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The German Stork Route

Germany's Stork Route, a unique 459 km, 286 mile, scenic journey popular with 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, as der Deutschen Storchenstrasse connects with others 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, beginning with Lauenburg an der Elbe.

This is a picturesque old shipping town on the banks of the River Elbe with narrow streets and half timbered buildings that go back to the 17th century and earlier. Including 13th century Maria-Magdalenen Church. While what remains of Lauenburg Castle, built in 1181, can still be seen from far away so must have been an impressive sight during the Middle Ages.

If it possible to call a canal lock system "beautiful" then it describes Lauenburg's "Palmschleuse". Now on the International Canal Monuments List it dates from 1398, and 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 it lay just within what was East Germany, in an area known as "The Inner German Border", so was isolated during the Cold War. Its few remaining occupants under constant Stasi observation.

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

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

There are only 250 villagers and ideal conditions mean between 30 and 40 White Stork pairs raise their young there each year.

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

Also in the Mecklenburg Elbe Valley Nature Park and part of the UNESCO biosphere reserve, as well as on the "Lower Saxony Asparagus Route" and the "Half Timbered House Road", is Hitzacker.

On the left side of the Elbe River, and a beautiful small town of half-timbered buildings that come complete with notices giving their various histories.

The "Hitzacker Archaeological Center" is an archaeological open air museum not only showing the region's Bronze Age settlements, but holding hands-on "How-To" courses covering the lifestyle of the time. Everything from ancient baking traditions to casting bronze.

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

And now Lueneburg, a tourist attraction and gem, still with many of the buildings from its medieval heyday as a beneficiary of the valuable salt industry. There was heavy demand for its salt to preserve the 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, a medieval trade route used for transporting staples, including "white gold" - that salt.

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

Although Neanderthal and Bronze artifacts have been found the city was first officially recorded in 956 AD, and although none of its historical buildings were damaged during WWII gradually all have been restored to their original condition.

Lueneburg Heath is the largest remaining heathland in Northern Germany. A historic cultural landscape with ancient farm houses and mostly nature reserve, where together with the white storks are black storks. Rare birds, but like so much of the wildlife there the Heath is somewhere where they feel at home.

The German Stork Route, der Deutschen Storchenstrasse, 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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