If you live in Leipzig like me, it is about a 20-minute car journey to get the sensation of being on another planet.
After an idyllic drive through corn fields, patches of forest and carefully groomed villages, you end up overlooking our regionâ€™s largest operational lignite mine. Using some of the biggest machines on earth, dozens of square kilometres of surface soil and rock are removed to lay bare the vast lignite reservoirs the towns and villages of our region were built upon. Everything that stood in the way of the strip mining was flattened.
If you want to visit a veritable ghost town, nearby PĂ¶delwitz should most certainly be on your list. The majority of its residents have left, as the village is likely to completely disappear within five years.
But alas, where there is destruction, there can also be opportunity.
The iconic scars the excavators left behind have ironically enhanced the touristic potential of Leipzig’s surrounding area. What has happened in our city’s southern periphery over the past 20 years is one of Europeâ€™s most significant terraforming projects.
An entire landscape was artificially constructed from scratch: the Leipziger Neuseenland. The dozens of mines were filled with water, and roads and hotels were built around them.
Where Greece has the diversity of its islands, Leipzig has the diversity of its lakes – some easier to reach than others.
Let me now give you a brief overview of the most important lakes in Leipzigâ€™s immediate vicinity, namely Cospudener See, Markkleeberger See, Kulkwitzer See, Zwenkauer See and StĂ¶rmthaler See. You may be surprised by the diversity of amenities and experiences they offer.
The lake many of you are probably the most familiar with is Cospudener See, which is named after one of the villages that gave way to a lignite mine. Cospudener See is where you go to have fun. It boasts Saxonyâ€™s longest sandy beach, excellent infrastructure and relative proximity to Leipzig’s city centre.
Kite surfing, wind surfing, scuba diving, paddling, a golf course, lots of restaurants on the waterfront and even a beach bar â€“ there is so much to do that on a hot weekend our Cossi can get overcrowded.
But still, if this is your thing, youâ€™ll feel like youâ€™re on holiday. Many of you may thus be surprised that mining operations only ceased in 1992, and that it took eight years until the final water level was reached.
Getting there: S2, S3 or S5 to Markkleeberg Hbf, then either walk or catch bus number 65 to take you right to Cospudener See.
In many ways, you will probably find Markkleeberger See similar to Cospudener See, but in some ways it is better.
It is pretty close to Leipzig, has great infrastructure (although not as good as Cossi) and possesses lots of little sandy beaches. Seriously, when you reach one of these hidden little bays after a walk through a dense forest of black locusts, youâ€™ll feel like youâ€™re somewhere much farther south than Leipzig, particularly on a hot August afternoon.
In my opinion, the coolest thing about Markkleeberger See is the little island in the middle, though. Technically, you’re not allowed to set foot on it because itâ€™s inhabited by rare species of birds; but if youâ€™re a good swimmer, you can go there at night when no oneâ€™s watching. Youâ€™ll feel like a survivor in Lost â€“ pretty cool indeed.
Getting there: Catch tram 11 to Markkleeberg-Ost.
By far the oldest of Leipzigâ€™s artificial lakes is Kulkwitzer See, which was opened as a lake to the public in 1973. The lake boasts a major campsite as well as several restaurants. It is known all over Germany as a mecca for scuba diving.
Kulkwitzer See possesses a submerged airplane and fascinating underwater wildlife, including eels, pikes and crayfish. It doesnâ€™t have sandy shores, but thatâ€™s one of the reasons for its crystal-clear water.
Getting there:Â S1 to Miltitzer Alle, or tram 1 to Lausen.
Zwenkauer See is sort of the southern extension of Cospudener See, as the two lakes were once part of the same coal mine. A canal is being constructed between them as we speak, which will allow you to paddle there all the way from SchleuĂźig.
The flooding of Zwenkauer See has only recently been completed, and there are tree tops sticking out of the water all over the lakeâ€™s shoreline.
The City of Zwenkau, on the lakeâ€™s southern shore, is currently building beaches and roads to make Zwenkauer See more accessible. If you like contemporary architecture, have a look at the new housing area at the northern tip of Zwenkau (luxury accommodation for more affluentÂ Leipzigers).
Getting there: S2, S3 or S5 to Markkleeberg Hbf, then catch bus number 107 to Zwenkau Hafen.
In some ways this is my favourite lake, which is largely due to its relative remoteness â€“ at the moment, StĂ¶rmthaler See is pretty hard to get toÂ unless you have a car.
Growing up in nearby GroĂźpĂ¶sna, I remember StĂ¶rmthaler See when it was still a coal mine. When I first saw the desert the excavators left behind, patched with tiny bright blue puddles of water, I felt like I was in a science fiction film. The eerie silence added to the general feeling of otherworldliness.
StĂ¶rmthaler See is by far the bluest of Leipzigâ€™s lakes, and it has maintained much of its original atmosphere. Nevertheless, there is some infrastructure. In the middle of the lake there is a floating church tower which is meant to commemorate the destroyed village of Magdeborn. If youâ€™re the adventurous type, you can try your luck on a water jetpack.
There is also a great sandy beach near the Lagovida luxury holiday resort. With a bit of luck, there wonâ€™t be too many people around.
Getting there: S2, S3 or S5 to Markkleeberg Hbf, then catch bus number 106 to StĂ¶rmthaler See (only on weekends and public holidays); better yet, drive
So, do you still feel like you need to travel to enjoy your holiday? It looks like the weather will remain good for the next couple of weeksâ€¦ perhaps it is time to do a little exploring.
Cover shot: StĂ¶rmthaler See. (Photo: Harald KĂ¶pping Athanasopoulos)