I’ve always had a real affinity with water. Perhaps it’s because I spent the first few moments of my life underwater (water birth!). And while many began 2020 (remember that time, when we were full of hope for a new year, a new decade?) dancing, watching fireworks illuminate the sky, I woke up early and headed out to a lake. Standing at the edge of the water, I shivered in the cold morning air, breathing deeply as I worked my way up to taking the plunge.
In warmer weather, my self-control when it comes to submerging myself is limited. As a kid, I have a vivid memory of trailing behind my family on a beach, allowing myself to drop further and further behind, before dashing off into the waves, fully clothed in jeans and a jumper. The following very soggy and very uncomfortable 3-hour drive home was well worth the experience.
Yet despite this, it wasn’t until I moved to Berlin in 2017 that I started swimming in lakes and rivers, and I’ll tell you what, it’s bloody brilliant to finish a dip and not be covered in chlorine or salt!
Of course, I’m not the first person to harp on about the beauty and benefits of immersing yourself in cool water whilst surrounded by greenery. I won’t quote Byron, Keats, Coleridge – the great Romantic poets who saw wild swimming as an antidote to big-city life – and I won’t bore you with statistics on how the practise can strengthen your immune system, reduce stress and boost cognitive function.
I’ve always found solace in submersion… After a summer heartbreak, a stint on the sands out at Wannsee help soothe my heart.
What I will tell you is that, whatever I’ve had going on in my life, I’ve always found solace in submersion. My dip at the start of the year was almost a symbolic cleansing of the stresses that had accompanied me throughout the last year. I’d burnt out (amongst other things) and – after a few minutes in the ice-cold water – I emerged, my skin buzzing with electricity and feeling more alive than I had in months. After a summer heartbreak, a stint on the sands out at Wannsee helped soothe my heart. The first thing I did when lockdown eased? Drove to a secluded lake and just swam in silence, appreciating every single sound.
Perhaps the effects have something to do with experiencing the sublime: realising we’re just a small part of a much greater planet. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m a wild swimming addict. Though if I am, I’m not alone, as one of the things I get asked about the most is “Where can I go for a peaceful swim?”.
In my last column, I shared some of my favourite lakes, but here are a few more that I escape to when I need to unwind.
This is Sacrower See’s beautiful next-door neighbour. There are some great secluded swimming spots, and a view of a rather striking manor house.
Getting there: Catch the S7 or Regionalbahn out to Potsdam, from where it’s a short tram ride away, otherwise, it’s a 45-minute drive from central Berlin.
Come here early in the day, stroll through the pine trees and rent a rowing boat from which you can slip into the water. It’s bliss.
Getting there: If you’re going by public transport, you should bring your bike. Take the Regionalbahn to Strausberg, and then cycle from there. Alternatively, it’s just over an hour’s drive.
Großer Stechliner See
From Berlin, this is a bit of a trek, but well worth it due to the crystal clear water and lack of crowds.
Getting there: To be honest, you have to drive, and it takes a little under 2 hours.
This smaller lake is surrounded by forest and has a peaceful Strandbad with a huge jetty, great for jumping off!
Getting there: With public transport, it’s a train-bus combination (train to Bernau, bus to Biesenthal, Wukensee). If you’re feeling brave, you can cycle in 2 hours, alternatively, it’s an hour’s drive.
My New Year’s plunge spot: this glacial lake is just around the corner, and it’s my favourite after-work hangout thanks to its beach bar and occasional bonfire. It does get crowded in the summer, to be fair, but is surrounded by greenery and one of your best bets if you don’t want to venture too far.
Getting there: This one is easy by bike (it’s found on the outskirts of Wedding)! But otherwise, you can get there by bus, the TXL to Beusselstraße for example, train or tram, or drive and park nearby.
Wild swimming 101
A lot of this stuff is common sense, but it’s still worth bearing in mind, especially if you head out alone.
Be careful of undercurrents: A few weeks ago I went stand-up paddleboarding at Großdöllner See, and as I went through a narrow section of the lake, the current really overwhelmed me and it took a lot of energy to push through.
Make sure you can get out easily: It’s all well and good jumping into the water, but just make sure there’s somewhere you can easily get out again.
Don’t swim in stagnant (or generally dirty) water: if there’s a build-up of scum on the surface, it’s not worth going in. There are a few online resources such as this official site where you can check out the water quality of lakes throughout Brandenburg.
Emily McDonnell is our German travel expert. For more inspiration and travel tips, check out her travel club The Staycation Collection.