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# of lakes


An interview with Jessica J. Lee

Seven Secret Swimming Spots in Brandenburg

Wild swimming

They say there are over 3,000 lakes in Brandenburg, and while I have only visited a handful of them, I can attest to the fact that each and every one is magical in its own way.

I was born in water, and ever since I’ve jumped at the chance to swim whenever and wherever I can. Even with hundreds of laps under my belt, I still get an electric shiver of excitement before I go wild swimming. There’s something so special about wading into a pool of new water, surrounded by trees, as the wind dances across the surface.

Writer Jessica Lee took her first Berlin wild swim in 2014, and spent every weekend for 52 weeks heading out into Berlin and Brandenburg to slip beneath the water, come rain or shine. Her rules were simple: no pools, no wetsuits and the lake must be accessible by foot, bike or public transport.

At the end of her year, reflecting on how powerful the pull of the lake was and how positive they’d been for her mind, she wrote “Turning: A Swimming Memoir”.

I spoke to Jessica to find out her insider tip for wild swimmers, and to discover her Brandenburg hidden gems.

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Jessica takes the plunge

I swam a lot as a child, but was totally afraid of swimming in lakes.

When I finally did take the plunge, it completely changed my experience and interaction with the natural landscape. When you’re in a lake, you’re more intimately connected to the earth then when you’re on land. You have this unique view from the water across to the shore, and there’s a sense of being right at the centre of everything.

I started out winter swimming during my PhD, because I was doing participant observation fieldwork with winter swimmers. It wasn’t really something I set out to do, but because my work demanded it, I kept going—through ice, through snow—and it transformed my view both of swimming and the natural world. I was more attentive to my body, to changes in the environment, the seasons. It is honestly magical and so empowering to realise your body can beat the elements, and the adrenaline rush you get is something else.

For those starting out, the most important thing to consider is safety! With outdoor swimming, you need to know how to scout out a safe spot, how to handle yourself in a crisis, and how to manage cold water. The Outdoor Swimming Society has some excellent guides on this. 

Must-visit lakes

It’s hard to choose a favourite lake because we are so spoilt for choice, but here are my top tips for secret swimming spots in Brandenburg.


Hellsee is a hidden gem—a curving forest lake in the same glacial chain as Liepnitzsee. It might be a bit of a faff to get to—either by bike or by car—but it’s rich with rewards.


Bötzsee is one of my favourite days out—I take the S-Bahn to Strausberg and then the ferry across Straussee, then walk through the pine forest to the shore. It is just the right size, with alder trees leaning out over the water.

Pätzer Tonsee

Tonsee is a smaller lake that is so easy to overlook—but it has clear water (it’s a man-made lake, that has since grown wild) and some lovely shoreline spots to picnic, swim, and enjoy a lazy afternoon. It’s really popular with families and has some good shallow entry points for kids.



I love cycling around Schwielowsee, stopping to swim on the southwest side of the lake. The cycling route from Potsdam takes you through the village of Caputh, around some beautiful countryside, and there’s a lovely spot to stop and rest with a beer at Fährhaus Caputh.

Sacrower See

Sacrower See is probably Berlin and Potsdam’s best escape. It’s not a long cycle from Spandau, but you have the sense of going somewhere: out past fields, forests, to eventually find this lake surrounded by trees.

Großer Lankesee

This is a small, somewhat hidden lake north of Oranienburg. If you duck off the side of the road, it sort of magically appears: turquoise, clear, and hidden by trees. It is romantic and quiet, completely different than many of the busy lakes in summer.

Großer Stechliner See

This lake is certainly no secret—it’s one of Germany’s most famous lakes, most famous for being the nation’s clearest. But it’s a trek from Berlin, which means most days it can be quite quiet. Plus it has a huge shoreline, so you can wander the forest for hours without seeing anyone. It’s so worth the trip.

About Jessica

Jessica J. Lee is a British-Canadian-Taiwanese author and environmental historian, and winner of the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. Her first book, Turning, was published by Virago Books in 2017 and named among the best books of the year by both Canadian newspaper The National Post and German newspaper Die Zeit. It was named a Notable Book by the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Awards in the USA and long listed for the Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors in Canada. She has a PhD in Environmental History and Aesthetics and was Writer-in-Residence at the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology in Berlin from 2017–2018. Jessica is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review. Her second book, Two Trees Make a Forest: On memory, migration, and Taiwan was published in 2019. She lives in Berlin.

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