Nature’s son: on the trail of Theodor Fontane, the German Charles Dickens

North of Berlin, in a lowland world of lakes and quiet beauty, follow in the footsteps of a 19th-century writer who documented the natural landscape

The train cuts west across Berlin and then veers north. Suburbs of pale stucco houses peter out into birch and pine forest. Beyond these are the Bruchlands (“broken lands”) of the North German plain: sandy-soiled, marshy and latticed by canals. A few shaggy horses drink from troughs in silver fields. It’s early in the day and mist still rises from the ground.

Next to me in the carriage are local teens, travelling between towns to pass their Saturday, and young couples visiting their families in the small villages north-west of the German capital. A cluster of literature buffs have clambered aboard too.

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