Grafenwohr locals enjoy a sunny day at "the beach."

Grafenwohr locals enjoy a sunny day at "the beach." (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Grafenwöhr is about as far away from salt water as you can get in Europe but that doesn’t stop locals from going to the beach.

Although this beach is covered in dirt, not sand.

On a sunny day the town’s new swimming area, near Gmund, about a mile from Grafenwöhr Training Area’s Gate 6, is packed with bathers. When they are not swimming, the locals like to lounge on “the beach” — a large expanse of dirt next to the water that is the perfect place to sunbathe, relax under a sun umbrella or toss a flying disc.

The new swimming lake is one of several created by the German Mining Office as it extracts large quantities of dirt from the area, according to Grafenwöhr mayor Helmuth Wächter.

The nearby city of Pressath, which owns 200 acres of land around the lake, is looking for options to develop it as a recreational area but for now it remains an industrial zone, he said.

Possibilities include a hotel and a campground but the city is still looking for an investor for the project, he said.

“Of course it will also be developed with opportunities for American soldiers and their families to have better recreational opportunities over here,” he said.

The only off-post lake that the Army has authorized U.S. personnel to swim in near Grafenwöhr is Russweiher Lake at Eschenbach, which was redeveloped over winter. The lake includes a large fountain, raft, diving boards and changing sheds.

But Wächter said Americans are already using the much closer Grafenwöhr lake, which has a small changing shed and portable toilets nearby.

The Army spent a large sum of money a few years ago developing an on-post lake in the heart of the base’s Main Post as a swimming area, including bringing in sand to create an artificial beach.

Longtime Grafenwöhr base workers claim the project was abandoned because there is no funding for lifeguards. But Grafenwöhr Morale, Welfare and Recreation chief Audre Binder said rumors of grass leeches in the on-post lake made people avoid it.

Wächter said there is no chance of grass leeches populating the Grafenwöhr swimming lake because fresh water flows through it constantly.

“It is also very deep — about 4 meters,” he added.

Wächter said the free swimming lake is not in competition with Grafenwöhr’s Waldbad swimming pool, which charges an entrance fee.

The Waldbad is a good place for families since the water is heated and there are shallow pools for small children and other features such as slides and lifeguards, he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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