It is just over half a year since our last visit to Waren, the town that sits at the head of the Müritz lake, and the experience couldn’t be more different. Last time around we could barely see the other side of the bay as the lake was shrouded in mist, our boat tour was halved by the captain as it was nearly impossible to see anything, and many of the restaurants, cafes and bars that surround the harbour were closed for the winter. Now the harbour is alive. From the balcony of our apartment we can look across the marina, filled with boats of many sizes, and we can hear the general chatter of the drinkers and diners who occupy the waterside terraces seemingly from breakfast until late in the evening. The pleasure cruisers fill up quickly, exiting the harbour for the lake with a blast on their horn, the top decks packed with passengers. You get a sense, on this bank holiday weekend, that most of northern Germany has descended on this lakeside town, to walk and swim, explore the nearby Müritz National Park, rent bikes and canoes, or simply stroll between the cobbled market square and the harbour, where they can feast on locally-caught fish stuffed in crusty bread rolls, or Italian ice cream.
“Waren is packed, overflowing…” Katrin’s Uncle tells us, as he picks us up from the harbour in his boat for a trip across the lake. In the morning I went for a run, taking the street out of town towards the National Park boundary. There I passed by a construction site beside the lake, all wire fences and piles of sand. Katrin’s Uncle tells us it will be a new marina, as well as more restaurants and the town’s first five star hotel. As we cross the lake, weaving between the many different boats out on the water on a Sunday morning, it is not difficult to see why people chose to holiday up here. Perhaps because of its history within the GDR, the region still feels reasonably unspoiled and underdeveloped, and the planning restrictions in place mean that the shoreline will never be filled with enormous leisure developments. The only one we can see above the treeline is a complex built in East German times as a holiday camp for the main trade union in the GDR, and has since been bought by a Middle Eastern investor who wants to knock it down and turn it into a luxury retreat. But even that level of wealth will not allow him to build above the treeline.
This international investment, as with the Dutch flag we see flying from a sailing boat anchored in the shallows just around the bay from Waren, is the exception when it comes to tourism in the region. Back on land, as we walk through the cobbled old town, the vast majority of voices we hear are German, the car numberplates overwhelmingly from Berlin, Brandenburg and Hamburg… and you cannot help but wonder what Waren will look like if and when the international market, especially the Dutch and the Scandinavians, discover the region in any numbers. This is one of the poorest corners of Germany, but the tourist towns here in the lake district or up the Baltic coast are bucking the trend. Still, the population of Waren is remains less now than it was in the 1980s, a population decline common to so many towns in the former GDR, and beyond the atmospheric centre it is clear, in its socialist-era housing estates and other corners of the town where tourists don’t often tread, that the “boom” observed by Katrin’s Uncle has not necessarily reached everyone.
Back on dry land after our trip across the lake we sit on the balcony as the skies above the old town darken as lightening flashes away to the east. Still the harbour is busy, as people stroll along the quayside or sit on the decks of their boats in the fading light. In a moment the rain will come, and the view from the balcony will suddenly become one of a town deserted, but for now it is the picture of contentment and satisfaction, the aftermath of another fine weekend down at the lake.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig