THE FORESTS OF eastern Saxony take on a dreamlike, glowing cast in late summer. The relentlessly verdant region is dotted with small, idyllic lakes that range in color from deep blue to turquoise to a deep, irridescent green, and the woods are still and silent, as if saving their energy for fall.
At the state’s far eastern edge, just a few kilometers from the Polish border, stands a 150-year-old curiosity: a perfectly semicircular bridge called the Rakotzbrücke. The bridge, along with other equally curious stone artifacts, was built in the 1860s by the local count, and spans a small, eerie lake that is little more than a pond. That it still stands today is a testament as much to its inconvenience as its quality: though crossable on foot, it’s tricky in the best of weather, and downright treacherous in winter (to say nothing of the nearby signs that prohibit crossing it at all).
Though technically located in the village of Kromlau, if you’re coming from Berlin by train, the closest station is Weißwasser to the south. Sleepy on the busiest of days, and a veritable ghost town on Sundays, the area around the station is dotted with fenced-off village homes and colony-style gardens, interspersed (as is so much of the former East) with crumbling, ruined buildings, complete with trees and other vegetation growing through collapsed floors and open roofs.
The forest is traversed every half-hour or so by a charming (though legitimately burly and coal-fueled) train, which has a whistle loud enough to be heard throughout the park. Walking north from Weißwasser, the path begins in earnest after crossing these smaller tracks.
One of the area’s more bizarre features is its dozens of downed observation towers that lie in various stages of disarray and decay. While it’s tempting to attribute a sinister, Cold War-era purpose both to the towers and their current state, it’s more likely they’re simply hunters’ blinds, toppled by activists in recent years. They appear every half-kilometer or so, lending a surreal cast to the forest.
While the bridge is certainly a striking (and remarkably well-preserved) structure, the lake and its surroundings are noteworthy as well, with sculptures that jut surreally from the water or hug the shoreline. The most incredible of these are the jagged sculptural islands, made with the same tall, hexagonal columns that flank the bridge, echoing Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway.
In the 19th century, structures like the Rakotzbrücke were referred to as “devil’s bridges” for their impossibly lofty structures (clearly the work of sinister forces). “Rakotz”, however, is not just the name of the lake the bridge spans; it’s also Swabian dialect for a local delicacy: “crawfish” (“Flusskrebs” in German), which likely existed in the local streams and rivers in far larger numbers in centuries past.