The Great Sassenburg Circular Route

Christina/ August 28, 2023/ The daily grind, Culture

On the Great Sassenburg Circular Route, there is a lot to discover. The over 50 km long bicycle tour passes by the moor railway in Westerbeck, through the Aller Valley Nature Reserve, and both the Tankum and Bernstein lakes are crossed. It follows along the Elbe Side Canal (ESK), passing by the Great Moor Museum near Neudorf-Platendorf. The circular route is very well signposted. Many information boards also introduce the interested cyclist to the history of the six places that the bike path connects.

Starting at the Moor Railway
We start our tour at the Moor Railway in Westerbeck. The monuments in the village, along with two oaks, commemorate the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. The victory over Napoleon at that time was celebrated on its 100th anniversary with a boulder. We pass the Brockenblick and arrive in Dannenbüttel. At Maschplatz, three lime trees and eleven oaks were planted to commemorate the victory. Prominent men and women from that time lend their names to the trees. One of them is Johanna Katharina Elisabeth Stegen, to whom the following statement is attributed: “A rare battle was seen in the gates of Lüneburg, that the fight was not lost, happened through maiden’s service.” Female power from the 19th century?

Sports and Fun at Tankumsee
We cycle through the beautiful Aller Valley Nature Reserve. At the end, we are right in front of Lake Tankum. The wonderful late summer weather makes the lake shine. We take our first drink break and enjoy the tranquility. We continue cycling up to the Elbe Side Canal (ESK), which was completed in 1976. We are on our way to Grußendorf and the Bernstein Lake. We observe a few ships passing by very leisurely, and their calmness transfers to us. It’s a bit like the Tennessee Whiskey by Jack Daniel’s, where dock workers Willburn Rutledge and Billy Dunn are in no hurry. To achieve the best, as the legendary commercial says, you should do absolutely nothing.

We learn from an information board that the ESK is allegedly called the Heide Suez Canal or Heide Highway in colloquial terms. Two terms that were unfamiliar to me until now.

Toad in Shock
We maintain our leisurely pace and initially follow the ESK, later returning to the forest towards Grußendorf. Suddenly, Holger points to something on the ground. It’s a toad that was about to cross the path. When it presumably sensed the ground disturbance, it goes into shock, pretending to be dead so that its predators think it’s deceased. Its posture shows that it was moving just moments ago. The right leg is stretched backward, as in a walking motion that suddenly froze. And there really is no movement. We can’t even tell if it’s breathing. It’s fascinating to see the protective mechanisms nature has developed.

Water Skiing at Bernsteinsee
From Grußendorf, we continue cycling to Stüde. Here we stop at Bernsteinsee, a former gravel pit turned recreational area since 1971. With the beautiful weather, water skiing is in full swing. Especially the gentlemen are taking a break here. It’s understandable, with the groupies by the water’s edge. We enjoy the scene on the sparkling water from a bench. There’s no rush here either. With the wind, the beach, and the water, a coastal feeling quickly sets in. We take a deep breath again before slowly and surely starting our way back.

The “Tiger Cage” above the Elbe Side Canal
On the way, there are a few more highlights waiting for us, such as the “Tiger Cage,” the “Bloody Bones,” and the Museum at the Great Moor. Initially, we can’t imagine what the term “Tiger Cage” refers to. Then, the resolution is right in front of us: it’s a bridge that crosses the Elbe Side Canal. It was built in 1971 and renovated between 2010 and 2011. It connects Charlottenhof with Stüde. The structure is a type of truss steel bridge, hence the name “Tiger Cage.”

At the “Bloody Bones”
However, we are curious about the “Bloody Bones.” It sounds delightfully eerie and sparks the imagination. Rightly so. The street name “Am Knüppeldamm” already suggests something. In the past, at the intersection of Knüppeldamm and Arnoldshof, there was apparently a notorious pub named “Zum Wahrenholzer Moor.” According to legend, there were frequent physical fights among the patrons, fueled by alcohol. So, fists flew until the bones were bloody.

A second tale claims that the nickname arose from the rivalry between two families who settled their disputes at this location. The fact is, however, that the peat workers received their weekly wages on Saturdays and would then gather at the Wahrenholzer Moor. The famous inn was later called “Zum Heidewald” but was closed in the late 1990s.

“Great Moor” Museum
Just when we least expected it, we are surprised by another historical highlight, the “Great Moor” Museum. Three historical information boards here fascinate me, in particular. They tell of King George III of Hanover, who made an agreement with settlers from the villages of Neudorf and Platendorf. It concerned the transport of peat and a toll station. The absolutist ruler expected good income from this and the settlers hoped for their freedom. In reality, both sides were disappointed. While the king only lost money, the settlers’ lives were at stake. They lived in poverty and suffered hunger.

Rescue eventually came in the form of August Wegener, who opened a glass factory in Triangel. He forced the king to establish a soup kitchen. However, the settlers wanted more than just food; they wanted their independence. George III, however, remained unmoved, so the settlers eventually fled to America.

The Revolution of 1848
Neudorf-Platendorf, as it is called now, has seen eventful times. The people’s desire for freedom was unstoppable. It would still take seventy more years for the dictatorship in Germany to end. The shipping canal, which only served the king, was filled in. Instead, a village road for transporting goods and several bridges, a total of 114, were built. The constructions, including elementary schools, were financed by the citizens themselves.

Refugees in Neudorf-Platendorf
Then came the refugees. From today’s perspective, this number is particularly interesting. After World War II, Neudorf-Platendorf was home to 1,074 people, of whom 686 were refugees. Displaced people and locals quickly became friends, some for a lifetime. After this impressive history lesson, nothing more remains. After three kilometers, we reach the Moor Railway station and our destination.

The Moor Railway is actually still active, albeit only for tourist purposes. However, it wasn’t running this Saturday. But that’s alright too, as it leaves us with another destination in this beautiful area and a reason to come back again.

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