Fabulous Destinations :: Germany’s Northern Realm
A few months ago I went to Germany for the first time and was blown away by what I discovered. Before going, my general impression of Deutschland wasn’t exactly spectacular. Like many Americans, my perception of Germany is based largely on movies about the Holocaust and standard stereotypes- lederhosen, bratwurst, Volkswagens, and efficiency. (Apparently Lederhosen are worn largely by Bavarian men in the Alpine region of Germany and Austria; who knew?). It turns out that rather than being stiff and regimented, Germans are some of the most open, progressive, and friendly folk you’re likely to meet in all of Europe.
My German journey took me to the northeast of the country, where I visited some beautiful towns and stayed at a few incredible resorts in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region. The area is famous for the beautiful water- and the immense amount of it! It’s truly a maritime region with a long and varied coastline that’s also home to a third of all lakes in Germany. I was lucky enough to spend a few magical days in the region- which was definitely not enough- before making a quick stop in Berlin on my way home. (Check back in a couple weeks for that story- Berlin is fantastic!)
For travelers looking for a great spa vacation, excellent R&R on the seaside or among rolling hills, or a beautiful alternative to a Loire Valley castle tour, this region to the north is an excellent choice. For an architectural- or historical-themed getaway that’s focused as much on the future as it is in the past, Germany can’t be beat.
Germany :: rich history, fantastic future
Although the history of the Germanic people dates back thousands of years and is full of prosperous, peaceful, and impressive accomplishments, unfortunately, the image of Germany has been tarnished by the events of the first half of the 20th Century. Because of this however, Germans are one of the most progressive and forward-looking people I’ve ever met. Having learned from their history, they’d rather move forward with optimism and vigor than dwell on the past.
This future-focused philosophy permeates society, from positive steps in human rights to architecture. Of course you’ll still find incredible examples of old European architecture, vast museums in old castles, and a rich history of royal rulers, but it’s gloriously mixed-up with a modernism unmatched in the rest of Europe.
For my visit, I spent most of my time in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a hidden gem that truly deserves to be discovered. Located in the northeast of Germany between Hamburg and Berlin, the state is home to miles of beaches, thousands of lakes, and fabulous manor homes, many of which have been turned into charming little hotels. (It’s my goal to visit as many as I can in the next few years!) The region is a popular summer destination for German tourists thanks to the warm weather and great water-based activities (canoeing, kayaking, and even hydro-biking!), as well as the two UNESCO World Heritage sites in, incredible architecture, great spas, and much, much more.
What follows is my personal experience in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Keep in mind that I tried to do and see as much as I could in order to bring EDGE readers as much information -and variety- as possible. You’ll want to tailor your trip to suit your needs, extending your stay in the towns that sound most interesting and cutting activities you don’t like. For more info on the region, go to http://www.auf-nach-mv.de/
Perhaps we were a bit jet-lagged, silly, or just slow, but it took the group I was with (me included) the entire day to stop referring to the beautiful little town we stopped in as Bad Doberman. Although we all knew that there was no ’m’ in the town’s name, that didn’t seem to stop our minds’ eyes from seeing something that was more familiar to us. Needless to say, the town- and nearby luxury resort- was nothing like the sometimes surly dog; in fact, it couldn’t have been more different.
The idyllic small town of Bad Doberan is just a few miles from the Baltic Coast, and gets its name from the founding of the Cistercian monastery near Althof, first mentioned in official records in 1171. After the Althof monastery was destroyed, the Doberan monastery was built on the present site, and after Duke Friedrich Franz I adopted it as his summer home, a town soon grew around it.
Today the townscape is made up largely of palaces and villas; reminders of Doberan’s glamorous past as the summer home for Friedrich and other dukes. Center stage among many incredible buildings is the Doberan Minster, a Cistercian building considered by many to be the best example of gothic brickwork architecture, and the most impressive religious building on the Baltic coast. A few rulers were laid to rest here, and the building and grounds are definitely worth a stop.
Just outside the town’s gates you’ll find the first German seaside resort- Heiligendamm. Founded in 1793, the ’White town by the Sea’ was famed for its soothing waters, relaxing spa, and beautiful, architecturally important- and diverse- buildings. Nearby you’ll also find the first German horse track, built a few decades later.
Kempinski Grand Hotel Heiligendamm
The Kempinski Grand Hotel is a fabulous resort in an incredible location- and truly unique in all of Europe. As a Leading Hotels of the World- a group known for impeccable service and ultimate luxury- it’s no surprise that a recent G-8 gathering took place here. (Don’t let the fact that George Bush stayed here scare you away- I assure you that all negative energy has since been cleared...)
The resort is the first and oldest in Europe, and it’s literally a stone’s throw from incredible beaches, set in a truly idyllic setting backed by a thick green forest. The six large buildings on the hotel grounds hold not only beautiful deluxe rooms, but a gourmet restaurant, lounge, bar with terrace, and a large pool, sun deck, and spa.
Speaking of spas, the Kempinski Grand’s is impressive, with everything you’d expect from a resort whose goal is "to revive the legendary reputation of Heiligendamm as the world’s best sea spa." Engraved above the pillars of the Kurhaus, the only temple by the sea, are the words "Happiness receives you here after you have taken a health-giving bath" (in Latin), which seems fitting given my experience. Non-spa-goers have no need to worry however- you’ll find plenty to do. Aside from the history and architecture all around, there’s fabulous dining on site, nearby water sports and a nine-hole golf course, and everything else you’d expect from a top spa resort.
From glamour to gray, and back to glamour
The history surrounding the Kempinski Grand- and neighboring town- is also fascinating, and worth knowing before you visit. As the oldest German seaside resort on the Baltic coast, Heiligendamm was born as an elegant meeting place of the nobility and other members of high society. Most of the gorgeous Classicist buildings along the central promenade- which used to be private villas of the very wealthy- are still standing, and the stunning seaside manors make for an incredible walk along the beach. Sadly, the majority of these grand homes have fallen into disrepair. And while it’s fascinating to peer in the windows and see the peeling wallpaper and cracked ceilings, with just a bit of imagination- and a lot of money- these places could sparkle again.
The houses’ former beauty is clearly apparent, barely hidden under the surface of a depressing socialist whitewash (or more accurately, gray-wash). Their potential is evident however; I found myself yearning to solicit the help of investors and celebs to restore these magnificent buildings to the glamorous icons of their past. They could easily be renovated and transitioned into vacation rentals, condos, and private homes, provided the tourists continue to come- or perhaps if someone can convince Sharon Stone and Francis Ford Coppola to buy one of the properties for a nice little summer home!
For more info :: http://www.Kempinski-Heiligendamm.com