Tuesday

Travel Germany. Visit Rühstädt: Europe's largest stork town

Everybody wants to get off-the-beaten track, the good news is, that it is so easy in Germany. Rühstädt is a small town in the Prignitz region of Germany, located in the north-western tip of the state of Brandenburg and directly adjacent to the states of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt. The serene town with only 240 residents is located in the heart of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve River Landscape Elbe-Brandenburg. Near the town, the rivers Havel and Elbe meet. Rühstädt, now famous for the high number of resident white storks has the largest stork colony in Central Europe. The white storks are one of Europe's wildlife highlights.

In the centre of Rühstädt is a heritage listed castle with a beautiful park and old trees. It now houses a wellness hotel. The small village church with the epitaphs of local noble families, a carved altar, and a reconstructed Wagner organ sits right on the main road and adds to the sweet-as-ripe-pears country atmosphere.




The region you drive through is mainly agricultural used flat land, forests and heath with meadows, and idyllic rivers and streams. The fact that it is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Germany makes it feel like Namibia. It sounds somewhat odd ... it feels like Namibia without the summer heat of course. Sometimes the landscape even looks like Botswana. A trip to the Prignitz, exactly halfway between Hamburg and Berlin, is a journey into the past. Time seems to stand still, facades and market squares of towns have been renovated gloriously after the reunification of the two Germanys, and no one knows exactly what is going to happen next, it is simply magical.

In case you wonder what 'Prignitz' means, it was first mentioned in a document in 1349. One possible translation, coming from the Slavic, is 'inaccessible forest area'. It is easy to reach from Berlin and as sleepy as sleepy can be.



Nesting storks: One of Europe’s summer wildlife highlights

The white-stork has white plumage and parts of the wing-tops are black. The beak and the legs are red. The beak length is 14 to 19 centimetres, whereas the beak of the female is shorter than that of the male. Juvenile birds can be distinguished from the adults by their blackish beak. The stork, standing at about 80 centimetres high and weighing up to 4400 grams, has a wingspan of up to two meters and stretches his neck straightforward when flying. On average, white storks turn eight to ten years old.

 

White stork data for Brandenburg was first collected in 1934; 30 years later and ever since the stock development of white storks has been recorded by volunteer conservationists in Brandenburg. During the GDR times, in the 1970s, locals began to assist the storks, with building nest platforms. In 2007 there were 206 nesting pairs with four juveniles and 20 nesting pairs with five juveniles; In contrast, in 2016 there were only 29 nesting pairs in Brandenburg with four juveniles and one with five juveniles.

The main causes of fluctuations in breeding results are the different arrival times of breeding partners, lack of food due to the agricultural intensification, the loss of fallow land and field crops (as in grain and/or corn) with high insect and vole population, and the increased energy crop cultivation (used to make biofuels). In addition to the lack of food, the weather plays a role too, heavy rainfall with cold spells has a particularly catastrophic effect. Measures to reduce the decline of white storks are the preservation and improvement of food areas and the biocide-free use in feeding habitats (biocide is poison, eg pesticide).

Rühstädt, now famous for the high number of resident white storks and the largest stork colony in Central Europe has been awarded the title “European Stork Village” by the initiative European Natural Heritage Foundation, in short EuroNatur, in 1996. EuroNatur works with scientists, conservationists, farmers, and politicians who exchange knowledge and work together across borders, to preserve the European endangered wild animals and landscapes in all its diversity.

Back to Rühstädt. The village is surrounded by vast landscapes extensively used meadows and pastures, cultural landscape and ponds and river valleys which occasionally experience floodings. Residents of the village lovingly take care of their feathered friends and there is hardly a property that has no nesting aid for storks installed on its roof. And the black-and-white birds feel truly welcomed. More than 30 stork couples build their nests here each spring. The nearby meadows of the river Elbe are a paradise for storks, an ideal place to find enough food for their offspring. Even if the summers are dry and sunny, the storks will find enough food here.

Like the town attracts storks, the storks attract visitors. During the summer months, stork-fans hunt the numerous storks nests found on Rühstädt roofs with binoculars and a camera.


A self-guided stork-walk through Rühstädt

Park on the parking ground on Neuhausstraße (free of charge).

Start on Rühstädter Dorfstraße – turn left into Am Brink – turn left, walk a short way through the park of the castle – keep on walking straight onto the street Am Schloß – visit the "Stork House" of the stork club, turn left onto Rühstädter Dorfstraße – keep on walking along the little church and turn right into the Restaurant Storchenhof (Rühstädter Dorfstraße 11) to drink coffee and eat cake. This is a proper off the beaten path experience, keep in mind you are in rural Germany and enjoy the cake. Walk back to Neuhausstraße and walk to the NABU visitor center Rühstädt that houses the permanent exhibition "Globetrotter Adebar". Adebar is a nickname for storks.








The centre offers information on the nature of the UNESCO biosphere reserve as well as the well-travelled feathered summer guests. Here you can find out what storks eat other than frogs and where they spend the winter. I find out that transmitters report their whereabouts via satellite. With the help of a live camera, you can watch the storks on the roof of the Visitor Center, and also see how they brood and feed their young in June and July. There are also tours on offer, simply arrange an appointment; a regular tour takes place every Saturdays night between 8pm and 10pm.

Visitor Center Rühstädt. Neuhausstraße 9. 19322 Rühstädt. Hours: Daily 9.30am to 6pm, Monday closed. Tickets: EUR 1.50, EUR 3.50 for families. Parking. Customer restroom. Accessible for people with disabilities.


Top tip Rühstädt

Bring binoculars.

Best time to visit Rühstädt

A trip into rural Germany is beautiful at pretty much every time of the year. Autumns are wet but days can also feel late summer-ish with temperatures around ten to thirteen degrees Celsius. Winters can be snowy, icy cold with temperatures around zero degrees Celsius and well below zero. If you would like to see the storks plan to visit in June and July. The weather should be mild and warm with temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius during the day.

How to get to Rühstädt

By train. Hourly from Berlin with the RE2 (Regio Bahn) towards Wittenberge / Wismar alternatively to Bad Wilsnack or Wittenberge. From there either follow the signs to Storchendorf Rühstädt or take the bus to Rühstädt.

By car. B5 (Berlin-Hamburg) from the north to Perleberg or from the southeast / Berlin to Kletzke. From there via Bad Wilsnack, Groß Lüben and Bälow to Rühstädt. From the west via Salzwedel and Wittenberge to Rühstädt. From the south on the B107 (Havelberg / Pritzwalk) and from Havelberg through the Elbe villages Quitzöbel, Legde, Abbendorf, Gnevsdorf to Rühstädt.

What to take home from the trip to Rühstädt

The stork travels up to 15,000 kilometres each year, and according to legend, not only delivers children but is also a wise creature. The well-travelled stork stands for cosmopolitanism and encourages us to be open-minded, and to embrace change and the unknown fearlessly.



More UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Visits


More Brandenburg


From Berlin with love

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Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.