Up early for a lovely breakfast on deck 14, where there is the world’s biggest buffet and hence portion sizes to suit. We watch as we enter Warnemunde Harbour earlier than scheduled, as someone had to be taken to hospital. The windmills are incongruously juxtaposed against power stations and there are plenty of shipping movements to observe. An unheard of experience for us – dozing and reading on deck for the morning; we had forgotten how to relax.
Our ‘Historic Mecklenburg’ tour, ‘Purple 28’, is being led by Ann and driver Roland. We leave the fishing port of Warnemunde, which has just finished hosting the equivalent of Cowes week. This state comprises the Duchy of Meckenburg and part of the former Duchy of Pomerania (most of which is now in Poland). Although it is the largest state in terms of area, it is relatively sparsely populated and lacks natural resources, so focuses on agriculture. Rhubarb is farmed locally, as organic rhubarb juice is the latest health fad. Beef cattle are reared, primarily for MacDonalds. Crops include, wheat, barley, rye and oil seed rape. Under the socialists, farming was collective. Although basic necessities were cheap, anything deemed to be a luxury (e.g. televisions, cars, tinned pineapple) was prohibitively expensive. We are told that, since unification, west Germans have been resentful of money spent on rejuvenating and updating the east.
In 1323, the Duke of Mecklenburg sold Warnemunde to neighbouring Rostock, who wanted to secure access to the sea. Measures have been taken to prevent the area becoming overloaded with second homes and holiday lets and no new ones are allowed. The centre of the town, with its apartments, has now been surrounded by suburban housing. The shipyard and tourism are the main employers in the area. Local ‘allotments’, were created so that apartment-dwellers could have outdoor space. These all seem to have full blown chalets erected on them.
In the C12th, Slavs from modern day Russia, who were settled in the area, were driven out by Germans from further south, leaving the area with a Slavic/Germanic ethnic mix. The Duchy of Mecklenburg was in the same family, through the uninterrupted male line, for eight centuries. During this time, the Ducal family has intermarried with most royal families of Europe, including providing George III with his bride, Charlotte.
In the 1820s, iron-laden turf was collected from the riverside and was used for its health giving properties, it seems as some sort of poultice. It is still used by a local sanatorium. The locals complain about fuel and house prices but they are significantly cheaper than ours, despite average wages being similar.
We board the ‘Molli’ steam train, which uses Polish coal and runs on a line that was originally constructed to link the Duke’s residence at Bad Doberan to the nearby coast at Heiligendamm. Disconcertingly, it runs along the road through the town. We return to the coach, thankful that we are not on coach 29, which has a particularly officious guide, shooing her charges along. Heiligendamm was a destination for European nobility from 1900. The first sea bathing was popularised here in 1793, when the fad was brought from Brighton.
We drive to Kuhlungsborn’s prestigious three kilometre beach, This is the largest resort in Mecklenberg, it was created, in 1938, from three small villages. Under the Nazi regime, supporters were rewarded with holidays and the accommodation was state run by the Central Tourist Agency, who allocated accommodation to holidaymakers. There are about fifty watch towers along the Baltic coast. Under the socialist regime, they were reputedly to protect Eastern Germany from the dangers of incoming capitalist influences but were in fact used to spot those attempting to defect to the west.
We stop for delicious apple cake and coffee in a posh hotel. The drawback is that three full coach loads into two ladies’ toilets is not a happy equation. Two enterprising American ladies help the situation by using the gents, heavily guarded by one of their spouses. We look at the generic tourist shops, a local craft market and a very crowded beach. There are plenty of basket-weave chairs with canopies that were designed locally in 1882. I dip my toes in the Baltic. Overnight visitors pay a ‘beach tax’ as a contribution towards the upkeep of the resort. School holidays here vary from state to state and are staggered on a rotational system, to avoid overcrowding.
We drive down the linden (lime) tree avenue towards the minster at Bad Doberan. The avenues marked the routes and also provided shade. In the wealthy west these were felled in order to widen the roads but the pre-unification east could not afford to do this, so they have retained their avenues and narrower roads. Cistercian monks arrived at Bad Doberan from France in 1186, to evangelise amongst the non-Christian Slavs. They dried out the swamps for farming and a settlement grew up. The original monastery was quickly rebuilt and enlarged in 1260, taking thirty five years to complete. Unusually, at this date, it was built from 7kg bricks made on site, which was an easier alternative to transporting stone. The façade has noticeable holes for scaffolding poles. All that is left of the monastery, following the Reformation in 1552, is the minster (or church) itself. It was retained because it was the burial place of many members of the ducal family. The minster, now a Lutheran Church, is 100 feet high, the soft ground making the deeper foundations necessary for a higher building, impractical.
Inside, the lay brothers, or working monks, were separated from the choir monks, who performed religious duties. Each stall has a unique carved roundel, which may have related to a specific individual, who would sit in that place. We see Frederick Francis’ enormous granite sarcophagus. There is no inscription because it was designed following his instructions and he considered himself to be too well known for this to be needed. The internal walled have been painted to emphasise the bricks. Paintings of Slavs, depict them unrealistically in Turkish attire, as this was how non-Christian were portrayed. Some of the tombs of C13th-C15th monks have carved images of the deceased. They are all shown at the perfect male age of 38, regardless of their age at death. All the surviving medieval glass has now been put together in one window. There is also an allegorical C15th triptych showing the ’Eucharist mill’ – the word of God being made suitable for the laity. Unlike communist Russia, the socialist regime in East Germany did allow churches to remain open, although Christians were discriminated against.
We drive back to the ship and learn that there is an imminent Frank Zappa festival to be held locally. Our re-entrance to the Celebrity Eclipse is hindered by a local ‘Ooompa Band’ struggling through security, complete with instruments. To commemorate our stop in Germany, a Wurlitzer is playing in the restaurant on deck 14. There is also an impressive ice sculpture on display and a German themed menu; Chris devours five meat and one veg for tea. I then listened to another writing session by Carol Baxter in the evening, whilst Chris explored the fishing village of Warnemunde.