I was recently fortunate enough to spend some quality time in Münster, a university city located in northwestern Germany, in the Westphalian region. Unlike its larger European cities and how many of them straddle a river, Münster’s claim to natural beauty fame rests in a lake, the Aasee. The name of the lake is Aa, and ‘see’ is German for a lake or pond, so Aasee it is.
Actually, Münster does have a “river” running through it, also with the name Aa, but it is really something more akin to a drainage ditch; there is also the Ems River to the east of the Aasee and the city of Münster, but that is infinitesimally wider than the Aa.
On top of my good fortune of spending nearly a week in this small city, I was further lucky enough to get to spend it with my friends, Anne and Jenny; Anne lives just a short block away from the southeast bank of the Aasee, and thanks to her generosity and hospitality, I did, too, that week.
The Aasee is really a man-made reservoir; thanks to urban planning, the city dammed it up to prevent flooding. It measures about 2.3 km (1.4 mi) in length, and has a depth of about 2 meters (6.5 ft) at its deepest. Paths for both walking and biking circle the entire rim of the Aasee, and joggers, students late for class, elderly strollers, and insane bikers can be found around the lake at almost any time, and in droves.
Swimming is currently prohibited, as the water quality is not up to standards. The path around it totals to about 5 km (1.9 mi), which makes for a nice way to start your morning, or finish your evening, which is what I got to do on several occasions.
The north and east banks of the Aasee hold some other popular Münster attractions. There’s the Westphalian Horse Museum of Münster (Westfälisches Pferdemuseum Münster), and also the perennial favorite, the Münster Zoo (Allwetterzoo Münster); the zoo has over 300 kinds of animals in various houses, and even includes a small aquarium on-site.
The LWL-Museum of Natural History (Westfälisches Museum für Naturkunde) is nearby, which provides insight into some of the plant and animal life in the area, as well as to the history of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Mühlenhof Open-Air Museum of Münster (Mühlenhof-Freilichtmuseum Münster) is similar to Stockholm’s Skansen Museum in Djurgarden, with houses and other buildings relocated from other places around the area and re-erected within to provide a look back at how some of these places existed in the past.
Some other treats are tucked here and there around the lake, such as trails that lead elsewhere, lakeside restaurants, and some public artwork. The most famous sculptures are the white “Giant Pool Balls” by Claes Oldenburg from 1977, located on the northeastern banks of the Aasee, which initially were vehemently rejected by the citizens of Münster, many of them trying to roll them right into the Aasee; now they’ve been accepted and forgotten, except for the random tagger as they artfully cover the art with graffiti.
Check out the Aasee early during the day, preferably a weekday; the paths circling the lake are less crowded while the university is in session, giving you ample time to stroll around without fear of stepping in front of a cyclist who think they’re on the Autobahn.
Oh, and there are laws and signs prohibiting you from feeding the waterfowl; you might not get a formal reprimand, but my dear friend Anne will surely catch you, scold you, and then explain to you in extensive detail why it’s frowned upon, forcing you to lose precious time on those university-kid-cyclist-free Aasee paths. You’ve been warned 🙂
*Thanks to my dear friends, Anne and Jenny, for being hospitable hosts and incredible tour guides to this amazing city!