*** Big thanks to Christin all the way in Germany for contributing this guest post along with all the great photos! ***
Given the restraints of quarantine and lockdown, I decided to rediscover one of my favorite ways to experience nature. An activity that is far from the first that comes to mind when thinking about travel in Germany: River canoeing or kayaking! There is a surprisingly good canoeing infrastructure in Northern Germany and lots of wildlife to see from the water.
Boat on the Müritz-Elde canal
Where do you go to see Germany off the beaten path?
It’s like the best kept secret spot in Germany: the UNESCO listed Biosphere Reserve of the Elbe River. So well kept that the Biosphere Reserve’s website only exists in German, so you’ll have to have your browser translate it. The original name is Biosphärenreservat Flusslandschaft Elbe Mecklenburg-Vorpommern if ever you needed to google it exactly. Don’t you love German and its long words 🙂
Is it worth a day trip from Hamburg?
This glacial valley is about an hour drive from Hamburg in the North of Germany. Hence it makes for a perfect day trip from Hamburg. When the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age, they left behind a network of rivers, streams and creeks that delight kayakers and canoers today. The Elbe river itself is the only one in the area used by cargo ships, all the other smaller ones are undisturbed.
So undisturbed in fact, that a few times we had to manoeuvre our kayak over and around trees that had fallen across the river. The first time was near Brömsenberg, just after we got into the water. Luckily I was with another experienced paddler so we managed, but for beginners I recommend boarding the boat 200 meters upstream from the bridge, past the tree.
Another tree had fallen across the Sude river near Redefin. There we had to get out and lift the boat to the other side. Fortunately, the river bank was low enough to easily get out of the kayak.
They are the ideal place for nature lovers in Germany. Winding rivers from which you can see animals you only know from books. Smell the pine forests and fields around you as well as the fresh water underneath you.
Ducks and geese on the Müritz-Elde canal
Wildlife seen from the river
Recently, I’ve been extremely lucky seeing wildlife along the rivers and canals in Northern Germany. While they have always been off the beaten path, I can’t help it wonder if the sudden decrease of traffic and noise has something to do with it during quarantine times. It definitely speaks to the preservation efforts of the reserve.
Eagle seen near Sude river in Germany
On the Sude river we have seen eagles, cranes, buzzards, nutrias, Kingfishers, storchs, lots of ravens, ducks and songbirds. Near the river banks we see rabbits from time to time. On the Müritz-Elde canal we also saw beavers, swans, geese, cormorants, and herons. Subjectively, I can say seeing so many large birds, especially raptors from such close proximity was easier this spring than ever before.
One time, an eagle must have just caught prey and fed on it on a meadow right next to the river. Four of his friends and dozens of other raptors were circling the area. There also must have been at least 30 ravens above the field. One of them noticed our boat and alarmed the others. This is how we saw them fly above our heads a few times before they finished their meal.
Nutria seen while river kayaking on the Side River
Nutrias were imported here from North America more than 100 years ago. Apparently they find everything they need in this habitat, since they multiplied fast. There is not a kayaking trip where we do not see nutrias. At least along the natural rivers, where they can build their tunnels and caves under tree roots. On the canals, we saw beavers instead. They obtain their own building material from trees near the water.
In recent years there has also been a huge increase in the deer and wild boar population. You can see where they cross the rivers and come to drink because their stampedes leave only dirt behind on the river banks where there once was a carpet of vegetation.
Deer and wild boars
Where do you get canoes or kayaks from?
While we are lucky enough to own our own kayaks, there are also options to rent them in the area. I like Biber Jesse Tours (not sponsored). They are great with kids also, in case you are thinking about a family trip to Germany off the beaten path.
Also, they can give you advice on where to paddle. In the spring (from March until End of June) some parts of the rivers in the UNESCO biosphere reserve are closed even for canoes. This protects the wildlife in these nesting grounds.
How to get to Jessenitz from Hamburg
If you are driving from Hamburg, get on the A24 towards Berlin. The closest exit to Jessenitz, where you can rent the boats is exit 10. Drive through Hagenow and Lübtheen.
Getting there by public transport is tricky and takes about two hours. You will have to take the train towards Rostock. Those leave Hamburg in 2h intervals. Get off the train in Pritzier, then take a bus to Jessenitz. Make sure to check the times before you leave, because this far off the beaten path, transportation is not accustomed to tourists. Schedules are not regular. At the point of writing this post, their scheduled departures from Pritzier to Jessenitz are these. There is also a number you can dial to request a bus transfer at fairly regular intervals in addition to the above. It’s complicated and bus times are not tourist friendly, so if you can, drive!
What else is there to do in the Biosphere Reserve Elbe River?
If you liked it here, you may also want to check out my post about Dömitz, just a few miles down the road in the same reserve. It’s another convenient day trip from Hamburg, but there is plenty to discover to also make it worth spending a night.
After reading this post I hope you have some more inspiration for day trips from Hamburg that are off the beaten path. Enjoy nature in its tranquility and decelerate. Comment below if you have any further questions.