Midday, touchdown in Berlin where the arrivals hall is full of weekenders dressed like they just walked off Carnaby Street in the swinging 60s, musicians in bowler hats waiting to collect their guitars, and more men in tight stone-washed jeans than an 80s music video. Willkommen to Germany.
We're not stopping in Berlin; instead we are hot footing it out of here, heading off to explore the rural, more sedate pleasures in the towns and villages of Brandenburg. Saying so long to the partiers at the baggage claim, our journey starts with a two-hour drive north west to Wolfshagen, famous for its gothic revival architecture. After a short tour of the castle, it's time to saddle up.
There really is no better way to get around in this part of Germany, it's flat as a pancake and has been divided into a network of hundreds of easy-to-navigate, numbered cycling routes, covering 7,000km. You barely even need a map. A peaceful 12k ride allows us the chance to admire the local landscape before arriving at the tiny town of Perleberg, with its historic town centre built on an island on the river Stepenitz. With a population of about 12,000 people, Perleberg is quaint ,and with its Tudor-style buildings it feels like you are in a German version of the Canterbury Tales.
Perleberg is a stopping point more than a destination, but about a 15 minute drive away is the hotel Ölmühle (oilmill in English) which, you may have guessed, is a restored oil mill, complete with hotel and its own brewery on the grounds. A short walk away, you can enjoy a German feast on the banks of the river Elbe (which caused devastation when it flooded earlier this year) at Kranhaus Restaurant. Owner and chef Knut Diete is an eccentric whose famous desserts (including potato with Grand Marnier and orange, or strawberries with sweet mustard and chocolate) have been eaten by Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro.
The next day we get to see more of the Elbe, starting at Böser Ort (meaning the bad place), named because of a bend in the river that made it difficult for riverboats to get past. At Böser Ort, we meet our eco-tourism guide, Jan Schormann, who walks us along the protected area of the Elbe River, a Unesco biosphere reserve and bird- watching heaven. On the way he explains the work being done constructing dykes along the Elbe to give it back the space it needs and prevent more damage from flooding in the future.
Some things about Germany can seem quirky to us (they invented currywurst for goodness sake) but our next stop is genuinely one of the oddest places I have ever been. The village of Rühstädt is home to one of Europe's largest stork colonies. It's like something out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Look closely at the small traditional houses and you'll see enormous nests (some weighing up to a tonne) on the roofs where the storks live from April to early September. The people of Rühstädt are stork-obsessed and have devoted time and money to protecting the stork's chosen habitat. There is a visitor centre where you can pre-arrange an English-speaking tour guide if you want to learn more about the birds and their annual migration.
Leaving the countryside behind, it's time to head to Brandenburg's capital, Potsdam. Potsdam is an affluent city, full of palaces and parks, perfect for cycling (most hotels hire bikes, or will arrange it for you).
First up, we go for a history lesson at Cecilinhof, the World Heritage Site where Truman, Churchill and Stalin held the 1945 conference to decide the fate of Germany. The grounds are beautiful to walk around, but inside is a fascinating chronological exhibition taking you through the key events of the Second World War.
Cycle onwards, following the river, and even though you would never know it, you are biking the route where The Wall used to stand all the way to Glienicker Brücke.
Glienicker Brücke, the bridge where spies were exchanged between East and West is now a symbol of both division and reunification. It's a lovely cycle, but also incredible to think that an area once marred by a monstrous edifice is now a trail for bikes lined with trees, flowers and parks. If you need a break near Glienicker Brücke, Garage Du Pont, an old garage that has been converted into a cool restaurant/café, is a few meters away.
Potsdam boasts 17 castles but Sanssouci, the summer residence of Frederick the Great, is definitely worth a visit. (The Old Fritz, as he was known, is buried there with his dogs, if you want to pay your respects.) The palace itself is considered a major work of Rococo architecture in Germany and a rival to Versailles. After cycling around the grounds at Krongut Bornstedt on bikes all day, we stopped for dinner at nearby Mövenpick Restaurant Sanssouci, before cycling back to the Dorint Hotel.
If you have a second day to spend in Postdam, there's also The Dutch Quarter, which is buzzy at the weekend, with lots of shops and cafes to potter around. Restaurant Waage, with its well-dressed bespectacled clientele, served the best food we had in Brandenburg (no currywurst in sight) and helpfully has menus in English for tourists whose German is not up to scratch.
Potsdam is not a destination for nightlife, so after a good night's sleep, what better way to spend a few hours than a raft trip along the Elbe? Brandenburg has 3,000 lakes and thousands of kilometres of waterways and so is popular for watersport as well as being a cycling hotspot. At 11am, while daytrippers were loading up their boats with beer, we were boarding our own motor-powered Huckleberry Finn-style raft and cruising down the Elbe. With a view of palaces on either side we dropped anchor and cracked open a picnic and a bottle of Prosecco. So Brandenburg isn't anywhere as wild as Berlin, but if you get tired partying, it's good to know that there is nature to explore, cycling to enjoy and history to learn all around it too.
Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly direct from Dublin to Berlin Schonefeld Airport.
For more information visit: www.brandenburg-tourism.com
Oilmill Hotel: www.oelmuehle-wittenberge.de/
Hotel Dorint Potsdam: http://hotel-potsdam.dorint.com/en/
Raft hire: www.huckleberrys-tour.de