This past weekend was Insa’s 30th birthday. To celebrate I took Thursday and Friday of last week off, her dad and sister flew up to Berlin, we rented a car and drove to Rügen.

Rügen is Germany’s largest island. (Yes, Germany has islands in both the North Sea and the Baltic. Rügen is in the Baltic and it’s only a 3 hour drive from Berlin.

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island

 

After the short drive we arrived at the apartment we’d be renting for our stay. It was right on the beach with a view of the ocean! (complete with telescope)

After getting settled we walked out on the beach. It reminded me a lot of the Outer Banks in North Carolina near where I grew up.

This island has been a popular vacation spot for a long time. Whenever I go traveling, I always find it interesting to pay attention to what languages I hear in the background. For big cities like Prague, it’s always a melting pot of different languages, and I always seem to stumble past other Americans. For other areas like Spreewald and Rügen, I hear almost exclusively German. That makes me think that a lot of places inside the country that are perhaps more rural are really missed by the international tourists. On one hand that’s nice since it preserves a place from becoming too overly commercialized, but on the other hand it’s sad that people miss out on some real gems a country might have to offer simply because they stick to the cities.

Oh! Here’s a cool little bit of culture, the Strandkorb: (literally “beach basket”)

These special chairs dot the beaches. Each apartment usually has 1 or 2 on the beach. They are little seating stations that shield you from wind and sand on cold windy days at the Baltic and give you shade on hot summer days. There’s a collapsible table for your drink and a pull out foot rest. They’re really quite cozy!

The plan for our first full day was to go hiking several kilometers on the beach and through the forest. We got up, had some breakfast and headed out.

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If you can’t make up your mind if you like the beach better or the forest, Rügen is perfect. Not only does it have both, but each are quite varied. The beaches can be long and sandy like the one above with the Strandkörbe, or they can be covered in rocks and pebbles. The forests range form lightly wooded, to dark and thick with trees. The trees themselves are varied as well with pine and birch.

We took the car and drove for half and hour farther north from our apartment in Binz to Sassnitz. From there we parked and started hiking to Königstuhl. This was (roughly) our path.

our-path

All in all it was about 13 kilometers. At the end of it our feet were on fire, but it was well worth it. Just look at some of the landscapes we hiked through:

After walking along the beach for an half an hour, we turned around and went up the stairs into the forest.

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I absolutely love the forest. It’s where I feel most at home and relaxed. It’s been a long time dream of mine to build a cabin out in the wilderness, but until I save up the money and find a plot of land, visiting will have to do.

Check out the coast line! The contrast from forest to ocean is just stunning!

After we reached our destination, there was a bus back to Sassnitz, which was great considering we underestimated how long the hike would take and we were all exhausted.

The sun was starting to go down as we got back into Sassnitz and made our way to the harbor.

Insa took a picture of this seagull trying to buy a fish sandwich:

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The next day we planned some more hiking, but not nearly as strenuous as the first day. The idea was to take it easy, walk along the beach, and just see some more of the island.

We noticed this strange egg shaped building on the beach near our apartment. It looked like it might be some 1970’s restaurant.

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We went to go check it our and it turns out it wasn’t a restaurant, but a Standesamt, or an official governmental place where two people can legally sign the documents to get married. Here’s what it’s like inside along with the view. They’ve covered the floor with sand.

Another cool and unique aspect to Rügen is the fact that it has a working steam-engine train that you can ride along the island. This was by far one of my favorite parts of the trip!

We ended hiking through the woods for a little bit and stumbling across an old bunker. I have no idea when it was built, but the entrance was welded shut and stated that it was now a bat sanctuary.

After coming out of the forest we made our way down to the beach and strolled along the shore until coming to a pier where we stopped for ice cream.

I mentioned that this place has been a popular tourist destination for a long time. Sometimes the structures have photos showing what the place looked like at the turn of the 20th century.

After walking along the pier and a train ride back to the car, we got some beers and went out to sit in the Strandcorb and enjoy the beach. That’s another thing I love about Germany: an adult can enjoy a beer on the beach without being arrested or fined for public consumption of alcohol.

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(I brought a technical exam book along to study. I liked the beer a lot more than the book)

For our final day on Sunday we planed to visit a special forest exhibit at a nature center. This center is really unique in that there’s a sky bridge through the forest so you can walk along high up in the trees. There’s also a circular tower where you can walk up along a tree that’s a few hundred years old and above to get a great view of the island. This was a little nerve-wracking for me as I have an aversion to heights, but I manged ok.

At the top of this tower above the trees, if you look out towards the ocean, you can see some of the concrete structures of Prora.

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Prora was part of the “Kraft Durch Freude” (Strength Through Joy) a Nazi program to build a massive beach resort where the average worker could afford to take a holiday with their family. Construction was never completed before war broke out and most of the buildings remain as shells.

After walking among the tree-tops we went back into the harbor at Sassnitz for lunch at a fish restaurant we discovered on the first day of hiking.

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The fish here is to die for amazing. We placed our order, took a buzzer, and sat down at a table outside to play a board game while we waited.

These little buzzer pager things are completely normal to me. Plenty of restaurants in the US have them to alert patrons when either a table is available or their food is ready. These buzzers are still relatively new in Germany however. There were a couple of people who I saw were startled when the little square started violently vibrating and flashing.

After stuffing ourselves full of beer and fish (ok, just me) we walked along the harbor where we found… a submarine!!!

 

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It was the HMS Otus, now turned into a museum ship! At first I thought it was a little odd that the British would leave an old decommissioned submarine on an island in Germany, but it turns out a German entrepreneur bought her after she was decommissioned and saved her from the scrap yard. She served in the Falklands war and the Persian Gulf and is now open to the public to come on board and see what life was like on a submarine.

I had a great time wandering the corridors of this sub. Insa and her sister had no interest in going on board given that there is not a lot of room on a submarine. For once in my life, being short was an advantage! I was able to easily walk around the cramped hallways and low ceiling rooms.

After climbing out of the submarine I joined back up with Insa and the family and made our way back to Berlin to drop off the car. It was a great discovering Rügen. That part of Germany might be ideal if I ever want to move outside of Berlin. I love the combination of woodlands and the ocean. I’d just need to figure out a way to get wifi in the forest.