European nations have come and gone over time, but there is a Slav-speaking ethnic minority that remains within Germany.
Lehde is a quiet village, with about 150 inhabitants, of marshy islands connected by pedestrian bridges, in the lush UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Spreewald, in Germany.
Located about 100 kilometers from Berlin, this vast mosaic of 47,500 hectares of meadows, forests and canals has few roads, many trails and is popular with tourists looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the German capital.
According to the BBC, the Spreewald watercourses are a kind of lifeline and are filled – every day and for over a thousand years – with wooden boats (the Kahns) that travel through the region’s streams to transport livestock, crops and people.
Although most of the inhabitants of this region already own a boat and a small pier, for the past 124 years these channels have been used for delivering mail – and Andrea Bunar has one of the most unusual jobs in Germany.
“It’s good when old traditions are kept and revived”, said the wallet, who, every day between April and October, uses a 30-foot-long boat to navigate the labyrinths of small waterways and deliver letters to around 65 houses that would otherwise be very hard to reach.
Bunar talks most of the time in German with locals and tourists, and regrets not knowing how to speak the second language region, which is an important part of its identity.
In addition to housing 6,000 species of animals and plants, Spreewald is also home to the Sorbians: the smallest Slavic ethnic group in the world and one of four nationally recognized German minorities, alongside the Danes, Frisians and the German Sinti and Roma.
The Sorbians are descendants of Slavic tribes who lived north of the Carpathian Mountains in Central and Eastern Europe. About 1500 years ago, some of these tribes migrated to Lusatia, a historic region known as Sorbia, which spanned eastern Germany, western Poland and the far north of the Czech Republic.
Over time, European empires and nations came and went, but the Sorbians remained. Even today they remain an ethnic Slavic-speaking minority existing within modern Germany.
Currently, there are around 60,000 Sorbians in the country. in addition to the German, the Sorbians speak their own West Slavic languages: about 20,000 people in Saxony speak superior Sorbian (which has similarities with Czech); while Brandenburg has about 5,000 speakers of Lower Sorbian (which has more in common with Polish).
Both languages are in danger, despite being protected and promoted locally.
The BBC explains that this means that as visitors slowly paddle the Spreewald channels, they are likely to notice that the public signs are bilingual. In fact, it is very likely that the locals themselves know how to write their names in German and Sorbian.