Canoeing and thunderstorms on the Spree river: Hangelsberg to Erkner

One thing I didn’t know about Berlin before I moved here is that it is situated a region full of lakes and rivers. As a result, canoeing has become one of my favourite summer sports (doing bike rides is another one, in case you didn’t notice already!). Normally for canoeing weekends we head north to Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, as there are endless options of lakes and canals to row down there. However, this time we wanted to do a day trip, so we looked for something close to Berlin. A friend found a wonderful canoeing day trip route that was easily accessible on the regional train.

The route

From Berlin, you take the regional train to Hangelsberg, and walk to the canoe rental place right next to the Spree river (Kanusport Spree), which also has a campground. From there you can rent a canoe and row to Erkner, where they will pick up the canoes. Erkner is already on the S bahn line, so afterwards you can take the S bahn back to Berlin city centre. The one way trip, all inclusive, was 25 euros per person and well worth it, as the route was beautiful.

From Hangelberg to Erkner is 27km on the Spree, but as you are going with the flow of the river, it doesn’t feel too strenuous. The canoe rental people recommend that you start by 10am if you want to reach Erkner at a reasonable time so they can pick you up. Along the way there are places along the riverbanks to stop and have a picnic, and also a campsite with a restaurant (Campingplatz Jägerbude) where you could stop for a proper meal. Scroll to the end of this post if you’d like to know what to take with you on a canoeing trip.

Our day out on the Spree: caught in a thunderstorm!

Our day started off peacefully. The Spree is a beautiful river, and there were no motorboats on the section we were on. We canoed to the sound of birds singing from the reeds, frogs croaking, the wind rustling the rushes and the tree branches, the lap-lapping of the water over the canoe paddles. The weather was perfect and we could see the clouds and trees reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water.

Around lunchtime we pulled up to the riverbank and had a picnic, enjoying the break from rowing. It was sunny, and the first real warm summer weather of the year.

We rowed some more, having some excitement as we passed under a bridge and a whole shoal of fish leapt out of the water, leaping several times ahead of the boat.

The sky was particularly beautiful that day…but were those storm clouds forming?

At around 3pm we arrived at Campingplatz Jägerbude, which has a campsite as well as a very nice restaurant. Since we’d eaten not that long ago, we had cakes or ice-cream. One person tried a Schwedenbecher (Swedish sundae), which is composed of vanilla ice-cream with apple sauce, Eierlikör (Advocaat/eggnog) and whipped cream. Apparently this recipe was invented during the DDR (Deustche Demokratische Republik/German Democratic Republic, so you can still find it on a lot of menus in former East Germany. We decided to look up why it is named after the Swedes, and found out that Walter Ulbricht, an East German politician, named it to commemorate Sweden beating West Germany in an ice hockey match in 1952. Just a random little bit of history to go along with the canoeing.

As we headed back to our canoes after Schwedenbecher et al, we noticed that the sky had darkened a bit and a breeze had picked up. Knowing that there had been a slight chance of thunderstorms in the weather forecast and familiar with the sudden breeze that often precedes a storm and the cumulonimbus clouds in the distance, two of us did ponder aloud for a moment whether we should continue. But the Spree was so lovely we didn’t want to have our journey cut short, so we headed to the canoes hoping for the best. We only had about 1.5 to 2 hours left to go anyway.

We headed off down the Spree. It was not that long before we saw a few, big drops hitting the water, sending circular ripples across the river. At first at seemed that was all it was going to be, but then we heard a rumble of thunder. Uh-oh.

We started canoeing to the side of the river and managed to park our boat under the shrubs/small trees on the riverbank just before the rain started coming down hard. Amazingly, the leaves sheltered us from the heavy rain. It felt like the safest place to wait it out. Ideally it would have been better to get on the land, but it wasn’t possible at that spot due to thick shrubs right along the riverbank. We avoided being near the tall trees because those are lightning magnets too. At any rate, there were only a few rumbles of thunder and the main issue was the rain, which was now coming down in amazing quantities.

A friend told me he was once canoeing across a lake when a thunderstorm started, and there was no choice but to row on. However at some point the members of the canoes realized that they were starting to sit lower in the water, because the rain was so heavy it was filling up the canoes! At that point they dedicated one person to bailing water out of each boat while the others rowed.

Gradually the rain died down and then stopped, and we could be on our way. We were reunited with our friends in the other canoe, who had also been sheltering close to shore somewhere behind us. After the rain, the air was hazy and humid, and a lot of mosquitoes started to make an appearance.

Further down river we heard another rumble or two, but it didn’t start raining again, and the thunderclouds looked to be further away. Soon we found ourselves rowing out into Dämeritzsee, Erkner’s lake. Sometimes lakes can be harder to row across than rivers because of wind, but there was absolutely no wind at all this time, and the oars cut through the water smoothly.

I always feel a bit regretful when we get to the end of a tour, but at least we had made it through the bad weather. The sun cast rays of light down from the dark clouds – more bad weather might come later. A guy from the canoe rental company arrived just as we pulled up onto shore at our designated meeting point. While the canoes headed back to Hangelsberg, we headed to Erkner station to take the S-bahn.

Things to take on a canoeing trip:

  • A dry sack (waterproof bag) is useful to keep things dry, as the bottom of the canoe can get a little wet. Usually the canoe rental places let you borrow them if you don’t have one.
  • Shoes that don’t mind being wet. I normally canoe barefoot and take beach/sports sandals with that I leave in the boat to use on shore, but if you plan to canoe regularly, you can also buy some water shoes. I heard that Decathlon sells 6 euro water shoes and I would like to try those out.
  • A hat, because while canoeing you are often in the sun a lot, and the water reflects the UV rays, so you will burn.
  • Sunscreen – for the same reasons as above. The knees tend to be the thing that burn, so make sure to put some sunscreen on them, if nowhere else.
  • Mosquito repellent – it depends where and when you are going, but towards the evening if you’re near the water, the mosquitoes start to make an appearance.
  • A rain jacket, if the weather forecast suggests any rain. I take a squashable one almost everywhere when doing sports, because you never know.
  • Water, snacks, food – because you could be on the water for a while.
  • Camera/smartphone – because it’s so beautiful you will probably want to take photos! You can get special water resistant cases but I just keep mine in a little bag that hangs around my neck, and it hasn’t drowned yet.
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