Leseprobe SIGHTGEIST / Rubrik: Travel

A Holiday Unlike any Other

Microcosm in a village

Some 50 kilometres southeast of Dresden is Schmilka, the perfect place for a relaxing holiday. A river, a village with
brightly coloured, half-timbered buildings against a backdrop of trees, unusual rock formations… and silence, interrupted only by the rattling of a passing train. Precisely how a holiday should be.

Nestled against the great River Elbe, Schmilka is so small and unimposing that you could easily miss it. And many people do: Most residents of Dresden consider the village with just 80 inhabitants directly on the German-Czech border to be a provincial backwater. At most, they pass through it on their way to the Czech Republic or stop there for a break on a hike. A commuter train stops once an hour at the small, almost abandoned railway station with two platforms to bring day trippers back to the Saxon state capital in just 50 minutes.

Few people are aware that over the past two decades, Schmilka has experienced a minor miracle. Without drawing much attention to itself, it has been transformed from a dreary border village into a unique eco-tourism resort. And the metamorphosis is ongoing. If the village were an artist, you would probably say it was having an unbelievable comeback.

The man who has made all this possible cannot go anywhere in Schmilka on this sunny day in late summer without being recognised. Every few metres, Sven-Erik Hitzer stops for a quick chat with someone, asks how they are and tells them the latest news. Hitzer has made Schmilka his cause; the changes the village has undergone in recent years are the product of his efforts. Without him, the village would not be what it is today – a fact that is considered irrefutable here.
Shortly after the political turnaround of 1989/90 that culminated in the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and led to German Reunification, Hitzer bought an old mill and a dormitory belonging to a former holiday company in Schmilka, and turned them into a guesthouse. Even as a boy, he had been fascinated by Saxon Switzerland, the name given to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains on the German side, extending on both sides of the river Elbe southeast of Dresden as far as the Czech Republic. In this unique landscape with its bizarre rock formations and striking sandstone pillars, he felt free, the 53-year-old remembers today. “I came here by train from Cottbus to go climbing on weekends and holidays.”
Now, some 30 years later, the entrepreneur owns most of the village, which has changed beyond recognition: With a hotel, numerous smaller inns and guesthouses, a brewery and a traditional bakery, Schmilka today is a resort that Hitzer refers to and markets as an “Eco and National Park Retreat”.

Hitzer is fulfilling a dream of a lifetime for himself and for his guests, giving them the chance to enjoy a truly sustainable holiday. “I had enough of hotels with cheap plywood furniture reeking of formaldehyde and restaurants that served boring dishes full of flavour enhancers and e-numbers,” he recalls. “As I gradually tested other providers, I discovered I was dealing with a completely different kind of proprietor. I would never claim that people who value organic produce and sustainable production are more educated than those who do not. But I feel more at ease with folk who are interested in where their food comes from and how their furniture and the houses in which they live have been made.”
In the late 1990s, Hitzer consequently decided to go completely organic, even though everyone thought he was mad. His greatest concern was with his employees, as he recalls. “If they had seen this new approach as just one of the boss’s follies and hadn’t supported it, then it wouldn’t have been credible.” But the staff came around to their employer’s crazy idea. Today, when renovating the buildings, Hitzer makes sure everything is done according to ecological principles. And of course, “All the food and beverages for sale in the village, even the spices and liquor from the hotel’s cocktail bar, are 100 percent certified organic.”
The rooms in the hotels have walls with clay plaster and radiant wall heating, sandstone table tops, floors of soaped natural wood and metal-free beds with natural latex mattresses – ideal for people with allergies and those who attach importance to an environment free of harmful substances. Hitzer has invested a great deal in installing special shielded cabling and mains decouplers to ensure that all rooms are completely free of electrosmog. Many guests only realise what that means the next morning, says Hitzer with a grin, “When they notice that the entire electrical circuit in the room has been disabled via the mains decoupler, so they can’t recharge their phones overnight, or only in the bathroom.” It goes without saying that his hotels do not have Wi-Fi either.
But despite all this, Hitzer is not a missionary. Yes, he wants to know what is in his food, but he also wants to enjoy it, and that includes meat and other animal products. “I want to know where they come from and how they have been made.” He cannot say for sure whether he sleeps better in the electrosmog-free rooms, he says, “but we have many guests who come to us for exactly that reason.” (excerpt)

Dr. Susanne Kailitz

Photo: (c)
Bio und Nationalpark Refugium Schmilka



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