© Florian Toffel - SMT

Secrets of Lake Steinhuder Meer

About boats called emigrants, peat boats, the box mangle, a post buoy, eel, sparkling wine & chocolate and a fish in your face…and what is so special about Steinhude's pike?

© Hans F. Meier


This is an open boat type used as an excursion boat only on Lake Steinhuder Meer. The hard-chine or round frames of the wooden boats have a length of 8 – 10 meters and a width of 2.5 – 3 meters. The characteristic gaff sails have a sail surface of 42 square meters. The name emigrant dates back to the beginning of tourism at Lake Steinhuder Meer. The sail boats went from Steinhude, which belonged to Schaumburg-Lippe, to the foreign Hanover, therefore the passengers emigrated. Today, the boats are taking passengers to Wilhelmstein Island or the Youth Hostel in Mardorf. They are the only open sailing boats in Central Europe used as a commercial passenger boat.

© Hans F. Meier

Peat Boat

Peat boats were used for transportation of goods and people. The shipbuilding tradition started in the Mesolithic period around 8000 BC. While at the beginning they were like a dugout canoe, later they were made of several tree trunks and reinforced with a transverse plank. Finally, the enlarged boats were built entirely with planks. Today's peat boats are about 9 meters long and consist of three to four 8 – 10 cm thick oak boards, which are set on top of the planks. In the middle of the ship, the bulkhead with a height of 50 centimeters and a width of 10 centimeters is located. The 9 centimeter-thick level bulkhead is located at the rear of the boat. The boats with sprit sails were single-handed sail boats with two masts leaning forward. When going without sails the boat was poled, meaning that a pole was used to push the boat in the right direction. The peat boat is steered with a spade-shaped side rudder called "Firrer" in German. Today, the peat boats are still used to empty fish traps. On Fischerkreidag, there is a peat boat regatta if the weather allows it. 

© Familie Bredthauer

Box Mangle

In the 17th century, there were already many linen weavers in Steinhude due to the cultivation of flax. When in the first half of the 19th century linen fabrics in large quantities were produced, they were sent to Bremen or Hamburg for further processing. In 1855, the alderman Wilhelm Bretthauer built the first bigger cold mangle on his property number 27, Graf-Wilhelm-Str. 10, in Steinhude. Today, it is Europe's biggest maintained facility.

The woven and bleached linen was picked up from the weaving mills, sprayed with water – first manually, later by machine – and stored overnight. On the next day, it was rolled up and then mangled. The mangle rolls were placed underneath the mangle box, which was lowered and moved several times over the mangle rolls. The mangled linen was then taken back to the weaving mill for further processing. Afterwards, the single tablecloths were once again mangled, folded and pressed overnight with heavy cardboards and wooden boards. Finally, the tablecloths were ready for dispatch.

The best-known employee was Fritz Thiele from Steinhude (1843 – 1936), called "Mangelfritz", who started working there at the age of 14, only two years after the mangle was built. He worked there for 73 years until 1930. There are many stories about the personage "Mangelfritz", who was known as a funny and cheerful companion. In Steinhude, the job existed as a full-time job until 1963. Every weaving mill in Steinhude worked with the mangle. On the side, tablecloths from small hotels and private houses were also mangled, the most famous one being the House of Princes of Schaumburg-Lippe.

In the 1960s the number of weaving mills decreased and Alfred Baumgartner, the last person to work the mangle, worked there part-time until 1983. The box was first pulled by an ox, later by a horse. In 1930, an electric motor was installed. In the years 1996 – 1999 the dilapidated building and the equipment was elaborately restored by Gisela and Wilhelm Bredthauer with the support of several institutions (niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung, niedersächsische Denkmalspflege and Klosterkammer). The center piece is the 12 meter long, 1.2 meter wide and 1 meter high box mangle, which carries 12 tons of stones. 

© Christine Kölling - SMT

Post Buoy

The post buoy exists because of a bet between a sailing instructor and his students, who claimed, that it would soon be possible to have a swimming mailbox on Lake Steinhuder Meer. The instructor wanted to animate the students to write more letters and accepted the bet. There and then the students got a buoy, turned it into a swimming mailbox and thus won the bet. The word spread and the Post Office approved the mailbox and since 1964 the mailbox is on Lake Steinhuder Meer between April and September (position: 52°29,715‘ N und 9°22,00‘ O). It is emptied twice a week and during the season even daily by the Sailing Club Garbsen. The letters receive a special stamp and are taken to the Post Office in Wunstorf. Every year, about 2000 postcards find their way to the post buoy.

© Andreas Menz


Besides the weaving industry, the fishing industry was the main line of business in the area. In the mid 18th century Steinhude's fishermen formed a group to improve the economic situation. Annually they held an assembly to settle disputes and to deliberate and execute a limited criminal law. The Low German phrase "Eck segge: Mit Gunst!" (I say: With favor!) marked the beginning of each assembly. This tradition is commemorated every year by celebrating Fischerkreidag.

The traditional meeting had not been held for a long time, however, after its revival in 1978, the nomination of a prominent person to "Freyfischer" was added to the tradition. Walter Hirche, Sabine Steuernagel, Karl-Heinz Funke, Rolf-Axel Eberhardt, Caren Marks, Hans-Heinrich Sander and Gert Lindemann have already been appointed "Freyfischer". This includes a free fishing foray and a free peat cutting. The current "Freyfischer" is Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Stephan Weil.

Since 1998 the so-called "Inhucker" (people who were not born in Steinhude, but have lived there for at least 10 – 15 years) are breamed, which means that they get slapped in the face with a bream. Afterwards, they can officially say that they are from Steinhude.

© Florian Toffel - SMT

The Formation of Lake Steinhuder Meer

There are many theories about the formation of Lake Steinhuder Meer. Newer research supports the thesis, that the lake developed after the last ice age 10,000 years ago, because a huge underground ice lens melted.

However, there is another legendary theory, which becomes more and more popular: Long time ago, giants and dwarfs lived in a flat and sandy land. One day, a giant left his village and went through the dwarf's territory and got sand into his boots. He emptied the sand from his boot on a pile, which is today the White Dune in Mardorf. When he put his boot back on, several dwarfs picked on him and he wanted to scare them off by stamping on the ground and he left a big footprint. The giant left. Unfortunately, one of the dwarfs was fatally injured by the giant. The other dwarfs were so sad and cried so much, that the footprint filled up with tears. This is the real formation of the lake!

Today, most of the water comes from groundwater, which originates in the Nienburger Geest and Rehburg Mountains. The lake's water volume depends on the amount of rain in the area. Only a quarter of the outflow reaches the Meerbach, which empties into the Weser.

The lake is the biggest inland lake of Lower Saxony with a surface area of 29 square kilometers. Its range is 24 kilometers and its volume is 48 million cubic meter. The sea level is 37.90 meter, the average depth is 1.35 meter. Only from southwest to northeast (7.9 km) there is a 100-meter-long ditch with a depth of about three meters called Deipen. Between 1901 and 1920 the lake often overtopped the banks, mostly in April. The lowest water lever was determined in 1934, which was a very dry year.

© Florian Toffel - SMT

"Mount Kalimanjaro"

Another well-known landmark is the mountain Kaliberg, which is also called "Mount Kalimanjaro". Until 2018, the company K+S Kali mined potash and magnesium salts and was one of the biggest employers in the area. The mountain is the spoil heap.

© Steinhuder Museen

Seamless Shirt - Still a Mistery

Nothing represents the high art of hand weaving of Steinhude's weavers as good as the seamless shirt, which can be seen in the Fishing and Weaving Museum. Even after more than 300 years its creation cannot be fully explained, making room for several legends about the seamless shirt. Between 1730 and 1765 it was woven by Johann Henrich Bühmann, an ancestor of the man who built the house, where today's Fishing and Weaving Museum is located. How he managed to weave a seamless shirt on his handloom, which can still be found in the museum, is still a secret. Actually, there are two more seamless shirts made by Steinhude's weavers – so it almost seemed to be a hobby here. Experts claim that that the seamless shirt in the museum was started at the collar.

© Fürstliche Hofkammer

Steinhude's Pike

The most famous invention by Count Wilhelm of Schaumburg-Lippe was Steinhude's pike, the first submarine built in Germany. J.C. Praetorius, who worked for the Count as engineer, geographer and officer, designed it. When in 1762 Count Wilhelm became chief commander in Portugal, Praetorius suggested a submarine, which would guarantee a fast and safe connection to Schaumburg-Lippe. During surface trips it was supposed to use sails and underwater it should have been pushed forward by moving the fishtail. It is said that a small prototype swam in the lake in 1722. Supposedly, it had room for 8 passengers and was able to dive for 12 minutes. However, it is not known if the trial was successful or if there was an evaluation or a retry. The drawing and a small replica can be seen in the museum on Wilhelmstein Island.

© Steinhuder Meer Tourismus GmbH

Funkenturm - the German "Eiffel Tower"

In the Imperial era, the first transmission mast, which was used to radio to the USA, was erected east of Lake Steinhuder Meer in Eilvese's Moor. In October 1913, the first telegram was successfully transmitted. This was a huge sensation and even the Emperor attended the inauguration ceremony.

The transmission mast measured 258 meters and was the highest building in Germany. Next to it stood six smaller masts, which were all connected by cables. The construction was fondly called "German Eiffel Tower" by the media. The counterpart was located in New Jersey, USA. The transmission mast was in use until 1931, unfortunately, almost nothing is left of it today.

© Hans F. Meier