Manfred Ostermann: Après ski, cart and more in the midst of the Lüneburg Heath

As pleasant as holidays are, in many families it would be easier for a camel to pass through the proverbial eye of a needle than to satisfy everyone’s holiday demands. Sun worshippers in the fa­mily might like to ride the waves in a tropical setting, while those seeking more activity would prefer fast-paced winter fun on slopes guaranteed to be snow covered. The adventurers want to feel the breeze through their hair created by an Andes condor with a three-metre wingspan, while safari-lovers prefer dreaming of an encounter with a soft­­­­­­-eyed giraffe. Those just looking to relax want to be drawn around the idyllic Heide landscape in a horse-drawn carriage. The young and restless find this rather boring and would rather take a wild ride through the desert, launched by 1,000 horsepower from zero to 100 in 2.4 seconds. In order to satisfy all family members, one most likely would have to book a trip around the world, or – go on holiday in the Lüneburg Heath!

There was a time when travellers preferred taking a detour around Europe’s largest moorland located between the Elbe and Weser Rivers. “…I was certainly not expecting to see a beautiful landscape, but I never expected that the terrain would be so miserable. I thought it was the worst countryside I had ever come across on such a scale. The soil of this countryside is a vast desert of sand, quite devoid of nature, with stretches of heather or drought-stricken blades of grass”. This less than flattering verdict can be found in travel logs written in 1797 by Karl G. Küttner on his travels through the Lüneburg Heath, expressing what many of his contemporaries felt at the close of the 18th century.

One hundred years later this disdain turned into pure enthusiasm not uncommon in the age of romanticism. The hated desert in the triangle between Hamburg, Hannover and Bremen turned into the “Lüneburg Heath, the beautiful country”, in which mainly the folks from the neighbouring towns “went out and under” and found interesting things along the wayside, as a well-known song about the Heath describes. In particular during the flowering period in August, when the heather unfolds its violet splendour, many people flock to the Heath for rest and recreation. So many in fact that the Heath poet Her­­mann Löns (1866 – 1914) was prompted to write “It rained humans, it hailed people” and equally prompted the na­­tional train service to schedule special trains on weekends to take hundreds of thousands of people to the quaint Heath villages of Egestorf, Döhle and Hützel.

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The popularity of the Heath was so widespread at the beginning of the 20th century that shrewd Hamburg real estate agents negotiated with the impo­­­v­­­erished Heath farmers on the sale of land for holiday cottages surrounding the Wilseder mountain. At this point the committed Heath pastor Wilhelm Bode pulled the emergency brake. His efforts to protect the Heath landscape resulted in the founding of the association Verein Naturschutzpark e.V. (VNP – Association for the Protection of Nature), in 1909, which for more than 100 years – today on behalf of the Niedersachsen state government– has maintained, protected and developed the Lüneburg Heath nature reserve.

Endless heath landscape, mystic juniper groves and gnarled forests, grazing herds of moorland sheep and half-timbered houses crouching below mighty thatched roofs – the drawing power of the ages-old cultural landscape on glacial soil remains unbroken to this day. It is the nucleus for a modern tourism industry, which is organised in the counties of Celle, Harburg, Heidekreis, Lüneburg and Uelzen under the roof of the Lüneburger Heide GmbH. The Heath, along with the North Sea and the Harz region, is the most popular holiday destination in Niedersachsen. The tourism sector in the Heidekreis (Heath district) with their umbrella brand Erlebniswelt Lüneburger Heide GmbH, accounted for 3.2 million overnight stays, 8.5 million day trippers , a turnover of 488 million euros and job equivalency rate of 12,000 full-time jobs.

The foundation for this booming sector was laid by countless small and tiny companies — families in the Heath who joined ranks during the season and farmers who sold all their cattle to make room for summer vacationers. They furnished guest rooms and apartments and shared their buckwheat cake with their guests on Sundays. They still exist — these family-run private guest houses, vacation on a farm and farm cafés with home-made baked goods. However, they have adapted to modern demands; they are comfortable and certified according to very stringent guidelines. These farms are very popular with Heath tourists, but they are regarded as somewhat of a “grey area” with regard to visitor statistics, which include only accommodation establishments with more than nine beds.

More than three million overnight guests in the Heidekreis were counted in the larger accommodation facilities alone. The selection includes rustic village guest houses, fancy wellness country mansions or star hotels as well as plain apartments, charming vacation homes, safari lodges and alpine pine log cabins. Campers will also find many attractive locations in the Lüneburg Heath which are extremely comfortable, close to nature or equipped with a wide-ranging adventure experience.

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The traditional Heath vacationer puts on his hiking boots early in the morning, takes his backpack and hikes silently for hours through unspoiled nature. It’s not a cliché! In fact there are many of them; those who silently enjoy the fresh air, peace and quiet and solitude in the spacious Heath landscape. Still, they are not alone. Young families with children, adventurous groups of all ages, cyclists, riders, Nordic walkers and modern treasure hunters enjoy the diverse attractions that await them in the Lüneburg Heath and South Heath nature parks. They travel along the marked paths, enjoy themed tours and family adventure paths, or go GeoCaching; they set out on early morning birding expeditions with local rangers or accompany shepherds to a rendezvous with moorland sheep.

However, no active Heath vacation is complete without a snack or meal comprised of delicious specialities from the regional cooking. “Lang to un lat die dat smecken” (roughly “eat plenty and enjoy”) – this encouragement in Low German dialect to take a hearty portion and enjoy the great taste is used by the Lüneburg Heath nature reserve to promote regional cuisine in guest houses, restaurants and cafés. However, the same applies to the farm shops, dairies, cheesemakers, beekeepers, fishermen and bakers, where you can stock up on products from the Heath suited for a hearty picnic and for much more. In Niedersachsen there are lighthouses, not just along the North Sea.

They can also be found in the Lüneburg Heath: touristic highlights, whose light shines far beyond the region.

The amalgamation of amusement and adventure parks within a radius of 50 kilometres is unique in Europe. Here millions of people enjoy entertainment, fun and games in lively crowds.

Over one million visitors alone enjoy themselves annually at the Heide Park Resort Soltau, Northern Germany’s largest amusement and family park, featuring a pirates hotel and holiday camp. On 85 hectares guests discover perfect entertainment, from breath-taking excite­­ment in spectacular rides such as Colo­ssos, Scream or Desert Race, all the way to shows designed for the entire family.

The Hodenhagen Serengeti Park is a unique wildlife and amusement park on 200 hectares. It is a family-owned park, featuring more than 1,500 wild animals, 40 amusement attra­ctions and safari lod­ges. Visitors can discover the world of the African steppe in open­­air enclosures, up close to lions, tigers, giraffes and many more animals in the comfort of their own car or on one of the safari buses.

As one of the ten most species-rich zoos in the world, the Walsrode Weltvogelpark presents 2,400 birds from nearly 700 species on over 24 hectares in a blossoming park setting. Particularly popular is the direct contact with the birds in in the gigantic free-flight hall in the Tropical Forest Hall or during the spectacular outdoor flight shows.

In the Schwarze Berge and Lüneburger Heath wildlife parks, visitors can delve into the fauna of the Nordic climate zones and gaze at the bears, lynxes and elks. Excellent year-round snow conditions for skiers and tobogganers are guaranteed at the Heidegletscher (Heath glacier) in the Bispingen Snow Dome. The 300-metre-long indoor ski resort offers 23,500 square metres of the best snow conditions all year long for fast-paced downhill skiing and snowboarding; it features a polar tower for ice climbing and enjoyable après-ski. Right next door the future Formula 1 champions test their prowess at the cart track owned by race driver Ralf Schumacher. The diverse offerings in the Lüneburg Heath are rounded out by a leisurely stroll through the medieval inner cities of Celle or Lüneburg or Kneipp brand wellness and health in the SaLü Salztherme Lüneburg (salt baths) or in the Soltau-Therme (hot springs).

Ostermann_300dpi_4x5-(2)-KopieManfred Ostermann was born in 1958 in Detmold and studied law in Passau and Göttingen. Following the second state examination, he was county councilman and councillor in the district administration of Güstrow. Since 2002, Mr. Ostermann has been active in the Heide district, initially as first county councillor and since 2007 as district administrator.