The old island town of Werder (upon Havel) is one of those pretty little places that make you want to stay a while. It is a mere eight kilometres west of Potsdam, and about 36 from the centre of Berlin.
We left our car in the more modern section of Werder and walked across the bridge to the picturesque old quarter located on an island in the River Havel (actually the whole area is one of lakes and river – perfect for holiday makers who love being beside or on the water). It is so beautiful in the spring that when the cherry, apple, plum, peach, apricot and pear trees are in bloom, people flock there from miles around to celebrate the annual Blossom Festival.
Fishermen and Fruit Growers
It is a captivating island town were today some 900 people dwell chiefly in the old fishermen’s or fruit growers’ cottages. You can tell who originally dwelt in the properties – the fishermen’s houses have no cellars, whereas the fruit growers built cellars for apple storage.
We admired the old windmill and Town Hall and visited the town’s red-brick mid-19th century church with its clearly visible landmark tower.
Later we wandered through the narrow atmospheric cobbled streets and tiny squares down to the east bank and walked beside the pretty lake past the fish restaurants and along to the beautifully kept allotments, groaning under their abundance of late September fruit and vegetables.
By now the evening shadows were growing longer and there was a chill in the air, so we returned to the plant bedecked alleyway which had led us down to the lake and to our supper at the Fischrestaurant Arielle with its welcoming roaring wood fire. Over our fish supper we planned our itinerary for the next day’s visit to Werder’s food producers. www.werder-havel.de
Werder Food Producers
Schnapps, Whisky and Gin
The Schultz family have been farming for three generations. From their farm shop close by Elisabethhöhe they sell a wide variety of straight-from-the-field and orchards fresh fruit and vegetables, starting in April with asparagus and running through to potatoes in the autumn.
But they also make schnapps; and not only schnapps and liqueurs, but gin and whisky too. And since 2007 they have been winning award after award – as witnessed by the medals hanging between the rows of bottles on the tasting room’s shelves.
It takes 200 kilos of pears to make just four litres of alcohol, and 900 kilos of grain are used to make their high quality whisky. The family prefer to produce high quality products rather than quantity!
Michael Schultz has travelled extensively learning about whisky and its production and in 2010 they began distilling and selling their own. They produce three different types depending on which cask the alcohol has matured in. One whisky (slightly sweeter and my favourite) is matured in barrels having previously contained Château d’Yquem, another in Spessart oak casks and the third in Bordeaux casks. Their gin is a by-product of the whisky production.
One section of the light and airy farm shop is given over to the sales point and tasting room for the fruit wine and spirits, whisky and gin; the middle section is home to the distillery with its hard working still and in the third a restaurant. The restaurant is open for seasonal events as well as lunch and dinner during the asparagus season.
Schultz´ ens Siedlerhof, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 17, 14542 Werder/H, OT Elisabethhöhe. Check website for opening times: www.schultz-siedlerhof.de
Sea Buckthorn (Sanddorn)
Sea buckthorn, or Sanddorn as it is called in Germany, does grow in the UK but it is more commonly and widely used, in countries like Germany who have long recognised its health giving qualities. It is extremely high in Vitamin C – far higher than in fruit such as black currants or oranges.
We called in for lunch at The Orangerie, part of Christine Berber’s company Sandokan & Co, at Petzow. An aperitif of Sanddorn Secco turned out to be a refreshing drink with an almost cider-like hint, slightly bitter and delightfully bubbly. In fact we had sanddorn in each course too. I had it with rabbits’ livers lightly grilled then flambéed with sanddorn schnapps, whilst my friend’s salad was served with a dressing made from the fruit. Dessert was a trio of sanddorn ice cream, sorbet and yoghurt. Instead of tea or coffee after our lunch we chose a hot sanddorn drink whilst Christine Berber told us about her fascination with the plant.
The Sea Buckthorn Story
It all began with her enchantment at the sight of the tight clusters of small bright orange fruits against a blue sky backdrop. When in the 1990s the opportunity arose for Christine and her husband to take a lease on a sea buckthorn orchard they took it, and a little later, the site where the ‘fruit adventure garden’ as she describes it now stands.
For centuries had been recognised as a beneficial plant. It was certainly known in the days of Genghis Khan. But whilst it had been growing wild, it was not really until the 1970s that people started experimenting with planting sanddorn as a crop.
Looking at those compact berry clusters I guessed it could be difficult to harvest and process. I was correct. In centuries past they often waited for the first frosts to freeze the fruit, thereby making picking easier. It is a method still used today, but by the time of the frosts the fruit has lost some of its vitamin content. Better, it was discovered, to prune and freeze the fruit-bearing branches. The berries can then be easily removed.
The fruit deteriorates after just a few days, so freezing also helps to preserve the vitamin content. It can then be defrosted and used as required. Christine said she uses tons of berries in the course of a year. Because apart from cooking with it, it is also used in juices, liqueurs, wines, preserves, soaps and beauty products.
New for the 2014 season the company is opening a visual production line viewing building. Check website for opening hours. Christine Berger GmbH & Co KG, Fercher Straße 60, D-14542 Werder OT Petzow. www.Sandokan.de.
Pumpkins – not just for Halloween!
The pumpkin is one of the world’s oldest plants certainly dating back to prehistoric times – if the discovery of their seeds is anything to go by. Originally the plants would have been gathered for their oil and seeds, the latter being a good source of protein. (In those days the flesh of the wild gourds was far too bitter to eat.)
Pumpkin seed oil is a good source of selenium and vitamin E, has a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, linoleic acid and cholesterol lowering attributes.
Thomas Syring studied as an agricultural economist and went as part of his course to Austria where he came across the green-gold of Styrian pumpkin oil. Inspired by what he had learnt and tasted, when he returned home to Beelitz, he decided to grow the Styrian oil-pumpkins himself.
He was the first pumpkin farmer in Brandenburg and to this day is one of only a few such farmers in Germany. His 100 hectare farm grows not only Styrian oil pumpkins, but a variety of other crops including squashes and corn.
Seeds are sown in May and come harvest time the ripe pumpkins are gathered and thrashed in a machine which separates the seeds from the pulp which falls back onto the ground. The seed pressing procedure is complex and involves much washing and drying. One tonne of wet seeds takes some eight hours to dry resulting in about 500 kilos of dried seeds. After drying the seeds are thoroughly checked to ensure they are properly cleaned before being inspected again to separate the green from the white seeds. Only after that can the actual oil processing procedure take place. It takes some 40 – 50 pumpkins to produce just one litre of this very healthy and delicious green-gold coloured oil.
A café too
The company is rightly proud of its healthy award-winning pumpkin seed oil. Along with the oil various other speciality products such as pumpkin seeds in different sweet or savoury guises are sold. The products are available not only on-line but from their ‘country’ store Syring Feinkost Production and from the café/deli Genuß-Eck in Beelitz town. We called in at Genuß-Eck for lunch. It’s a smart, attractive café/deli where we very much enjoyed our steaming bowls of their excellent pumpkin soup served along with some good bread.
Syring Feinkost Production: Trebbiner Str 69 F 14547 Beelitz OT Zauchwitz. Check websites for opening times: www.beelitzerkuerbis.de
Syring’s Genuss Eck – Feinkost & Café: Clara-Zetkin-Straße 200, 14547 Beelitz
Wine has been produced in the Brandenburg region for some 800 years. According to documents of the 17th century the wines of Werder were some of the best quality wines available; wines noted for their pleasant gentle taste. But following the terrible winter of 1739/40 when the people were starving Frederick II decreed that food crops were more important and gradually the vines were replaced with fruit trees.
But recently vineyards have been re-introduced; the resulting wine officially recognised as the most northern registered cultivation of quality wine in a specified region of Europe.
Werder is surrounded by a large amount of water, and the lakes have helped to diminish the risk of early and late frosts thereby creating a microclimate conducive to wine production. The deep, warm, sandy soil gives the wine its low acidity and special gentle characteristic.
Learning about Quail Mountain wine
In the Werderaner Wachtelberg tasting room Katherina Lindicke told us a little about her family’s vineyard.
Initially, in 1997 they planted some 1000 Regent root stock on the slopes of the Wachtelberg (Quail Mountain). Other varietals now include Regent, Dornfelder and Mϋller-Thurgau. In the intervening years more hectares of the hillside have been planted with vines now producing 50,000-60,000 bottles of wine a year.
As she poured me some wine Katherina told us that their sparkling wine was a gold medal winner, and that in 2004 the Mϋller-Thurgau was served to Queen Elisabeth II and Prince Philip at a banquet held during the couple’s visit to Potsdam.
If it is not possible to get up to the actual vineyard the Werderaner Wachtelberg wine is also available in local supermarkets and restaurants. I made a mental note to try and get back one year for the first Sunday in November when the official tasting of the new season’s wine takes place.
Guided walks through the vineyards take place from time to time, and the restaurant, which serves light, rustic-style meals is open seasonally. Check website for opening times.
‘Weintiene’auf dem Werderaner Wachtelberg: Wachtelwinkel 30, 14542 Werder (Havel) www.wachtelberg.de
City of Potsdam : www.potsdam-tourism.com
Potsdam – Mercure: www.mercure.com/de/hotel-1582-mercure-hotel-potsdam-city
Werder, Beelitz and surroundings: www.apfel-hotel.de