Elbe paddle: Finishing off in Hamburg

‘Endstation Hamburg’ would be the German way to describe it. Against the original plan of paddling all the way to Cuxhaven we decided to stop in Hamburg. 650km, 17 days, two countries and 6 federal states is enough for now and having taken the boat out of the river, i was a bit lazy to put it back together for another day or two. There was also sad news of two canoers bodies recovered half way to Cuxhaven. So that was the Elbe paddle – a test run for my bigger plan of paddling the Yukon in Canada/Alaska (~5x the distance at ~3,000km) and a bit of seen in my home country. Loved every moment of this river adventure even though that is hard to believe for some 😉 💪 🛶


Two days in Hamburg

We spent only so much time sightseeing. Mainly the Landungsbrücken, Hafencity and the city hall. All pretty nice. The busy port with loads of waves reminded us as to why we took the boat out early. We didn’t see a single paddler in the harbour area though they are more likely to use the less busy Suederelbe anyway. We did spot the vessel though that passed the lock in Geesthacht with us.

For dinner we were invited at Thomas’ and Hanna’s brand new house in the West of Hamburg. I had never actually met any of the three boys. Another very important reason for the extra time in Hamburg. Afterwards we hit the Kietz with its iconic Reeperbahn. It was pretty empty, but we found still some iconic bars to have a good night out after all the sporty days behind us. The sun greeted us on the way home ☀ ☺ 🏩

So how was it after almost 3w on the river?

I have to say that I am well impressed with what the journey has to offer. It is true that it is not a matter of floating down the river, but in fact hard work. In particular at low water levels. On the flip side there are plenty of pretty towns on the way, amazing outdoor (really loved the camping by the river with good swimming and little insect issues) and so many animals. Really good to see the beavers back, lots of seafood about (crabs et al) and endless numbers of birds. I hope the infrastructure improves even further, as some places between Meissen & Hamburg feel dead.

What to learn for the next trip?

Here is a short list of improvements for the next trip.

  • Seat padding & backrest
  • Folding chairs
  • More gas, less liquid fuel (used spirit and managed to melt the MSR stove) ⛽ 🛢️
  • Waterfilter (well, if it ever gets delivered)
  • Larger tent (for Yukon) 🏕️
  • Much less clothing for change (quick wash is enough)
  • Better shoes (flip flops are pretty unstable) 👟
  • Consider canoe/double paddles
  • Need to accept that a cold beer or meat just won’t be readily available 🍻 🥩
  • An umbrella instead of drag sail

Summary of all posts

Elbe paddle (day 1): Usti n. L. to Decin

Elbe paddle (day 2): Decin to Stadt Wehlen

Elbe paddle (day 3): Stadt Wehlen to Coswig

Elbe paddle (day 4): Coswig to Riesa / Strehla

Elbe paddle (day 5): Riesa / Strehla to Torgau via Mühlberg

Elbe paddle (day 6): Torgau to Wittenberg

Elbe paddle (day 7): Wittenberg to Coswig (Anhalt)

Elbe paddle (day 8): Coswig (Anhalt) – Dessau – Barby

Elbe paddle (day 9): Barby – Schönebeck – Magdeburg

Elbe paddle (day 10): Magdeburg – Niegripp

Elbe paddle (day 11 & 12): Niegripp – Tangermünde – (somehwhere near) Räbel

Elbe paddle (day 13): Räbel to Wahrenberg

Elbe paddle (day 14 & 15): Wahrenberg – Schnackenburg – Dömitz

Elbe paddle (day 16): Dömitz – Hitzacker – Bleckede

Elbe paddle (day 17): Bleckede – Geesthacht lock – Drage/Hamburg

Elbe paddle (day 17): Bleckede – Geesthacht lock – Drage/Hamburg

Today: 42km |Total: 651km

Long day today in brutal heat yet again (one bottle of sunblock… gone). We left Bleckede pretty early to get to a key point on the trip – the lock in Geesthacht passing Lauenburg on the way. While the wind was favorable, the onsetting traffic on the Elbe made for a new experience. Many waves to maneuvre. After 35km we reached the lock by 3.30pm. And after another 7km we reached the bootclub in Drage – a Hamburg suburb. We took the boat out here and enjoyed the pick-up by Thomas in an air conditioned car. Different. Tomorrow we explore Hamburg a bit.

Geesthacht: The lock is situtated on a side arm of the river and is preceeded by pumped storage power plant. The lock manages the tides on the river. The approach is challenging to the extent that the current on the river slows as you get closer (means more paddling, less floating). Just before the lock there is a canal that is not as affected by the heat and hence still frequented by large vessels. So a lot of traffic after days of peace and quiet on the Elbe. Once in the lock – you feel pretty small in a canoe. Huge dimensions of what we referred to as the gates of mordor 🤣⚓. Once through the gates, a paddler needs to know the tidal tables. Basically you paddle as the high water flows back to the North sea until it reaches its lowest level and the flow direction flips (no chance) . Today the window was from 1pm to 7pm ish.

Drage: We had stopped earlier at a camp ground by the river for dearly needed refreshments. I managed to convince Laura to get into the boat once more to find a better place to take the canoe out of the water. She was very tired and sick of the permanent sun exposure ☀ 🇨🇴 😂. Once at the Drage boat club we dismantled the canoe and soon after Thomas arrived to give us a lift.

Hamburg: We will definately have a rest day here and check out town. A night in a bed is also very appealing after 2,5w camping. The dinner & beer were a good reward for getting here too!


Elbe paddle (day 16): Dömitz – Hitzacker – Bleckede

Today: 46km |Total: 601km

Hamburg we are on our way! The 600km mark has fallen and the last days of this great journey are upon us. Today was the longest day Laura and I have paddled together and made up for some lost ground yesterday. We visited the pretty town of Hitzacker (with indeed some hills) and put up camp in the boat club Bleckede. First warm showers since Magdeburg. Amazing. Tomorrow off to Geesthacht with its huge lock, a first taste of paddling with tides and a scheduled reunion with my childhood friend Thomas.


Solution found for Hamburg: The general feedback i picked up on the way is that its dangerous to paddle through the busy Hamburg harbour. Waves, open canoe, limited experience… All voted for avoiding this part of the journey. So we will take the boat out before the harbour and resume the journey after. Better safe than sorry.

Elbe paddle (day 14 & 15): Wahrenberg – Schnackenburg – Dömitz

Today: 46km |Total: 555km

We have reached the old East/West German border zone and, depending on which side of the river we travel, are now in either Lower Saxony, Brandenburg or Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. We made some good progress on day 14, past Nuclear waste dump Gorleben, and were gifted with a colourful sunset. However, we struggled on day 15 owing to strong headwinds and waves (and a bit of tired- & laziness 😏).

Bordermuseum: In Schnackenburg we visited the excellent border museum (German language a must though) that reminded of the past in this specific area with models of the defense infrastructure, uniforms and some statistics / newspaper articles. Lunch nearby though I find it shocking how often cards are not accepted in ‘modern’ Germany. Sad. Cost us already a nice dinner in the pretty village of Unbesandten the night before.

Wildlife: Birds continue to be our travel companions (as well as cows and sheep). Lots of noise, but amazing flight formations. Often we see eagles circling for prey. And sometimes bambies chasing each other on the shore. Quite breathtaking at times and all the time to enjoy it.

Dömitz: Home to a well-preserved fortress (which we skipped) and inviting restaurants. Most importantly, a bank and a supermarket that opens on Sundays (Germany 🤔). ALDI!

So it suddenly looks a little tight for Cuxhaven. But heh, who knows and it’s about the journey anyway.

Elbe paddle (day 13): Räbel to Wahrenberg

Today: 40km | Total: 509km

We have passed the 500km mark and thus 2/3rd the way to Cuxhaven. We now edge closer to the old East/West border zone. Traffic on the rivrr remains low, but we met one other paddler who is heading for Harburg. It seems the ones we met earlier are well ahead of us by now. The weather turned pretty hot again midday. Highlight of the day were four Elbe beavers in a reserve near Wahrenberg. Also enjoyable was a short visit to Rühstädt with all its storch nests and a brief stop in Wittenberge.