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Honecker’s favourite lake

The temperature is set to soar for one more week this summer, so soak up the final days of sunshine at Liepnitzsee. Formerly the favourite spot of GDR political bigwigs, today the lake's open to campers, nudists and anyone willing to make the trek.

Image for Honecker’s favourite lake
Photo by Francesca Torricelli

The turquoise-blue lake in the midst of a beech forest a mere eight kilometres north of Berlin used to be known to only a privileged few. Under the GDR, ordinary citizens avoided the Liepnitzsee to steer clear of Honecker and his fellow East German bigwigs, who had their summer villas in the nearby Waldsiedlung compound and swam in the lake’s pristine water under heavy protection. After German reunification, however, Berliner crowds quickly caught on.  

“My first time here 20 years ago, my mates and I basically had the lake to ourselves,” Ingo Groth grins ruefully. The 46-year-old Berliner got hooked right away: he’s spent each of the last 19 summers at the camping grounds on Großer Werder, the island rising in the middle of the lake, and has been a board member of the club that runs the campsite for eight years. 

Despite the lake’s popularity, the camping pitch feels quite deserted on a bright, sunny Thursday afternoon in early June. Sure, most of the 99 spots are occupied, but tents are zipped closed. “People are probably at work right now.” Groth reckons that at least 80 percent of the campers rent a pitch for the entire April-October season, at knockdown prices: €350 for a tent spot plus a per-person fee of €75 for adults and just €15 for 6 to 17-year-olds. Those long-term guests usually come at the weekends. The other alternatives are rentals from one to three months (prices agreed case by case), or weekend stays (€20 per tent for one night or €30 for two nights). In all cases, campers are to bring their own tents. Prices are low, but beware: there’s no electricity or running water and mobile phone coverage is iffy at best.  

Your reward for roughing it? Unfettered access to some of Brandenburg’s best beaches. At the southwestern tip of the island, there’s enough space to get a tan without getting too awkwardly close to fellow bathers, an overwhelmingly nudist gang.

On Liepnitzsee’s other major beach, a safe 10-minute breaststroke across the chilly water for average-to-good swimmers, naked butts are a less common sight. You can easily reach Großer Werder without getting wet, though: for just €3 a return journey, the island ferry shuttles hourly between the easternmost cape and two piers jutting from the lake shores. Passengers may take their bikes with them free of charge – a must-have item to make the most of a day at Liepnitzsee.

But if you don’t have a Fahrrad, despair not: you can take the S2 to Bernau station, then take bus 903, which runs every two hours to Wandlitz. Get off at Ützdorf/Dorf and walk a few minutes before making that big splash.