Hiking in Germany
The City of Seven Lakes in Germany
Mountains provide the underlying theme of most hiking trails: England has the South Downs, France the Massif Central and Germany the gently rolling landscapes of its various Mittelgebirges.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have always enjoyed my hikes through this type of landcape, otherwise I would not have done so many of them.
But it is also true that, after a while, you are beginning to ask yourself: are there God-given laws which dictate that hikes must always feature hills and dense forests? And, perhaps, is there an alternative to rocks and ridges? Well, there are not, and there is.
The Mecklenburger Seenplatte west of Berlin, in fact, provides the perfect contrast to a hillside walk: not only are there no mountains, but the entire area is so low-lying that any arriving water has nowhere lower to flow into and just collects in giant puddles – hence the region’s name (a See is a lake, and a Platte is a flat surface).
The result is idyllic, charming, beautiful even, although, to fully appreciate the region’s beauty, it probably helps if you are of a slightly melancholic bent.
There is only one drawback – the Mecklenburger Seenplatte is not the most easily accessible part of Germany. And once you are there, your problems are only beginning: it is actually the transport inside the Seenplatte that consumes so much of your time. Trains run infrequently, bus schedules are highly erratic, and relatively short distances require surprising amounts of travelling time.
Which is why a walk around Lake Schwerin on the western edge of the Seenplatte seems such a great option. The lake is large and picturesque enough to give you an impression of the area’s landscape, it is relatively straightforward to get to – you can do this on a daytrip from Berlin or Hamburg or as part of a long weekend from anywhere else – and it throws an attractive little town into the bargain, solving all your logistic problems in one go.
When you leave Schwerin train station (a one hour journey from Hamburg, two hours from Berlin), pass between the hotel on the right hand side of the station forecourt and the extravagantly flamboyant statue. (The muscular chap, as the plaque on the statue informs us, is rescuing the lady from drowning. You dirty minded lot!).
What you are seeing in front of you is not yet Lake Schwerin but the Pfaffenteich, one of the lakes that has given the town its by-name City of Seven Lakes. Turn right and continue past the Arsenal – a 19th century armory, now a regional government office – into the town centre.
Take some time to explore Schwerin’s Old Town – the ornate old Post Office, the 14th century Cathedral, the market square – before heading for the incongruously enormous Castle that looks as though it had originally been intended for a town ten times the size of Schwerin.
Royal in scale and ambition, the Castle was once the home of the Grand Dukes of Mecklenburg – built mainly in the mid 19th century with clear architectural references to the grand castles on the Loire – and todays serves partly as a museum, partly as the Parliament for the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. (Schwerin is the capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and – with just under 100,000 inhabitants – the smallest state capital in Germany.)
Walk around the castle and cross the bridge into the castle gardens before turning left to join the Franzosenweg. This path leads you along the southern shore of Lake Schwerin, which – with a total surface area of more than 60 km² – is the 4th largest lake in Germany.
For the first kilometre or so, the walk is a little bland, guiding you past the usual suburban lakeside collection of tennis courts, rowing clubs and boathouses, but once you have left the suburban sprawl behind, it becomes very pleasant and offers a large number of picturesque views.
Continue on the lakeside path through the beach resort of Zippendorf and its hinterland.
After you leave Zippendorf, the trail leaves the lakeside for a few hundred metres but leads you back to the lake: just follow the yellow arrows! – to the village of Muess.
When you see the local Kurhaus – a hotel-style building – on your right hand side on top of a hill, you should leave the trail, walk up to the main road, turn left and then – behind the Seeparkhotel on your left – left again into another busy road.
About 100 meters from the crossing, on the left hand side of the road, there is a bus stop where buses (line no. 6) leave for Schwerin. (The fare is € 1.50 per person, payable at an automatic ticket dispenser in the bus, so have coins ready.)
These buses leave at least once per hour from Monday to Friday, but more irregularly on weekends (and if you are unlucky enough to arrive mid-afternoon on a Sunday, you may have to wait for more than two hours). If you arrive and find out that you need to wait, you may want to walk back to the Seeparkhotel (generally open every day) to have a cup of coffee or an ice cream.
There is, of course, no obligation to stop your walk at Muess. The trail continues on a full loop around Lake Schwerin, but may – with an overall length of roughly 70 km – be a trifle long for a daytrip.
More realistically, you could continue for another 2 km to Raben-Steinfeld, from where you can return to Schwerin by the same bus line (no. 6), or, if you really feel up to it, to Görslow, half way up the lower lake where line no. 6 terminates.
Wherever you decide to cut off your walk: bus no. 6 will, as an additional bonus, take you to its terminus on Stauffenbergstraße in the middle of an old GDR-style Plattenbausiedlung council estate, for an opportunity to sample an authentic slice of old East Germany. Cross the road and take a trolley bus to town. (The ticket you purchased on the bus entitles you to travel for 45 minutes anywhere on the town’s public transport system.)
On the way back to Schwerin city centre, you will pass another two of the city’s seven lakes, one on your right, one on your left hand side.
To complete your set – to “collect them all” – you will, however, need to come back some other time. I am sure that, having spent a day on lovely Lake Schwerin, this is exactly what you will want to do.