The island of Rügen sits in the Baltic Sea, just off the coast of Mecklenburg Vorpommern. It was a popular holiday destination for East Germans during the days of the GDR. Of course, back then it wasn’t a case of just booking a holiday and off you go. Families often had to spend a long time on the waiting list before they were granted a trip to one of the island’s many campsites or holiday flats. Nowadays, though, it’s open to all, and it’s very hard to find anyone who’s been there and doesn’t like it. So a few weeks ago, when I made the astounding discovery that I’m liable to go into meltdown if I never take holidays but insist on working weekends and most of Christmas, I booked a hotel, packed a bag with more clothes than I could ever possibly wear, and headed north.
Given the spontaneous nature of this holiday, I went for the only town I had ever heard of on Rügen: Binz. It’s one of the largest and most famous seaside resorts on the island. The town is picture-book pretty, with grand, snow-white villas lining the unbelievably clean streets. A cute cobbled promenade goes all along the seafront, and it’s lined with hotels, little shops, restaurants and cafes. The main street runs from the Baltic at one end, to the lake (Schmachter See) at the other. Both bodies of water appear to have reached an amicable agreement on sharing the local gull, duck and swan population.
As for the beach itself, it’s brilliant. It stretches out in a yawning curve that has beautiful forested headland at one end. The sand is white and the kind of soft that’s just perfect for digging your toes into and feeling that all is right with the world. I visited in February and couldn’t get enough of walking along by the clear green water and feeling the wind in my face. I can only imagine it gets better in the summer when you can go swimming with no risk of hypothermia or a heart attack. Kids, I have it on good authority, love it here – mostly for the beach, but I reckon the two little trains that ferry you from Binz to various nearby attractions might have something to do with it too.
To avoid writing an essay instead of a blog post, I’ll just finish up by listing some of the things you could do if you had the time and the inclination to visit this beautiful island:
- Visit Jasmund national park and see the white cliffs.
- Take a deep breath and visit Prora, an old Nazi holiday camp that you really have to see to believe. The museum manages to be utterly bizarre and mildly informative all at once.
- Do some wellness – you can’t move for spa treatments in Binz (though do note that German saunas require you to be naked).
- Take a trip on the Rasender Roland steam train.
- If you understand German and have kids who do too, try out the Störtebeker theatre festival in Ralswiek. Klaus Störtebeker was a legendary German pirate who may or may not have lived on Rügen.
- Walk, walk, walk and then walk some more. Or cycle.
For all you German-speakers out there, I can recommend the book Mein Rügen by Claudia Rusch. It’s a lovely account of her lifetime relationship with the island, and of its long and varied history.
Getting there: It takes about 3 to 4.5 hours to get there by train. Regional trains (Regionalexpress, Regionalbahn) run regularly from Berlin Hauptbahnhof. They usually involve at least one change. Destinations include Binz and Sassnitz. Intercity (IC) trains will also get you there. The cheapest ticket option is the Ostseeticket, which as of March 2014 was €43 for a round trip, so long as you return within 9 days of your departure.
Here’s a link to Germany’s rail booking site in English. Of course you can also drive, but having never done it, I can’t offer much in the way of useful advice.
Text & photos: Jen Metcalf