I recently took a trip to Germany. The country of party, as I know from my other trips to Europe. This time however, my goal was to find a balance between exciting and tranquil. It didn’t exactly turn out to be action-packed, yet it worked out to be a rejuvenating holiday. While my trip started out in exciting Berlin, it ended on a small island called Rügen in the Baltic sea.
Germany has Islands? Yes, and Rügen is just one of so many of them. Yet, with its mythologizing history, it is one of the most beautiful ones. Its chalk coastline was immortalized by Romantic artist Casper David Friedrich in 1818.
Though I knew that the difference between peak season and off-peak is remarkable, I decided to go in early January; the most off-season with the exception of February. This decision was probably influenced by me embarking my journey with my need for sweet rejuvenation – this coming from a busy Toronto temper. Off-season in Germany apparently means that a lot of Restaurants, Cafes and stores close, which did not mean that there were not enough possibilities to empty my wallet.
When I was driving from the mainland onto the Island, I was greeted by beautiful country homes. Some of them had a thatched roof, some of them were more comparable the English country house style; arriving on a rainy day, it looked very English indeed.
Driving across the island, I passed by wonderful streets lined with tall oaks, elms and poplar trees. I could feel I was coming closer to protected nature reserves and the ocean; the air was just so salubrious.
The resort I stayed at looked like little Scandinavia. Small to middle-sized wooden huts exuded this comfortable roughness one knows from scenery in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. What I did not know that off-season means on-season for couples on Rügen. So, I found myself being surrounded by fireplace lightening and sauna smells, quite a peaceful and calming smell as I experienced.
During my ventures on the Island, learned that the former GDR government was also beguiled by Rügen’s tranquility. The result was the building of neo-classical white mansions in resort-style cities. These have been refurbished since 1990.
Interestingly, seaside resorts in East Germany were known for their “FKK-Strände.” FKK refers to the endorsement of a naturistic approach to sports and community living; result: nude beaches. Though I am not sure all readers will be attracted to visit Rügen for this reason, it does add to Rügen’s charm. I did not experience this simply because it was too cold, but I did see people running into the ocean at night after going to the sauna.
Using one of the oldest steam trains in Germany, I travelled quaint stretches of coast that feature the postcard towns of Binz, Jasmund and Sellin. When I felt really fancy, I would go and visit some of the castles that you can find in the area. Sometimes I could not help but feel like Einstein and Thomas Mann when they visited Rügen. Once Einstein said that “reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” And he was right. Rügen feels like it is the inspiring incarnation of avant-garde and cultured; almost too good to be true.
Chapter 2: Finding Sanity Through Food In Germany On An Island Called Rügen
What occasionally interrupts this wholesome smell is the occurrence of “Fischbrötchen” a traditional chippy. In coastal regions in Germany, people eat raw fish, mostly herring, on a Brötchen (bun). Before the trip I told myself that I will have to try local’s food- and so I did. This was an experience my sweet Starbucks and Tim Horton’s taste buds were not accustomed to any more, but it was so worth it. The right start into my island life for five days.
The owners of one of the “Fischbrötchen” recommended to eat a fish bun sitting in a “strand basket.” A, pardon me, what? I was lucky and the owner had a picture of one of those basket in her diner, which is really a lovely roofed wicker beach chair. No sooner said than done, I plopped myself into one of those chairs. I had already finished my bun that day, but I made sure to come back with a bun. She was right, the bun tasted even better eating it right by the water in one of Rügen’s beloved chairs. It did not even matter that it was windy and cold; the walls feel like they could protect you from a great storm.
An experience of a more luxurious kind is to dine in a restaurant on one of the most beautiful piers I have ever seen. The food I ate there was an art in itself, but what stuck even more with me is the beautiful location and the palace-like building. Pictures can do more justice than words in this case, so please have a look at “Seebrücke Sellin.”
Something else I found to be even more than good and great was the taste of German cake. My sweet taste buds were in heaven. In culinary terms it was not the sweet cupcake-and-icing heaven, it was more the sweet fruit-chocolate-and-cheesecake heaven.
One cafe, in the town of Baabe, stuck out to me. The cakes are deliciously succulent and the drinks are superb, all the way from beer to coffee and tea. This cafe is a sophisticated, serene hang-out spot with no sight of travel-mugs or to-go-anything. When I asked the owners about their secret, they simply said that it is the love of sensitive rationality that gives everything its secret – an oxymoron I did not even understand at the time.
Now it makes sense why I needed to have a vacation on Rügen. Fishbuns and cakes, white mansions and thatched roofs, coffee and beer, city and country – I will be sure to make time for more trips to Rügen and places alike to find my sanity within insanity: balance in Toronto.