LETTERS FROM ABROAD
By Marianne Gray
Photos by Siegfried Tesche
Rügen on the Baltic Sea is Germany’s furthest north and largest island. Known for its glorious white beaches, chalk cliffs and big open skies, it used to be in East Germany and is still an almost exclusively German seaside resort. It is very pretty with its huge shady woodland and primeval beech forests, elegant seaside resorts, villages full of sleepy thatched cottages and a National Park known for its deer, white-tailed eagles and goshawks.
There is plenty to do beyond swimming and sunbathing. In Sassnitz there’s a British submarine, a great black hull with HMS Otus written on it and a Union Jack fluttering overhead. The ticket seller warned me that the circular entrances between sections were small and they were so right. I ended up with bruises up and down both legs. And I was very pleased that I would never have to be a submariner, with those tiny short bunks and only two loos for the entire crew.
Another excellent thing to do on Rügen is to climb the nearly 200 steps up the lighthouse at Cape Arkona and view the Baltic Sea at the end of the rolling yellow wheat fields. And then take the nearby ferry to Hiddensee. It’s a 20 minute crossing (about £1 per person) to the island which is 16km long, pencil-slim and very rural. It is full of fairy tale thatched cottages with steep roofs, colourful gardens and horse-drawn transport.
Of course, on Rügen you could just eat apple tarts, drink some unusual (Stortebeker) beer and sunbathe nude on countless beaches. But it would be a shame to miss the magnificent Putbus, a town entirely of grand white buildings unlike any other, or shop for fish on the harbour, or see the 18th Century Granitz hunting lodge or look for treasure in the village markets. Being part of Germany, most people speak some English, the roads are excellent (except when they suddenly slip into East German cobbles) and there are cycle paths everywhere.
And then there’s Prora, the holiday resort Hitler built for 20,000 Nazis. The complex at Prora was destined to be a vast hotel of six-storey blocks stretching along the beach for almost five kilometres just south of the charming seaside town of Binz; each block was to have its own facilities. Hitler’s plans included a theatre, cinema, cafes, restaurants, piers outside big enough for cruise ships, swimming pools with wave machines, a festival hall for 20,000 and solarium halls. It was a true Strength Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) project.
But it was never to be. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, construction was put on hold and instead, unfinished, it became a shelter for people left homeless by bombing raids, a military base for the invading Soviets, later a base for some of the East German army, a convalescent home, a centre for Balkans asylum seekers and a youth hostel. Recently it got the seal of approval for renovation and for sale as flats. Already people are buying space for 3 to 7 euros per square metre.
Footnote: It would be a pity not to go to nearby Peenemünda on the neighbouring island of Usedom to see where Wernher von Braun,
in 1936, designed the first functional liquid-propellant rocket, the V-2.
During The Blitz in London, the V-2 would scream overhead and then go totally silent while you waited to see if it was going to destroy your home. There’s a V-2 standing on the lawn in front of the technical laboratory where the rockets were built, now a museum.
How to get there:
Fly to Hamburg or Bremen and hire a car.
For brochures in English: