Hunting for Mushrooms in the Brandenburg Woods

The drive out of the city, as always, was sheer hell. Congestion on the Berlin Ring, Katy Perry on every radio station, and a child in the back seat crying because she thinks she forgot her mushroom basket at home. The basket is in the trunk, I keep on repeating for almost two hours. Yet, four-year-olds in general, and my child in particular, are not so easy to convince. 

Also, when it comes to the woods, my daughter is largely skeptical. First of all, because you have to walk too much, secondly, because you can’t eat the mushrooms right away, and thirdly, because you have to find the mushrooms first, which initially sounds like fun, but proves to be quite discouraging when you still have no success in finding any after five minutes.

I am fully aware of all these challenges, but, nonetheless, I think that it is high time to tackle the issue of the woods. Love of nature is similar to a vaccination. Once you’ve got it, it’s good for life.

So we get the mushroom basket out of the trunk, I tie my child’s shoelaces once again, and we make our way into the woods.

From the very first moment, I am overcome with emotion – from the stillness, the gentle murmur of the fir trees overhead, and the fragrance of the forest floor mingled with the autumn evening rain. A cobweb glistens in the September sunlight, swinging between two trees like a string of pearls. In an instant, the magic of the forest has cast its spell, offering a balm for the soul. 

little girl in the forest with mushrooms
As the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno put it, adults spend their whole lives in an attempt to recover their childhood, because this is the place of their happiness.

When I was a child, I spent my vacations immersed in nature. I remember how I walked through the forest with my mother, although I would have preferred to get a sunburn at the beach and play with the other children.

Once we found wild strawberries, which, by evening had resulted in me suffering an allergic shock with a high fever. Another time, we took a horse-drawn cart to the next village. I had never before ridden in a cart and to this day, some 35 years later, I still remember that the horse with the white-speckled behind was called Boris. With his long, dark tail, Boris fended off the mosquitoes which were swarming in the forest. This image has burned itself forever onto my retina. I don’t really know anymore if I was happy on that day or whether I found the whole experience very exciting. I probably wanted to be at the beach. Yet, looking back, this day is one of the most beautiful memories from my childhood.

Jili and I leave the forest path and walk through the fir trees down a flat slope. Swift dragonflies whiz past through the high grass. Their wings brush upon Jili’s upper arm and she squeals with delight. I put away my camera, as I would like to preserve this moment with my own eyes.

girl in a forest with mushrooms holding her hand out towards the sun

Now is the best time of year to find slippery jack mushrooms (Suillus luteus) and the bay bolete (Imleria badia) with its chestnut-colored cap. Both these sorts grow well on shady slopes or conceal themselves in meadows. Yet, instead of mushrooms, my child finds blue dung beetles. They are deposited into the mushroom basket and endeavor countless times to escape, thereby slowing down our progress considerably. If we don’t find any mushrooms soon, these dung beetles will be the highlight of the day. I can already picture them in a glass jar with a screw-top lid on our kitchen table, and my child, who actually dreams of having a cat, feeding our new flatmates with lettuce leaves. This must be prevented at all costs! Where are those damn mushrooms?

Just when I am about to give up hope, we finally make a discovery. Boletus edulis, the king of all mushrooms, also known as the “penny bun,” has been waiting for us under a leaf. And it is not alone!

mushroom in the Brandenburg forest

As we return to the car, the daylight is already beginning to fade. The clouds float in the violet sky like fluffy pink flamingos. Lovely penny buns roll about in our basket along with two exhausted dung beetles, who, under the watchful eye of my daughter, are about to make the trip back to Berlin. 

By the time I start the motor and drive down the forest path, the sky is already dark. My child has fallen sound asleep in the back seat. I seize the opportunity and let the dung beetles loose. They disappear forever in the late evening grass.

I turn on the radio and Katy Perry is still singing, but I don’t find it so bad. Take care, dear forest, we will be back soon.

Photos: Anna Livsic