek food, German food, and Indian food of all things. The term Jack of all trades, master of none floated through my mind. But people were hungry, and the next town was miles away. We got a table out front under an umbrella and sat there gazing at sun coming down on the desolate marketplace. We ordered beers. They came. They came warm. Nothing good ever came out of warm beer on a hot summer day, and these were as warm as a Sulphur miner’s ass. But we forced them back anyway and ordered. We ordered schnitzels. We figured it would be trickier for a German to shit the bed making schnitzel than Greek, Italian or Indian food. And we may have been right, but the schnitzels were bad. They were furchtbar, as the Germans say. They were as furchtbar as a Sulphur miner’s ass on a hot summer day. But we forged through it nonetheless, and I didn’t complain. I didn’t have the right. It was my birthday dinner and Gregor was paying for it. He thought the food was furchtbar too. The moral: never go to a place that doesn’t know how to spell what it is & represents four different countries. Nothing good ever comes of it. Still, I am thankful to my friends for a lovely day. I haven’t had a car since I moved to Berlin and hardly ever get out of the city.