Canoeing on the Havel river: Pritzerbe to Hohennauener See via Rathenow

Good weather brings opportunities for weekend canoeing or biking trips. Somehow these trips are always the highlight of my year. Being constantly active during the day leaves no time for pondering over work stresses, and getting from one place to the next by your own horsepower is somehow very satisfying. Taking in the countryside and village scenery at a slow pace instead of racing from one destination to the next by car, train or plane like one usually does when travelling makes all the difference. Camping also brings you back to basics, and you realize that you actually don’t need many things to live quite happily. It also makes you appreciate luxuries like having your own bathroom and a soft bed when you get back home! There is also a thrilling sense of adventure when you set off for a trip with just a backpack and a tent, not knowing what the days ahead will hold.

Ready for adventure!

On this particular summer weekend sometime in June, we headed off to the Hauptbahnhof (Main Station) after work to catch a train (or rather two trains) to Pritzerbe, where our first night’s campground was located. From Pritzerbe station, we walked through the cobblestone streets of the lovely little village until we reached the Havel river. There we waited with another family and one or two cars for the “on demand” ferry to arrive from the banks of the opposite shore. This kind of ferry is basically a kind of raft on a line that is pulled from one side of the river to the other all day, much like a floating bridge. We crossed the river near sunset, and the views were beautiful.

River crossed, we walked on to our campground, where we met the two of our group who were already there and had set up camp. The canoes had already been delivered by the rental company, and lay to one side. After pitching our tents and covering ourselves in mosquito repellent (since the mosquitoes were already trying to eat us), we started our dinner of camping raclette. The cute camping raclette set is a little metal tray resting above tealight candles. You lay slices of cheese on the tray to melt, and can then eat the melted cheese with bread, potatoes and various pickles, or whatever else you like. As we would eventually be six people, our friend had added an extra tray to keep the melted cheese coming quickly. We had eaten our fill of cheese by the time the last two in our group arrived, and they gladly took over. As it grew darker, tiny fireflies seemed to appear in the trees, but we discovered that in fact a larger camping home near us was projecting little lights onto the trees. Some people have semi-permanent homes in such campsites – it is considered camping as long as the houses have wheels, but some even set up well-tended, flowery gardens and little wooden fences, so clearly they stay a while. Walking through the campsite at night, many of the trees had projected fairy lights on them, which made the whole campsite feel magical. We went to bed with the sound of frogs singing, a wonderful lullaby.

Camping raclette

In the morning, the baker’s van showed up at the campsite, and we could enjoy “Schokobrötchen” (Pain au Chocolat, a croissant like pastry filled with chocolate) for breakfast. Camping luxuries! Speaking of luxuries, I decided to skip the shower since it was in the middle of the campsite bathroom without walls, a door or curtain. I think everyone did as I didn’t hear that anyone had showered – we’d just go for a swim when we got a chance. After breakfast and tea (courtesy of a gas burner),we packed up camp and piled everything into the two canoes. The canoes were pulled into the water and we were ready to go! This time I got a middle seat on the canoe, with my friend in front and my husband behind me.

Off we canoed on the Havel river. First we stopped briefly in Pritzerbe so some people could pop into the shop there, and then we continued along the Havel.

Apart from rowing on the main river itself, there are also little detours on side canals. As it was a relatively dry year, some were deep enough and some weren’t. We took one side route that led to us being “beached” in a shallow section, and had to get out to pull the boat for a bit – all adding to the fun!

Land ho!

A visitor to our canoe

At some point we came to a DIY lock (Schläuse) which was also fun. My two boat mates both climbed out of the canoe and ran off to try it out, leaving me alone in the canoe and charged with the job of rowing in and out of the lock. I was proud that I managed to steer the canoe alone, since when you’re rowing with three you never really know what you can do alone. They were proud that they managed to operate the DIY lock, which involved turning a giant wheel. An explanation of locks can be read in one of my previous canoeing posts. Basically they allow a boat to go up or down to a different ground level, and regulate the pace of the river (as a steep slope would make for fast flowing waters).

For a late lunch we stopped at a picnic spot at a riverside beach and shared our random assortment of foods before changing into swimming gear in the Toi toi to take a dip in the river. It turned out we’d happened to stop at our canoe rental place!

Not the canoe rental place, but one of several “river beaches” along the way

In the afternoon we had a swan adventure. Our friend in the canoe had mentioned that swans could be territorial and aggressive, but so far all the swans I’d seen had been floating placidly on the water. However, in the afternoon we spotted a lone swan. It was on a fairly wide part of the river and it was swimming around near the bank whereas we were near the centre of the river, but as we arrived it started to swim towards us. My husband made some clicking noises to say hello, and the swan started to swim more quickly. Our friend again mentioned that swans could be territorial, so we rowed away from it and forwards down the river. Once we had passed the swan and were a good distance away from it to give it space, we turned around to look where it was. To our great surprise, this swan obviously didn’t appreciate being looked at, and suddenly it launched itself out of the water and started flying/running on water towards our canoe! They say in times of danger there is a flight, fight or freeze response – well, we found out our responses that day! My friend grabbed her oar and held it up to use as a weapon in case of emergency, but I cried out “Row! Row!” and started rowing as fast as I could possibly row, away from the swan. We managed to row away and the swan stopped chasing us, obviously satisfied that he had managed to scare us away. We looked back to see where the canoe behind us, as they too would have to pass the swan, and noticed they had veered all the way to the opposite side of the river, in an attempt to stay as far away from the angry swan as possible! Lesson learned – swans are lovely, but some of them can be territorial, and they don’t like clucking noises!

Not the angry swan – but this one also looks suspicious!

Peaceful swans

In the afternoon we still had quite a way to row, but it was still and peaceful. In the early evening, the river sometimes looked like a mirror, reflecting the trees above. We passed lilypads and rushes where birds flitted around, and now and then a village or another boat.

Soon after, the end of our day’s rowing was in sight: the Rathenow canoe club As we arrived at the grassy banks of the campsite, it was a satisfying feeling to pull our canoes ashore. The view from the banks was beautiful. We checked in and began pitching camp, then enjoyed sitting around for a while at the edge of the river. As it started to get darker, we started a fire for grilling our dinner. As usual there were lots of sausages, garlic bread and grilled cheeses (cheeses such as haloumi, Camembert or feta-style white cheese is popular on the grill in Germany). We sat around the fire for a while, then retired to our tents for another night under the starry skies.

It was great to open the tent in the morning and have such a beautiful view. The canoe club had one shower in each bathroom and it had a shower curtain for privacy so the next morning it was possible to shower. After having breakfast we headed off for our second day of rowing.

First stop was the lock of Rathenow. This one wasn’t DIY, so we had to wait for someone to let us through. After the lock, we rowed through Rathenow, which had a lot of houses right at the water’s edge. The states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are both filled with lakes and waterways, and there must be a large number of people living right at the water’s edge as in Rathenow.

Our rowing that day was mostly along the main Havel – we’d planned to take a side route but the water was too low to enter. We did explore one side route which was a fun tour among the reeds, steering past fallen trees. Eventually a tree blocked our way do we turned back to the main river. We kept a look out for otters, but didn’t see any. However, we did see some deer in the trees alongside the river.

After a stretch on the river, it was time to turn off onto a large canal. The wind was blowing incredibly strongly on this canal, and it was quite an effort to turn into it. As our canoe was ahead, we had to hold onto the reeds to avoid floating away while waiting for the others. Once they arrived we continued on our way, but on the one or two occasions a large boat came down the canal, we also held onto the reeds at the side to avoid being blown towards the boats. The wind was so strong on this canal that we barely had to row.

Eventually we popped out on the other side of the canal, on lake …, which was our final destination. Dodging all the other boats around, we headed to a beach where we would have lunch, swim and end our tour. Three of us were done rowing for the weekend, but three of us were keen to do a bit more rowing and took an after lunch row around the lake. We didn’t go very far because we soon realized that the wind was so strong it would be difficult to row back against it. Our short side tour was a lot of work!

Part of our route

We watched the first Germany match of the world cup at an outdoor restaurant and afterwards the canoe rental company came to pick us and the canoes up. As we drove towards the train station, we passed fields, forest and villages, and you wouldn’t have guessed, if you didn’t know, that an entire world on the water lay not far away.


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