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The largest lake in Lower Saxony, Lake Steinhude, or Steinhuder Meer as it is usually called, is a favored recreational spot just 25 miles from Hanover. The natural spring-fed lake is about 7,200 acres, yet averages only four feet in depth. Named for the formerly sleepy fishing village on its southeast shoreline, Steinhuder Meer has gained a new life as a premier destination for sailing and water sports. The lake maintains its quiet surface as motors are allowed only by special permit. Ordinarily the only motorized boats in sight are the 'Auswanderer' passenger cruise boats that make regular excursions across the lake from the resort village of Steinhude to Mardorf on the North shore.
Here, sailboats rule! The lake hosts both national and international regattas on a regular basis. Rowing, canoeing, pedal boats and windsurfing are also popular. Visitors who don't bring their own watercraft can rent sail boats, canoes and row boats at several places along the shore. In winter ice sailing competitions are popular, along with ice skating. The wide expanse of water is broken only by two artificial islands. Between 1761-1767, Count William I of Schaumburg-Lippe had the first island constructed, on which he built the fort of Wilhelmstein. The island is a popular tour destination, and the regularly-scheduled passenger boats stop here. The second island was built in 1974 after Steinhude reinvented itself from a town of fishermen to a respected holiday venue. Known as the Badeinsel Steinhude (Steinhude Swimming Island), this one has an area of over eight acres with a flat sandy beach, sunbathing and relaxing space, and two sports fields. In summer the island hosts beach volleyball tournaments for amateurs and professionals and a music concert series.
Steinhude gained its well-deserved reputation as a holiday destination after the Steinhuder Meer Nature Park was designated. The park is considered a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance and protects much of the wetland margins around the lake. The wetlands and several intact bog areas host a number of endangered plants and provide breeding areas for wading birds and waterfowl. A huge number of migrating and over-wintering birds can be seen here. The park is well-supplied with hiking and cycling paths and receives up to 50,000 visitors a day on busy summer weekends. Restrictions on lakeshore development have allowed existing Steinhude village to develop into a desirable holiday destination as an extension of the park's activity zone. Besides hiking and cycling paths, visitors may enjoy horse-drawn carriage tours, boat tours across the lake, hiking paths into the surrounding countryside, and all of the water-focused activities Steinhuder-Meer is known for. Cyclists circling the lake often pedal only half-way and catch a cruise boat for the return trip.
In keeping with a vacation resort, Steinhude holds a large number of hotels, guesthouses, holiday apartments, various small hotels, and farm holidays in Steinhude and in the surrounding localities of Hagenburg and Mardorf. The expected small shops and specialty restaurants line the streets, and the traditional dish of specially-spiced smoked eel is still a favorite. In keeping with Steinhude's fishing village past, restaurants specializing in fish dishes are common. Steinhude also provides a number of small specialty museums to acquaint visitors with the area's past, including a fisher and weaver museum, toy and children's world museum, an insect museum with butterfly farm, and a linen weaving museum. Fine table linens are still woven here and can be purchased at shops in the area. The village of Steinhude is linked to its western neighbor, Hagenburg, by a mile-long lakeside promenade. Several camping and caravan parks in the area offer camping for the tent and caravan crowd.
The origin of Steinhuder-Meer isn't well understood. It is suspected that the depression was gouged by retreating glaciers and filled by melt water. There are no incoming rivers, and most water is gained from precipitation and springs on the lake's floor. The only river flowing out is the Meerbach which drains to the Weser River. Although the lake supported a large fishing industry for centuries, it appears that commercial fishing has taken a back seat to the tourist industry. Guest houses still advertise their space for 'fishing vacations' but there is little information as to whether there are many fish available for the catching. One still sees the occasional angler casting from the docks and the occasional fishing boat leaving the docks along the shore. Before planning a fishing trip, visitors should inquire of the appropriate authorities as to what restrictions are in effect. The dedication of the Steinhuder Meer Nature Park placed many shoreline and lake restrictions on inhabitants to maintain a high-quality nesting environment for the thousands of birds seen here each year. This trade-off has been rewarded with the large increase in tourist dollars spent by visitors.
Only 30 minutes from Hanover, Steinhuder Meer can be reached by car, train and bus. The short distance makes this a desirable side-trip for tourists to Hanover and a popular seasonal home location for Hanover residents. Little new housing is being built due to construction limitations because of the nature park. Real estate may be available but competition is likely high for the more favored locations. Many visitors instead opt for longer-term reservations at a guest house or small hotel. So, whether one enjoys smoked eel or not, there is a wealth of activity at Steinhuder Meer to delight visitors. The next visit you plan to Hanover, save a day for the trip to Steinhuder-Meer.
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