It gets dark here – that’s what I like!
Aletta Jaeckel creates custom travel arrangements for Dutch tour operators. She knows the interests and predilections of her compatriots perfectly. ‘After all, at this point, every fourth visitor to Saxony-Anhalt comes from the Netherlands’, the expert explains. On her website, she recommends destinations in Germany and explicitly mentions Saxony-Anhalt among them. Destinations include the Harz (of course), the Saale-Unstrut wine region, the Börde and Anhalt as well as points along the well-developed network of bicycle paths. ‘Bike & Breakfast’ is the name of her Dutch internet portal for bike tourists in Germany. Naturally, Saxony-Anhalt and its river Elbe also find mention. ‘Since I have crossed the country by bicycle, I am able to appreciate what my compatriots would like and where they – as cyclists – can find suitable services’, notes Aletta Jaeckel.
The travel packages composed by Aletta contain a remarkable amount of scenery. But do the Dutch not have enough of scenery in their own country? Aletta laughs: ‘Meadows, cows, windmills... We built up this image of our country which is no longer based in reality. Our agrarian landscapes merge almost seamlessly with our industrial landscapes’, she explains. In Saxony-Anhalt you can still find a comparably large number of pristine ‘natural areas’.
Aletta has lived in Germany since 1994. At that time she went to Cologne on behalf of the National Tourist Office of the Netherlands and subsequently to the Lower Rhine Tourism regional tourist association with her own tour operator ‘Zwei-Land-Reisen’ (Two Country Travel). There she realised her first cross-border project. Upon arriving in eastern Germany, a further dimension was added to the meaning of ‘Two Country’. In the meantime, she is able to talk off the cuff about what exhibitions the museums of the inner German border are featuring – in Marienborn or in Hötensleben, for example – especially as soon as she notices that a group of Dutch travellers is interested in the history of the divided Germanys. For a long time, she notes, German history was a tabu subject for her compatriots, often due to individual family histories. It was a new experience for the tourist agent that the younger generation is now finding such an interest, especially since the topic is no longer presented to them with personal prejudice at the family dinner table.
Generally, her compatriots would not select a holiday destination primarily because of cultural and historic attractions, she explains. ‘The Dutch want to hike and cycle. They want to spend the night at a camp site or in a bungalow at a holiday park. If they suddenly happen to realise: “Oh, we are in the Harz where Juliana von Stolberg, the matriarch of the house of Orange, came from”, then they are suddenly interested in history and culture as well’. In the meantime, Aletta has attuned to such things and always keeps a look-out for some byway on which a traveller can, by chance, meet Martin Luther, find the Nebra sky disc, or encounter Henriette Catherine of Nassau in Oranienbaum.
Although Aletta Jaeckel lives in this country, her perspective allows her to identify what is beautiful about this place from an outsider’s point of view. The locals were often incapable of seeing what their homeland had to offer, something she considers relatively normal. It is a tendency she recognises in herself as well. ‘For example’, she explains, ‘it was here in Germany that I first learned that Max Liebermann painted his Bleaching Field in Zweeloo and that is the village that I come from!”
In terms of mentality, the distance from the rural village where she comes from to Saxony-Anhalt is not so great. After all, the state is made up mostly of agricultural country. What made it so attractive to the tourism expert that she decided to leave the Lower Rhine? ‘It actually gets dark here and that is especially nice!’ Aletta explains, laughing. She is accustomed to her answer being met with bewilderment. ‘In Krefeld, where I used to live, the industrial lighting was so intense that it felt like it was light out even at night’. She talks a bit about life in the Ruhr region, recounting days filled with different kinds of stress and telling of the increasing strains that were needed to overcome them. ‘The quality of life that I enjoy here in Saxony-Anhalt is very high’, she says and recalls her arrival in the Harz, having been on her first bicycle tour at the time. ‘For three days I just sat there and took in the nature...’ The Harz gave her a special feeling of having arrived. She is loyal to the low mountain range to this very day. The same is true for her choice of a place of residence. At the time, Halberstadt was occupationally attractive for the tourism expert for one more reason: the ‘Gateway to the Harz’ was the model town for Telekom when it expanded its infrastructure.
In the meantime, Aletta is also comfortable in the saddle of a motorcycle. After all, if you work for the ‘Motorcycle Road of Germany’ but cannot actually ride a motorcycle, then you will never get a proper sense for taking a curve. That is to say, personal experience is the best way to evaluate touristic attractions. The attractions in the Harz – which include the landscape – are especially good for bikers, believes Aletta Jaeckel. Thanks to them, the range is now an essential part of 10,000 km long motorcycle route crossing the Republic. Aletta is excited about her next excursion. ‘Activities like these and interaction with other people — I do not need much more to enjoy my life’.
Author/Photo: Kathrin Graubaum
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