Chronicle of an Apple-Picking Excursion

Although I sometimes feel like I don’t get out of Berlin enough, I have to say that when a daytrip finally occurs (after being mentioned briefly and wistfully, discussed in truth, and then planned, talked about, and obsessed over for weeks on end) it is so glorious and transcendent as to make one wish it could last forever. And so was yesterday’s apple-picking excursion to Werder on Havel, a small, strange little East-German town about forty minutes West of Berlin (the Easts and Wests get confusing I know, but trust me) that remains sleepy and quiet and decidedly off-the-map until the end of April and beginning of May, when their Baumblütenfest draws crowds looking to sample their famous Obstwein—a fruit wine known for its deliciousness as much as for its absurdly high alcohol content.

Since I had been to the small town on the Havel lake for the festival, and had a memory of it that was somewhat unclouded by alcohol intake (well, at least the first couple of hours I was there), I got to enjoy the sense of going back in a new season, and attaching a new memory to an old name. We started at around 11 am, on a train full of daytrippers clinging fast to their bikes and dreaming of places like Potsdam and Wannsee. I was particularly charmed by the friendly, white-haired man who seemed to make it his business to keep everyone organized, asking each person who got on with a bike where he or she was going, and directing us all where to lay our Fahrräder in order to maximize the space.

When we got off the train and had found each other again (at the last minute, seeing every single car packed, we had cycled down the platform frantically looking for space), we realized that one of us had missed the train and would have to take the next one. We cycled down the familiar road, filled with houses half colorful, with beautiful elaborate moldings and painted doors, and half falling apart, proclaiming proudly their lasting allegiance to the decadence of the DDR. At the center of town we found a café, and sat drinking coffee and beer (yes, at around noon on a Saturday this is of course normal) and chatting until our lost compatriot showed up. It turned out that prices at the café were strangely high for a former East German location, and when one of us asked for a kinderkartoffeln—a portion of potatoes especially for children—we were scoffed at and the waiter would let us order no more.

Finally we were on our way, biking out of town until the houses spread out and there was only blue sky above us and ahead of us—it reminded me a lot of biking around Long Island, and I kept on believing there was sand and surf just around the next bend, in spite of the fact that the road kept going up and all the houses had orchards. We stopped at a fork in the road, completely lost and unsure, and all three of the boys pulled out some type of phone/navigation device, making me feel as though perhaps we were cheating. But it did give us a chance to have some cookies.

We finally called up the orchard we had planned on going to and requested directions, which of course pretty much amounted to “it’s very easy; just follow the signs.” After biking the way we thought it was for another five minutes or so, we finally came upon another orchard, the proprietors of which gave us directions but were loathe to see us leave. “Stay here,” they said. “Is our orchard not lovely and relaxing? We also have cake and fruit wine!” How could we refuse?

We parked our bikes and unloaded our bags, only to find that we had free use of their deep, sturdy baskets with shoulder straps (for maximum authenticity and photogenicity).

We began several hours of picking and frolicking, during which pictures were taken, ladders were climbed, and apples were sampled (according to their color-coded system). After about five minutes I took off my shoes along with two others, and we proceeded to tiptoe pleasantly around the orchard, old apples already fallen off the tree exploding into mush under our feet (mine are still dyed red from the days activities).

We took our haul and sat down at tables under a tent for cake and coffee, paging through books about apples and apple recipes for some inspiration. I immediately declared that I would make a pie, and the anticipation is thick for tomorrow’s baking activities.

After weighing our spoils and paying up, we collected a few bottles of fresh cider and obstwein and headed straight for the lake, where we sat and drank our wine and played cards. One of our group stripped down to boxers and indulged in a bit of swimming…

…and then everyone got cold and we headed back to the train.

Over the past six hours, for some strange reason, even as I was surrounded by glorious fruit in brilliant colors, only one word kept echoing in my head: “meat.” I was desperate for fleisch, and over the course of the day, convinced four of my companions to come to Gästhaus Henne, an old established restaurant in Kreuzberg that only serves one thing: chicken. I remarked to them that every time I want to go there, the same thing happens. I mention it tentatively as one of the greatest eating experiences ever, and perhaps one person signs on. I talk about how the only thing they serve is milk-fried half-chickens (with maybe a bit of potato or cabbage salad on the side) and I’ve got someone else. Then I describe how you wait ravenously and boisterously over beer, and then the whole table gets quiet as you dig in—there is barely a word spoken until the chicken has been devoured and only a pile of bones lies on the plate in front of you. By then I have, if not the entire group, at least four or five people on my side. We got off the train at Ostbahnhof to be closer to Kreuzberg and headed straight to Henne. What transpired was pretty much the scene I just described.

At last I biked home exhausted but overjoyed, and unpacked my three kilos of gorgeous apples, loading them onto plates and into a basket and standing the bottle of cider next to it in a perfect day’s tableau: