Travel through the eyes of the volcanic Eifel

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany - Many years ago volcanoes spewed lava, ash and stone across the Eifel mountains. The volcanic craters have since calmed, some filling with water, turning the area into a popular tourist location providing swimming, boating, fishing and other leisurely activities. (Courtesy photo)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany - Many years ago volcanoes spewed lava, ash and stone across the Eifel mountains. The volcanic craters have since calmed, some filling with water, turning the area into a popular tourist location providing swimming, boating, fishing and other leisurely activities. (Courtesy photo)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Nearly 2,000 years ago, a lonely wanderer reached the shoreline of the Weinfelder Maar crater lake. The water was dark and deathly still. The wanderer was Pontius Pilatus, the man who condemned Jesus. In despair, Pilatus threw himself into the deep water of the crater lake and drowned.

Near the water, at what is now called Death Lake, sits a rock upon which Pilatus sat before hurling himself into the murky pond. The rock, Pilatus rock, remains there as a landmark for the occurrence. Many other legends center around this lake, as well.

In the evening sun the surface of the water shines like a huge round mirror. A bird quietly takes off into the sky. It must be admired for his view, because beneath its wings sits a beautiful and charming countryside, once a land of fire-spewing mountains.

A remaining crater from the volcanic days, the Weinfeld Maar lies in a 51-meter deep caldera - and has no inlet or outlet. The water level is regulated simply by rain and evaporation. Like a wreath, shrubs and plants wind around the lake's shore of black gravel.

The Mosel, Rhein, Ahr and Sauer rivers join deep in nearby valley where one can find the Maare - or volcanic lakes - called the eyes of the Eifel by Port Clara Viebig.

Historical documents reveal that from the Tertiary period, about 40 million years ago, until modern-times, volcanic gas explosions of several hundred volcanoes pierced the Eifel mountains. They hurled vast quantities of sand and stone out of the interior of the earth. After volcanic activity had ceased more than 50 craters remain, and about 9,000 years before Christ the craters became filled with rainwater.

Today, however, only lakes near the towns of Daun, Manderscheid and Ulmen still contain water. The remaining lakes either dried up or were filled with sediment over time.

After the Ice Age, swamps developed on the grounds of the basins. The Holzmaar, a 69-feet deep crater near Gillenfel, filled with water, and the adjacent Duerren Maar developed into a high swampland covered with plants. Large woodlands and walking paths surround the area.

Among the most popular lakes is the Pulvermaar also near Gillenfeld. It covers 89 acres, and with a depth of 243 feet, is the deepest crater lake north of the Alps. Pulvermaar is almost perfectly circular and crystal clear, providing an ample location for people to fish, swim, boat, sail and dive

Gemuendener Maar, which is 18 acres in area and is 125 feet deep, is surrounded by tall beech trees and offers several walking paths.

Schalkenmehrener Maar, sharing the same name as the adjacent village, covers more than 53 acres, is 69 feet deep and offers walking paths, swimming, boating, sailing and a nearby camping site. This area also boasts a hang-gliding field approximately 546 yards away from the lake.

Other nearby lakes include the Meerfelder Maar, Ulmener Maar and Immerather Maar.

Meerfelder, approximately 79 acres and 56 feet deep, provides fishing, boating, swimming, and kite-flying. Ulmener is approximatly 13 acres and 56 feet deep, while Immerather is more than 16 acres and is relatively shallow at a depth of 10 feet.

Weinfelder Maar, 42 acres and 167 feet deep, features an old chapel, a sole relic of a former village, at the edge of the lake.

The Windsbornkrater on the Mosenberg near Bettenfeld is the only
mountain crater lake north of the Alps, and it covers nearly 62 acres with a depth ranging from 10-13 feet.

The volcanoes of the Eifel have been extinct for a long time, though the Maare lakes, formed in the volcanic craters, are a reminder of those days.

Today the lakes are very popular, attracting many tourists year-round. Each lake is different, but they all have one thing in common - all are steeped in age-old legend.