As you can see from the title of this section, it is quite complicated to get to Ostseebad Binz. After finally making it to Copenhagen (one day late), we hopped the train over the bridge/water to Malmo, Sweden, where we got on a bus and quickly realized we were not in Kansas anymore. From this point forward, we were the only native English speakers that we encountered until we reached Hamburg. We drove out of town and spotted a gigantic Ikea, bidding us adieu as we entered into the Swedish countryside. Trelleborg was our destination at this point, but after the 4th stop in the small town, we started to get nervous that perhaps we had missed our stop. Kindly, a gentleman who was also headed for the ferry to meet a friend agreed to escort us through the rain to the ocean. It’s a small world after all as we quickly realized that this gentleman had visited San Francisco and had quite a bit to say about our hometown. After confirming our tickets on the ferry, we had an hour or two to spare so we decided to frequent the Turkish establishment we had passed on our walk through the town. Running past a beautiful statue/waterfall that spilled over the top of bronze women with umbrellas, we settled in for a cappuccino (which was just ok) and a kebab wrap (which was excellent). Without our phones to guide us (the Frankfurt airport tried to rip us off by charging 39.99 euros for just the card with no data!), we sat and chatted as the rain poured down on the passersby, none of which seemed to need an umbrella.
Part Two: Ostseebad Binz – Wish it would stop raining!
Our three days and four nights at the seaside resort of Binz were fabulous, albeit a little wet. A short history lesson – the island of Rugen was originally a seaside resort for the rich and famous of old, i.e. the royalty. On our first day in Binz, we took a train called the Jagdschloss Express to the hunting castle of the Putbus family who had the “in”s with the royalty of Germany during the 1800s/1900s. Let’s just say these people overdid it a bit with the hunting theme – deer antlers and skulls everywhere, even in the furniture (see the “antler” picture). We decided to make the five story journey up the precarious staircase in the castle’s inner turret, stairs made of cast iron that were, get this, see-through…needless to say, if you have even the smallest fear of heights, then your bravery was tested. The views were breathtaking of the ocean and surrounding island, but were also fleeting because the guy at the bottom of the stairs neglected to tell us we had to go on the roof without our umbrellas that had been confiscated at the door. The castle was beautiful, but perhaps our favorite part of the trip was the Jagdschloss Express train itself. On the return to town, the overhead tour guide made an announcement that made all of the Germans surrounding us giggle. Suddly, music blared over the speakers and all of the 55+ crowd of German vacationers began to sing-along to what we soon realized was the train’s theme song. That theme song has haunted my jet-lagged dreams as I hum its words over and over instead of counting sheep… “Jagdschloss Express (something German something German) Jagdschloss Express!”
Binz, it seems, is a hidden gem. Filled with German tourists, yes, but it seemed that these were the only people who knew of the wonders of this beautiful resort town…perhaps, it is because the island was once planned to be a part of Hitler’s recreation program, Strength Through Joy, for his German people (the planned resort of Prora), or perhaps it is because this area was part of East Germany and occupied by the Soviet military until the 90s. Regardless, while there were plenty of local visitors, there were even more restaurants and shops, so it never felt crowded. A few of the best restaurants we visited included Strandhalle, where we had yummy cucumber soup, beer, and fresh Baltic cod; Diavolo, where we probably had a bit too much wine (it was cheap!), pasta, and pizza; Café Glashaus, where we sat in an open air atrium and sipped coffee with salad and delicious bread; and finally a burger joint, Im Gluck, where if you blinked, you could easily imagine yourself sitting in the hip Flip Burger restaurant in Atlanta created by a former Top Chef winner. Our favorite joint, though, was called Fritz, and it had a WIDE selection of craft beers that had us returning each afternoon for more beer and currywurst.
The architecture of the hotels made you feel like you were in Cape Cod one moment and then sitting on a New Orleans style scalloped porch the next – all with a German flair. The shopping and art scene were pervasive…we ducked into one artist’s shop who had chosen a surreal version of Kermit the frog as his muse. Kermit in different colors. There is Kermit with Darth Vader. Now Kermit with a naked lady. Oh, and I cannot forget the paintings of women’s legs with hound dog heads – I am not, perhaps, able to comment on the cultural legibility of these images for Germans, but the shop was packed with interested bystanders. We jokingly compared the town to Celebration, Disney’s planned community in Florida that seemed a little too perfect – but thankfully Binz did not exhibit the overly manicured efforts of big business. Instead of box stores, each shop encountered had a unique and local flavor that made you willing to open your pocketbook or simply window shop without regret.
The other wonder of Binz, of course, is the nature. The beaches are white and sandy, and it is surrounded by national parks. On our 2nd day, we visited the Nature Center, which had about a mile long path that wound high up in the air through the forest. There were ropes courses and information panels and a huge tower that took you up a steep and winding ramp (which replicated an eagle’s nest) for sweeping views of the forest, lakes, and ocean. Our final day was sunny and sharp, and you could clearly see the white cliffs tucked into the forest as you dug your toes into the cool sand and watched the crazy kids run into the freezing cold Baltic Sea. The promenade had filled up for the weekend (finally some younger people were seen sauntering about or playing volleyball on the beach), and live music filled the open-air verandas as German cover bands belted tunes in both English and German. One thing, I have to hand it to the Germans we encountered – rain or shine, we always saw people walking about with a big cone of gelato in their hands. Overall, if you are already in Germany and looking for a lovely town to unwind and eat well, then Binz is your spot!
Here it is...your moment of zen for the week!