Munich lakes

The Northern Lakes

Munich is a city of lakes and in the height of summer, lakeside leisure is a city-wide activity. Head out in any direction and you’re likely to find one in its own little piece of parkland, clean, blue and busy. Head North and you’re likely to find them before you leave the city limits.

Many of these Northern lakes are man-made. Not content with their wealth of splendid Alpine lakes to the South, many smaller as well as some quite big lakes were constructed in the Northern suburbs, often fed from springs rather than rivers and hence a lot warmer and especially advisable in Spring and early summer when Alpine water is still far too cold for anything but a very quick in and out.

Despite the reputation for rules and regulation, when it comes to outdoor pursuits and being alone with nature, Germans are fiercely libertarian, with very few areas of natural beauty off limits. Nudity is a common sight even in beaches right in the centre of town and a there is a less risk-averse attitude to the water in particular. Nearly all the open water in town is available for swimming with no charges or time restrictions. This is especially evident on the Isar, where youth can clamber round the bridges and wharfs, there are virtually no swimming verboten signs (even upstream of dams and power stations) and the local specialty sport of stationary surfing on ‘the never-ending wave’ is tolerated despite occasional severe accidents and the odd death.

So it is that on a bright scorching summers weekend day the whole town will be swimming somewhere. Pick the right route for a cycle tour round some of the Northern lakes and you are presented with one balmy lakeside scene after another. On one such tour, a fellow cyclist commented “This is all very Sunday in the park with George”, referring as I later discovered to a famous American painting, which does show, in small dots, a scene that could be Munich. We wheeled our way between vast park and lake areas covered in people swimming, barbequing, playing ball and sunbathing.

Several of the lakes in the North of the city were excavated originally for materials for construction work nearby and then later transformed into the little oases of picture-perfect greens and blues to serve the new suburbs being built. Germans generally seem to regard clean lakes to swim in as an essential for enlightened urban living (I agree!) and here the lakes play a core role in the modernist dream along with blocks of well-appointed family flats and pleasant parkland.

My favourite Northern lake is Feringasee. It is the biggest, prettiest and has lovely warm water even out of season. The amazing level of acoustic noise protection on Bavaria’s highways is in evidence here, as the motorway right next door goes past virtually unnoticed. It is my favourite after work destination in the summer months. Out of the office, up through the English Garden and beyond as far as Ismaning and then back on myself a little way just in time to take a sunset swim in Feringasee in the buff. The perfect antidote to a stuffy day in the office. You need to get out before twilight proper or the mosquitoes will be after you, but usually by the time you have your clothes on its dark enough for bike lights and a roll back along the road this time, through Unterföring and home for dinner.

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