Where were we? About to catch a (fictional) ferry across the Baltic from Timmendorfer Beach in Schleswig-Holstein to the Isle of Rügen – allegedly the region of Germany with the most sunlight, or so I was told. Well, it certainly lived up to that reputation in the September of 2017, even if it wasn’t quite as warm as I would have liked. But back to our cruise – we need to be careful, because here be pirates!
Well there would be if we were to time-travel back to the late C14th when Klaus Störtebeker and the Victual Brothers sailed these waters. After supplying provisions to Stockholm during a war with Denmark, they turned to private buchaneering. Their “enterprise” ended with execution in Hamburg in 1401. Nowadays the gang are remembered at the Störtebeker festival in Ralswiek on the Isle of Rügen. (Another festival for my bucket list.) The first I heard of of Störtebeker on this trip was at Sellin Pier, where I was served a glass of his namesake beer. (Appropriate that this beer exists given that legend has it that he could down a 4-litre mug of bier in one gulp – hence his (nick)name. Störtebecker in Low Saxon means to empty the mug in one.
Look to the backgound on the left of the first picture. Those are the white cliffs of Rügen accessible by foot through the beech forests of the Jasmund National Park, Germany’s smallest and I think, latest national park, set up by the GDR in 1990 just before reunification. Strolling through the forest you might just stumble on the odd piece of artwork by a certain Caspar David Friedrich, although you’d be hard pressed to find that particular site. The painting is an amalgam of the various cliffs, some of which no longer exist due to erosion. Even so, it’s great fun to play spot the components in the Jasmund National Park.
Let’s take to the Baltic waters for real with a boat trip across to Hiddensee, a small (19 square kilometers) car-less island where the transport for island tours is of the more traditional variety. The impetus for my trip was to visit the location of Lutz Seiler’s German Book Prize winning novel, Kruso. There were events in it that I could scarcely believe, primarily that people seeking to flee East Germany would attempt to swim/canoe 65km across the Baltic from Hiddensee to the Danish island of Møn. But they did but hardly ever made it.
Hiddensee seems always to have attracted creative types. There was an artists’ colony that included included Erich Heckel, Käthe Kollwitz, Carl Suckmayer, Lion Feuchtwanger, Georg Grosz among others in the 1920s. Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka are known to have holidayed there. The Nobel prizewinning author Gerhart Hauptmann made Hiddensee his home and he is buried there.
Before catching the boat back to Rügen, time for some local refreshment. Sea buckthorn grows everywhere on the island and is turned into all manner of delights. Would you prefer cake or juice before setting off back across the sea?
Our time in the West Pomeranian half of Mecklenburg-Pomerania is now over. A 3-hour westbound train journey takes us to our destination in Mecklenburg to Schwerin, the state capital and a jewel of a city. I swear once you set your eyes on Schwerin castle you might think you’re in the Loire Valley.
Schwerin Castle sit on an island in Lake Schwerin, at 60 km2, the fourth largest lake in Germany. The city itself is surrounded by 7 lakes, some of which you can walk around. Not Lake Schwerin though. Let’s take a boat trip instead.
The old town centre is a delight. Schwerin was not bombed in WW2 (lack of industry) so the buildings are authentically old. Almost 30 years of post-reunification restoration had restored much of its charm, although there were still remaining traces of GDR neglect on display.
Recommended reads from Mecklenburg-West Pomerania
Lutz Seiler’s Kruso makes for excellent reading when in the vicinity of Hiddensee. Hans Fallada (Alone in Berlin reviewed here) and Judith Schalansky were both born on the mainland in Greifswald. As was the romantic artist, Caspar David Friedrich. So that’s my next Mecklenburg-Pomeranian destination. What a cultural treat that will be!