This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marie and I decided to spend our holiday in Germany. Rügen, in the Baltic Sea, is the largest German island and is located in the north-east of Germany near the Polish border. It is a very popular holiday destination and offers lots of interesting sights and fun activities. We're staying in a self-catering flat in an old mansion right near the beach in the town of Binz.

Click on any picture for an enlarged view.

8th October - A Manor House and Two Museums

After spending yesterday fairly uneventfully driving through off-and-on rain showers from Mainz to the Havelland (Havel country) in the German state of Brandenburg to spend the night in a nice guest house in a small town called Hohennauen (with dinner in a nearby restaurant, the Hohennauer Hof, which sounds rather more posh than it actually was; for the record, we had wild boar ragout with dumplings and a filled schnitzel), today we're making an incognito visit to the village of Kleßen (and that's a German “sharp S” in the middle of that word).

Schloss Kleßen” – again, this sounds rather more posh than the place probably deserves – is something between a manor house and what our English friends would call a “stately home” in the eponymous village, approximately 75 kilometres north-west of Berlin. The place was in a very sorry state when my uncle (really, my mum's cousin) Hans-Jürgen Thiedig and his wife Sabine bought it in the mid-1990s and set about restoring it to something resembling its former glory. It now features a nice garden, a café (when there isn't a pandemic on), and self-catering holiday flats, and is also available to hire for weddings and similar events (it would work for a very exclusive dance workshop but the prices would likely be way beyond what thrifty Scots are prepared to pay).

Part of the ensemble is a toy museum which is based on Uncle Hans-Jürgen's extensive collection of toys from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a (recently opened) museum of children's literature, both of which are quite interesting and shouldn't be missed. (No photography in the museums, though.) They're both very near the manor house and it takes an hour or an hour and a half to visit both.

From Kleßen we continue through the beginning rain to our residence for the next two weeks, the “Villa Agnes” (or, really, a self-catering two-room flat in the “Villa Agnes”) in Binz, on the island of Rügen. We're stopping briefly near Stralsund for petrol and then later at a supermarket in Bergen, the main town on Rügen, for provisions.

We arrive at Binz at 4.30pm, incidentally exactly the time I told the people at the holiday rental agency that we were going to arrive. But that's pure luck. An hour later we're installed in our flat, have unpacked the suitcases and stored the food in the small but well-appointed “kitchen area”, and collapse on the two sofas for a little rest.

Dinner is a smorgåsbord of smoked-fish sandwiches from the smoked-fish place across the street; they smoke the fish on the premises and while the guidebook calls them “overpriced” the proximity is hard to beat and the sandwiches are really very nice. We wash them down with a shared bottle of Störtebeker Atlantik-Ale from a six-bottle sampler of different craft beers from the Störtebeker brewery in Stralsund, which we bought in Bergen. The weather is still not great but we're looking forward to a great holiday!

9th October – A Lazy Morning, and Exploring Binz

After the privations of the last two days we allow ourselves a leisurely start to the day with breakfast in our “enclosed balcony”, which affords a nice view of the beach and the sea beyond. We're not entirely sure whether the lights we saw in the distance the night before are the towns of Prora or Sassnitz, but finally decide that it's all Sassnitz; Prora isn't really visible from here. The weather, incidentally, has brightened up nicely and we're looking forward to a walk to town later!

But we're spending the morning putting our feet up, and after a light lunch of sandwiches and fruit set out to walk along the beach promenade towards the centre of town. The first sight that we're passing is a weird UFO-like structure on the beach – this turns out to be a former lifeguard station designed by the innovative local architect and civil engineer, Ulrich Müther. It was originally built in 1982 and renovated in 2018 and is now an outside location of the Binz registrar's office (which means you can get married there, and, having tied the knot, hop down to the water for a refreshing dip).

Binz is a busy place even in early October (which doesn't come as a huge surprise given that the autumn holidays are on and people have been discouraged from travelling abroad because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and there are lots of tourists around. Along the beach promenade there are fancy hotels and restaurants, but nothing that draws us in immediately. We continue to the pier, which is a fairly modest structure as piers go but gives a good view onto the beach and the town – note the Eisbären on the beach ice-cream stall; Eisbär is German for “polar bear” but could also be literally translated as “ice-cream bear” –, and then farther along the beach promenade before turning inland and going back via a parallel street, dropping in at an Edeka supermarket for our dinner and making our way back home.

The “Villa Agnes”, incidentally, was built in 1884 by the master baker, August Brehme, from Gera in Thuringia as a gift for his wife, coincidentally also called “Agnes” (who says that skilled crafts and trades don't pay?). It was expropriated in 1953 and became first an apartment building, then a vacation home for employees of a yarn factory in Leipzig, before being renovated as holiday residences in 1994. You can stay in flats with evocative names such as “Seejuwel” (“sea jewel”), “Weitblick” (“vista”), or “Stella Maris”, but ours is simply called “apartment no. 7”. Sigh. In the last picture for today, the enclosed first-floor balcony on the right belongs to our flat.

For dinner we're having gyros with rice and tzatziki, thanks to the Edeka market in Binz, and the beer of the day is Störtebeker's Bernstein-Weizen (amber wheat beer). This is quite nice, but I personally prefer yesterday's Atlantik-Ale (an IPA). (The original Störtebeker, of course, was a notorious pirate in these parts during the Middle Ages, a real thorn in the flesh of the Hanse trading community. It's probably just as well that his modern namesakes confine themselves to making beer.)

10th October – Colossus

Today the weather wasn't so good in the morning, so we decided to take it easy once more. Luckily it got incrementally brighter, and finally we decided to visit Prora, which is a few kilometres along the beach north of Binz.

Prora is where between 1936 and 1939 the Nazi government, in particular its Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through Joy”) leisure organisation, wanted to construct a massively humongous beach resort for 20,000 people. It consists of originally eight blocks of flats that stretched along the coast for 4.5 kilometres (3 miles), plus gymnasiums, swimming pools, cinemas, an assembly hall for all the 20,000 guests (which was never actually built), the works. Designed by architect Clemens Klotz, whose plans won an architectural competition and a grand prix award at the 1937 Paris World Exposition, the site was never quite finished because the war intervened and the workers were needed elsewhere to build structures that were deemed more important for the war effort. Today only five of the originally eight blocks still exist as more than sparse remnants.

The GDR used it as a barracks, and after German reunification in the early 1990s the complex, affectionately called “the Colossus of Prora”, was first used by the Bundeswehr (Federal German military) and then housed asylum seekers from the Balkans. From 1993-4, the complex was empty and, for the most part, fell to vandalism and decay.

While the “Colossus of Prora” in its gigantic vision is a unique example of Nazi architecture, there was never a serious attempt to conserve the buildings in their entirety, and in fact it was considered to demolish the complex altogether. While they are now technically listed for landmark protection, the blocks have since 2004 been sold off individually to investors (in spite of a decade's worth of attempts, nobody wanted to buy the whole thing) and are being refurbished as – mostly very posh – residences and holiday flats, generally with obvious disregard for the conservation of the original outside appearance. There's also a hotel. Only one block is still in federal ownership and houses the largest youth hostel in Germany at 400 beds.

We spent some time in the Dokumentationszentrum Prora (Prora Documentation Centre), an exhibition designed to explain the history of the complex and its place in the Nazi recreational infrastructure. The Kraft durch Freude (KdF) organisation was set up to encourage leisure activities like plays, concerts, organised hikes, or holidays for the “common people”. The idea was to win people over to National Socialism by letting them participate in fun recreational events they would not otherwise be able to afford (although many activities such as multi-day cruises were still too expensive for workers' budgets, and most participants came from more affluent classes). This was supposed to distract them from the fact that in the workplace they had no rights whatsoever; the KdF's parent organisation, the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) had replaced all preexisting labour unions but its object was to ensure compliance in the work force rather than advocating workers' issues. Even so, the Nazi leadership, including Hitler, felt that German workers deserved seaside holidays to strengthen them for what was ahead (namely, war) because it was widely believed that Germany lost the first world war due to insufficient nerves. Hence, Prora; according to the exhibition there were plans to construct five other similar resorts elsewhere but those apparently never got off the ground.

The exhibition presents this exhaustively in a long and somewhat repetitive series of large text-laden placards and a 30-minute film (shown in a loop). It is not what we would consider great museum design, but given that it shows only sections 2 and 3 of what is apparently planned as a 5-part exhibition we're prepared to give it the benefit of doubt.

We do spend some time afterwards just walking through the grounds as far as they're accessible and taking black-and-white photographs; large swathes are fenced off either because of danger (loose stones, unsafe ground, etc.) or because there is construction going on. The “Colossus” is invisible from the water because there is a narrow stretch of pine forest between it and the beach, but it is possible to reach the waterfront to have a view of the Prorer Wiek (Bay of Prora). While we're there a brief rain shower passes us by – fortunately we don't get too wet, and our persistence is rewarded with a spectacular rainbow over the water.

On the way home we stop by the Prora Edeka supermarket to buy dinner – a chili con carne casserole, mostly because it is very easy to make and doesn't require spices that we don't have. Today's beer is Störtebeker's Baltik-Lager, which is a fairly light lager that goes well with the chili. We spend the evening in the flat watching DVDs, reading, and (obviously) blogging. An interesting day!

11th October – White Town by the Sea: Putbus and Lauterbach

Today the weather is nice again, and we're setting out to visit the old capital of the island, Putbus. (That name sounds a bit weird even to German ears but allegedly it derives from the Slavic term epod boz, or “behind the elder bush”.)

Founded in 1810 by Prince Wilhelm Malte I. zu Putbus, the town tries very hard to be a model specimen of Classicism, inspired by places like Bath in England (which we visited in 2011). One of the ideas shamelessly pinched from there is the “circus” in the middle of the town, a very large roundabout with houses on the circumference and a park in the centre (unlike in Bath, the houses in Putbus have gaps between one another). The effect is somewhat lessened by the fact that the trees are now so tall that it is hard to see the other side but it's still impressive. Again like Bath, Prince Wilhelm Malte tried to establish Putbus as a resort; at the time this was something that was only of interest to the upper classes but, being the first of its kind in Pomerania, it did start a trend.

Prince Wilhelm Malte's palace, remodeled along Classicist lines in the 1820s from his traditional family seat which is mentioned in records from the 14th century, unfortunately no longer exists – it burned down in 1865 and needed to be rebuilt, then it was vandalised at the end of WWII and eventually demolished in 1962-4 (there is apparently a benevolent society that is trying to raise funds to the tune of €60 million for its reconstruction). What is left is the large English landscape garden, the Schlosspark (palace park) including various outbuildings such as an orangery, horse stables, and a church (the former Kurhaus or spa building). It also features a wildlife enclosure that houses fallow deer and red deer.

The various buildings along the Circus and the main street (Alleenstrasse), including an educational institute, a theatre, and residences for various town officials and professional people, have mostly been reconstructed in the 1990s and do look quite smart.

There's a clock museum whose huge collection of clocks, watches, mechanical musical instruments, and other precision contraptions is well worth checking out; people like us who don't know a lot about timepieces will have to ask the very nice eldery lady who runs the place (the original founder's widow) for details about various items on display but there are lots of strange and wonderful exhibits to be seen. We enjoyed the sundial that comes with a lens which at noon concentrates the sunlight on the fuse of a small cannon; this then signals the middle of the day for everybody in the vicinity to hear. (Or so the theory goes; unfortunately there was no practical demonstration.) Other interesting items included a Sägeuhr (“saw clock”) which sat at the top of a very long vertical toothed rod – our theory is that the clock descends along the rod by its own weight and that drives the clock mechanism –, and a special stopwatch for homing pigeon races, which allowed pigeon breaders to time the return of their pigeons without being able to manipulate the results that were supposed to be centrally evaluated.

Putbus itself is not actually on the beach but once the spa visitors preferred to go to locations like Binz or Sellin that are, in fact, on the seafront, the Prince had to figure out additional sources of income. This led to the construction of the harbour village called Lauterbach (after Wilhelm Malte I's wife, Luise von Lauterbach), which apart from a small spa operation was mostly used by fishermen. We went to Lauterbach from Putbus and had a stroll around the marina before going to the Werft-Restaurant (boatyard restaurant) for an early dinner of bouillabaisse, cream-of-tomato soup, and grilled sea bass and pollack fillets, which were very nice indeed!

12th October - Cape Arkona

Today we're exploring the far north of the island – we're driving up past the new ferry harbour at Neu-Mukran and the Jasmund national park, on tree-lined roads and through picturesque seaside villages, until we reach the small village of Putgarten (not to be confused with the town of Puttgarden on the island of Fehmarn farther to the west; according to the guide book, the name is originally Slavic and means something like “below the fortress”, of which anon). Here's where we leave the car, as the area between Putgarten and Cape Arkona is officially car-free.

This means we get to walk to the actual cape (there's a street-train thingy but as usual we're too cheap to shell out for the fare, also we feel we can use the exercise), which takes not quite half an hour and rewards us with nice views of the lighthouses as well as the fields between the village and the coast. Cape Arkona is generally considered the northernmost tip of the island of Rügen, even though technically that honour goes to the “Gellort”, which is a couple of hundred metres beyond Cape Arkona. It sports two lighthouses: the squat square one was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1819 and eventually built in 1826, while the taller round one was finished in 1902 and, owing to issues with the light, went operational in 1905, at which point the older lighthouse was decommissioned. The new lighthouse is still in use today, even though there is no official live-in lighthouse keeper anymore; it is all remote-controlled from Stralsund. There's also a naval direction-finding tower, which is a distance away from the lighthouses and easily recognised from its hemispheric glass cupola; this is no longer operational and now houses a Peruvian souvenir shop and café.

Cape Arkona is pretty busy as tourists go and we decline the opportunity of climbing to the top of the new lighthouse. There's an impressive queue in front of the door and we're not keen on sharing a narrow circular staircase with a whole bunch of people who are probably huffing and puffing like steam locomotives and won't keep their distance. We do investigate the surrounding area, which features an old National People's Army naval command bunker. This is underground and can be visited but we don't go in, for much the same reasons as before. It does have an impressive set of air inlets, though.

From the lighthouses we continue to the naval tower, which sits right the old Slavic fortress, the Jaromarsburg (Jaromar's Castle). This used to be a fortified temple complex and represented the last redoubt of Slavic culture on Rügen until it was destroyed in 1168, at which point the population was “invited” to become Christian. It must have been a vast structure but unfortunately coastal erosion caused most of it to collapse into the sea. Archaeologists are trying to conserve what they can but eventually it will be gone altogether; right now it is not open to the public due to the risk of further collapse.

We're hiking south along the clifftops to the small fishing village of Vitt. This, too, is car-free but still quite busy with tourists who come there from Cape Arkona to buy smoked-fish sandwiches (we do, too, they're delicious). We're having a late lunch break on a bench outside the Vitt chapel, which is on a small hill outside the village, and then after a brief look inside the chapel walk along the Vitt-Putgarten road back to the village of Putgarten to find our car.

From there we're taking the long way home, southwest to the Wittow ferry (which crosses a 350-metre wide inlet) and then via Bergen, with another stop for victuals at the Edeka supermarket, back to Binz.

13th October - Lazy Day

We decide we want to take it easy and spend the day mostly in our flat instead of gallivanting about – except for a walk along the beach in the afternoon, which is quite nice.

Dinner is pasta with a cream, ham, and mushroom sauce, another one of the traditional comfort-food favourites that are very easy to make. We're having the Störtebeker Kellerbier 1402, which is another good one!

14th October - Bad Weather

Today the weather is quite bad, with prolonged spells of rain and stormy winds which go up to 8 beauforts in gusts. Not the type of weather in which we like to be outside, and driving around in the car also seems inadvisable given that most roads here have trees alongside them. Hence another day of rest, and no photographs. I do nip out across the road to the fish-smoking place for some smoked-fish sandwiches for lunch, and that at least is a nice interruption. But we do enjoy relaxing on our two sofas, so we're not complaining (yet!).

For dinner we're having a rice-tuna-mushroom casserole, washed down with a shared bottle of Hanse-Porter, which may be our favourite Störtebeker beer so far! We must stock up on this before we're going home.

15th October - More Bad Weather

Another stormy day (no photographs). By now we're feeling quite relaxed, thank you. In the afternoon the weather lets up a little and I'm making a groceries run into town (on foot). In a flash of inspiration I'm getting our dinner from the Chinese takeaway across the road from the supermarket, which makes for a nice diversion when we re-heat it in the microwave in our flat later.

16th October - White Cliffs of Rügen

Finally the bad weather seems to be gone (for the moment, anyway). It's actually quite nice out, and we decide we had better go to the Jasmund national park to see the famous chalk cliffs, which are basically the #1 sight on the island.

The Jasmund national park – Germany's smallest national park – is in the north-east of Rügen, north of the busy ferry-port town of Sassnitz, and is notable not just for the chalk cliffs but also the primeval beech forest that covers most of its area. There are also peat bogs and lakes such as the mysterious Hertha lake, said to be inhabited by the goddess Hertha. To see all of this, we're once more forced to leave our car in a humongous car park near the village of Hagen, and to take a half-hour walk through the forest to reach the coast. This isn't much of an ordeal except that this walk is very popular and there are huge numbers of people about. We shudder to think what the place is like in August.

The most famous chalk cliff is called Königsstuhl (King's Seat) and is accessible only after one has paid the entrance fee to the national park information centre which is nearby. The problem is that when you're on the Königsstuhl, you don't get to see the Königsstuhl (this is basically like climbing the Eiffel tower to see Paris), so we prefer to walk a few hundred metres along the cliff tops to the Victoriasicht (Victoria's View, after Victoria, the Princess Royal, who visited here with her father-in-law, the Prussian king Wilhelm I., later Emperor Wilhelm I., in 1865). After queueing for a while we do indeed get to see the famous 118-m-high chalk cliffs of the Königsstuhl. It's not entirely clear where the name comes from; one charming myth explains that the people of Rügen didn't want their kings to be wimps, so whenever the post became available, the hopeful contenders had to climb the Königsstuhl cliff from sea level. The first person to reach the top would be crowned king there and then.

We don't have anything to prove and thus don't think twice about taking the shuttle bus back to the parking lot in Hagen to rejoin our car.

Driving south again we stop in Sassnitz for a brief look around and the obligatory smoked-fish sandwiches, which are made fresh to order and are especially yummy today. We go past Mukran, Prora, and Binz to make the best use of the nice weather and check out a few other beach resort towns south of Binz. Sellin gives Binz a run for its money as far as poshness is concerned (its disadvantage is that Binz has a proper railway station while Sellin only features a narrow-gauge railway; on the other hand, Sellin has a much more impressive pier). Göhren, on the other hand, is a little wilder. We have dinner at a restaurant in Göhren, the Strandhaus 1, which is nicely situated on top of a dune with great views of the sea; the downside is that we can only get a table on the enclosed porch which does get a little chilly. Fortunately the house provides a gas heater and blankets. We're having Finkenwerder-style plaice (i.e., with little bacon cubes) with fried potatoes and pickled fried herring with mashed potatoes – both are very nice! No beer today since I'm driving and Marie is loyal.

Driving home in the dark is slow because we're on the lookout for animals, and indeed at one point two roe deer are unexpectedly crossing the road in front of our car. No danger, fortunately, but it's good to be alert; we're told that with all the forests and comparatively few people, road accidents involving wildlife are very common on Rügen.

17th October – Granitz Hunting Lodge

Today the weather is so-so, but there's a local sight that we feel we need to cross off our list: The Jagdschloss Granitz (Granitz Hunting Lodge), which is in the Granitz forest not that far from Binz. We could probably have hiked there from Villa Agnes, but in the end we decide to take the car and drive to the official pay-and-display lot in the forest from where a very well-marked path leads to the hunting lodge, which is near the highest part of the Granitz forest, the 107-m Tempelberg. On the way we pass through a farm with many different animals and encounter the Rasender Roland (Racing Roland), which is the steam-powered narrow-gauge train that links the beach resort towns on the east coast of Rügen with Putbus (it actually has a stop on the way to the hunting lodge).

The current Granitz Hunting Lodge was built in the mid-19th century by Prince Wilhelm Malte I zu Putbus (see 11th October above) on the site of an earlier hunting abode. It's a neo-medieval square building with crenellated towers at the corners designed by J. G. Steinmeyer; the 38-m central view tower was added to the plans by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The tower itself isn't open to the public right now, but the rest of the lodge can be visited. It contains a quite well-prepared museum explaining about the history of the place and its occupants. While Wilhelm Malte I. used it for hunting and celebrations, after the palace in Putbus burned down in 1865 the family moved here permanently until their original home could be rebuilt some years later. Hunting in the Granitz forest and the views from the tower of the hunting lodge were very popular with the numerous guests that the prince would invite to stay, and the exhibitions bear ample witness of the goings-on in the lodge and what the interiors must have looked like at the time. Not all the original furnishings are still there (many of them “got lost” at the end of WWII) but the museum curators have attempted to replace many of the missing bits with similar pieces.

We're walking back down to the car in a light rain and make a quick detour to a bakery in Binz so we can warm ourselves up in our flat with tea/coffee and cake – there's a slice of a very nice poppy-seed gateau which we share, plus smaller pieces of apple and raspberry cakes. For dinner we have pizza from a ready-made base (we're lazy that way) but the oven in the flat works fine and our lack of baking paper isn't a problem in the end. We have another bottle of the Störtebeker Hanse-Porter and that goes very well with the pizza!

18th October – The Mönchgut

Today's excursion takes us to the Mönchgut, or “Monks' Estate”. This covers most of the south-easterly tip of the island of Rügen. The name derives from the fact that in the 13th and 14th century, the Cistercian abbey of Eldena (near Greifswald) bought the area from the Slavic rulers of Rügen; it remained in the possession of the abbey until the 17th century. The monks were in charge of organising agriculture and fishing and the people there kept this up even after the monks had left. Today the main source of income in the area is tourism.

We start our visit in the village of Middelhagen, which features a nice “brick-Gothic” church originally dedicated to St Catherine (even though virtually all churches in the area are now Protestant). As Scottish dancers we appreciate that the votive ship hanging down from the ceiling in front of the organ is called Perth. The church dates from the mid-15th century, although the steeple was only added later, as according to the monastic rules, Cistercian churches weren't allowed to have steeples. Next to the church is a school museum that we didn't visit.

Next on the list is the village of Groß Zicker, which is reached via a suspension-rattling stretch of cobbled road and features its own medieval church (again with a steeple that was added in the mid-19th century) in the middle of a picturesque church yard. Another notable sight in the village is the Pfarrwitwenhaus (pastor's widow's house). In former times in Pomerania, if the pastor died it was customary for his successor to take over not just the manse but also the widow (or daughter, if available) of the previous incumbent. In 1720 in Groß Zicker, though, it turned out that the new pastor already had a wife and family of his own so the normal procedure could not be applied. Instead, there was a need to find a place to stay for the late pastor's destitute widow, and the congregation donated the money to build the Pfarrwitwenhaus. This was used as a residence until not so long ago (1984) but is now a museum and art gallery. A couple of hundred metres up the street from there is a very nice smoked-fish shop where we buy a late lunch, which we then consume on a bench at the edge of the old church yard. The smoked-fish sandwiches are very nice (but they usually are, hereabouts), and Marie has her first beaker of mulled wine of the season (being the designated driver I'm sensibly sticking to peppermint tea).

From Groß Zicker we continue past the posh beach resort town of Thiessow to the village of Klein Zicker, which is opposite Groß Zicker; the two are separated by a bay called the Zickersee. There's not a lot in Klein Zicker except for a nice walking path that leads us through the village, then up the hill with nice views on the sea, Groß Zicker, and Thiessow, and along the crest and back down to Klein Zicker. We're not keen on meeting any of the adders advertised by a warning sign as the path descends steeply through a copse towards the village, but they apparently have better things to do (which is just as well as far as we're concerned).

By now it is 5pm and we decide to go home. In Binz we drop in at an Edeka branch we hadn't visited before, only to find that the bakery shop is completely out of rolls. We buy some other odds and ends, though, and it's not as if we're about to starve in any case. Dinner consists of rice, peas, and Königsberger Klopse (“Königsberg-style” meat dumplings, in a white sauce with capers) fortified by some mushrooms left over from yesterday's pizza project. The Königsberger Klopse come in a sausage-like container that one is supposed to hold vertically above the saucepan and cut at one end to open. That sounds dead easy but results in a Klops-plosion which leaves me (and parts of the kitchen) covered in sauce. Fortunately there's enough left to cook (we wisely bought two packets of the Klopse) and after a little cleaning everything looks nice and ship-shape again. The dumplings themselves are quite tasty (we remember that the last time we had Königsberger Klopse was at our friend Johanna's wedding a few years ago; it's not something we cook for ourselves), and we wash them down with our last bottle of Störtebeker beer, another Kellerbier 1402.

19th October – Giants of the Seas

The weather today isn't as bad as the forecast said it would be, but even so we're declaring it a “museum day”. We're going to Stralsund (a 45-minute car ride) to see the Ozeaneum, a modern museum-plus-aquarium that is all about the oceans in general and the Baltic sea in particular. Our mistake is not having pre-bought tickets on the Internet, which means that we get to queue for half an hour to get in. But it's worth the wait – the exhibition is very well-appointed and there are many interesting sights to see, not just displays of stuffed animals but also live ones – fish, molluscs, etc. – in the aquarium tanks. And of course our special favourite is the small colony of Humboldt penguins on the roof. The 1:1 Giants of the Seas exhibition, a ginormous hall with life-size models of various whales and other large sea creatures and an audiovisual presentation for which visitors recline on special benches, is also quite impressive, although we're not 100% happy with the underlying message of “This is all going down the drain because of YOU”. We suspect they may have a point (even though we personally cannot recall harpooning any whales recently) but this is probably what you have to expect from an exhibition that is partly underwritten by holier-than-thou Greenpeace.

After the museum we're strolling around the harbour area for a bit, past the original 1933 Gorch Fock “tall ship” – the one built in 1958 which the German Federal Navy is now notoriously refurbishing at outrageous cost is, after all, technically the second Gorch Fock. After the war the original did service in the Soviet merchant navy under the name of Товарищ, or “Comrade”, which can still be seen on the bow if you look carefully. It ended up in Stralsund in 2003 and is no longer seaworthy, but can be visited.

Finally we end up in the Klabautermann restaurant for a late lunch (or early dinner?) of Labskaus and a Kapitänsteller (“Captain's Plate”) of three different grilled fish fillets with fried potatoes. Labskaus is a traditional sailors' dish consisting mostly of boiled salted beef, potatoes, and red beets, usually served with a fried egg and a Rollmops (pickled herring) on the side; the main ingredients are pureed together because many sailors had notoriously bad teeth due to scurvy and found it difficult to chew tough food. There is no single official recipe for Labskaus and it is prepared differently depending on where you are in the north of Germany (the one in the Klabautermann has a distinct undertone of anchovies), but it's actually quite yummy if you can get past how it looks.

20th October – Cranes

The main agenda item today is a “cranes cruise”, i.e., we're going on a ship to see the magnificent birds arrive at their sleeping places in the Barther Bodden, an arm of the sea that separates the islands of Zingst and Bock from the Pomeranian mainland. The cranes pass through here on their annual migration from Scandinavia to Spain in order to avail themselves of the rich feeding grounds to “fuel up” before continuing their journey. This means that during the day they're going to the mainland to eat grain and small animals in the reaped agricultural fields, and at sunset they fly back to sleep in the shallow waters of the Bodden where predators can't get at them. This is supposed to be quite spectacular and the Reederei Hiddensee, which otherwise runs ferries and excursions around the islands of Hiddensee and Rügen, offers a weekly “crane cruise” that will take passengers to see the cranes under the guidance of a professional biologist. This must be booked in advance (we originally planned to go last Tuesday, but there were no places available by the time we checked), and today's cruise is the last one this year because the cranes will be leaving soon, anyway.

The cruise starts at 4.10pm in the village of Schaprode, from where ferries leave for the island of Hiddensee and which mainly consists of several large parking lots (cars are not allowed on Hiddensee, so the tourists must leave their vehicles somewhere) plus Rügen's third-oldest church, St John's. This goes back to the Middle Ages and its Baroque interior profits from a time when ships from Schaprode would regularly go to France or Italy and the area was quite affluent indeed. Note, for example, the panel on the stairs leading up to the pulpit, which shows Martin Luther and his friend and co-reformator Johannes Bugenhagen, with the legend Was Luther an das Licht gebracht/hat Bugenhagen bekandt [sic] gemacht (“What Luther had brought up to light/did Bugenhagen spread far and wide”). Posh. Schaprode also has smoked-fish sandwich outlets, but we're reminded of Chris de Burgh when the Fährmann (“Ferryman”, as in “Don't pay the …”) restaurant sells Marie a matjes pickled-herring sandwich that is not only covered in tartar sauce (which according to what we're used to in fish sandwiches is bordering on sacrilege) but also squishes that sauce all the way down the front of her coat. This place is not becoming one of our favourites.

By 4pm we're waiting in a long queue of people for the tour boat, which duly arrives and lets us embark. It's a two-hour cruise to where the cranes are, and the resident biologist helps us pass this time by telling us more about cranes that we ever wanted to know (and then some). Unfortunately the weather isn't so great – it's cloudy and by the time we reach the cranes it's also getting quite dark (too dark for photography really, at least with a long telephoto lens). But we did get to see the cranes, plus lots and lots of other waterfowl such as swans, geese, and cormorants (and even a sea eagle – according to the biologist anyway; we would have described it more accurately as “a tiny dark speck in the distance”). It's just that there weren't tens of thousands of cranes as there might have been, although we will be able to live with that. It was a nice and informative boat ride, after all!

Pomeranians like to eat dinner early and so when we reach Schaprode again shortly after 8pm time is getting short (restaurants tend to close at 9pm). We certainly don't want to go to the fish-sandwich disaster area that is the Ferryman again, and the other restaurant in Schaprode also looks a bit dubious, so we decide to hit the Burger King in Bergen on our way home to Binz. That means we need to get a move on because on Rügen, Burger King, too, closes at 9pm. But we make it in time and get to enjoy our lukewarm burgers and fries in front of our television watching the news and yesterday's University Challenge on the Internet (yay for HDMI cables).