Oh how I do like to be beside the seaside. Stralsund, that’s the place to be.
To get anywhere in Germany not in Berlin, as logic would dictate, you need to get out of Berlin. We’re not exactly talking about Los Angelese-style overpasses and car-sized turnstiles, but there is a fair share of confusion in Germany to find the right offramp / roadway / highway number, so that freedom of movement can be yours again. That and the whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing.
Or as my Dresdonian friend pointed out, “the Right Side of the road.” Which indeed it is, but that don’t make it right. Driving on the right amps up the “which way do I do the hook turn” anxiety index. If you are one of these people that has broadband wireless internet in the refrigerator, on the toilet and in your car then an online map of Berlin may be of some help. But if, like me, you feel more secure with both hands on the wheel, not one on a mouse, then you can also use it to print out a door-to-door list of directions.
Getaways in Germany: The Road to Stralsund
|Jack’s impression of the road to Stralsund|
The jettison from the not-so-sprawling city through to the welcoming woods takes not so long, once exit velocity has wound up the car to the mandatory 140km/h. Now passing through Eberswalde, then New Brandberg and up past Greifswalde. From the road, especially at night, it’s all just fields of little red-winking lights from the windmills, steadily and silently gathering power for toasting bread and warming tiny sausages across the great flat land.
I imagine little hands gathering all that wind energy, wearing Mickey Mouse gloves, waving at you quietly as the arms turn. It makes the German countryside the most welcoming place you’ve ever driven through.
Back in the day of old old Germany, there existed a handful of towns exempt from particular government taxes, the Hansestadt as they were known. Hamburg, Wismar and Bremen numbered among them, as well as the coastal town of Stralsund.
For the Australians among us, Stralsund is about the size of Darwin (80,000 or so people), is also on the coast, has about the same weather in summer as Darwin in late dry season, but is fortunate enough not to be lashed occasionally by cyclones. Like Darwin, Stralsund is regularly drowning in tourists. Except most of these do not wear thongs.
Being a coastal town, Stralsund has a sweet little wharf and pier. You can check out all the classic boats that carry mad Scandanavians about the North Sea and on a Saturday night you can go down there and get drunk with the locals and listen to classic hit jukebox action at the WerkStatt, a truly surreal favourite of mine.
|Stralsund at night
During a good winter you can also watch the dark waters of the sea freeze and pile up into cracked sheets. And, from the comfort of your mouse-side wireless retreat from the world, you can watch the hideous new OceanWorld being built along said pier. (Yes, the nice little places at the end of the road soon become car parks for new violations of the senses, even this quaint town is afflicted.)
If you fancy a more direct sensory jolt, then join the crazies who start the swimming season each year with an icy plunge at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Remembering that this is the pit of winter, nipples make take weeks to unharden and many more work their way into the first flu of the year with this little dip in the Hiddensee near Rugen each year.
Moving back a little from the construction, the roads by the canals are over 300 years old. The rest of the Altstadt (old town) is some 700 years old. One of the largest organs in Germany hides inside one of the three grand cathedrals that frame Stralsund’s skyline. Plenty of quaintness to dally with, but its the island across the bridge that we seek.
Getaways in Germany: Onward to Rugen Island
Rugen is Germany’s largest island and a happy little idyll in the North Sea, at that. If you fancy getting a bicycle under you, then a couple of very pleasant days can be had in pursuit of fresh air, vividly coloured forests and open spaces, interspersed with dabs of pebbly beach and monumental German buildings.
|Prora on Rugen Island. You gotta see it to believe it.
Prora, on the northern side of Rugen, is the largest and also one of the strangest buildings in Germany (now that Templehof airport in Berlin is being decommissioned). Bend that head as you try to take in a 7-kilometre-long building. That’s right, it’s one continuous building that runs along the coast, ensuring every room had a view of the sea. Little arcades were conveniently placed throughout the ambling stretch of tiles and waterfrontage, cutting that walk to the beach down from an hour (should you need to cut right round it) to a short hop skip and a jump. Prora was built as a single-minded testatment to the power of the holiday camp, back when politics in this part of the world were a little troublesome. It’s now a tourist attraction — and attract tourists it does, over 100,000 a year.
Also worth mentioning is the little village of Trippe, which is probably what you’ll do if you head over to the northeast side of the island and stretch your goggles around the white chalk cliffs from Sassnitz to Lohme. The stark white of the limestone does something to your eyes. Nothing like a natural high at the end of the ends of the earth, I reckon.
I don’t know about you, but all this talk of fresh air and open spaces can make the mind a-boggle, and there’s nothing better to bring things back to Earth than a fresh cold beer – puts things in perspective and slows them down so a man can take stock of the situation. Given that this is Germany, you can drink anyplace you like. As long as there are hours in the day, or night, there’s always time, and a right time at that, for a refreshing half-litre of golden tonic. So don’t get yourself in a ferment over the excess of things to do and places to be in Germany’s grand north. Grab a local Stralsunder, perch yourself by the seaside, and let it all just wash back and forth till there’s no place like home.