At breakfast we watch the small fishing boat, the crew of three wrapped up in their waterproof overalls, as it chugs through the narrow channel at the mouth of the river and into the bay. We are in Wieck, a small village that belongs to the Hanseatic city of Greifswald in the north east of Germany, and our hotel sits right on the point where the river Ryck meets the Griefswalder Bodden – a huge bay enclosed by the island of Rügen and the sweep of the mainland east of Greifswald to Usedom. During East German times the Wieck harbour was home to a Marine Training School and the military sailing boat the “Wilhelm Pieck”, named for the former President of the GDR. Now the training school is a holiday camp for school and youth groups, and the sailing boat has been renamed the “Greif”, although a cocktail bar at one end of the old complex maintains the old institutional name for posterity.
The village of Wieck, which clusters around a huge red brick church on the northern bank of the Ryck is an appealing jumble of squat houses, many still with thatched roofs. There are boathouses too, and converted stables and plenty to stimulate the imagination as you try to picture what it was like here when fishing was the number one economic activity. The fishermen remain, their boats tied up beside corrugated sheds on the harbour by the historic wooden bascule bridge, but it is clear that the shallow waters of the bay or the depths of the open sea bring a living to only a tiny minority, whilst the rest of the population welcome visitors to their village, commute into the city three miles upriver, or simply enjoy their retirement.
After breakfast we explore the narrow streets and cross the bridge to the other side of the river. Beyond the Wieck harbour is the village of Eldena, named for St Hilda and home to the ruins of an abbey that, like so much of Greifswald and its surroundings, offered artistic inspiration for arguably the city’s most famous son, the romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. We pick our way through the red brick ruins of the Eldena Abbey that dates back to 1199 and which was left plundered in 1648 following the Thirty Years War. As we walked the grounds to the soundtrack of the traffic on the main road beyond the monastery walls and the screech and craw of hooded crows it was interesting to reflect that this building has been abandoned almost as long as it was ever in use, and it is in its ruination through the words of Casper David Friedrich that it developed its popularity and mythology during the 19th Century.
By the time we leave the grounds to make our way back towards the harbour the rain that has been falling in periodic bursts has settled into a fine drizzle. The fishermen, in their distinctive boat piled high with red flagged floats, have returned to shore with their catch that they weigh in plastic tubs on heavy duty scales. A sea mist has rolled into the bay and, when combined with the drizzle, gives the whole scene a kind of soft focus that could have been painted by a certain romantic artist. At the point we walk past the hotel and out along the sea wall. Where once we could see Rügen now there is nothing and the weather is calm. Even the gulls that had squawked and flapped behind the fishing boats like journalists at an Eric Cantona press conference had disappeared. Wieck was eerie in its stillness and, in the damp greyness of the mist and the drizzle, melancholy in its mood.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig