Travel

Dip Into Berlin’s Summertime Lake Scene

Shady banks, biergartens, beach snacks, and LOTS of naked sunbathers.

A secluded spot at Liepnitzsee | Conor O’Rourke
A secluded spot at Liepnitzsee | Conor O’Rourke

Berlin might be best known for its club scene, but with those shut down indefinitely, it’s time to reveal the city's lesser-known second passion: its thriving lake culture. 

On a slow summer afternoon, Berliners love kicking back by the water. The German capital is surrounded by hundreds of lakes, each with its own distinct vibe, offering a much-appreciated break from the city’s hot pavement and dried-up parks.

From Plötzensee's french fry stands, serving up mountains of crispy pommes-rot-weiß waterside, to Teufelssee, the LGBTQ party spot in the forest, Berlin's lakes run the gamut. Far to the north, Liepnitzsee boasts Caribbean-blue waters and an idyllic island campground, while Flughafensee -- built next to the airport -- allows swimmers to buoyantly observe planes touching down on the tarmac.

If there’s one thing these hangouts all have in common, it’s the not-occasional nudity. But hey, that’s Berlin for you. If you’re in the area, check berlin.de for the most up-to-date info about Berlin’s various public beaches.

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Schlachtensee has its very own train station | Conor O'Rourke

Schlachtensee

Southwest Berlin
For a quick afternoon dip, Schlachtensee is one of the easiest lakes to get to. Though many of Berlin’s lakes are best reached by bicycle, this popular student hangout has its own dedicated train station (Schlachtensee Station, S1 line) so getting there is a snap. 

Heading past the terraced grassy area to the lakeside path, you can turn right to reach a traditional biergarten and a small park, or left to find more secluded spots and a shack offering rowboats for rent. Pick up some snacks at the food stand near the station, or the biergarten, Alte Fischerhütte (Old Fisherman’s hut), serves traditional German fare with lake views on the side.

Know before you go: On hot days, shady Schlachtensee draws a big crowd. If you can’t find a good spot, walk a few minutes from the northeast corner and you’ll find Krumme Lanke, a similar lake with its own ample bathing spots. Again, don’t be shocked if you find some naked people letting it all hang out.

People/airplane-watching are the main activities at Flughafensee | Conor O'Rourke

Flughafensee

Northwest Berlin
Don’t come to Flughafensee to escape into nature -- you won’t get chirping songbirds and buzzing insects here. The roar of airplanes is more like it, coupled with the tinny rattle of Deutschrap playing from dozens of bluetooth speakers, and bellows from what seems to be half of Berlin’s teenage population at their hormonal best. 

This large artificial lake (Berlin’s deepest!) used to be a gravel quarry, directly next door to Tegel airport. Spacious, sandy beaches line the western edge (including the obligatory nude area), and bike paths crisscross the narrow strip of forest separating the lake from the rest of the city. On summer afternoons, people flow in from the surrounding neighborhoods to play volleyball and splash away the summer heat. Your job? Jump in a boat, kick back with a beer, and enjoy the show.

Know before you go: Besides the obvious people watching, the lake is also a destination for other types of observation: a swampy area on the east side of the lake attracts birders, and the planes landing at Tegel airport are a nice show for sleepy sunbathers.  

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The long bike ride to Liepnitzsee is a day well spent | Conor O'Rourke

Liepnitzsee

Wandlitz, Brandenburg
This one takes a bit of effort to reach (it’s an hour’s drive north to the village of Wandlitz) but it’s 1000% worth it. One of Germany’s most beautiful lakes, Liepnitzsee’s waters shine a brilliant blue. No surprise that it’s also one of the cleanest lakes in the region with visibility up to 5 meters. Even cooler, Liepnitzsee sports a large wooded island with a seasonal restaurant and campground serviced by a ferry. 

On the mainland, Strandbad Liepnitzsee (entrance €4) offers a food stand with the usual fries and sausages (along with, somewhat inexplicably, a passable lentil dal), boat rental, and a beach volleyball court. But our recommendation is to just walk along the gorgeous shoreline until you find a spot you like. The banks of the lake are studded with rope swings, sandy areas, and of course, the ubiquitous nude sunbathers. 

Know before you go: Liepnitzsee can be reached by train and car, but the best way to really appreciate it is to come by bike. From Berlin, the 20-mile (33km) trip takes a bit more than two hours on a bicycle, but it’s a stunning ride through Brandenburg’s gently rolling hills and farmland. To shorten the trip a bit, take the S2 line to Bernau bei Berlin -- a beautifully preserved medieval walled town and a destination unto itself. From there Liepnitzsee is a quick 25-minute jaunt through the forest.

Plötzensee is cherished for its french fry stands | Conor O'Rourke

Plötzensee

Northern Berlin
When a long bike ride isn’t an option, another convenient lake is just a few minutes’ walk from Berlin’s circle line station Beusselstraße. Plötzensee is a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure: If you’re looking for a classic day on the lake, the paid area (€6) offers a floating water park, Strandkorbs (shaded beach chairs), and a concession stand slinging beers, sausages, and the ultimate in German beach food: pommes rot-weiß (french fries covered in a matrix of ketchup and mayonnaise). 

For something more secluded, a stone terraced area across the lake (pictured above) offers a rope swing and a bunch of shady spots, usually occupied by joint-smoking college kids. The lake’s southern end is home to an RV park and a nude sunbathing meadow, while the northeast corner offers a shaded terrace with cheap beer, paddle boats for rent, and some of the best sunset views in the city. 

Know before you go: Don’t let the surly owners at the boat rental place bum you out. They’re just showing you the famous Berliner Schnauze -- a combination of local dialect, regional mannerisms, and a certain, ahem, gruff directness that takes some getting used to. It’s probably nothing personal.

Historic Wannsee boasts many of its original buildings | Conor O'Rourke

Wannsee

Southwest Berlin
One of the oldest public swimming areas in Germany (still boasting some of its original historic buildings), this beautiful bay is well-loved for the 4,500-foot stretch of sandy beach along its eastern edge. A shallow, gently sloping riverbed, attentive lifeguards, and snacks aplenty make this an ideal spot for families. Pay the small entrance fee (€4-6) and head to the left to shelter in the shade of some old oak trees, or rent a classic Baltic-style Strandkorb (a type of sheltered, reclining beach chair).

This place has a dark side, though: Across the lake is the site of the infamous Wannsee Conference, where Nazi leaders made the fateful decision to carry out the Holocaust. The villa now serves as a memorial and museum.

Know before you go: Despite its name, S-Bahnhof Wannsee is not actually the closest train station to the Wannsee Strandbad. Instead, head to Nikolassee Station (S1/S5/S7 line) and follow the Wannseebadweg path through the forest for about 15 minutes to get to the public beach. 
 

The forest conceals a thriving nudist colony at Teufelssee | Conor O'Rourke

Teufelssee

West Berlin
Berlin’s western edge is dominated by the Grünewald, a heavily-forested region home to several lakes. But the jewel in Grünewald’s watery crown is Teufelssee (“Devil’s Lake”). Nestled in gentle forested hills, with weeping willows lining its edges, Teufelssee boasts clean water, a floating dock for swimming, actual bathrooms (!!), and a broad, sloping lawn perfect for picnicking and, yep, nude sunbathing. 

But what makes Teufelssee special is its role in Berlin’s gay community. Inextricably tied to its history as a nudist FKK area, Teufelssee is a welcoming place for the LGBTQ crowd to hang out, sunbathe, and meet people. To get there, travel to Grünewald S-bahn station (S7 line) and follow the Neuer Schildhornweg through the forest to the lake, about a half hour’s walk.

Know before you go: Teufelssee is also a quick walk away from Teufelsberg (“Devil’s Mountain”) the highest peak in Berlin, upon which perch the ruins of a Cold-War-Era CIA listening post. Sneak a peek to the west while you’re swimming and you might glimpse its tattered, bulbous radar domes peeking above the treetops. 

Conor is a freelance writer and translator living in Berlin. His work has been published on Matador Network, Serious Eats, Sprudge, and others. Follow him on Instagram @whatupconor.