An excursion in two chapters
04 June 2020, Nadine Ormo
"Orchids..." - Almost mysteriously there was the entry, which was found as a small red dot in my digital map. I had just started to think about Freyburg, had already discovered the nature reserve "Dead Valleys" and now, as it turned out, a pretty reliable spot to find wild orchids. Read - planned!
"Tote Täler" is a nature reserve on the Rödel, an elevation that flows around the Unstrut in a large arc. What the map revealed: from Freyburg we would have to walk uphill for about one hundred metres to reach the orchids and a forest-fringed meadow plateau. Then walk across it lengthways and into the south-western corner of the open space. We should find them somewhere on the western slopes.
Chapter 1: The Koniks on the Rödel Plateau
To get up there, we start at the Freyburg train station when we arrive a few days later. A few meters on the sidewalk along the road towards Balgstädt, then turning into a small street that branches off to the left. Passing some small sheds and allotments, the path quickly disappears between the trees. In a shady hollow path, the path climbs uphill and soon turns left at a bifurcation in an arch. We follow clear footprints and catch a panoramic view of Freyburg before we dive into the undergrowth again, but soon reach the open but fenced area and slip through a small passage.
Since the 13th century people have been using the Rödel. Most recently, until the 1990s, it was used militarily as a tank driving area, which can still be seen in the numerous extended sand tracks and former tank positions.
Today a herd lives up here Conic horsesHuman use has led to the development of species-rich dry and semi-dry grasslands over the decades and centuries. In order to preserve this biodiversity, the areas must be kept open - the task of the koniks.
We read all sorts of more details a little further, at the eastern edge of the paddock, on a slightly elevated wooden viewing platform on which there are also several display boards.
Our way leads further south. Up to now we had not been able to make out the coniks, but now they are suddenly standing in the middle of our path. Or we in theirs? Strictly speaking, the distribution of roles in the paddock is clear: we are guests and leave the horses alone. We neither touch them nor feed them. These are the rules to keep them as healthy as possible. Some mares are still round and move slowly and pregnant, others are already leading their foals. We watch the offspring romping around for a while.
Chapter 2: The orchids on the Rödel circular route
Soon we reach the other end of the pasture. Again we manoeuvre through a small culvert and already discover a large wooden arrow with the sign "Orchid Trail". The actual path turns a little further to the left into the meadows. A total of 25 strictly protected Orchid species biologists have identified up here. It is the end of May and, as far as we can determine in layman's terms, there are two orchid species in bloom: the helmet orchid and the purple orchid.
We spend at least an hour on the 1.500 meter long loop of the path, because we always stop for taking pictures, we enjoy the view of the orchids and the view over the undulating, wide and unspoilt land. Back on the original path, we turn off again, over a short piece of meadow into the forest. Also here: again and again orchids. It almost seems to be a kind of collecting instinct, at least visually, as the eyes scan the ground attentively for more and more specimens.
Our enthusiasm for the orchids seems to distract us so much from the question of where we are going that we get tangled up: instead of going downhill correctly and thus continuing on the second part of the Orchid Trail, we stay "on top". The fact that the paddock fence there has no official entrance and that we have to crawl under the fence in order to get on, should have made us wonder. But after some back and forth we find a way through the forest down to Balgstädt.
Once again, two things have proven themselves on this small hike: Questioning the paths that are marked on the digital map is one thing. Getting involved with even small, unknown natural areas on your doorstep is the other. Because if we take enough time there, we are sure to come out full of intense impressions. With impressions that stay for a long time.
The hike from Freyburg via Rödel and the nature reserve Tote Täler down to Balgstädt is about 8 kilometres long. Pure walking time a good 2 hours; however, it is advisable to bring more time for observing nature.
The Rödel is located in a river bend, along which the railway runs at the same time. With Roßbach, Kleinjena, Freyburg and Balgstädt there are four stations in total, from which the nature reserve can be hiked on shorter or longer routes.
If a bike is at hand, numerous Bike-&-Hike variants are also conceivable from Naumburg to Rödel - as an enjoyable day trip.