What a sound - the rustling of alder and birch leaves and reeds in the wind. Our eyes wander across the sky. Glowing tree crowns sway above us as we are approach the dark blue Käbelick Lake. Finally autumn has arrived, an event I have been longing for the whole year. Behind us, a three kilometre hike from the train station in Kratzeburg. In front of us, a long weekend. We want to enjoy the best spots around Mecklenburg.
We are going to make the most of the Indian summer at the Mecklenburg Lake District for three days. We will not get tired of looking at the colours of autumn, we want to hike through the dense forest of the Müritz National Park, paddle with and against the wind across lonely lakes and cycle around the largest lake in North Germany, the Müritz. You could call it a Mecklenburg Triathlon. Our ambitions are not so sporty though and our tours rather short. We just want to be outside and experience the remote landscape of Northeast Germany.
Silence is never more fulfilling than during autumn.
The Mecklenburg Lake District is the largest coherent region of lakes and canals in Germany. At the same time it is so sparely populated like nowhere else in the country. No industry dares to move here, so nature is safe. If you make your way over here, you are looking for silence and going back to the roots – and there’s never a more fulfilling time than during the autumn. Of course, the water might be warmer during summer, the weather milder and the days longer. But not until the majority of tourists have left, the first campgrounds have been closed, and the fog blurs each morning, does the landscape begin to claim back its relaxed atmosphere. We want to start relaxed too. So, light packing is better packing: sleeping bag, sleeping mat, tarp, camping stove, kettle, some food and spare clothes and binoculars around the neck – we don’t need much more for the next few days. Light-footed we hike eight kilometres to the next town accompanied by a whispering wind.
Area: One of the biggest nature reservations is right in the middle of the Mecklenburg Lake District: the Müritz National Park. There are special park rules (mueritz-nationalpark.de). We chose a weekend in October, our favourite season!
Hiking: Not a classic hiking area but several wonderful paths. Our hiking tour leads from Kratzeburg to Granzin along the south bank of the Käbelick Lake. Further tips: Autumn tour through the Serrahner Buchenwald. It is one of the rare original forests in Europe. Unesco World Heritage.
Paddling: Our tour went from the young Havel to Granzin to the Jäthensee and back. Many canoe rental stations in that area. Beginners should get safety advice. Round trip possible, some canoe stations offer a pick-up service for paddler and boat.
Cycling: Start in Granzin and go straight across the National Park to Boeker Mühle, passing the towns of Rechlin and Vipperow along the Müritz bank going all the way to Ludorf. Next stage: along the west bank to Waren and further on through the forest of the National Park to Granzin. The street lined with chestnut and oak trees is a dream! Many towns offer accommodation especially for cyclists (bettundbike.de).
Getting There: By train to Waren an der Müritz or Neustrelitz, then to Kratzeburg. Travellers by train receive an environmental discount at some service stations like canoe rental shops. By car it takes two hours from Berlin, two and a half hours from Hamburg.
Bicycle, Canoe, Thousands of Tips: Andreas Landau from Kormoran Kanutouring, Granzin 38, 17237 Kratzeburg-Granzin, phone +49 3 98 22/298 88, kormoran-kanutouring.de.
Sleep, Eat and Relax: Romantikhotel Gutshaus Ludorf, Rondell 7, 17207 Ludorf/Müritz, phone +49 3 99 31/84 00, gutshaus-ludorf.de.
We have arranged to meet Andreas Landau right next to the Havel. Later on, the river will run through Berlin and into the Elbe. Andreas’ relaxed nature fits perfectly to this spot of land. He was one of the first to open a canoe and bicycle rental service in the Mecklenburg Lake District region, focusing on nature-friendly tourism. He only hires out a certain amount of canoes to prevent over canoeing and too much noise during high season. It should not get too busy and the sensitive lakeside should not be damaged. Not today. We are the only guests at the rental station.
So we get into our boats, following the Havel to the south. The small waters connect each lake like a long pearl line. The pearls are edged by large belts of reeds. Behind that, meadows and forests sprawl out, the landscape is vast. The clouds have left with the summer tourists, a clear blue sky spans above us. We are getting there. The surface of the water feels untouched – a fascinating illusion. When I look back I can see how the waves we just created curl up and then disappear. I like the thought not leaving anything behind, not even a trace, nothing. We just let ourselves drift. In the middle of the Zotzensee we try to keep still like a heron. The heron wins masterfully. Like a statue, he only watches out for his lunch passing by.
Watching the birth of a new day while leaning back in a canoe.
We do not catch our dinner out of the water but from our lunch boxes. Our accommodation is simple and easy: On a water-hiking resting area we set up our tarp and unroll our sleeping mats on the ground. When I wake up in the middle of the night I look straight up to a sparkling sky full of stars. I love the unpopulated area for its darkness. It got a bit cold and tomorrow there will be thick fog over the Granziner Lake. The first rays of dawn will get tangled in it and everything will be in a golden light. This scenery is not a premiere for me, but each time I find it deeply moving.
The ice age was a fascinating time period. At least when looking back at it. 15,000 years ago, the moving glaciers did not only create hundreds of lakes but also an evenly chopped landscape, just made for relaxed bicycle tours. After a sunrise tour with our canoes and a large breakfast, we exchange a canoe for bicycles and leave most of our luggage with Andreas. Already in the after noon we arrive at our second destination in the town of Ludorf, set on the west bank of the Müritz. This time, we choose exquisite accommodation for the night. Instead of sleeping underneath a plastic sheet we take the duvet in the romantic hotel Gutshaus Ludorf.
Through grand hallways in outdoor clothes.
We check in with little luggage and might have attracted some attention with our outdoor clothes as we shuffle through grand hallways. Manor houses are fairly common in this area, often in the centre of a village. Many manor houses got rebuild and renovated after the reunification, some turned into hotels or cottages. Although there is solidity and nobleness in the air, they offer a very relaxed atmosphere, promises Manfred Achtenhagen, owner of the manor. »How about a Finnish sauna after your canoe and bicycle tour?« It sounds perfect, you cannot finish an autumn day any better. Or can you?
Our host seems to know something even better. »You have to go to the viewpoint Gnever Kuhle. You have a magnificent view over the nature reserve Großer Schwerin, a peninsula in the Müritz. At sunset, there are more than 5,000 cranes looking for a resting place for the night. You can only see this natural event during autumn when all the birds get together to fly towards the south.« Manfred certainly knows how to get us interested.
So in the evening, we squint against the setting sun, in front of us the wide Müritz. Cranes circle in large formations above us, and one by one they land on the flat bank of the peninsula. We have never seen anything like this. Again, it is the sound of the landscape that moves me: the hooting of the birds and the rushing of the wind. My favourite soundtrack of the Mecklenburg Lake District during autumn.
Lars Hoffman has been working as a nature and outdoor photographer for many years. He does not only share his surname with author Niels Hoffman, but also his passion to discover the unknown. The brothers have been travelling around in all directions, no matter what season, by foot, with skies or dog sled, and of course by kayak and canoe. They paddled down the Donau as »Die Donauten«, accompanied by a 3sat/ZDF-TV team, wrote articles for the Kanu-Magazin straight from the river and published the photography book »Gesichter der Donau«, including their travel story.
Fresh from the press is their latest large-format book about the Mecklenburg Lake District. The National Geographic Photographer praises the book: »You can’t visualise a love letter to the Mecklenburg Lake District any better way than that. This book has a special quality.«
»Die Mecklenburgische Seenplatte«, Photography by Lars Hoffmann, Publishing House Edition Morizaner, Globetrotter order number 21.58.15, 224 pages, 143 photos, 29.90 euros. Available in German.
21. August 2012, Text: Niels Hoffmann