At Wildniswerkstatt in the small village of Düttling in Eifel, it’s breakfast time. Burly men in trekking gear sit around the wooden table. A dozen parkas, raincoats and safety vests hang on the coat hooks. Heavy hiking shoes and rubber boots are piled up beneath them. On top: rangers’ hats, as are typical for Eifel National Park. One belongs to Nina Braun, the only female ranger in NRW. A petite person. She chats briefly with her colleagues and then it’s off into the wilds. “The real workshop” as the 37-year-old explains, when DeinNRW visits her in her little kingdom.
It is hot this midday. The thermometer says almost 30 degrees as we pass through the “entryway” to the hidden section of forest in the heart of North Rhine-Westphalia’s only national park. “It's a different world, isn’t it?!” Nina Braun is not asking a question. She only came back to Wildniswerkstatt from her maternity leave a few weeks ago. “And so much has changed in the forest.” A different world? Yes. We have barely gone a few metres when it suddenly becomes pleasantly cool. The tall oaks and pines provide shade. It smells of grass, wood and damp moss. The ground feels soft. “After four days of a summer camp in the forest”, says our companion with a smile, “I always feel like I have come from the moon”.
The next day it will be that time again. 25 children will explore the natural surroundings of the approximately 100 hectare site as part of the annual summer camp that takes place during the summer holidays. They will discover creatures like the black dung beetle and the colourful hawker dragonfly. They will light their own fires, build dams and hide in the forest. Before grilling twist bread and sausages in the big wooden tipi.
Own gallery in Monschau
It was more or less by accident that the mother of a two-year-old son now works alone with men and primarily with children. Because the 37-year-old is in fact a trained hotel manager. In tranquil Moschau, where she was born and raised and now runs a small photo gallery with her husband, she worked in gastronomy for a number of years. Today, she still likes to spend her evenings in the old town with the pretty timber-framed buildings, narrow alleyways and cobblestones right on the Rur. “But professionally I wanted to do something different”. As if she doesn’t really believe it herself, she then tells of how she just went to the employment agency and was offered a training position as a Ranger. So the young woman grabbed the chainsaw. “Even if I was a little older than the other trainees”, she remembers with a twinkle in her eye. Ten years ago, she came to the environmental education institute in Düttling - and has only rarely picked up the chainsaw since then.
Instead, the nature lover, who also hosts holiday guests at her own lovingly renovated “Lehmlounge” in Monschau-Konzen on the side, straps on her rucksack a few times a week, packs food and drinks into the handcart and goes into the forest with school classes. Of course, every ranger has their own rucksack. Carefully lined up in the Wildniswerkstatt storeroom. In Nina’s survival pack: Binoculars, a flint, a rope, blindfolds for the blind journey of discovery through nature, a first aid kit and ... Nina crams a tin with little pieces of paper in the front. “I have to try out this game”, she suddenly realises. It is like Memory, where the children in this group have to find their match, so to speak. However, the 37-year-old does not make a plan before their tours by the way. “I usually decide spontaneously what we are going to do”, says the Ranger. “Because every group is different. And it is usually the children themselves who decide how the day should go.”
Treasure hunt at the fire water pond
Nina is happy to connect with her little companions. “Some children have never been in the forest”, the young woman marvels time and time again at something that was a given for her during her childhood in Monschau. Others are afraid. But most of them thaw out pretty quickly and start to tell stories or ask questions. “Something that I believe no longer happens enough in everyday life”. Others get lost in play by a little stream and could build dams all day long. The little barefoot labyrinth that some of the boys and girls built themselves is still there. And then at the old fire water pond, a biotope overgrown with thick algae above which innumerable dragonflies swirl, “everyone would prefer to jump straight into the water on the treasure hunt”. Then they really forget their shyness. Of course the primary school children are particularly proud when the flint causes sparks to fly. Nina explains how she puts the tinder together herself using the simplest means, which the little ones are then allowed to light. Our female ranger had put strips of old denim in an old tin can and holds this up to the heat. It only takes a few minutes for the denim to be completely reduced to charcoal - the homemade tinder is finished. One spark and the campfire is burning. Of course only under supervision, because there are clear rules for hikers in the Eifel National Park.
But Nina has also had other, very serious experiences that gave her cause for concern. “Crazy”, she says, “I really am welling up with tears now”. Short break. The woman who looks so tough in her shirt, brown trekking pants and thick hiking boots, tells of a girl in a wheelchair. “The little one seemed so apathetic, hardly smiled at all. Until I put a beetle in her hand...” It is moments like this that Nina Braun loves about her job. “I learn so much from the children”, she says, having been shy as a child herself and learned a lot through her “own curiosity”.
That is why the young mother also likes to go to the national park during her free time. Colleagues of Nina Braun also offer regular ranger tours in the unique nature conservation area which they like to call “the rainforest of tomorrow”. On the wilderness trail, which crosses the entire length of the National Park over four one-day stages, hikers discover the beauties and peculiarities of the wildly romantic forests, are impressed by magnificent views of the forest and lake landscapes and river valleys or simply enjoy the solitude of nature. When Eifel National Park was set up in 2004, the natural surroundings were mostly left to their own devices. Our guide today from Wildniswerkstatt likes to visit the places where the circle of birth and decay is particularly clear to see and where walkers with a little luck and patience can observe rare birds like the black stork and the red-backed shrike, wall lizards and even red deer. In the barrier-free “Wilder Kermeter” wilderness experience, there is also the “Wilden Weg” (Wild Trail), a nature exploration trail where people with disabilities can also experience the emerging wilderness first hand. Nina Braun also praises the 2000 square metre National Park exhibition “Wildnis(t)räume” (room for/dreams of wilderness) at the international Platz Vogelsang and the many offering at the National Park, such as the nearby Heimbach.
And of course Nina and her husband, who in addition to taking photographs is a voluntary wilderness guide for the National Park, are passing their connection to nature on to their son. But for the next four days, her two men will have to do without the mother. She is, as they say, in the forest. Or on the moon?
Three questions for Ranger Nina Braun
Festival, Family and a lot of Nature
Nina, you have 48 hours of free time. What would you definitely do with this time in NRW?
Nina: "I would go to a music festival. In August I was at Haldern Pop, for example. But I also like to spend my free time in our garden. Preferably with family, friends and neighbours. Then we build a campfire, play and eat."
Which place in NRW did you most recently discover for the first time?
Nina: "The Rur from the water. I recently went on a canoe tour from Heimbach to Zerkaal and was able to observe the wonderful surroundings from a completely new perspective."
Your personal favourite place in NRW.
Nina: "There are many and they are all very different. I love being in the Eifel National Park with the Kermeter, the Dreiborn Plateau and the reservoirs. I also like Hohe Venn, this unique upland moor. And on a beautiful summer day, Monschau’s old town of course."