CAST OFF – HOUSE BOATING IN GERMANY
TEXT: WIBKE CARTER
Self-determined and flexible time off cruising the country’s waterways is an increasingly popular holiday trend. Extensive lake districts and gentle rivers invite travellers to enjoy quiet time close to nature while plunging into the waters from dawn to dusk.
Trees and shrubs that form completely untouched shore landscapes, sometimes reminiscent of mangroves, sea birds feeding their young and the rhythmic sound of the waves when the wind picks up – there are many details not noticeable from the car or even the bike, but can be picked up on when travelling by houseboat. No wonder, then, that an ever-increasing number of Germans seeking relaxation are opting for a holiday on the country’s rivers and lakes. The 2021 figures from operator Le Boat show that especially in August and September, the comfortable boats were extremely busy. “Until now, we spoke of very good capacity utilisation when we had reached an average of 67 per cent. With more than 90 per cent in the high season, we have impressively exceeded this threshold,” said Stefanie Knöß, marketing manager, Northern Europe. Furthermore, 75 per cent of customers were new to the business.
All hands on deck
More than 700 kilometres of navigable waterways in Germany are designated as ‘charter license areas’, especially in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. There, everyone is their own captain as the houseboats can be driven without a license after a roughly three-hour-long induction session. The reason is that the boats drive at very low speeds and are secured with fenders all around. Additionally, the nautical requirements for skippers are very basic and the handling of the rented vessels is easy. Many people think of ‘houseboats’ in terms of floating palaces for entire families, but it is possible to operate a small vessel with just two pairs of hands. Depending on budget, the number of guests and one’s own preferences, there are different companies and models to choose from – from a small boat with an outboard motor to a 15-metre luxury yacht. Taking turns taking the helm, navigating through locks and tunnels and mooring safely at moles or in harbours all require teamwork. Couples on a romantic trip only have to agree on a fair division of labour.
Undisturbed lake land
The Mecklenburg Lake District in north-eastern Germany, with its more than a thousand interconnected lakes, the largest being the Müritz, is magnificent. In spring and autumn, mist rising from the water in the morning creates an otherworldly atmosphere while houseboat enthusiasts have breakfast in the warm cabin or on deck. In the evening, the sunset is reflected on the lakes. One may assume bias when Locaboat Holidays’ marketing manager, Yvonne Schön, raves: “I’m on one of our boats at least twice a year and I’m always amazed at how quickly you can relax and unwind.” Travellers can enjoy a variety of quiet and relaxing activities: searching for white-tailed eagles, ospreys, beavers, otters and cranes from on board; hiking trips in the beech forests of the Müritz National Park; or visits to farms and restaurants to get a glimpse of local cuisine offering smoked fish, hearty roasts and home-grown vegetables. Culture lovers can visit impressive buildings such as Rheinsberg Castle, medieval city centres or romantic half-timbered houses.
The Brandenburg Lake District to the north of Berlin is known as the ‘blue paradise’. In Berlin, where waterways are more crowded, it is mandatory to have a license, but boaters who start off in Potsdam can still travel along the waterways without it. A popular tour leads from there on the Havel to Lake Plauer See. Along the way, cultural sights like medieval churches, castles and magnificent manor houses enchant effortlessly. A two-day tour for beginners not requiring a special boating license awaits in the Lusatian Lake District between Berlin and Dresden. The region was formerly a lignite mining area and is now being transformed into Europe’s largest man-made water landscape. Over the next few years, 20 lakes will be created where excavators tore up the earth and surface mines were formed years ago. Part of the future territory is already navigable.
Lake Constance, shared by Germany, Switzerland and Austria, is an up-and-coming houseboat destination. With a view of the Alpine landscape, houseboats bob softly on the waves, passing beaches, boardwalks and densely overgrown shorelines. Numerous highlights, such as the flower island of Mainau, tempt travellers to go ashore. Another popular stop is the Monastic Island of Reichenau, with its three Romanesque churches, flowering meadows and picturesque riverside paths, while the scattered prehistoric pile dwellings, the remains of which still rest at the bottom of Lake Constance, tell of a time long past.
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