A hidden area, language, people one hour south of IHIF
A hidden area, language, people one hour south of IHIF
25 MARCH 2019 7:23 AM

A trip south of Berlin before the start of the International Hotel Investment Forum revealed a minority language, invasive rodents, a diaspora in Texas and cucumber as an art form. Also, high praise for The Langham, London.

The weekend preceding the International Hotel Investment Forum earlier this month, I put my travel pin in my atlas and hit upon an area called Spreewald, previously unknown to me and part of the former East Germany.

“Spreewald,” I believe, simply means “The Forest of the Spree,” the Spree being the river that flows through it and also Berlin, the site for the annual IHIF event. It is 50 miles south by train but in an utterly different world.

Its world is one of low-lying forest, marsh and agricultural fields latticed with artificial canals and neat villages and towns. While everyone there speaks German, the native language is Sorbian, a Slavic language spoken by few but newly reinvigorated on local school curriculums. The Sorbs are the Slavic peoples with the smallest number, but they are recognized in Germany and the European Union as an official minority.

The name for Spreewald in Sorbian is BÅ‚ota, which means “marsh,” and marshes are where birds live, and birding is my passion, plus the hotel I stayed in gave me a key, not a key card. And the signs are bilingual, and I was very happy. With my key.

My hotel—the family-owned Hotel Spreezeit (literally translated as “Spree Time,” which does not make much sense)—is in one of the area’s principal small towns, Lübbenau. The property has 12 rooms and is opening eight bungalows.

Most accommodations in the area appear to be pension-style guest houses with three or four rooms and generally open in the warmer months.

The area also is known for its cucumbers, and I tried some with a river trout in Lübbenau’s Restaurant & Café am Mühlenwehr. The cucumbers are tasty but subtle, not at all like the tart gherkins/pickles served in the U.S. I was told there are many ways of preparing this Spreewald delicacy.

I wended on a rented bicycle along some of the area’s many miles of sylvan hiking and biking trails. While on the trails, I saw Eurasian cranes feeding in the fields, the black woodpecker hammering into birch trees and a fat coypu, which is a large rodent similar in appearance to a capybara or a beaver. Typically they should not be there. Apparently, they escaped in the 1920s from private collections.

The Sorbians, or Sorbs, also are known as the Wends, and there is a diaspora population of them centered in Serbin, Texas. “Serbin” means “Sorbian land” in Sorbian.

Lübbenau is about five or six stations south of Berlin on the express train. Two stops before it was a stop called Brand Tropical Islands, which did not have a Sorbian name, and I guess the guardians of the language cannot be bothered to devise one.

The train rushed past the Brand Tropical Islands station, but I did spoot a huge tarpaulin-covered, hangar-size creation stuck in the middle of a field, while looking for Eurasian cranes out of the window.

This is Brand Tropical Islands, and it looks as out of place as Las Vegas does in the Mojave Desert and a coypu does in Mitteleuropa. In fact, it does occupy a former airship hangar known as The Aerium that is the largest free-standing/self-supporting hall on the planet, large enough for Germany’s highest waterslide, Balinese, Samoan and Thai longhouses and villages, and a rainforest with more than 50,000 plants.

It opened in 2004 and has comfort, premium and designer hotel rooms, suites and junior suites; adventure and premium lodges; safari, lodge, luxury and premium tents, teepees, holiday homes and camping pitches.

Photographs I have seen of its “Amazonia” sea, which is outdoors, appear to lend it the size of a sea, or indeed the Amazon.

If you are tawdry in arriving, do not worry, as if parking is full the resort can open up another 2,000 spaces. Just ask.

Chances are you will not be handed a metal room key.

One smiling guest at a time
Last Tuesday, I had dinner with a dear friend from New York City who works for a major beauty products house.

She was staying at The Langham, London, a fine address opposite BBC Broadcasting House, and as part of her agenda gave a talk in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms.

When she finished, she accidentally left her glasses on the table, but she was reunited with them later on. The hotel staff realized who they belonged to and put them back in her room along with a microfiber glasses’ cleaning cloth and a small note.

My friend mentioned this twice, and it very much pleased her, which I am sure the hotel would love to know as it no doubt reaffirms what it—and many other properties—do every day to make themselves stand out from the competition.


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