Nature, when not ferocious, can be the most soothing caress
I had only heard the name Seehausen a week before and now the entire research team of Zentrum Moderner Orient was in the train going northeast from Berlin. Even the most serious bibliophiles were showing some excitement and telling stories of past travels. For the first time I heard how some of them had travelled from the former East Germany to the West. Half an hour out of Berlin, the suburban landscape changed to green rolling hills which were soon dotted with blue pools of water. Slowly the blue pools became huge lakes on both sides of the train track. In seventy minutes or so, we were at the Seehausen railway station. On both sides of the track were wooden country houses in green fields. Our hotel, more like a family-run guesthouse, was on the main road of the town on the left side (coming from Berlin) of the track. The entrance of the hotel had a display of homemade jams, jellies, and marmalades and we were all given keys to our individual rooms. The entire wooden structure of the hotel felt as if the hotel was built to last for centuries.
The room that became my lot had an attic, with two extra beds in it, above the main sleeping area. The first-floor window looked out on the roofs of other country houses. I was dreading the fact that soon, instead of roaming around the idyllic fields, the entire team was going to huddle together around huge conference tables and discuss the performance in the previous year. I started hatching plans for a short escape early next morning after I saw a wooden jetty with canoes roped to wooden poles. I talked to Robert Pelzer, a research assistant, about rowing through the lake behind the hotel early next morning. He was enthused about the plan and also narrated some of his rowing adventures in Sweden and France. We both booked a canoe at the reception for the next day at 6 am.
The country night was more peaceful than the city night and after a good night's sleep I was up at 5 am. After putting on my thickest sweater, I went downstairs for a cup of coffee and getting the canoe and paddles ready. Soon Robert Pelzer also joined me in the main hall. We asked for the two sets of paddles and walked to the jetty and loosened the rope tying the canoe to the dock. The water was still and transparent, showing schools of fish swimming near the banks of the lake. We both rowed silently to the centre of the lake, with the occasional string of words about rowing. The serene, still morning had made the surface of the lake so still that there was no noise of any waves. After rowing for a while, we reached a narrow passage with reeds growing on all sides. I asked Robert to pull up the paddles and enjoy the silence. As the ripples caused by our rowing settled, silence enveloped us. The stillness of the water and reeds wiped away all traces of the need to use words to feel alive. We both sat there for half an hour without uttering a word. I felt that I had to visit the lake again without any meetings and agendas interrupting the rowing. With this resolution, I reluctantly asked Robert if we should head back and get ready for the first session of the meeting.
After I came back to Berlin, I shared the experience with a friend. Soon we were both planning another trip to spend the entire day rowing. In a month or so, we were back there and had a canoe for the entire day. We explored the wetlands, saw other jetties on the far side of the lake at one point and rowed there. On the other side of the lake were walking paths leading into the trees. Deep into the trees was a restaurant with German country style cuisine and coffee available for those who arrived from the lakeside or through the forest on pushbikes. We sat on the wooden benches outside and looked at the stretch of water to the right and left. I remembered the English word "fen" in one touristy brochure about the area. Now for the first time, I had seen how beautiful and serene a fen could be if the wetland was not just creating shallow marshes. There were about 230 lakes in the Uckermark region which were larger than a hectare. The largest lake covered more than 1000 square kilometres. And we had only explored one or two square kilometres yet and were feeling more peaceful than ever. We talked about our everyday problems as if they were city and job problems, out of our present surroundings. Nature, when not ferocious, can be the most soothing caress for the human soul.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated January 25, 2009