At home in locked-down Dorset, I look out of my study window. Beyond the horizon I imagine launching myself on wild journeys: trekking Nepal’s high Annapurna trail or paddling a canoe across the dark mirror of a Canadian lake and leaving a trail of twisting whirlpools in my wake. In our changing new age, and with the need to limit long-haul air travel, I know that I’ll never reach many of my fancied, far afield destinations. Yet I’m determined to get back outdoors as soon as possible, starting in Berlin.
I’ve known three Berlins: West Berlin, where I made movies with David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich; East Berlin, where I researched my first book, Stalin’s Nose; and today’s united capital.
To the west of the city – starting at the end of the U3 U-Bahn line – spreads a lattice of pristine lakes and waterways: urban Krumme Lanke and Schlachtensee, narrow Templiner See with dozens of intimate beaches, idyllic Lake Glienicke, which was once cut in half by the Berlin Wall.
In the Havelseengebiet nature reserve, just south of Potsdam, water flows through the land like blood through a body. The rivers are the arteries; the streams are the veins. In summer it is a place best discovered by bicycle: step off a train in Wannsee or Potsdam, pedal west along bankside cycle lanes and pine-needle paths, find a quiet cove, then plunge into the water.
Around and about, dragonflies mate in mid-flight, their wings knocking the rushes to make a sound like licking flames. Water spiders skate over the surface like minute balls of mercury. Birch tree branches are reflected in the water.
On my wished-for journey, lunch will be an alfresco picnic or – if I’m feeling flush – trout and chanterelles at the Fährhaus Caputh, overlooking the water from a deckside table. Of course today the Fährhaus is closed, as are all other restaurants. The beaches are empty. On top of Germany’s stringent lockdown restrictions, foreign citizens on “non-essential travels” are refused entry to the country. But once the borders are open again, I’ll be on my bike, and in that water, and out in the open air.
Rory MacLean is a travel writer and historian. His latest book is Pravda Ha Ha: True Travels to the end of Europe (Bloomsbury, £20), available from guardianbookshop.com
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