Settled by the Sorbs and Wends in the sixth century AD, Spreewald was a farming region with a problem. The area's wetlands made agriculture difficult, so the farmers resolved the issue by digging channels (fließen) to the river Spree for irrigation and drainage.
Over 800 miles of the waterway are the ideal way to tour the region. And with 18,000 species of animals and plants, there is plenty to see besides the water. The Spreewald is a major tourist destination just outside Berlin.
Boat the Canals
The canals are the major attraction of the area and the best way to move around the Spreewald. Book a tour on one of the many guided boat tours that slowly glide along the canals by punting, similar to Venice or Cambridge. Relax as your guide does the hard work while you absorb information about your surroundings.
While there are tours in almost every town, your best chance of finding an English-speaking boat is in Lübben or Lübbenau. Book a place on a public tour for 10 euro per person or bring some friends and rent the whole boat.
If you prefer to move along the canals yourself, there are boat rentals of rowboats, kayaks, and canoes (oddly called kanadier). Your boat rental comes with a laminated map of routes determined by length (in 1, 2, and 3-hour increments) and costs about 12 euros for 2 hours.
Canals are marked with wooden signs so look for ironically named passages like the “Suez Canal.” Be aware that the 2-person Kanadier comes with a peddle/rudder system that can be tricky to figure out. And your journey can take much longer depending on your energy. It's a canal, not a river, so all motion is your own.
Although the Spreewald is often thought of as a summer destination, the canals are also an attraction in winter. Once the shallow waters freeze solid, residents take to the waterways by ice skate. Kids play pick-up hockey games and touring the Spreewald in winter white is an added dimension of charm. Stay warm with warm mugs of Glühwein and treats from local vendors.
If you prefer to stay on land, forest walks are also an option. The tourist office in Lubben sells trail maps. Or simply walk from Lubben to Lubbenau (13 km or 8 miles). Want to get there faster? Take a mountain bike on the well-equipped paths.
Fishing is another way to enjoy the waterways. Pike, zander, carp, eel, tench and other freshwater fish can be caught in the canals.
Note that a valid fishing permit is required and there are specific requirements to protect the biosphere.
It wouldn't be a relaxing break in the countryside without a spa. One of the best spas near Berlin is the Spreewald Therme. It utilizes the unique mineral water in the saltwater thermal baths and its brine is credited with improving skin, the respiratory system, and the entire musculoskeletal system.
Museums and Sites
- Freilandmuseum Lehde - Visit Lehde near Lübbenau, a 700-year-old preserved Spreewald village which consists of many small islands connected by pedestrian bridges. This protected heritage site was only reachable by boat until 1929 and even today relies on Germany's only post ferrywoman to distribute the mail. The fire brigade and garbage service also have their own boats.
- Walk the quaint town and bridges observing the typical Spreewald houses. Built of wood with roofs of reeds, note the Sorbian/Wendian snake symbols on the gables. People in traditional dress work on crafts for visitors.
- Slavic Fort at Raddusch – This rebuilt fort is just 15 km south of Burg (Spreewald). Built around 850 A.D., there are paths with information boards throughout the area and playground and picnic sites.
- Spreewald Therme – The Thermal Spa in Burg (Spreewald) is the ideal way to unwind after a day of boating, hiking, and biking. This modern facility offers the best in relaxation techniques, saunas, and overnight accommodations.
- Arznei- und Gewürzpflanzengarten Burg Spreewald – To take some nature home with you, this cutting garden is available for tours.
- Gurken- und Bauernhausmuseum - Taste the famous Spreewald pickle and track its history and development.
- Spreewald Aquarium – The aquarium focuses on the different types of fish that live in the Spree.