The likes of the Caribbean, Maldives or South Pacific are usually conjured up in the mind’s eye during island-retreat daydreams.
But there is also an option in Germany for such matters – Wilhelmstein island.
It’s a haven in the middle of Lake Steinhude, close to Hanover in Lower Saxony, that’s popular with tourists for its unique and tranquil location, boutique hotel, pleasant views, fortress museum – and fascinating history.
Wilhelmstein island – a man-made island in the middle of Lake Steinhude close to Hanover in Lower Saxony
Count Wilhelm of Schaumburg-Lippe, a grandson of George I, hatched a plan to build an artificial island in Lake Steinhude, and the rest is history
The island dates back to 1761 when Count Wilhelm of Schaumburg-Lippe, a grandson of George I, launched a ‘daring plan’ to build an artificial fortress island on Lake Steinhude.
It took five years to construct it on stone foundations, along with 16 inter-connected satellite islands used as platforms for cannons and workshops.
A star-shaped fortress was created in the middle of Wilhelmstein island along with a military school in 1771 to ‘ensure thorough training of the next generation of leaders’.
In 1772, what is believed to be Germany’s first submarine – the Steinhuder Hecht – was built on the island.
A star-shaped fortress, pictured, was created in the middle of Wilhemstein island along with a military school in 1771 to ‘ensure thorough training of the next generation of leaders’
In 1787 came an attack by Hessian troops, the only time the island had to repel an enemy
And in 1787 came an attack by Hessian troops, the only time the island had to repel an enemy.
By the end of the 18th century, after the death of Count Wilhelm, the fortress was converted into a state prison.
Soon after, the 16 smaller islands surrounding Wilhelmstein were connected to it, forming a landmass measuring 134,548 square feet (12,500 sq m).
By 1867, all military personnel and prisoners were moved off the island and it began flourishing as a tourist hotspot – an identity it holds to this day.
It’s possible to reach the island by foot – when the lake occasionally freezes over in winter.
But in normal times, visitors must board ferries that depart daily from Steinhude and Mardorf.
Once there, they can explore the former fortress, which is now a museum.
The lake’s website explains how the museum’s collection includes a model of the Steinhuder Hecht submarine and ‘from the tower, you have a beautiful panoramic view over the entire Lake Steinhuder’.
It’s possible to reach the island by foot – when the lake occasionally freezes over in winter. But in normal times, visitors must board ferries that depart daily from Steinhude and Mardorf
Germany’s first submarine, the Steinhuder Hecht, was built on Wilhelmstein in 1772. The picture here (used courtesy of the Creative Commons licence) shows the model of it that’s on display in the island’s museum
One of the inviting bedrooms at Inselhus hotel on Wilhelmstein. There are no TVs in the bedrooms – but the 360-degree lake panorama is billed as a ‘very good substitute’
The island’s hotel is called Inselhus and offers charming rooms starting from 125 euros (£107/$148) a night.
Dinner is available in the island restaurant – but TV-watching is off the menu.
The hotel says: ‘We took over the operation on the island in 2019 and would like to bring our guests closer to the unique atmosphere of the island and the Steinhuder Meer nature park and to promote the “slow tourism” trend. That’s why we decided against TV sets in the rooms for the time being. We are convinced that the 360-degree lake panorama is a very good substitute. Wi-Fi is available free of charge.’
One visitor to the island, ‘Oana‘, said on Tripadvisor that it’s a ‘fairy-tale place’ and urged users to ‘visit this corner of heaven’. They added: ‘The lake, the views, the feeling you have while watching the sunset… everything is great!’
Another reviewer, ‘revcole7’, described Wilhelmstein as a ‘wonderful little fortress’.
One visitor to the island, ‘ Oana ‘, said on Tripadvisor that it’s a ‘fairy-tale place’ and urged users to ‘visit this corner of heaven’