Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ruins, Rockets and Vikings

The day started out rainy and grey but we didn't mind, because ruins and historic buildings are at its best when the weather isn't. We visited the abbey ruins of Eldena close to Greifswald. The ruins became somewhat famous through the artwork of Caspar David Friedrich, a romantic painter of the 19th century.

The Abbey in the Oakwood (Wikipedia)

Our next stop would be a very dark chapter of German history: The Peenemünde Army Research Center. A fishermen's town was erased, its people removed, and a military zone and test site with restricted access established in 1937, built by slave labourers, inmates of a concentration camp and prisoners of war.

This location pretty much became the birthplace of rocket science and spaceflight. It was here, where the first guided missiles were developed to be used for maximum mass destruction. The majority of the rockets were aimed at London killing thousands of people.

Ironically its inventor, Wernher von Braun and select members of his team continued to work for the US government without ever being punished for their deeds, on contrary, von Braun received a medal for his accomplishments in the NASA space program.

Today the whole area is being kept as a museum and a reminder that these events must not ever happen again. The museum currently also hosts a special exhibitions about Operation Crossbow.

V2 cruise missile
Top Secret

After this nightmarish experience we needed to find something lighter, and visited a few more of the ever so present ocean resorts, also in quest for a cake and coffee.

The sea bridge of Ahlbeck

And since we were so close to the Polish border we thought, let's have a look at the other side. The last time we visited Poland was long before it belonged to the European Union. There were borders, and barriers and passports being controlled. Today... no customs control, you just drive through. Hello, Poland! There and back. From Nazi Germany and WWII to a world without frontiers in a united Europe. We have come a long way.

Today's trip into history wouldn't be complete without the early settlers of this area: Vikings. A mile away from Menzlin lies an old Viking camp. The site was close to the river Peene, and supposedly an important trading post in its time (the 9th century). The actual name of the site remains unknown but remnants of bridges and stone ships (grave yards), and other archeological findings had been discovered proving its regular use. 

Given that the day started dull and grey, it was rich of educational experience. We certainly learned a lot today about ancient and recent history.

Viking grave site

Today's trip was 260km.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Hanseatic City, a Harbour and a Haunted Seaside Resort, oh my!

Rostock is another member of the former Hanseatic League, and has also one of the oldest universities in the world (founded 1419). The buildings of the old city core, though much had been destroyed during WWII bombings, still show some of the red brick gothic architecture. It is a lovely city, and buzzing with energy.

Rostock City Hall
The "porn fountain" - Lust for Life Fountain in Rostock

Warnemünde with its sea harbour is Rostock's gateway to the Baltic Sea. Besides the shipbuilding industry, tourism is an important factor in the area. The town is very neat, picturesque and offers a lot of culinary specialties, mostly fish, shrimps or other local sea food.

Our further travels lead us to Germany's first seaside resort, Heiligendamm, founded 1793. It is not a real town but a cluster of luxurious mansions for the rich and famous. A playground for artists and writers, politicians and dictators, aristocrats and the nouveau riche. But with WWII the white town at the sea became grey and went to rack and ruin. The former German Democratic Republic used it as recovery ward, demolished some of the buildings and used others for more utilitarian purpose. It was only after the German Reunification that investors took over and tried to rebuild and renovate the old structures. And the high society came back. In 2006 George W. Bush was here to visit our Chancellor Angela Merkel, in 2007 Heiligendamm hosted the 33rd G8 summit.

The town is a gated community, and off limits for normal people like ourselves, as one needs a key fob to enter the premises. The atmosphere very much reminded us of the old times stories of the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining. This, by association made us uncomfortable, and hence, we left very soon...

Heiligendamm Pier
Still waiting for investors
Kurhaus - Spa

... to rather spend the rest of our sojourn at the beach. However, it was somewhat eerie here as well. The light became diffused, water and sky lost their colour. We had entered the forest of the ghosts. We felt that was high time to turn around and leave before we would end up becoming a part of the story of this haunted area.

The so called Gespensterwald (Forest of the Ghosts)

Today's trip was 270km.