* Click HERE to read the article with the full set of photographs.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I hear echoes of a saying: if you are going to go on an adventure, start with your own back yard. While living in India I found this to be very true, and all I had to do was step outside the gate and watch the people pass by going about their business. In Manila, I stumbled on the marvelous treasure of Laguna Bay from the Lower Bicutan side, literally in my back yard, a few minutes away from where I spent my teenage years. Bangkok offered me a fantastic park that was full of life and street life like no other. Now, here I am in Berlin Spandau, discover step by step what my back yard has to offer.
Looking at the map the day I moved in, I realized I was not only surrounded by water, but a huge field of sorts. This was a discovery that was postponed until I had my first guests over on Sunday and we went for a walk after lunch. None of us was German by birth or cultural origin, and yet, there we were, five people doing the most German thing possible – the quintessential Sonntags Verdauungsspaziergang (Sunday digestive walk). How could we not have? The weather was perfect, clear blue skies, sunshine, and even decent temperatures to ditch the jackets along the way, well, at least for a few minutes. In a matter of minutes we found ourselves in a nature reserve, the Tiefwerder Wiese, a huge field that is an ecosystem unto itself.
This ecosystem is simply oozing with life in flora and fauna alike. Birds galore, dogs everywhere (this is Germany, so yes, with their owners and mostly on a leash), and fish in the river. We were unanimous in our thoughts: how can this still be Berlin? Well, it is and a very special part of it as well. I have come to embrace the unexpected here, but I never counted on running into a herd of Asian water buffalos, who live in a special 14-hectar enclosure and seem to be happy as peas in a pod.
I thought I would miss Zehlendorf and the Grunewald so much by moving all the way out here, but with the Tiefwerder Wiese, the Havel river, and now the buffalos (if I insisted, I suppose could refer to them as Philippine Carabaos, but they are not the right breed… ), my new backyard is a haven on so many levels.
You start out walking through the quaint residential area that is more of a sailing village than anything else. I still have to wrap my brain around the fact that I am surrounded by three, yes, three! rowing clubs, one sailing club, a beach volley club, and a tennis club. Ugh, disgustingly healthy neighborhood. Once you cross that, you end up on another little bridge that belongs to what is referred to here as Little Venice, and reminds me very much of Holland, with the little houses along the river and most homes accessible only by foot paths or boat.
Beyond Little Venice, however, is nature in pristine form and depending on which path you take, you will end up in the forest as well. I kept expecting to see Little Red Riding Hood jump out from behind the moss-covered trees, but instead we encountered assorted walkers and cyclists. Note to self: time to get a bike!