In June 2015, we added another Bundesland to our list of places we’ve visited in Germany: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.1 It was a relaxing trip, which after some work stress, was just what we needed.
It was a pretty long drive, though not nearly as long as the route to Flensburg. It was a fairly smooth trip, despite heading towards the famously sunny seaside resort of Usedom on a weekend.
Our destination was a Ferienwohnung in a little town called Zinnowitz. We were pleasantly surprised by the generously-sized bathroom and clean, modern state of the apartment. We were bowled over by how well the kitchen was equipped, despite having had contact with the landlady who recommended this unit specifically for us over another one about which we’d initially inquired. We highly recommend this place for a week’s stay for two adults — especially if you plan on cooking most of your own meals: http://www.carpediem-zinnowitz.de/ Note: the pictures on that site do not do it justice.
Note: if you are a fish-eater, lover of Thüringer Bratwurst, or consider Italian food exciting and exotic2, you’ll dig the dining scene on Usedom. Everyone else: cook your own meals. There are several supermarkets in Zinnowitz, so as long as you have decent kitchen implements, you’ll be fine. We spotted one Indian restaurant in Zinnowitz on the main pedestrian drag from the center of town down towards the Strandpromenade. Sounds like something we’d like, right? We steered well clear of it — because even standing in front of it, we couldn’t smell it. Assuredly only heartbreak awaited us in that joint.
The town of Zinnowitz itself is small and clean and set up well for heading out for a day at the beach, or strolling for miles parallel to it. The vacation apartments and seaside inns are almost all recently renovated: if these were the popular tourism destinations for the GDR-era East Germans, you pretty much can’t tell. It’s almost like they jumped from the 1910s into the 2010s, just quietly skipping the rather unpleasant bits in the middle.
The weather was iffy most of the time we were there. It never really got cold, but it did rain a lot (a little odd, since Usedom is the sunniest place in Germany). Whenever it wasn’t pouring, there were people on the beach, squeezing every minute of sun time out of their week. This was true wherever we stopped along the island; you can take the UBB (Usedomer Bäderbahn) from Stralsund to Swinemünde and stop off at each little resort town, and they’ll all have their Strandkörbe ready to go for the moment the sun comes out again.
One of the reasons we chose Usedom as our destination was Peenemünde. I’d heard of it before in connection with Wernher von Braun and WW2 experimental weaponry, and a quick search online revealed a technical museum at http://www.peenemuende.de — so why not? On a rainy day we drove the 20 km and found a bonus submarine museum waiting there for us to boot. 3
We snagged some lunch at …wait for it… an Italian restaurant right in the harbor and then coughed up the admission fee to the submarine. It was not clear to me until we were inside looking at Cyrillic military stencil all over the place that this sub had been Soviet before its retirement. More on that via its website: http://u-461.de 4 It was one of the last diesel-powered subs in the Soviet fleet and we crouched our way through most of length of the vessel. I took a few pictures of the internals, but the lighting was realistic — that is to say, pretty bad for photography. Suffice it to say that I would not be envious of anyone doing submarine duty, let alone diesel sub duty in the early 1960s. The museum left, near as I can tell, everything in the sub intact and it was all visible, but there was really only one path through it, single-file, FIFO. Some contortion was required to pass through bulkhead hatches from one section to another. Fascinating!
After that visit, we entered the Historisches Technisches Museum Peenemünde and started learning about the weaponry developed there. We quickly realized that that was just the Spitze des Eisbergs. The complex is huge, with many rooms for artistic and historical exhibitions on the theme of the local impact of the war on the scientists, townspeople, military personnel, and POW slave laborers who lived and worked here. Most of the indoor grounds are the remains of the power station. It remained in use in the GDR as a power station until 1990.
Swinemünde / Świnoujście
We jumped at the chance to stroll on foot over the border from Germany into Poland for an afternoon. The island of Usedom is geographically about 80% German, but its biggest city is Swinemünde, or in Świnoujście Polish. We bought a day pass for 2 on the UBB and alighted one station before the end of the line — the last stop in Germany — for the magic of crossing the border into Eastern Europe on foot. Well, it wasn’t so magical. The outskirts of Świnoujście are lined with stalls hawking cheap junky toys and tobacco products.
But we were on a pierogi mission, and Sarah, armed with recommendations from tripadvisor.com and pre-loaded offline Google maps of the area, did not steer us wrong. We got two large orders of Piroggen and two Apfelschorlen for 11 €. On our way back into Germany, we stopped for some Kaffee und Kuchen and it was glorious, and equally cheap. The two restaurants we chose were both happy to convert our tabs into Euros for us, eliminating the need to change any money into złoty or eat an ATM fee for a foreign currency withdrawal.
Świnoujście is the biggest town on the island, but really: skip it. It was a depressing communist-era largely Plattenbau boring town outside of its Altstadt, with a few colors thrown around to half-heartedly liven things up. The Altstadt had a little more potential, but not enough to make us stick around longer than for lunch.
Stralsund and its Ozeaneum
My boss recommended a visit to the Ozeaneum in Stralsund while we were up there. We’re glad he did. It was well-worth the drive time (despite massive delays around Wolgast), parking cost, and admission.
It’s an aquarium and museum and ecological exhibit kind of all rolled into one. There’s a focus on Baltic and North Sea ecosystems (but it’s not exclusive), with a mixture of real live plants and fishes in the tanks, real formerly-live creatures preserved for your viewing interest, greatly magnified models of sea microorganisms, and full-scale models of the bigger creatures suspended overhead for a sense of perspective.
We went on a somewhat gloomy afternoon that turned into a lovely evening for a sunny stroll around Stralsund’s Altstadt and dinner outdoors on its main square before heading back to Zinnowitz for the night.
Had we sought out Usedom for thrilling cultural experiences, meeting new and interesting people anywhere close to our age, or trying new local cuisine, it would have been a totally lame week. But we needed some isolation to recharge the brain batteries. That part worked very well, and to that end, the trip was a great success.