Weekend on Usedom Island :)

03 Jun

Hi Everybody!

I’m sorry that it has been such a long time since my last post. As my year in Germany is slowly coming to a close, I am taking every opportunity to get together with friends and enjoy new experiences, and this means that my blogging has gotten lazy. Also, a teacher at my school recently asked me to copy-edit his sister’s Master’s thesis in English, and I spent a week doing this and not much else. Within the next little while, I will be sure to post a blog all about my last days of work, and other nick-knacks of information such as how it was eating at a blind restaurant. But for now, I’m going to tell you all about my weekend trip with Sebastien.

As of today, I have one week left in Berlin, before I fly home to Calgary for the summer. For our second-last weekend together, Seb and I decided that a trip was in order. At first, we were planning our trip around the prices of busses and trains. However, Seb’s parents generously allowed us to use the car, which opened up lots of new doors for travel possibilities. We eventually settled on Peenemünde, which is in the North of Germany. I had never heard of Peenemünde before (in fact, I think I still fail at spelling it!) but I trusted Sebastien’s skills as an amazing travel planner. In preparation for the trip, I began reading the novel “Dr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun” by Bob Ward. Wernher von Braun was a scientist that played a crucial role in putting the first American man on the moon. He was a German-born engineer, and Peenemünde is the place where he and other scientists built and tested rockets during WWII. Sebastien’s initial interest in going to Peenemünde was to see the location and museum showing where these rockets had been built. He also knew that this was far from the only thing we see on our trip: Peenemünde is located on an island with gorgeous beaches, open green fields, and tiny towns.

This trip was quite different from a lot of the others we have taken so far this year, where we went to well-known cities and spent the entire time walking between famous sites. While there were a few specific things we wanted to see on this trip, there was a lot more room for improvisation – we were able to take our time and make it up as we went along. The biggest factor that limited our beach time was how many hours of parking we had paid for!

It took about three hours to drive to the island, and as we got farther north, the roadways became smaller and more lined with trees. Please forgive my terrible photography through the dirty windshield in the next picture, but perhaps it gives you an idea.

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There are numerous small towns on this island, and it doesn’t take an immense amount of time to get from one spot to the other. Our hotel was in the town of Usedom itself, and we started our adventure by walking around there for a little while. We found a small farm with chickens walking around the yard, and then proceeded to a small spot by the water, where there was a restaurant and a few “Trabbi” cars parked in the lot. These cars are from East Germany originally, and aren’t normally being used anymore. We saw quite a few on our trip though, and learned that there was a convention for these cars going on that weekend.

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The last photo I put up is of our view from the hotel room. Not too shabby! The rows of multicoloured houses reminded me a lot of Portree, on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It had the same sort of small-town feel, and was also on the water.

Shortly after, we decided to head to the beach. We drove to another town, which only took about 20 minutes. The roadways themselves were quite small, which meant that if there was a lot of traffic you wouldn’t get anywhere very far. Lucky for us, the roads were basically empty! The island is very long and narrow, so while we went to the beach that was facing the ocean, you didn’t have to travel very far to get to a beach on the other side facing the mainland. We saw a few more Trabbi cars in the parking lot, and reached a tourist-y shopping area before going to the beach itself.

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It was a lovely day for going to the beach. We had thought about going for a swim, but after dipping our toes in briefly we realized that the water was absolutely freezing. We rolled up our pants and walked along the beach for about two hours, admiring seashells on the sand and listening to the waves (and Seb got to listen to me talk, because that pretty much never ends). We worked up an appetite with all of our walking on the sand, and eventually decided to head to Poland for dinner.

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I’m not very confident of the geography of it all, but part of Usedom Island is Polish instead of German. We drove along for a little while, and suddenly there was a sign stating that we were entering Poland. This was my first time in Poland, so even though I spent a matter of hours there, it was still pretty cool! We were pretty hungry by the time we crossed the border, so we quickly found a place to park our car and then walked a matter of blocks before finding a place for dinner. Because it was so close to the border, there were a lot of advertisements written in German to attract tourists. Poland is known for having relatively cheap goods such as cigarettes and alcohol, and we saw a sign in German for “cheap cigarettes” at a few stores. A lot of places there accepted Euros, despite the fact that they have a different currency (zloty). It was difficult to translate the prices, but eventually we caught on to most of the exchange rates: my 7 zloty soup was about 2 euros. Our meal consisted of two drinks, one appetizer, two main courses and two desserts, and came to 23 euros in total, or about 71 zloty if I remember correctly. Because we were in Poland, I ordered the perogies. The dough casing was a lot softer than Canadian perogies, but of course it’s hard to compare something fresh with something you toss from the freezer into boiling water. The waitress spoke English and German as well as Polish (the table next to us was speaking English, and we mainly stuck to German while ordering) and the menu was in all three languages.

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After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. The next morning we were given a complimentary breakfast, and were pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a sheep-selling event going on that day. We saw an itinerary for the day’s events, and at 3pm there was to be a knitting competition. It was a shame we wouldn’t be around the town at 3! It was all going on at the square just outside of our hotel, and after we had brushed our teeth we headed over to check it out. There were a few goats and sheep, and a sizable market where goods such as yarn and knitted things were being sold, along with homemade honeys and jams. I got to touch a sheep, and my day was basically made.

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After we had roamed around for a little while, we got in the car and headed to Peenemünde. The museum was pretty easy to find, and we started off by seeing the outdoor features. Naturally, the coolest thing to see was one of the V2 rockets. I was glad that I read the book about von Braun, because I learned a lot about all of the work that went into developing these rockets. I think I had a hard time visualizing just how big rockets are; later on when the size of the V2 rocket was compared with the Apollo rocket that put the first man on the moon, it was astonishing to think of how huge it was!

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Among the other things to see outdoors, there was a flying rocket and a train that was used to transport workers. The big contraption near the museum/factory itself was a transport system for the coal that was used to power the entire factory.

We then went inside the museum, and learned a lot about both the Peenemünde camp itself, as well as the history of space exploration. The museum addresses the conflict between Peenemünde’s deadly role in WWII (through both the damage the rockets caused to British cities, as well as the concentration camp workers that suffered there) and the scientific advances that were made there that made space travel possible. One of the questions posed was “What responsibility do engineers and scientists have towards fellow human beings and nature?” I found it really interesting to consider the difference between the book on Wernher von Braun and the information portrayed in the museum. While the book emphasized that von Braun was powerless over a lot of the factors at the camp (such as how concentration-camp workers were treated) and would have been killed if he had taken a moral stand, the museum emphasizes the amount of suffering that concentration-camp workers had to endure – and basically states that the scientists and engineers were determined to achieve their goal regardless of how workers were treated. In a lot of ways, the book and the museum state the same thing, but the book uses several examples of von Braun’s humanism to justify certain periods in his history, while the museum portrayed certain cruelties as black and white. Sorry if you have found this paragraph quite boring, but I do think it’s an interesting example of how you can use different words to make the same story come across differently.

The other difference between the book and the museum was that the museum explored a broad range of the different people and ideas that made space exploration happen, whereas the book focussed on von Braun (this is a bit of an obvious statement: the book was written about him!) The first part of the exhibit talked about different novels by people such as Jules Verne that got the ideas for space exploration going. Then, there are a few photos shown with a description of significant men in rocket development – a lot of these photos feature von Braun and are shown in the book too, but in the museum descriptions he is hardly mentioned.

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One of my favourite features in the museum was one hallway that had a series of long boards. On each board was written a year, between about 1932 and 1945 or so. On the top half of each board, there were several propaganda photos that were being used for promoting the war at the time, along with facts about what was happening that year. On the bottom half, there would be facts about what developments were being made with rockets and the establishment of a plant at Peenemünde. This timeline helped me to put it all into perspective, and I spent a lot of time reading these.

There was one specific room that talked a lot about the actual rockets themselves, including their engine design and the science involved in it all. There was footage playing of some of the test launches that took place at Peenemünde. In the book about von Braun, I was amazed at how long he managed to live considering how many dangerous tests he was involved in for making the rockets. But I don’t think I really appreciated the danger and destruction of it all until I saw those videos. One rocket could hardly get off the ground, and it just fell over on its side instead of getting into the air. The explosion after it tipped over was huge, and there was fire everywhere. No wonder rocket development! requires so much funding! I also got to see an old calculator, which looked like a very small typewriter.

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After this, there were a lot of the facts about the London bombing of the Peenemünde facility, along with the work that was done to move rocket development underground. Questions were also raised about the justification for using rockets; a few V2s were fired on England even after Germany already knew they were going to lose the war. Should “wanting to get back at them” really be an excuse to cause more destruction? I think this question tried to be original, but really the issue of “getting back at someone” is present everywhere in society, especially on television (you killed my father, so now I will kill you!) But I digress.

The museum then described the Space Race, and the role that Germans from the Peenemünde facility played in other countries. There was a good representation of the Cold War using a chess board. Unfortunately, by this time I had taken way too long at all the other exhibits, so we had to hurry along to the factory before our parking ticket ran out.

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The factory was interesting to see, and Sebastien described some of the electricity process to me. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it was interesting to see an intact old building such as this.

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Once we were done exploring, we decided that we should perhaps form a plan for the rest of the day. The woman working at our hotel had recommended the upside-down house to us that morning, so we figured we would drive by and check it out. The house is actually upside-down, and all of the furniture is on the ceiling. So if you take a picture there, it looks like you’re the one upside-down! We found this house beside a lot of other attractions for kids: there was a Butterfly Farm (big building where they’re flying around) and a mini-theme-park, and go-karting as well. In the end, we decided against going into any of these places, including the upside-down house, since it didn’t really strike us as something that was worth the money. However, we did find goats! They were part of a petting zoo that was closed for the day – so I couldn’t go inside the fence, but could still watch the goats for a while. There were a few baby goats which made me super excited. Some of them came to say hello, and one or two even stuck their heads through the fence. They figured the grass on my side was much better than on their own. It was quite philosophical, really!

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After I had my fill of watching the goats (I could never have my fill…but we were both getting a bit hungry!) we decided to head back to Poland. We crossed the same border as the time before, but this time we drove a bit more into the actual city before parking the car. One thing I noticed on the island is that there were a lot of outdoor cats. We saw three together one time, and never went long without seeing one walking around or sunbathing. Before dinner, we had been hoping to find a lighthouse that is apparently record-breakingly large, but in the end weren’t quite sure how to get to it. We did spend some time walking along the harbour though. This portion of the trip reminded me a lot of Nova Scotia, where I’ll be studying for the next two years.

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When we started trying to find somewhere to eat, we stumbled upon a square where there was a sort of celebration going on. Winnie the Pooh and other Disney characters were walking around taking pictures with people (their heads were a bit squished though, so I didn’t feel the need to get a picture) and there were bouncy castles and trampolines. Amongst the chaos, we saw a large pub that we instantly figured we should eat at. It reminded me of “The Old Spaghetti Factory” at first glance, although it was a lot more “modern” on the inside. I was able to find a vegan meal (not very easy in restaurants, I’ve come to find!) and Sebastien and I both laughed at all the vodka choices available.

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The waitress spoke a bit of German and English, and also accepted our euros.

After this, we headed back to Usedom, where we walked to the area by the water and discovered an old truck and a magnificent view.

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It was pretty funny to walk back to the hotel at about 10:30pm and not see a single other person out and about. The sheep festival earlier in the day must have worn everyone out!

The next day, we started off with breakfast and then packed up our things and said goodbye to Usedom. We still had a matter of hours before we would have to drive to Berlin, so we started by trying to find a beach in a town nearby. We drove by a few houses that were selling fresh eggs, or honey and jam – you could buy these things and just leave the money in a jar. This system made me nostalgic for both Vancouver Island and Nova Scotia – I love that type of system!

We found one area that was full of vacation cottages, and this led to a small area of water that I suppose could be called a beach. While we were here, I took a few pictures of the straw roofs – this is such a crazy concept to me! I had no idea that straw roofs were a real thing. Apparently it’s fairly cheap, and works very well!

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After this short excursion, Sebastien – being the brilliant travel planner he is – located a place nearby where we could rent a paddle-boat for an hour or two. We found the spot pretty easily in the next town, and found that it was quite the nice area with a restaurant next to the paddle-boats. When we first took off, I was really intimidated by the area of open water we entered. However, we stuck fairly close to the shoreline, and spent as much time lounging in the sun as we did actually paddling. The sun came and went, and even though I sometimes had to put on my sweater, I managed to get a sunburn from the day.

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After we brought the paddle-boat back, we enjoyed lunch at this same spot. We had a great view of the other paddle-boats coming in, and got to give our full commentary on how well they were able to steer and park their boats.

We then decided to head back to the beach we were at on the first day, for one last walk before heading home. I attempted to make an artsy beach-yoga picture, but failed when I realized that standing on one leg is very different on sand than it is on a solid floor.

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After this, we began the journey back to Berlin. There were gorgeous green fields to be seen along the way, which was good because we were stuck in traffic for quite a while. Lucky Sebastien got to hear me playing my chanter for 45 minutes or so to pass the time (I have a competition coming up, so I better practice!)

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend. I hadn’t expected to be able to see so many cute farm animals, so that was a lovely surprise. While different from a lot of vacations we’ve taken this year, it was nice to go somewhere and treat it as a chance to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Seb and I are facing a few busy days ahead of us, since he is back at school and I have to start packing for the flight home to Canada; this trip away from everything was exactly what we needed.

Thank you so much for reading! I will try and post again very soon. I hope you have a fantastic week!





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