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Here the gardens are blooming with life, there the barren landscape resembles that of an alien planet - if you see the places side by side, it is hard to imagine that the Twist Bible Garden, the Moor Museum and the Dalum-Wietmarscher Moor are barely ten kilometers apart: a tour full of contrasts.
We felt a bit strange just walking into a garden. But now we're standing here, in the middle of it, in front of a large bed of poppies, looking at the crinkly red blossoms. Silke comes out of the house and walks toward us, not to scare us away, but to greet us. Strangers are always welcome in her garden, the Twist Bible Garden.
"The church alone was no longer enough of a draw; we had to find another way to welcome the Twist congregation," says Dr. Silke Hirndorf. The biologist lives with her husband, the pastor, and three of their four children in the adjacent rectory and has a gardening business, among other things. The Bible garden is one of her works, so she knows it inside out.
This also benefits us, who are now a bit less of a stranger and have been invited for a cup of coffee in the small garden lounge. My friend Judith had already taken part in one of Silke's tours a few years ago and invited me to join her. When Silke offers to walk through the garden together, we accept enthusiastically.
Especially in summer, a visit is a feast for the senses. The garden hums with insects, is colorful and smells wonderful. In the Garden of the Nazarene, a garden where, among other things, biblical and symbolic plants grow, Silke steers unerringly toward a densely branched shrub with light green leaves and plucks off one of them. "This is a cistus," the biologist explains, holding the leaf out to us "Labdanum, an oily resin used for skin care and perfume production, is extracted from them." In Käthes Bauerngarten - the garden named after Katharina von Bora, Luther's wife - we stop for a long time in front of the peonies. "The Persians already planted the peonies in their gardens, but not as a purely ornamental plant," Silke tells us, plucking an ovary from the peony bush. "Once the seeds were ripe inside, they harvested them and pounded them with a mortar. The seeds are slightly poisonous and the paste is said to have helped against stuttering."
Dr. Hirndorf beams when she speaks. Full of energy, she walks through the gardens, plucking leaves here and there and greeting each fresh bud like a good friend.
"The Persians were the first to cultivate plants between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, they started garden culture. Even the first cultivated forms of the apple come from them," she says, nodding her head to the Ark of Fruit, a small meadow full of fruit trees where apricots grow alongside apple trees.
Even if Silke is not there, you can visit the gardens and learn a lot about the plants. Next to each plant there is a white sign with a QR code that links to the Bible Garden app.
In front of the entrance to an adjacent piece of forest is a large triangular wooden board with diagrams and drawings. The information board is part of the Moor Energy Experience Trail and describes the history of the forest and the formation of the raised bog. Why is the board located here? The municipality of Twist is located in the middle of the Moor-Veenland Nature Park, even if the landscape here is not as obvious as elsewhere.
If you look closely, however, you can feel and see it. The forest floor, for example, is quite soft and even the path that leads through the Nazarene's garden has sunk slightly over the years.
To learn more about the moor, we decide to visit the Moor Museum in Geeste. It is considered the leading moor museum in Europe and is only 20 minutes away by bike. Silke, who has worked there for a long time and can tell us a lot about it, spontaneously offers us to come along, which we gladly accept. On her tip, before we explore the 30-hectare site, we first stop at the museum café. There we order slightly nutty buckwheat pancakes with bacon, cranberry jam and applesauce, and sausages made from Bunten Bentheimer pork. Everything is regional, very regional in fact: The Bentheimer pigs grew up on the museum grounds.
Strengthened, we enter the entrance hall of the museum. In the modern, barrier-free building made of glass and stone, the settlement of the Emsland moors, the difficult living conditions and peat cutting are the subject of a large permanent exhibition. If you walk through the building, you reach the extensive museum grounds. This can be explored on foot along lawn and plank paths or by taking the black moor train, which travels to the most important points.
"Everyone has their favorite places," Silke tells me as we stroll along the boardwalk to the red-framed information boards, "mine is here with the two buddies." She pats the back of the bent statue standing at the info point. The statues, she says, are a wonderful way to explain what working in the bog was like: pretty exhausting! All day long the men stood bent over, digging four-kilo peat sods out of the ground. The task of the women, who also worked in the bog, was to stack the blocks on top of each other and turn them while they dried. Since the parents couldn't keep an eye on the children all the time, they were tethered with ropes. "Like goats," Silke says, "but at least they didn't sink into the bog that way."
On the boardwalk we walk through the moorland. On the left is a collapsed cattle shed overgrown with ferns, on the right is a wide reddish shimmering field loosely overgrown with small plants. Silke explains that this is buckwheat. Small nuts hang from the miniature plants, from which flour was made, for example, for pancakes.
Behind a bend, the moor looks completely different. A ditch crosses the green landscape, beige-green long-stemmed grasses grow on the banks, strong green sphagnum moss forms small carpets on the dark blue water, and here and there a pink foxglove sets accents.
The Emsland region had its start-up difficulties, which had to do with the fact that the most extensive raised bog in Central Europe was once located here, the Bourtanger Moor. The last ice age left behind vast expanses of water, sandy soils and sparse vegetation in the North German lowlands, on which the huge bog gradually formed.
Despite efforts in previous centuries, it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that people succeeded in making the moor arable through drainage and peat removal. Among other things, this was done by the "Mammut", a 28-ton, gray-blue steel colossus that can be seen today in the museum's second exhibition hall. At that time, the tilting plow was harnessed between two widely separated locomobiles - powerful steam engines that look like locomotives with tires - and pulled across the moor, track by track. In the process, the bog was dug up, the soil was then fertilized, limed and finally potatoes were planted in it.
Before heading to the last point of the day, we visit the settlers' farm of the Moor Museum. This place is especially exciting for children, as farm animal breeds that are threatened with extinction, such as the Bunte Bentheimer pig and the Westphalian dead layer chickens, are bred there.
The highlight: the farm's lady pig gave birth to piglets three weeks ago. The black on white dotted mini pigs chase each other through the outdoor enclosure, wallow in the mud and curiously press their pink snouts towards us. In retrospect, we can't tell you how long we sat enraptured in front of the wooden fence. But the enchanted joy, distantly remembered from childhood days, still resonates for a long time.
The path into the Dalum-Wietmarscher Moor leads through a young birch forest. Flowers and buckwheat grow at the edge of the path, and small water ditches run to the right and left. When the forest ends, it reveals a view of a dark, barren landscape with a lookout hill rising in the middle.
From it you can see what you could not see on the plain: Beside the forest stretches an elevated piece of land almost completely covered by water and dotted with cotton grasses, bushes and small trees. "This is intact bog. That's what it looked like everywhere originally," Silke explained, "This area was bought by the federal government at the time, and it wasn't deforested."
The contrasts are remarkable, not only in the difference in altitude - the moor is a good two meters higher than the rest - but also in the landscape: here it is lively, blue and green, there mostly brown with many dark water areas and sparse vegetation.
The peat-covered landscape is deliberately kept sparse, the biologist explains. Sheep and goats graze the area, which is also an EU bird sanctuary. Endangered species such as the redshank, the golden plover, and all kinds of throats, such as brown and stonechat, can be found here, she says. They winter and breed here and prefer a clear terrain for this.
Completely in her element, Silke climbs down the viewing hill and up to the bog, stands at the edge of the water and pulls out a handful of the carpet-like bright green plants. "This is sphagnum moss. This plant, no more than 15 centimeters long, is what gave rise to the peat layer, which can be up to eight meters high. It grows floating on the water, dies at the root, which then sinks and forms the next layer." Like a sponge, it squeezes out the moss. "The plant absorbs 25-30 times its own weight in water. It manages to do that because of its special construction. If I evaporated that, there would be less solid left than if I did the same with milk." Beaming, she looks at us, still fascinated by the bog and its many facets after all these years.
Cover photo: The Emsland Moor Museum in Geeste © TMN / Sabine Braun
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