William Thirteen paddles in the watery footsteps of Frederick the Great…
In 1752 Prussian ruler Frederick the Great took time out between war with Austria and witty banter with his friend Voltaire to found the small village of Gosen. Gosen and neighboring village Neu Zittau were intended to be home to the workers of the new weaving and spinning mills being established in the area as part of Frederick’s efforts to develop the local Brandenburg economy.
In the intervening two and a half centuries much has changed in Gosen. Much that is, except its size. Visiting Gosen last week I stepped off the bus and found myself in a still tiny town square framed by a church, a firehouse and an ice cream shop.
What attracted me to the village was the same quality that caught the attention of the emperor—its proximity to water.
Gosen lies at the edge of one of Berlin’s many lakes (the city has over fifty depending on how you count) and while Frederick found the water access ideal for transport of goods to and from the village, today its location between the lake and a nature preserve makes it a popular destination for day trippers from the city seeking to wile away an afternoon on the water.
A short walk from the bus stop brought my traveling companions and me to Gosen’s main boat rental place, a collection of ramshackle sheds and a camper set up at the water’s edge. Both kayaks and canoes were available and while the wooden kayaks were both less expensive and better styled, gauzy childhood memories of summer camp led me to choose a canoe—or a ‘Canadier’ as they’re called in Gosen.
We collected our paddles and a few short minutes later my friends and I were out on the water endangering each other with our ill executed strokes and rusty steering skills. Thankfully Berlin is flat and the local waters reassuringly calm, so our initial lack of control proved more amusing than alarming. Before long we were awkwardly navigating down long green aquatic avenues beneath the leafy canopy of the nature preserve. The stillness of the forest calmed our urbane chatter and we drifted along almost as quiet as the local waterfowl.
Occasionally one of our party would grow ambitious and, making a sudden break, begin paddling frantically in an attempt to reach the front of our flotilla. This inevitably ended up with one or more craft running themselves aground upon the sodden shore while comically attempting to reverse course and fend off the waterside foliage. Often the lazy waters offered up their own hazards and we had to delicately pick our way around a fallen tree or execute a sharp turn as the channel changed course abruptly.
However, the most fiendish of nature’s dangers was actually the most difficult to see. The swampy environs and slow moving channels provide the perfect breeding ground for Berlin’s notoriously vicious mosquitoes. The most remote spots on the water were home to innumerable tiny bloodsuckers quite thrilled to have a dozen warm bodies delivered up for their dining pleasure. The one member of our party who had the foresight to bring insect repellent soon found himself the most popular guy in town—at least by everyone with two legs.
A few hours of paddling can work up a mighty hunger in a man so we were all quite happy when we emerged from the forest and spotted a boatyard and snack bar at the edge of the lake. It’s no surprise that family owned Sturzbecher‘s has been in business since 1920—they were quite hospitable when our humble fleet tied up in their harbour and we piled ashore. Given the time of day, our crew was more interested in coffee than rum so a fresh pot was laid on while we swapped tall tales of maritime adventure over plates of Bratwurst and Pommes. Lunch finished, we waved farewell to our much relieved host and his wife and clambered back into our boats for the return trip.
Our motley crew filed back into the forest through the narrow channels and we struggled against a postprandial lassitude as we pushed our oars through the shallow waters. The paddling that seemed so effortless in the morning now felt like a burden forced upon us by some cruel galley master. Somewhere along the way back to Gosen we must have taken a false turn as we found ourselves emerging at a different spot on the lake’s edge.
Against our better judgement we made the run back to the village across the open waters, buffeted by high winds which made us paddle twice as hard to make half as much progress, all the while struggling against being pushed into an protected enclave of off-limits lily pads. We arrived back at the village damp, disheveled and out of breath and, pulling our humble craft out of the water, declared it the most fun we’d had so far this season. I believe Frederick the Great would have even approved.
To get to Gosen take the S3 to Erkner and then take the 424 or 428 busses onward to Gosen. Click here to see Gosen on a map.