I took the bus north, from the shabby concrete concourse of the Berlin ZOB. Waiting for the bus reminded me of travels that seem a long time ago now, catching the bus from Zagreb to Sarajevo or along the Croatian coastline, the entire series of Rocky films dubbed into the local language playing above my head as some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world passed by in darkness. As I stood in the cold with my fellow passengers I thought of Cape Town to Durban and the loss of feeling in my legs after thirty-odd hours, and the longest journey of all, from Berlin to Ormskirk via Hannover, Amsterdam and London. I have never been particularly fond of long distance bus travel.
But Rostock is only a couple of hours away, and short enough to indulge those Kerouacian travel fantasies – after all, his mum was always bailing him out with a bus ticket when he failed, once again, to hitch a lift – so it was from ZOB I said goodbye to Berlin, as the bus hit the Autobahn and did not leave it again until we were in sight of the Rostock Plattenbau housing blocks and the gloomy car park out the back of the train station where we were deposited. It seemed like a suitably East German setting for arrival on the Baltic coast, as I had travelled north in search of the past.
My trip to the Ostsee was only for a couple of days, to be spent with Katrin’s parents at the bathing resort of Külungsborn, researching for a future project. Kühlungsborn is a pleasant place, made up of two villages officially joining together in 1938 and divided by a forest that makes it all slightly more interesting than your average seaside town. That, and the fact that there is a former GDR watchtower within sight of the pier and plenty of family stories to hear as we explored over the two days. Katrin spent summers here at a camp during her childhood in the GDR, back when the watchtower was manned and volunteers posed as holiday-making couples to help control the watery border zone.
The camp itself is now a holiday park, the old prefab accommodation blocks gussied up with new roofs and balconies. The former toilet and shower buildings are presumably utility rooms or a place to store the bicycles. The old cafeteria and lifeguard lookout are crumbling, overgrown by the forest that has, in the last twenty-five years, swallowed the open air theatre. Katrin’s dad once worked at the camp, back when you could get in trouble – as he did – for playing Nena’s 99 Luftballons at the end of camp disco, and so we ignored the “private property” signs so that he could show me around.
The ships mast complete with lookout that was used for leading the roll call is still in place, even if the parade ground has now been sculptured into a garden with young trees and ponds. And there is no access to the beach, unless you have a key. There was little hint for the present day holidaymakers in those apartments as to what was here before, just those couple of clues… the rundown buildings on the periphery, the ships mast, and the old toilet blocks… that help you piece together the story of the place, if you know what you are looking for.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton