s I’m swimming lazily out to a small island in the middle of a lake fringed with pine trees, the words “pandemic”, “Covid-19” and “virus” seem to be from a different world. They are not of course; we are still a long way from being coronavirus-free, but here at Naturcampingplatz Am Grubensee, 50 miles south-east of Berlin in the lake-strewn surrounding region of Brandenburg, my family and I are enjoying the peaceful escape we’ve been dreaming of since lockdown began 11 weeks ago – messing about in boats, cooking outside and regaining some sense of normality.
Campsites officially opened in Germany on 25 May, complete with all the necessary sanitary facilities. Petra, the owner here, says the government has given guidelines rather than strict rules, and campsites are interpreting them as they see fit. There are hand sanitiser posts all around the campsite, masks are required inside the shop/reception, and the usual 1.5-metre distance rule applies.
“We normally begin the season on 1 April, so I’ve been going grey worrying about the amount of money we’re losing,” says Petra. “Now I’m just happy to be open.”
At Naturcampingplatz Springsee, two miles down the road, receptionist Marie says they are not allowing big groups of tents, and are taping off some sinks to allow for better social distancing. “It’s a little difficult to know exactly what the rules are and how to enforce them,” she says. “It’s pretty quiet at the moment, but the first big test will be this [long] weekend’s Whitsun holiday.”
From where I’m sitting, in my hammock, watching the boys splash about in the lake, drinking a cold beer and looking forward to another evening under the stars, nothing much seems to have changed since we were here last summer. In these uncertain times, this feels like balm for my stressed brain. And by the looks on their happy, unmasked faces, my fellow campers seem as relieved as I am.
The return to camping is the latest move in a week of new freedoms, as restrictions are gradually lifting across Berlin. The ever-popular Sommerbads (lidos) are starting to open, but with strict coronavirus rules: timed tickets must be bought online, allowing a limited number of guests; and only poolside changing is permitted – which for nudist-happy Germans is not an issue.
A swim at the historic Olympic stadium pool on the coldest, rainiest day of spring so far – with extra-wide lanes and fewer swimmers – was an absolute pleasure. There were more staff than swimmers, and some of the infamous Berlin surliness seemed to have disappeared: smiles of welcome greeted me at every stage. Maybe the staff were as happy to be back at work as I was to be swimming.
At the moment, the government requires social distancing rules to be followed until 29 June, but with around 3,000 lakes in and around Berlin, there are plenty of places to swim and relax as summer temperatures rise, without worrying about masks or the 1.5-metre rule. Strandbad Wannsee, Berlin’s favourite old-fashioned lake beach – complete with basket chairs and nudist area – is also open, so those without their own transport can still enjoy a day at the lake, provided they buy tickets in advance. It’s not the free-and-easy Berlin way we are accustomed to, but we are grateful for every moment of this new freedom.