WALDBRÖL The Panarbora Nature Experience Park in Waldbröl wants to appeal to all the senses. The area lay derelict for a long time after the German Armed Forces and the American military had abandoned it. Today, the Youth Hostel Association is in charge.
Beechnuts are not only suitable for a liqueur, but also as a baking ingredient. The leaves taste slightly sour, but are just as edible as birch leaves. "It makes great tea," enthuses Patrick Mielke. "There's a lot of vitamin C in it." Mielke also knows how acorns are turned into coffee, which he would only serve to troublesome visitors: "It's healthy, but it tastes terrible."
Mielke is a forest warden by profession, almost every day he guides groups of visitors through the grounds of the Panarbora Nature Experience Park in his hometown of Waldbröl in the Oberberg district. The park is approximately a one-hour drive northeast of Bonn. It belongs to the Rhineland Regional Association of the German Hostel Association and was opened in September 2015. "Here we want to show how everyone can experience and discover nature with all their senses - and of course taste is part of it," says Mielke.
Panarbora lies on the back of the Nutscheid mountain range, the view extends from there and deep into the Bergisches Land, into the neighboring Rhein-Sieg district and the Westerwald forest. From there, from Altenkirchen, comes a group of students that Patrick Mielke accompanies this morning. A path winds its way for 1,635 meters past the treetops and comes to a viewing platform 21 meters high. There are five learning stations along the way.
"It's pretty cool that the forest here isn't just a forest," praises 14-year-old Tim, one of the twelve students at the Westerwald grammar school in Altenkirchen. Twelve young people from the Friedrich-Schiller-Gymnasium in the Hungarian town of Pilisvörösvár near Budapest are currently visiting the school. For teacher Martin Gerhards, it quickly became clear that a day trip must lead to Waldbröl: "We were looking for an educational project for a student exchange, settled on the environment as a topic- and Panarbora was naturally close at hand," explains the teacher and theologian: "I would love to live in a wooden house.” But because this is not possible, Gerhards is pleased that he can now at least climb a wooden structure: Made of spruce and larch, the observation tower is open at the top, 40 meters high. But beware: If the wind blows from the mountains, the tower also swings. The tower is barrier-free and there is a lift inside for wheelchair users.
The forest trail is 13-kilometers, with around 3 kilometers of that belonging to the nature experience park, where fairytales and other light-hearted stories are told along the way. Mielke loves the deep and narrow valleys on the hiking route. "Here you can experience the Bergisches Land in its most original form.” His favorite place is the hamlet of Herfen, "a pretty old village, like one that could be found in England."
Those who hike must recharge their batteries. The Panarbora cuisine is based on the continents of the different villages represented along the way. Peter Kundmüller is the chef: he prepares an Asian Massaman curry as well as African pumpkin dumplings with bacon and Dalchini cinnamon. "I like curry best myself," reveals the 31-year-old chef. Of course there are also burgers, schnitzel and salads. The international menu changes weekly. Hikers who stop for coffee and cake but don't want to visit the park can get a voucher for five euros at the reception, which they can redeem at the restaurant.
New on the premises is an old steam boiler from which the Panarbora crew built a smoker. "Outdoor cooking is a trend," says Heidrun Kemper, who is currently provisional manager of the nature park and the youth hostel there. It has around 100,000 day visitors a year and, according to her, there are around 26,000 visitors who stay overnight - and the trend is rising. Already in the first four months of this year, Panarbora exceeded the expected number of visitors by 4,300, says Kemper.
If you want to book a bed on Panarbora, you need the ID of the German Youth Hostel Association. There are 36 beds in the stilt houses, the villages each have 36 sleeping places and a family house offers space for 32 more people. "More than half of all our guests are school classes, followed by families," says Kemper. The park is open almost the whole year - but depending on the weather, it is also closed in winter.
There is also a hedgerow labyrinth, willow tunnels and underground secret passages, hammocks, a climbing tree and a large adventure playground. Mielke is currently working on a new concept for the sensory path, which is not yet barrier-free. There visitors can take off their shoes to walk barefoot over sand, stones and other surfaces. A sand pit invites you to jump, and you can test whether you can fly as far as a wild boar or jump as little as a toad. "It's always great for children when parents try everything," observed Patrick Mielke.
Panarbora Nature Park and Youth Hostel, Nutscheidstraße 1, Waldbröl, www.panarbora.de. Adults pay 9.90 euros, children from four years 6.40 euros, families 24.90 euros. From May to September open 9:30 am to 8 pm, in October and March to April 9:30 am to 6 pm, November to February 10 am to 4 pm. Dogs not allowed in - there are stalls for them in the car park.
In Nümbrecht there is also the four-star hotel "Derichsweiler Hof", Jakob-Engels-Straße 22, 0 22 93/9 09 00, www.derichsweilerhof.de, an alternative to the youth hostel.
Orig. text: Jens Höhner