It is just over half a year since our last visit to Waren, the town that sits at the head of the Müritz lake, and the experience couldn’t be more different. Last time around we could barely see the other side of the bay as the lake was shrouded in mist, our boat tour was halved by the captain as it was nearly impossible to see anything, and many of the restaurants, cafes and bars that surround the harbour were closed for the winter. Now the harbour is alive. From the balcony of our apartment we can look across the marina, filled with boats of many sizes, and we can hear the general chatter of the drinkers and diners who occupy the waterside terraces seemingly from breakfast until late in the evening. The pleasure cruisers fill up quickly, exiting the harbour for the lake with a blast on their horn, the top decks packed with passengers. You get a sense, on this bank holiday weekend, that most of northern Germany has descended on this lakeside town, to walk and swim, explore the nearby Müritz National Park, rent bikes and canoes, or simply stroll between the cobbled market square and the harbour, where they can feast on locally-caught fish stuffed in crusty bread rolls, or Italian ice cream.
At the site of old mineral spring – the Gesundbrunnen that gives our district it’s the name – the Panke river flows between the red-bricked halls of a former vault-factory and the clumpy grass of an underappreciated park, complete with a football court that local legend has it started the careers of at least one of the three Boeteng brothers. Their faces look down upon the nearby Badstraße from a Nike-sponsored mural. The sports company also dressed up the football court and invited the brothers along to launch an advertising campaign in the gritty urban decay that is our ‘hood. The sign that hung over the gate to the concrete pitch was stolen within days.
We arrived in Rhoscolyn at around midnight, the headlights of our hire car jumping with each rut of the gravel track as we made our way to Cerrig-yr-Adar. Otherwise we were surrounded by darkness. At the bottom of Holy Island, in the north western corner of Wales there are very few streetlights, and though the stars can give you some spectacular illumination, on this occasion they were hidden behind the clouds. But of course it did not matter that we could not see the view in front of us as we crested the small hill just before we finally got there, for we know it so well, as regular readers of Under a Grey Sky will know. This is a place that I spent most of the summers of my childhood, a place that is close to the hearts of so many of my friends and family that if they were all to descend on Outdoor Alternative at the same time we would fill all the beds and probably most of the campsite for good measure. So it did not matter that we could not see across the bay to the beacon, or to the coastguard lookout on top of the hill, or across to the bay windows of the White Eagle pub, as we knew it was all there, in place, waiting for us as it ever does.
I first visited Prora, just up the coast from the seaside town of Binz, back in 2006. As we pulled into the car park on that November day, surrounded by tall pine trees, it did not seem up to much. There was a ramshackle building topped with a sign advertising “Rügen’s Largest Nightclub”, a building beyond the trees that was under renovation – it would open a year later as a youth hostel – and otherwise not much else beyond an eerie sense of abandonment.
The building clad in scaffolding was just part of an enormous complex that had been conceived of by the Nazis in the 1930s as the first of five massive resorts that would be run under the organization Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy). Prora was to house 20,000 holidaymakers at a time, sleeping in one of eight buildings each half a kilometre long that were to be laid out along the Prora Wiek, arguably Germany’s finest beach.
You might have noticed something of a theme on Under a Grey Sky in recent weeks, and that is a series of articles on the German Baltic Coast. This not only because we have made some trips there recently, but also a reflection on the fact that when the temperatures hit 30 degrees in Berlin – as they have this week –many Berliners begin to dream of the lakes of Brandenburg and the sea breeze of the Ostsee coast, and we are no exception:
Long before the island of Usedom became of popular destination for sun-seekers, bathers, and anyone looking to escape the dirt and grime of rapidly industrialising cities, it was a place where life was dominated by the twin goals of attempting the harvest the produce of the field and the sea. The village of Koserow dates back to the 13th Century, when fishing and agriculture were the main activities for the small population living in the shadow of the Streckelsberg hill. By the beginning of the 19th Century the first Salzhütte had been erected, thatched huts where the herrings caught under royal license where packed in salt and stored, before transportation across the German-speaking lands.
With the weather in Berlin suddenly reaching summer-like levels of warmth, it might seem like a funny time to write about and recommend a museum visit, but the skies were grey last weekend when we headed to the German History Museum, and the special exhibition we found there is definitely worth a look the nice time the temperatures drop.
FARBE FÜR DIE REPUBLIK (Colour for the Republic) is a collection of images taken by the photojournalists Martin Schmidt and Kurt Schwarzer in the German Democratic Republic. The two men were both freelance photographers, but were hired by different companies and mass organisations in the GDR to take images to be used for trade fairs, products, cookbooks and more. As the introduction to the exhibition makes clear, the images were supposed to depict elements of a fulfilled life under socialism in the GDR, and the fact that they were in colour was no accident:
Review by Paul Scraton:
In 1933 Patrick Leigh Fermor began a walk from the Hook of Holland that would take him across Europe, a journey he would later immortalise in three books – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and (published posthumously) The Broken Road. The first two have, since publication, been long regarded as classics of travel literature. Reading them today you are struck with the sense that these are books written about a time when Europe was at a tipping point – much of A Time of Gifts for instance is set in a Germany where the Nazis are in the ascendant – but also and especially later in Fermor’s journey, in the lands to the East, where the books are filled with tales of aristocrats and peasants it is a world that became decidedly less “modern” the more he walked.