Germany's treasure island
Diana Constance succumbs to the romance of Rugen
Wednesday 03 July 1996
Here we abandoned the car and took to our bicycles, riding under the canopies of tall trees and through cobbled hamlets. Nadelitz made a delightful stopping place for the Baltic speciality of smoked eel and dark beer. Prices here are old-fashioned: b&b costs pounds 10 to 15 and bike hire, pounds 4 per day.
On this rich agricultural land in 1818, Wilhelm Malte, Prince zu Putbus, built the island's grandest folly. It was meant to be an exclusive spa to rival Brighton. Unfortunately, his friends were not as impressed as we are today. The deer park and elegant circus of flaking, stuccoed buildings with an orangery, theatre and bath house remain, although his Schloss succumbed to rot and the GDR economic dogma in 1962. But you can still dine on culled venison in the Jagerhutte restaurant just off the circus.
From here it is an easy walk to the narrow-gauge steam train that connects the island's main bathing resorts. Familiarity has bred contempt among the locals, who can't understand the new popularity of their noisy old transport. The train runs eight times a day from Putbus to Goren, at two-hour intervals, making it possible to stop off and take a swim at Binz - the best beach resort - and pick the train up two hours later to go on to Sellin, Baabe or Goren at the end of the line.
On the second day we made our way to the northern end of the island and one of the great glories of German landscape motifs. Casper David Friedrich was the first of many German Romantic artists to discover Rugen. He trekked to the white, chalk cliffs of the Stubbenkammer, in what is now the Jasmund national park. I had always thought his paintings a romantic exaggeration until I turned a corner in the forest and saw one of his compositions, Kreidefelsen auf Rugen. It took an hour to climb down through drifting mists and pencil-thin pines to the shingle beach below the chalk cliffs.
There is a new ferry from Binz that connects Rugen with the island of Usedom. There, the resorts of Bansin, Heringsdorf and Ahlbeck form one, long, seafront promenade.
A sea fret was rolling over the dunes and sliding across the promenade of Ahlbeck as we arrived, wrapping the hotels in an appropriately romantic mist. This was once the grande dame of the Baltic resorts, scene of the Kaiser's tryst with a certain widow. It suffered more than neglect under the GDR; one suspects a wish to humble it.
The hotels were turned into run-down health spas for the workers, while other ranks, including Honecker, went to Rugen. Now the Germans are rebuilding them in the old style. At Ahlbeck, the promenade and gardens have been restored with old-world charm. The old Ahlbeckerhof, which was the place to stay under the Kaiser, will reopen this year in all its old glory, but with a modern health spa. And all this is in preparation for the expected shower of Deutschmarks which should follow the relocation of the government to Berlin, a two-hour drive away. So go there now.
Getting there: the best gateway to the region is Berlin. British Airways (0345 222111) flies there, so does Lufthansa (0345 737747), which offers flights from Heathrow for pounds 112 return (pounds 10 weekend surcharge), including tax, available until September.
Getting around: German Rail (0181 390 8833) can advise on schedules and fares.
Getting information: the German National Tourist Office (65 Curzon Street, London W1; tel: 0171 493 0080). The line is open 10am-noon and 2pm-4pm from Monday to Friday.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
- 2 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 3 Miley Cyrus address Robin Thicke VMA controversy: ‘He wanted me as naked as possible, but I got the heat because I’m a woman’
- 4 iPhone 6s camera: features to include 4K video camera and flash for selfies
- 5 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...
£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...