There are days in the Alte Land when you get out of the car and have the impression that you've driven into a blanket impressionist painting in white and pink: left, right, front, back - blooming apple trees are everywhere. In the region between Hamburg and the North Sea grow Elstar, Braeburn, Cox and all the other well-known classics, but also varieties such as Piros, Appache, Collina and Astramel, which you may never have heard of. In any case, they know how to grow apples in the Alte Land; they hang on three-quarters of all trees, and every third apple eaten in Germany comes from here. But cherries, pears, peaches and apricots are also grown. All together, they make the region Europe's largest contiguous fruit-growing area.
It all started 700 years ago: Back then, the monks of the medieval Saint George's Monastery in Stade cultivated the first fruit trees (perhaps it happened earlier, in any case it is first mentioned in a document in 1317). Because this apparently worked wonderfully, soon farmers in the region also began to plant fruit trees, and since then more have been added year after year and century after century. They now cover an area of 10,000 hectares. When they bloom, there is no more beautiful sight in northern Germany.
In general, the Alte Land is one that sometimes comes across as enchanted with its lush green meadows along the Elbe dike, the half-timbered houses with their thatched roofs and the old windmills. That buzzing in the air? Is probably bees. Thousands of colonies are brought in every year to pollinate the trees. Fruit growing is also a logistical masterpiece in other respects. There are 400 varieties of cherries alone that need to be nurtured and cared for, including several that only grow here. They are called Kleine Blanke, Müggenbeine or Uncle Jakob Seine. Some species are over 200 years old.
And then again, the Old Country can be quite young. Innovative bakers and chefs in the cafes and restaurants come up with the wildest and most delicious creations and ways of preparing them. And on the fruit farms and in the farm stores you can have the originals packed by the kilo. To take home, so that you still have something of the Old Country at home.
This is how you get to the Alte Land by train: Plan arrival.
Cover photo: In spring, the Alte Land is a sea of blossoms with many delicate spots © AdobeStock/powell83
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