Paddling in the Spree Forest
The Spree Delta near Berlin - a paradise for canoeing and paddling
What a fantastic world! Even the Spree delta – situated in the middle of the river and not near the mouth – is part of it.
Farmers have extended the delta and now use the little canals for their work. The water is used for irrigation but also as a means of communication. As most of the water routes are flat and narrow, boats and barges can only be moved in a poling way.
In the course of time, the cultivation of cucumbers and pumpkins has flourished just like the tourism. Thus, you can find many restaurants in the villages directly by the water, see the postman using a barge and directly experience the local animal world. There is no better water to match canoes or kayaks than in the Spree Forest.
Slowly streaming, between two and eight metres wide, the canals constantly offer new things that are only a few paddle strokes away. In order to control the water level various locks and weirs have been set up. The locks are arranged in a way that after studying the manual of one, you’ll be able to operate them all. There are landing piers on all locks, which makes it easy to get in or off at any time.
Regulations and laws on the waterways
The watermen have secured special rights on the canals – similar to taxi drivers in big cities. This is partly due to the restricted manoeuvrability of the barges: A man trying to stop a solid-wood barge with 30 passengers using only a pole – not working. For paddlers, this means “queuing”.
Most of the Spree Forest is private land and a biosphere reserve at the same time. Therefore, gather some information first. There are some restrictions regarding travelling the canals – be it for reasons of nature protection or space. And this is why several sections in historic villages are only partly open for paddlers.
The authorities’ latest idea is a strict control of specific laws, which is in this case: All boats have to have a name on both sides at a minimum height of 10 cm – if not, a €35 fine applies. Whether it is helpful for the tourism to insist on laws being obliged to 100% or whether acting according to your sense of proportion – well, that remains to be seen. According to rumours there even were talks about a fee for paddlers but it has not been introduced yet. But who cares? Visit the Spree Forest as long as it is still possible.
Accommodation and Put-ins
There are many pensions, some hotels and only few camping sites. But yet, free put-ins are hard to find. A word of advice: Be polite, ask nicely, give a small donation for the “coffee bank” – and you are already parking your car and putting in your boat. For a tour around Lübbenau, we recommend the “Schloßcampingplatz Lübbenau” camping site. There is a parking lot, a public toilet and also boat rental and you are near the historical places. If you like it more quiet, we recommend the “Campingplatz am Ostgraben” camping site. It is a private site for tents only.
Danger in paradise?
Are there at all dangers in paradise? Yes, there are! Nature isn’t always just beautiful. There is a disease that has spread in the Spree Forest and infected the poplar with dry rot. The trees rot from the inside out and the actual diseased state of the tree is only spotted later – which can be rather dangerous during storms as the trees are unstable and fall easily. And this is why you should always look for a solid shelter during thunderstorms and strong wind.
All kinds of animals …
What kinds of animals live in the Spree Forest? If you are unlucky, it is mosquitoes and/or horse flies. But other than that, there are many different animals to observe: kingfishers, grass snakes, blind worms, muskrats, cows and loud, drunk, paddling tourists… depending on the time of day and the season. During the week during off-season and a little bit away from the major canals, the animals are undisturbed and great to observe.
Best to get in the canoe
I find the canoe the perfect boat for paddling the canals. The paddling rhythm reflects calmness, thanks to the higher seating position you have a better all-round view and getting in and off at the locks is easier than with a kayak.
When you are on tour with your family, the kids have enough room to play in the middle of the canoe and the steerer can always keep an eye on them. If you do not have any paddling experience yet, please read a book on canoes to practice the steering in order to keep the canoe going.
When renting a boat, you will receive a map as well. And you will need it – there are about 600 km of water routes. To make it back home it is enough to remember the names of the canals: These have – similar to roads within towns – names and are indicated accordingly at crossings. Thanks to the immense number of canals you always find your way back to the right canal rather quickly in case you have paddled into the wrong direction.
It is nearly impossible to recommend a specific tour because everyone wants to see different things. There are old villages around Lübbenau and in the northern to north-eastern part there is the Hochwald, in the east thicker forests and farm lands and east of Burg you can find the less touristy part with smaller estates and a mix of forests, meadows and fields.
Anyway, there are more than enough things to discover in the Spree Forest so it would be wise to plan in several days for it. You can also explore the Spree Forest by foot or by bike as there is a well-developed path system with bridges over the canals.
The equipment needed for the Spree Forest is not much. Comfortable clothing is important: A good recommendation is e.g. Tatonka’s Odis Shirt, which is made of a cotton / kapok blend and is perfect in the sun as well as during colder weather; add to it soft-shell trousers as they are flexible and dry quickly (e.g. Bowles Pants by Tatonka). Ideally, wear a soft-shell waiscoat and in case it gets wet, make sure you bring a rainjacket and rain trousers (e.g. the Twain Jacket and Tores Pants by Tatonka).
The boat hirers always appreciate a careful usage of their material – wearing the right boots is part of that. Therefore, I recommend e.g. the Teva boots Refugio, a ultra-light mesh water-sports shoe. But, alternatively, you can also wear sandals. For the full package add a waterproof storage sack (e.g. by Tatonka) for all the important things in life, such as your mobile etc. (According to the stories, there should at least ring 10 mobiles at each lock – if only they still could after falling into the water). An insulated bottle not only keeps your drinks warm but on hot days also cool – so here is another recommendation: Hot&Cold Stuff by Tatonka. Last but not least: Don’t forget mosquito repellents and sun screen!
Holiday homes and boat rentals: www.bootsverleih-duschka.de
Camping sites: www.spreewaldcamping.de
Arrival by car: The Spree Forest is located at the motorway intersection Cottbus/ Berlin/ Dresden, approx. an hour’s drive from Berlin or Dresden. Attention: There are many radar controls in this region!