The road to Heiligendamm takes us through a snow-covered landscape rendered white and shades of grey because of overcast skies. A few kilometres inland from the Baltic shore and the villages betray the poverty of places with nothing to offer the weekend visitor or the summer holidaymaker. No access to the sea here. No promenade or spa hotels. A place to pass through, barely glimpsed at, as you make your way to the White Town by the Sea.
You could always take the train, the narrow-gauge steam railway called the “Molli” that will deliver you to the station of Heiligendamm as if the twentieth century never happened. Walk across the fields between the towns of Kühlungsborn, Heiligendamm and Bad Doberan, and you will come across Molli’s tracks. In 2007 hundreds of protesters used them to navigate their way as close to Heiligendamm as possible, where Merkel, Bush and the rest of the G8 leadership met at a Grand Hotel transformed into a fortified compound.
Which in some ways it still is. We arrived in the the white town and parked close to the station. The white buildings appeared as ghostly apparitions through the trees, made all the more unreal by the snow on the ground and the colour of the bleached sky. We wanted to get to promenade, to see the Baltic one more time, but there was no way through. At the gate to the Grand Hotel we were warned the premises were only for guests. There did not seem to be any guests around to be disturbed by our presence, so we made our way gingerly along the icy pathway through the garden. At the bottom, by the foundation stone for Heiligendamm that commemorates the fact that this is the oldest of Germany’s Baltic resorts (1793), only a guestcard for the hotel would get us through the gate. The sea was on the other side of the bushes, but there was no way through.
We retreated to the railway station. A sign pointed us in the direction of the beach and so we followed the path through the woods. It was taking us around the resort complex, to the very edge of the white town where the last of the villas still waiting to be renovated stood, crumbling and cream-coloured; nicotine-stained. Finally we reached the dunes and a path up onto the promenade. Now we could see Heiligendamm from the beach. Fake castles and colonaded ballrooms. Perhaps under blue skies and above green lawns it has a sort of charm. Perhaps it is just the cold wind and the snow that makes it all seem a little preposterous. Or perhaps it is simply the fact that they made us walk the long way round.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton