With its 24 square kilometers, Lake Schaalsee is the largest lake in the UNESCO biosphere reserve of the same name. Nature is wild and beautiful. Crystal-clear clean water, fantastic hiking trails and many native animal species - all this awaits you on a trip to the biosphere reserve.

(Un)touched and remote: Nature in the Biosphere Reserve

The Schaalsee landscape is located between Hamburg, Lübeck and Schwerin. It covers a considerable area, which was recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve in 2000 and thus placed under special protection. The aim is that man and nature can live together in harmony. To achieve this, the region has been divided into three zones. The core zone is reserved exclusively for the development of nature. Here people have no access, and flora and fauna are allowed to develop freely. In the maintenance zone, cultural landscapes are maintained with the aim of preserving ecosystems. The largest part is made up of the development zone, where environmentally compatible land use is planned for the region.

Large parts of the lake landscape are nature reserve. Navigation on the water is only allowed with registered boats, these can be rented on site
Large parts of the lake landscape are a nature reserve. Navigation on the water is only permitted with registered boats, which can be rented on site © AdobeStock/fotoatelier.hamburg

The fact that the reserve was able to develop in this way is certainly due to its history. Until 1990, the inner-German border divided the Schaalsee, it was located in the restricted area. Nature thus had plenty of time to develop freely. Even after unification, the wild landscape was appreciated and preserved. The Schaalsee remains a border crosser: one part belongs to Schleswig-Holstein, the other to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Hiking and cycling

For both countries this is a huge joy, because: The Schaalsee is really an enrichment. Its water quality is excellent, the surroundings are fantastically beautiful, and numerous animal species such as cranes and water buffalo feel at home there.

In recent years, another very special animal has settled here: the nandu, which comes from South America, but likes to protect itself from prying eyes.
In recent years, another very special animal has settled here: the nandu, which originates from South America, but likes to protect itself from prying eyes © AdobeStock/Maren Winter

The biosphere reserve is best explored both on foot and by bike. Besides the large Schaalsee, there are many other lakes that are definitely on the same wavelength in terms of beauty. A total of 150 kilometers of well-signposted hiking and biking trails crisscross the landscape, which could hardly be more varied. If you were just on the shore of a lake, a short time later you are already trudging through deep forest or looking over hilly and wide meadows. 

The forests around the lakes are perfect for long walks and fill the lungs with fresh air
The forests around the lakes are perfect for long walks and fill the lungs with fresh air © AdobeStock/ fotofox33

A good starting point for an excursion is the Pahlhuus, the biosphere reserve's information center in Zarrentin. Here, visitors can learn everything about the development of the region from the Ice Age to the present day. There is also plenty of information on hiking and biking trails and many valuable tips. Admission is free - however, during the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pahlhuus will be temporarily closed. Here you will find great routes. 

Regionality and sustainability

The Schaalsee region can be experienced with all your senses. See the diverse landscapes, smell the scent of the trees and flowers, hear the birds chirping and gentle lapping of the lake and feel the clear air on your skin. Isn't there something missing? That's right, tasting, and there is a lot to enjoy here as well. Numerous people have made it their business to use the resources of the region to produce fine delicacies. Home-baked bread, cheese, juices, jams - these and many other products are offered at markets and in regional goods stores. Very sustainable and delicious! A highlight that ends up on the plates of many locals and visitors: vendace, deliciously fried in butter or smoked. The salmon-like fish is caught by fishermen in nets and offered fresh in the restaurants of the region.

Culture in the Schaalsee Biosphere Reserve

In addition to all the beautiful nature, the biosphere reserve also has a lot of culture to offer. For example, the adventure market at the Pahlhuus, which takes place every first Sunday of the month from April to November, offers regional products and handicrafts. In addition, there is the opportunity to let the varying entertainment program of the Pahlhuus put a smile on your face. 

And while you're there, take a look around the quaint fishing town of Zarrentin. The Cistercian nunnery, which is in very good condition due to its extensive and detailed restoration, is impressive. Exhibitions are held in the interior rooms, and concerts and other cultural events are held regularly in the refectory and baroque hall. It is quieter in the library, whose approximately 12,000 media invite you to browse. Don't miss: the fabulous monastery market "Kunst & Werk" (Art & Work) and the Christmas market, which are held inside and outside.

The historic monastery
The historic "Himmelspforte" monastery in Zarrentin was lovingly renovated between 2003 and 2006 © AdobeStock/CeHa

By the way: Lake Schaalsee and the many other lakes around it are of course also wonderfully suitable for boating, kayaking and canoeing. There are numerous rental stations and guided boat tours - with electric motors, of course, the pleasure of the guests should not have a negative impact on the beautiful nature of the biosphere reserve.

Cover photo: Gently resting water in the morning light - the Schaalsee offers many romantic views © Adobestock.com/Sven

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