It’s surprising how few tourists venture on to the waterways of East Berlin and beyond. And yet they are so easily accessible. Last week I took a boat trip from Köpenick to Woltersdorf and escaped from the unbearable heat of the city centre to paradise. It was a Monday, so probably quieter than usual, but on such a hot day when most museums are closed, I expected far more activity. Instead the lakes, the forests and pretty backwaters seemed exclusively ours.
Planning the boat trip
It was a 30 minute journey on the S-Bahn from Alexanderplatz to Köpenick (including changing at Ostkreuz) and then 5 minutes on the tram to the waiting boat. There are several companies operating tours on and around the Müggelsee, which is Berlin’s largest lake and measures four and a half kilometres by two and a half kilometres. We chose the Reederei Kutzker and boarded a boat which left the Lindenstrasse pier in Köpenick at 10 in the morning. At this point we were actually on the River Spree (here called the ‘Müggelspree’) which flows into the Müggelsee and out the other side.
Aerial view of the Müggelsee
There are some wonderful walks all around the Müggelsee, but we were feeling lazy and simply wanted to be out on the water in the breeze. We spent over two hours on board, just watching the world go by. There was plenty to see and hear about en route, including some interesting buildings. At the beginning of our tour we had good views of Köpenick and Friedrichshagen, both historic towns worthy of a day trip in their own right. They are described in some detail in ‘The Outer Edges’ of Berlin Unwrapped.
The ‘White Villa’ by the brewery in Friedrichshagen
We stopped in Friedrichshagen to pick up a few more passengers and then headed out across the open waters of the lake towards Rahnsdorf. On the northern bank is the Museum im Wasserwerk (Waterworks Museum). This building dates back to 1893 and still supplies water to Berlin today. Visitors can tour the original preserved plant floor with its piston steam engines. There are three official ‘bathing stations’ around the lake, the largest being the Strandbad Müggelsee and the ‘east’s counterpart’ to the Wannsee Strandbad. But there are good lakeside picnic spots as well and places where you can hire all manner of small boats.
The historic waterworks
The southern bank of the Müggelsee is more densely forested and among the Müggelbergen, the hills which boast the highest point in Berlin, we could just catch a glimpse of the Müggelturm. This viewing tower, a construction dating back to GDR days and due for a facelift, affords panoramic views towards Berlin and across Brandenburg.
The Müggelturm viewing tower
Once across the lake we had reached Rahnsdorf, originally a small fishing settlement with cobblestone streets and old chestnut trees, which wraps itself in a horseshoe shape around the village church. Not far from the ferry landing stage is the home of the last professional fisherman in Köpenick. Every morning, Andreas Thamm sets out for Lake Müggelsee at about 5am. And on summer weekends he lights his smokehouse and sells his freshly-caught fish to the day-trippers.
Herr Thamm’s fish stall
Gliding along the Müggelspree past Rahnsdorf we had now reached the area of Neu Venedig (New Venice) a housing settlement of pretty waterside homes set amongst weeping willows on a maze of small artificial canals. No wonder Berlin can boast more bridges than Venice.
The good life in ‘New Venice’
All too soon we left the backwaters and found ourselves out on another lake – the Dämeritzsee where Berlin ends and Brandenburg begins. Its diameter is about one kilometre and at its south-eastern end is the Brandenburg town of Erkner, famous for its links with the German playwright Gerhard Hauptmann and the first town in East Germany to be granted ‘borough rights’ after Reunification. It is also the final destination of S-bahn line S3 and a starting point for several ‘Spreeland’ cycle and walking tours. Our boat trip led us along the ‘Falkenfließ’ a waterway which flows through Erkner and links the Dämeritzsee with the Falkensee. One of its downsides is the lingering smell of abandoned chemical works by the waters’ edge – but it made for some interesting industrial sights.
The approach by water to Erkner
Now we were on the open waters of lake Falkensee, towards our final destination of Woltersdorf. It was difficult to believe we were anywhere near a city – it felt a million miles away from concrete and clay, pavements and partying. In fact, I could have sat on the boat forever and continued into the deepest reaches of Spreeland. But we had booked a table for lunch and instead lingered a while in Woltersdorf. We meant to climb the observation tower above the town for a view of the Fernsehturm in Berlin, but it was too hot. Inside the tower there is even an exhibition “When Woltersdorf still was Hollywood“ which recalls the 1920s. Instead, we stood by the lock originally built in 1550, and contemplated the changes that had taken place over the past decades.
Lunch at the ‘Flakenseeterrassen’
It was time to return to Berlin and urban reality. We picked up the historic tram (dating back to 1913) in Woltersdorf and trundled through the woods to Rahnsdorf S Bahn station where the S3 whisked us back to Ostkreuz and then to Alexanderplatz. So close to civilisation and yet so far.
Arrival in Rahnsdorf – by historic tram