the Depths of Germany
From crystal clear lakes nestled in the Alps to numerous World War II wrecks in the Baltic Sea, Germany is a surprising cornucopia of dive opportunities for intrepid scuba diving travelers.
With a population of more than 80 million and covering over 350,000 square kilometres/137,500 square miles of central Europe, Germany is a major European economic and political force. There’s a great deal to do, from exploring the many metropolitan city centers and attending the world’s largest festival, Oktoberfest, to wandering through the Bavarian Forest National Park and mud hiking the UNESCO biosphere reserve of the Wadden Sea.
From a scuba diver’s point of view, what stands out is that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s likely an underwater adventure waiting for you close by. With the exception of the Baltic Sea wrecks, most of these are freshwater dives, many at altitude in stunning surroundings. Here’s a look at a few of these opportunities starting in the north and heading south.
The Baltic is littered with wrecks, some dating as far back as the ninth or tenth century, a number of which are reasonably close to Kiel.
The Helland is a large steel motor yacht resting at about 18 metres/60 feet. Due to the reasonable depth, and the fact that she’s readily accessible from Kiel by Rigid Hulled Inflatable (RIB), which are fast dive boats and an adventure in themselves, this is an ideal site for new wreck divers.
The Hanau, a German steam powered cargo ship some 137 metres/450 feet in length, stuck a mine in 1944 and sank. Today she’s a popular wreck, well broken up in about 15 metres/45 feet of water.
Sundhäuser See, in Nordhausen, is a great example of how divers maximize local dive opportunities. This lake has its own underwater city, complete with a church, a wreck and even an underwater graveyard. Visibility is generally good and the cold water makes this an ideal spot to try out your dry suit. Keep an eye out for pike, perch, sturgeon, eels and crayfish while cruising the submerged streets.
Kulkwitzer See, a lake near Leipzig, has camping, waterskiing, sailing and hiking trails to fill in the hours when you're not diving. Maximum depths of around 32 metres/105 feet and plenty of interesting shallower sites make Kulkwitzer See suitable for all divers. The average visibility is 10-20 metres/35-70 feet and shore access is easy. Pike and large perch are regular dive buddies, with freshwater eels and crayfish coming out at night.
Kreidesee is a flooded 117-year old lime quarry located close to Warstade that was operational from 1862 to 1976. When the factory closed, ground water filled the quarry and produced a 33-hectare/82-acre lake with depths to 60 metres/200 feet. You can still see part of the factory, various wrecks and even a Piper PA-28 airplane, which used to belong to United States astronaut Alan Shepard. The water is crystal clear and divers regularly encounter trout and salmon. Cold water, drop-offs and depth make appropriate training and equipment a necessity. Check with local PADI Dive Shops for advice.
Fühlinger See is an artificial lake north of Cologne with depths to 18 metres/60 feet and visibility up to 15 meters/50 feet. The clear water makes this one of the region's most popular dive sites.
Walchensee, one of the largest Alpine lakes in Germany, sits at 800 metres/2625 feet in the Bavarian Alps and is more than 180 metres/600 feet deep. Formed by massive tectonic forces and subsequent glacial erosion, the scenery will have divers gasping in wonder. Clear water, some steep drop-offs and more than a few wrecks, makes for great diving. Carp, eels, trout and other freshwater species are also part of nearly every dive.
Cold water diving at altitude requires proper training so you'll want to consult a local PADI Dive Center or Resort to acquire proper training if necessary.
Bodensee, the third largest Central European lake, nestles in the Alps at 395 metres/1296 feet on the border of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Its Alpine scenery and great diving make it an excellent destination for traveling divers. Bodensee (Lake Constance) has three distinct areas: Obersee (Upper Lake), Untersee (Lower Lake) and Seerhein (a connecting section of the Rhine River). It is a massive body of water more than 60 kilometres/36 miles long and in places nearly 14 kilometres/9 miles wide. In places it also reaches a maximum depth of more than 250 metres/820 feet.
You can choose from wall, wreck and even drift dive options, with many sites easily reached from shore. The dramatic Alpine landscape continues underwater with steep drop-offs that plunge well beyond recreational depths. Divers make good use of dry suits to stay warm and comfortable below the thermocline even in the summer, when most of the diving takes place. Char, pike, turbot and other freshwater fish species may join the dive.
Depth: Ranges from depths appropriate for entry-level divers to more than 40 metres/130 feet.
Visibility: Depending on location and time of year, from 3 – 18 metres/10 - 60 feet plus.
Currents: Check locally, but they are usually not a factor while diving the many lakes.
Water Temperature: Baltic dive conditions vary with water temperatures ranging from a low of 2° C/36° F in March to 20° C/68° F on the surface in summer. Alpine lakes can reach 15° C/60° F on the surface in summer but will be cold below the thermocline.
Dive Season: Mainly Northern Hemisphere summer: June to September
Weather: Generally, cold winters and comfortable summers. It varies significantly with location and altitude so you'll want to check locally.
Access: Excellent transport infrastructure makes road, rail and air travel dive site access convenient.
Skill Level: From entry-level on up. Dry suit diving experience is a plus.
Scuba Gear: Full cold water equipment - 5mm wet suits (or thicker) and dry suits are recommended. Germany is well served by PADI Dive Centres and Resorts with full equipment sales and rentals.
Length of Stay: There’s a lot to see so the longer you can stay the better. Focused weekend trips are also a good option.
Featured Creatures: The full range of European freshwater species. In particular: Pike, perch, carp, freshwater turbot, trout, char (which rival the most colorful marine species when in spawning regalia), eels, bream and chub.
Currency: Euro (EUR)
Tipping: As a rule of thumb, round up 5-10 percent to a whole euro figure. (For example, if a cafe bill is for €15.60, hand the server a €20 note and say “seventeen.”). Tip divemasters 10-20 percent.
Transportation: From excellent public transport to a superb autobhan network, there are a number of ways to get around the country.
Major Airports: The three largest are Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC) and Düsseldorf (DUS).
Religion: Primarily Protestant and Roman Catholic. More than 30 percent of the population has no religious affiliation.
Electricity: 230 volt 50 Hz. Type C plug
Airport Entry/Exit Fees: Usually included in the airfare.
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