It’s been a rainy, relatively cool summer in Berlin, but luckily last weekend some sunny weather arrived, so we headed off to Brandenburg for some canoeing and camping adventures involving goats, swing dancing and raclette. For those who may not know, Brandenburg is the large state surrounding Berlin (Berlin is a separate state, or Bundesland in German), and it’s full of beautiful countryside, forests, lakes, rivers and waterways. North of Brandenburg is the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which is also a boat-lovers paradise, has beautiful nature, and borders the Baltic sea (Ostsee). We decided to start our trip in Fürstenberg, located at the southern edge of the Mecklenburg Lake District, about 75km from Berlin.
Campsites are generally clean and well-organized in Germany, and there are also tent-only bivouac places along the Havel with some facilities, so we decided to enjoy the wild to the fullest and make it a camping weekend too. We rented two three-person canoes at Nordlicht-Kanustation in Fürstenberg. As they were willing to let us pick the boats up at night, we had our first adventure after driving to Fürstenberg after work on Friday, as three of us who arrived first then rowed the canoes in the dark to a nearby campsite. One of us at the front of each boat had a headlamp, so we could squint into the night and see where to go. As the light beamed out over the dark water, you could see all the mosquitoes following the canoes, so as soon as we landed we sprayed ourselves all over with insect repellent. Anywhere near water in Germany, you do get a lot of mosquitoes. After hauling the canoes to shore and pitching our tents, we then settled down to enjoy melting cheese on our friend’s camping raclette set. She’d got it as a birthday present and I have to say, we were all totally sold on it. It’s surprising how quickly three little tealight candles can melt cheese! We put it on bread and ate it with assorted pickles, olives and sundried tomatoes. She also had a solar-powered lamp, which I think is a great invention (you can see why I can never leave an outdoor shop without buying something). I have seen quite a few people using these lately, and many of them are handmade in my home country South Africa, which of course makes me proud.
Two more our friends joined us at the campsite, and the last one would be joining us in the morning. We sat and chatted until the grass became damp with dew and it became very chilly, and we decided to head to our tents and get some sleep. Since the original weather forecast had been for some rain on Saturday, we were very happy when we awoke to a pleasant day. The five of us went to stock up on food and water at the Netto supermarket in Fürstenberg, which was a 20 minute walk away. Here’s a tip: the bakery at the Netto has great breads. I am still dreaming about the olive bread we bought there and ate for lunch later in the day.
After walking back to the campsite, where we met our other friend, we finished packing up our tents and bags and distributed everything into the two canoes. The canoes were laden and set to go!
The first stretch of our trip was back the same way we’d rowed the night before, to the centre of Fürstenberg. It looked completely different in the daylight. We rowed past an abandoned building (maybe the land turned out to be a bit swampy!), and picked some wild apples along the way.
The River Havel is split into several channels as it crosses Fürstenberg, and some people’s back gardens look out onto the river, with boats moored outside like you would find cars in the driveway. Every time we see riverside homes from the water like this, I really enjoy looking at all the beautiful gardens and houses. It looks so idyllic being able to hop onto your boat from your backyard.
Soon we got to the first exciting part of our day: a drop downhill on the river to a lower level. They’d packed the river in one small channel with some rubber and sides to slow down the boat.
Now we were on a lovely green and peaceful part of the river, leading towards Stolpsee, a big lake.
Once we’d crossed the lake we ended up back on the river. The next section had lots of rushes and lilypads, and also quite a lot of water traffic, with many boats heading up and down the river.
Some sections of the river were wide, and some narrower. We saw some interesting boats, including one with a sail!
We stopped for a picnic lunch along the way, and everything tasted great (maybe we were hungry after all the hard rowing!).
Afterwards we continued rowing past forests, gardens and neighbourhoods.
We would have to pass through two locks before reaching the camping ground for the evening, and just before the first one we stopped for a drink at a riverside cafe, where they told us that the locks operate till 9pm.
Shortly after the cafe, we reached the first lock. A lock is a system that rises and sinks the water level so that boats can go down and uphill, so to speak. There are gates on each side and you wait until the light is green for you to go. Sometimes someone operates the lock, but most of these were self-service, with postboards and electronic signboards giving instructions. Big boats go in first, and canoers or kayakers fit in afterwards (it’s safer this way around, as you don’t want to be too near to a moving big boat). It only works in one direction at a time. When there are boats inside, you wait until they leave before you can go inside. Once everyone is safely inside, the gates close and then either the water is let out so that you sink down a level (often quite a few metres) or else water pours in so that you go up a level. Once you’re at the new level, the gates open again and out you go.
Back to rowing, and one more lock to pass before we reach our campsite.
Our camping spot for the night was a bivouac place on some land on a goat farm, provided on a donation basis. They have set up some toilets and a tap with drinking water near their farm shop, a nice ramble along the riverbank (though we did not attempt it at night as we didn’t want to fall in). The camping ground was an absolutely beautiful spot and we were the only ones there. Even better, we’d happened to arrive on the farm while they were having a swing music evening, with a live band of four playing and other people dancing. Because of this their shop was also open later than usual, so those keen on goat milk bought some cheeses or goat milk ice-cream. The goats themselves were adorable and nosily stuck their heads through the fence when we arrived. There was also a horse and a donkey along the walk to the bathroom, and a very friendly farm dog at the swing dance party. After spending some time enjoying the music, we headed back to our campsite to light a fire for the night’s barbecue. Afterwards we sat around the simmering fire, under a thousand stars, while our friend played some songs on her ukulele and we reminisced over past camping experiences. Although it was warmer than the previous night, we were all happy to climb into our tents and hit the sack at the end of the day. We’d rowed about 20km that day.
In the night it started to rain and I loved listening to the rain beating down on the tent. My backpack was in the waterproof boat bag outside, and in the morning it was still completely dry, but I’d left my shoes outside and they got soaked. Luckily I was wearing sandals for the boat anyway, and although they were soaked too, it didn’t matter. In the morning the rain stopped and it was another beautiful day. We checked our route for the day and the place we’d rented the canoes from said they could pick us up at Burgwall (the good thing about this rental place was that you could arrange in advance with them to pick you up at the end of your canoeing route for a fee). After having a coffee in the garden at the farm and some breakfast in our camping spot, and saying goodbye to the goats, horse and donkey, we headed out for the next day’s rowing.
Canoeing was harder going on the second day. There was more wind, for a start, and our arms were also a bit tired from the day before. On the second day I had to switch between left and right arms much more frequently. But the scenery was still great as we went down the Havel. Sometimes we were in shady, still sections, and the surface of the water would be as clear as a mirror, reflecting all the trees and the sky above. Other times, we were in the hot sun with a strong breeze making ripples on the water.
There were not many places to stop along the way, but eventually we found a grassy patch to have a picnic lunch. Someone had obviously camped out there before, because we found a lone toothbrush left behind!
Finally it was onto the last section of our trip. I focused on the beautiful scenery to distract myself from my tired arms. We arrived in the small town of Burgwall, and probably with good timing, as the wind picked up and rowing became more difficult. It was a bit sad to haul our boat out of the water knowing that the trip was finished, but we’ll be back.
Our friend accidentally dropped her guidebook to the area into the River Havel as we were unpacking the boats. “A gift to the river gods”, she said.
In case you’d like to read about more of our adventures on the water, here are some other boating related posts:
Canoeing in the Rheinsberg Lake region and Müritz national park
Watersports and beaches at Müggelsee
And if you’d like to see how the Fürstenberg area looks from the land, see here:
Brandenburg bike rides: Fürstenberg/Havel to Templin
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