Get it while you can, Berliners.
Just a 90-minute train ride into Brandenburg from the German capital’s central Alexanderplatz station, autumn day trippers can find a tranquil escape from the city’s hurly-burly where famous dill pickles, smoked fish, regional brews and quaint canoes abound.
While paddling along the maze of quiet, tree-lined channels in the summer months is resplendent with yellow lilies and audacious dragon fly tangos, the charm wears off after about the fifth collision with other tourist-filled boats. But come September, people in the know can enjoy the mild weather and changing leaves of the UNESCO biosphere without the crowds.
The Spreewald offers some 970 kilometres of canals, and one of the easiest places to access them is the town of Lübbenau.
How to get there
The cheapest way to travel there from Berlin is with the Brandenburg-Berlin Ticket, which costs €27 from vending machines for up to five people both ways. You can also make your purchase for a few extra euros from ticket windows if you struggle with the automated option.
Regional trains to the “Lübbenau (Spreewald)” leave about every half hour from Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, Zoologischer Garten, Alexanderplatz and Ostbahnhof. Some trains are about 20 minutes faster, so check Deutsche Bahn’s website for your fastest connection to Spreewald bliss. (Though it's not quite as convenient, the Spreewald also makes a great weekend destination from other eastern cities like Leipzig and Dresden.)
When you step off the train, hang a right (southeast) down Bahnhofstrasse towards town, then cross the street and go left on Dammstrasse for about 10 minutes, when you’ll come to a square full of kiosks along the canal.
What and where to eat (round one)
These kiosks signal a snack-time jackpot and you’ll need the calories to power your paddle, so dig into the vats of fresh gherkins the region is known for. Beer lovers can wash down their herb, garlic, dill, and mustard-flavoured pickles with a chilled local brew, and you shouldn’t forget to bring a few extras for the ride. Cross the footbridge and pick up a smoked fish sandwich – the eel is particularly mind-blowing – and head on to find your boat.
The Spreewald is famous for boats called Kahn, large punts with benches and tables frequented by the elderly or lazy. If you’re feeling particularly infirm, stop and reserve a ride. But unless you really want to join a River Styx-style procession, self-powered canoes are the most dignified way to enjoy the scenery.
Head to the Bootshaus Kaupen where the Ringl family will outfit you and your group with single or double wooden canoes and help you map out a route depending on your time constraints. This will run you just a few euros per hour.
What to look for
If it’s still warm out, keep your eyes open for pert black water snakes hunting for bugs. Otters, herons, ducks and the rare kingfisher can also be spotted along the canal banks.
Spreewald residents get their mail delivered by water, so if you’re lucky you might glimpse Deutsche Post’s very own post Kahn in service.
Hobby anthropologists will also be interested in the influence of the Sorbs on the region. Many descendants of the Slavic tribe that settled around the 6th century still live in the area and preserve traditional customs.
What to eat (round two)
Before you head home, dock your canoe in Lehde, where a cluster of biergartens await. At Zum fröhlichen Hecht, dive into some memorable Lübbenauer Babbenbier before trying the cucumber salad and hearty fish soup.
Pick up a bucket of Spreewald gherkins on your way back to the train station to remind you of the excursion through the long winter months.