Northeastern Beaches in Germany

Germany's finest white-sand beaches -- as well as some of its lowest prices -- are found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Until reunification, the most popular German seaside holiday destinations were the Frisian islands (off the Lower Saxony coast in the extreme northwest near Holland), Sylt and the stretch of sand between Rendsburg and Kiel on Germany's North and Baltic seacoasts.

But times change, and v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y the word is getting out: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the former Eastern State in the northeastern portion of Germany, offers Germany's whitest, finest sand beaches; modern, brand-new accommodations, peace, tranquility, nature preserves, camping, hiking, biking, nude swimming, ferry boats to Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, along with relatively low prices.

For anyone intent on getting away from it all, be it for a weekend, a long weekend or even a full-fledged vacation, M-V's beach communities are Nirvana. See their website at: www.discovermv.de

Beginning just east of Lübeck, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern's coastal towns extend for about 150 miles from Wismar, Bad Kühlungsborn and Doberan to quaint Warnemünde. This Rostock suburb is a Baltic Greenwich Village with crooked lanes and cottages. North of the town, is its 77-meter high trademark lighthouse that looks out over the dunes and harbor. The long promenade to the west on the leeward side of the dunes vaguely recalls a modest version of Venice Beach or Santa Monica. From Warnemünde's channel huge ferries sally forth to Scandinavia, the Baltic nations and Russia.

Rostock is the point of departure for accessing either coast. Some two hours by train or car from Hamburg or Berlin, Rostock is the gateway to peace and tranquility so desperately sought by a stressed-out generation of over-achievers, city dwellers, beleaguered parents, politicians and the like.

It is the eastern seat of the Mecklenburg half of the federal state that boasts an important Hanseatic trade history and a reviving shipbuilding industry. Its proud, ornate Northern Baroque Petrus Kirche is cavernous and houses wonderfully carved altars. The inner-city pedestrian zone reflects newfound prosperity and has a multitude of shops. The modest ducal palace and town square are next to an ancient cloister whose nuns steadfastly refused to surrender their Catholic faith despite the province's conversion to the new Lutheran beliefs.

Wismar, like many other Baltic ports, despite its relatively small size, boasts a certain international flair. Until the 6th century Wismar was settled by Germanic tribes. Its population underwent the first of several international "visitations" when Slavic peoples arrived during the next hundred years. It again became Germanized when Henry the Lion's forces prevailed over the Slavs.

The religious wars of the 17th century saw the Swedes occupying Wismar. After the Napoleonic wars, the Mecklenburg principality was dominated by the French. The final foreign incursion was the Russian occupation from 1945 to 1949. Since reunification in 1990, Wismar has slowly regained its popularity as a vacation site as more western Germans are discovering its charms.

For people seeking more traditional seaside accommodations, there are larger hotels. Or for those who have an interest in camping or exploring Mecklenburg's rolling meadows and aspen forests, the north-westerly road 103-104 beckons. Posh accommodations in the restored mansions and hotels of the Wilhelmian era, great dining, and immediate access to the beach are typical of the Mecklenburg coast personified by Wismar and Kühlungsborn.

Seaside-Bayside Idyll: Fischland and the East Pomeranian Coast

Vacationers seeking solitude, quiet and nature and far less civilization should head northeasterly towards Stralsund by train or car and then ferry; or, proceed on to the larger island of Rügen (famed for its chalk cliffs) and the Polish border. Better still is a third option: travel about an hour over the narrowest of roads to the neighborhood of Darss and the magic island of Zingst in the Fischland community.

Thatched roofs are typical here. Like the sea hawk and the sand dunes they are a trademark. The roofs last a half century or more, provide excellent insulation, and cost about four times slate or tiles. Blending in with the landscape formed by sweet and salt-water marshes, even the largest house appears coy and comforting. As the soil is mostly sand, few buildings rise above two stories, including Zingst's newly opened Visitor's Center where lectures, concerts and receptions are given in what once was the town baths. The concept sounds almost as strange as the name Zingst itself.

An 850-sq km nature preserve is home to some fifty types of fish, thirty varieties of four-legged creatures including amazingly tame fallow deer and rather nasty wild boar. Sea eagles, hawks and kites (Rotmilion) routinely share the skies with herons and storks as well as all manners of turns, skimmers, and other sea birds.

The complete dearth of industry and the elimination of artificial fertilizers as well as strict wastewater regulations and zoned population control assure a good environment. Although large segments of the preserve are accessible by bike and foot, guests must keep on the paths in order not to hurt the delicate nature of the dunes or encounter unexploded ordinance: during the Third Reich, the Soviet Occupation and the DDR, the entire preserve was a target range and troop exercise area.

Much of the land is actually 30 or 40 cms below sea level. Within the preserve dikes encircle the whole island. On the Baltic Sea side, wonderful white sand dunes stretch for miles, keeping the waters from inundating the lower wetlands. One can see the grassy, brushy dune area slowly turning into light forest as the dunes advance into the sea.

The vaunted "blue flag" indicates top quality water conditions for bathing and water sports. Darss-Zingst's finer, whiter sand and gentler winds are in stark contrast to Germany's North Sea coast. There the sands are yellow or gray-brown and rough and coarse.

Hidden by reeds, Zingst actually has a tiny harbor and moorings for some 350 pleasure craft. Kayaks, canoes, rowboats and sailboats allow access to the still confines of the inland waterways. Guests pay a modest tourist tax usually included in the hotel bill as a Kurtax.

Ahrenshoop is a village known for its women's artist colony that arose more than a century ago when females weren't accepted at the great academies in Berlin and Munich.

Several kilometers of smoothly paved surface within 20 meters of the beach access alleys link Zingst with Darss to the west. Although not especially saline, the air is rich with iodine, which is good for health. Roller skates, in-line skates, bikes, and skateboards are the easiest way to get about.

For those who prefer to swim and sunbathe unencumbered by clothes, nude "FKK"-designated beaches are available. Forget about "appealing to prurient interests." These are family beaches!

Prices at even the finest establishments such as the Meerlust (seaside) or the older Schösschen (bayside) begin at about €105 per night. Three and four course meals are markedly less expensive than in the big cities beginning with prix fixe offerings for €17 and rarely exceeding €23, without wine. Fresh fish and seafood abound, of course.

Depending on the degree of solitude or grandeur one desires, the choice of the Mecklenburg beaches and their turn of the century grand hotels or the rustic hide-away homes and guest houses of the Pomeranian coast, is a brilliant selection for anyone intent on taking a real holiday.