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The German Stork Route

Germany's Stork Route, a unique 459 km, 286 mile, scenic journey that attracts popular visitors from across the world, begins in the "Biosphere Reserve Lower Saxony Elbe Valley". A UNESCO recognized biosphere reserve.

Following along both sides of the Elbe River, and passing through more than a hundred picturesque historic villages and towns in five federal states:

Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Lower-Saxony. And all of them with sizable populations of "Stoerche".

Germany is criss-crossed with different tourist theme routes, so you don't only come across storks nesting, wading through fields and marshes foraging for food or flying over head, because der Deutschen Storchenstrasse connects with other routes including:

Niedersaechsische Spargelstrasse, "Lower Saxony Asparagus Route", Deutsche Fachwerkstrasse, "German Half Timbered House Road" and Alte Salzstrasse, the "Old Salt Route".

Here are just five of the historic towns to be seen along with nesting storks when following the "Stork in Flight" route signs, that begins with "Lauenburg an der Elbe".

It is a picturesque old shipping town on the banks of the River Elbe, and the narrow streets and half timbered buildings of "Lauenburg an der Elbe" go back to the 17th century and earlier. Including 13th century Maria-Magdalenen Church and what remains of Lauenburg Castle, which was built in 1181 and still seen from far away. So it must have been an impressive sight in the Middle Ages.

If it possible to call a canal lock system "beautiful" then this describes Lauenburg's "Palmschleuse". On the International Canal Monuments List it dates from 1398, was part of the medieval Stecknitz-Delvenau-Kanal and still carried traffic until 1900.

Boizenburg on the right bank of the Elbe was first documented in 1171, and as it lay just within what was East Germany, an area known as "The Inner German Border", it was isolated during the Cold War, with its few remaining occupants under constant Stasi observation.

The DDR regime left much of the Elbe Valley region unchanged, the landscape as well as architecture and infrastructure of Boizenburg, "Klein Venedig des Nordens", so the area's forests are amongst the most successful habitats for storks. Surrounded by the original moat and connected to the river by a harbor, the Altstadt, Old Town, is filled with baroque half-timbered and brick buildings.

Still on the right hand side of the Elbe is 13th century "Ruehstaedt", known as the "European Stork Village", Europaeisches Storchendorf.

The village only has a population of about 200, but the ideal conditions mean every year between 30 and 40 White Stork pairs arrive there to breed and raise their young.

Ruehstaedt is the center of the protected River Landscape Elbe-Brandenburg; headquarters for the Biosphere Reserve where, as with most of the other areas, it is not only possible to learn about the birds and their conservation, but also see live cams of the village's storks nesting. These remain "online" until they, and their young, begin the 26 day journey to their winter quarters in the fall.

"Hitzacker" is also in the Mecklenburg Elbe Valley Nature Park; a part of the UNESCO biosphere reserve, the "Lower Saxony Asparagus Route" and the "Half Timbered House Road".

A beautiful small town on the left side of the Elbe River; its half-timbered buildings all with notices giving their very different histories.

The "Hitzacker Archaeological Center", an archaeological open air museum showing the region's Bronze Age settlements, holds hands-on "How-To" courses covering the region's past lifestyle.

Everything from ancient baking traditions to casting bronze.

Compact Hitzacker is quick and easy to walk around, exploring the old town as well as the riverside, then climbing the Weinberg, the local hill and a vantage point with a great view of the entire town, Elbe River and the stork nesting and foraging grounds.

And now "Lueneburg". An architectural gem, with many buildings from its medieval heyday as a beneficiary of the lucrative salt industry, when there was heavy demand for its salt, used to preserve herring caught along the neighboring north sea coast; the Baltic and North Seas.

The city was a major part of the Old Salt Route, Alte Salzstrasse, the medieval trade route used for transporting staples, including "White Gold" - that salt.

And looking much as it did when he studied there is the Michaeliskirche, St. Michael's church, where Johann Sebastian Bach was at school between 1700 and 1702; on his way to becoming an organ virtuoso.

Although Neanderthal and Bronze artifacts have been found the city was not recorded until 956 AD, and luckily its historical buildings were not damaged during WWII so it didn't require much work to restore them to their original state

"Lueneburg Heath" is the largest remaining heathland in Northern Germany. A historic cultural landscape with ancient farm houses; mainly a nature reserve where white storks live together with rare black storks. Like so much of the wildlife that lives on the Heath it is somewhere they feel at home.

The German Stork Route, der Deutschen Storchenstrasse, is a wonderful journey through history and nature.

Images: Five Stork's Nests on a Ruehstaedt Roof, photographer Matthias Trautsch - Boizenburg and its Historic Moat, photographer Pardin - "Dat ole Huus", Wilsede, Lueneburg Heath, photographer Nikanos.....all via de.Wikipedia

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