The best time to visit a coastal town is in the winter: frosty cold, deserted streets, gray skies, sleepy shops, and empty beaches for miles. Neustadt in Holstein on the Baltic Sea in Germany did not disappoint as a beautiful, quiet getaway.
Andreas and I traveled there to visit his parents for a few days. We had a wonderful stay in a “French” shabby chic Airbnb in town. The rooms were full of knickknacks and EVERYTHING was painted white so it all sort of blended together. Not my thing and not Andreas’ thing either especially after he cut his finger and no band aid. Poor thing fell asleep with his hand wrapped in toilet paper hoping he would not bleed on any of the thousand white objects in the room. I’d love to share a photo but the proprietor asks that no photos of the establishment are shared.
We had a lovely visit with his parents sharing fancy coffees at their apartment and a nice dinner by the water. We also had a wonderful German breakfast and I ate my first soft-boiled egg after a sad, sloppy job of breaking the top of the shell, rookie mistake.
We took advantage of the gray, cold weather by walking a few miles along the Baltic following a sculpture trail towards the family campsite.
Neustadt also has a horrifically sad story to tell from the end of WWII on this coast. The Neuengamme Concentration Camp near Hamburg was emptied and the prisoners were put on decommissioned ships in the Bay of Lübeck to prevent them from being liberated alive by rapidly advancing British troops the last days of the war. The prisoners were put below decks without food and water, and survival gear was replaced with dynamite charges to sink the ship. Barges of women and children from Stutthof and Mittelbau-Dora camps were also sent to the ships already holding 9000 prisoners, but they were turned away because the ships were full. Their SS guards sailed the barges to the beach where they shot women and children aboard with machine guns. The ships were then mistakenly bombed by the British Royal Air Force. The few survivors able to reach the beaches from the ships were shot on the beach. When the British Army arrived later in the day, they found empty camps, burning ships, and corpses of the murdered on the beach. We visited a mass grave and a marker along the path. There is, of course, much more to this story.
I live in a smallish, northern, German city on the Weser River. Bremerhaven has five first class museums (that I know of) and a zoo. All of these are a short walking distance from my apartment. Exciting for a suburban girl from Delaware.
This morning Andreas’ graduate student, Cassandra from New York, (so upstate she can “see” Canada from her house) and I decided to visit Zoo am Meer. (zoo next to the sea). We chose to go on an icy cold day because the zoo is home to mostly colder climate animals and creatures that live in the water, including an Eisbär (polar bear). I’m not a huge fan of zoos and I certainly did not want to see the poor polar bear in the heat of summer. Thus, a frosty November morning seemed like happy polar bear weather.
Before moving to Bremerhaven, I read a short chapter in a German guide book describing the city. The book suggested that Bremerhaven was good for a day visit at most, and there was a very strange zoo created out of cement to look like a giant rock.
The zoo is strange, however, I really enjoyed my visit. It may be because Cassandra and I were the only visitors for a while. The habitats were nice and well planned around a climbing area for children in the giant rock landscape. Most of the animals seemed pretty content for being stuck in a zoo in Bremerhaven, including the polar bear.
How do two Americans in Germany celebrate a birthday? They travel to Schleswig! Now I have my German friend’s attention. They’re all thinking, Schleswig, what the hell is so special about Schleswig? Everything and nothing, friends, it was a fun, laid-back, easy, romantic weekend away.
In July Andreas brought me to Lübeck for my birthday. So, I said that he should pick his favorite place for his birthday. Easier said than done. So many choices! One week I was told that we would travel to Spiekerroog, the next week to Föhr, every few weeks he would choose a new place. Finally, a week before his birthday I begged for a decision, so that I could Google the place, and his finger landed on the map at the town of Schleswig in northern Germany.
Andreas is born and raised a “Fishhead.” He loves fish, cold, windy, rainy weather and sitting in little cafes eating “Kuchen” listening to the locals speak “Plattdeutsch” by large bodies of water. Schleswig was all these things.
We stayed in a small hotel instead of an Airbnb which is unusual for us, but it was attached to a little restaurant, included breakfast, and was on the water. The hotel was located by Holm an old fishing village. In the center of the village is the oldest Abbey in northern Germany.
A beautiful, idyllic place full of cafes and artisans. The people in the village are proud of the age of their homes and often have the year posted in large iron numbers.
They and the rest of the city are also extremely fond of roses. There are two or three trained rose bushes on the front of every house and most stores. It must be amazing when the roses are in season. We were lucky enough to see some blooms in November.
The biggest surprise for me in Schleswig was the art collections. We visited an Outsider Art museum located in a poorhouse from 1630.The building was almost more interesting than the art. Next, we walked to a modern art museum located in the old stables of Gottorf Castle.
We also viewed the art collections in the Castle as well.
We found the Cathedral of St. Peter of Schleswig (hard to miss the tallest building in town) that had its original stained glass. Most of the churches we’ve visited so far have been bombed and replaced with modern glass so this was really exciting. (for me)
Between museum visits and walking around town in the rain were many stops to café’s for coffee and cake. Andreas had birthday cake many times over the weekend.
In the first café we sat near a Danish girl in snow pants who also celebrated a birthday. Her family played a tiny music box and sang Happy Birthday in English.
We didn’t just eat cake in Schleswig, although it felt like it, Andreas also enjoyed many fishy dinners with local beer which made him pretty happy.
The best indication of whether Andreas and I like a place is if we start researching housing prices, which we did on our third café morning. I recommend giving Schleswig a visit. It seems to be very popular with bicyclists during the summer months. There is also the Hedeby Viking Museum which we missed due to walking distance and time restraints. I’d like to return there someday.
Magical Helgoland Island in the North Sea, seals, birds, alles wunderschön! This is the recommendation from new German acquaintances. You have to go there, you will love it, they say.
Andreas’ brother and sister-in-law visited from Dietz and suggested that we explore Helgoland. We planned to suggest the same idea to them. Good company made this a fun day. Helgoland, as we might say in America is a ‘trip’, unique, strange, and a little overwhelming.
We drove from Bremerhaven north to Cuxhaven on the Elbe Estuary, our first time in a car since the taxi ride back in Iceland two months ago. My first time on the Autobahn, oh boy! In Cuxhaven we boarded a ship for Helgoland. Andreas and I were happy to be on a ship again.
After a two-hour passage we approached Helgoland and I spied upon it with my long camera lens looking for seals on the beaches. No seals, just people. We docked in the harbor with a few other ships like ours, disembarked and walked with the other tourists towards town. Actually, we had no idea where we were going, we just followed the herd. At one point some of the tourists broke off and started up a hill. We followed this unending, string of humanity to a well-maintained, brick path winding its way along the top of the hill, ‘mountain’ with an incredible view of the sea.
There were so many people on this path on this tiny island in October. Lucky for me a woman in the throng was traveling with an English-speaking boyfriend and was explaining the historical placards along the way. What really struck me along this path; the total lack of garbage. No trash in the weeds, no cigarette butts, no doggie bombs anywhere to be stepped on. This would be a different scene in America.
The path ended in a tiny town with a noticeable lack of cars and bicycles. What?! Germans love both. They are not allowed here. The only vehicles were tiny electric city trucks (the firetruck and ambulance are gas powered) and what I call Amish scooters. Adult size scooters with small bicycle wheels. Andreas read somewhere that children under the age of 16 can use a bike after 5:00 pm between October and March. The town doesn’t want to add street signs.
The island has been inhabited since 697, but the first and second world wars messed that up. Helgoland was bombed heavily during the second world war and then the British used it as a bombing range after the war ended. In 1947 the Royal Navy detonated 6,700 tons of explosives creating the biggest single non-nuclear detonations in history. (The island was evacuated during these times.) The explosion shook the main island down to its base, changing its shape.
Today there is a small population living year-round. It enjoys value added tax-exempt status if you’re looking for cigarettes, booze or perfume. You can also buy rocks. We chose coffee and pastries.
At the end of the day we joined the tourist march back to the ships. A great white migration of tired families. The voyage back was subdued as the travelers sought sunny spots on deck out of the wind or sheltered their families inside. The sunset was magnificent and unusual.
Andreas’ co-worker recommends experiencing the island for a few days staying over night after the migration departs. Maybe you can see seals and birds then.
It was a rough week emotionally watching, listening to and reading about the situation with Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford in America. It brought up a lot of bad memories for me and it was heart wrenching to read about the memories of my friends and acquaintances online. Andreas and I had a unused train ticket from the summer and he wisely suggested a change of scenery. We choose Bremen because we’ve heard good things, we wanted to explore and it’s very close.
We began our day at the Kunsthalle, (art museum) fairly close to the train station. The current exhibit of the museum is about Love. I found the images interesting, but not extraordinary. Andreas, who can read the descriptions, stories and the themes of the exhibit in German was able to decipher its deeper intentions. The museum has an impressive collection of paintings from the late 19th and 20th century including some of my favorite German Expressionists.
A couple of days before our trip I went on long walks around Bremerhaven and developed blisters on my feet from my shoes. So, I didn’t have happy exploring feet for Bremen. This made me grumpy going place to place, but when I took breaks and just sat watching the crowds I had some surprising photo opportunities that I would have ignored or walked by otherwise. For instance, I didn’t realize that there were song lyrics written on the walls in the Love exhibit until I took a break to rest my feet.
When we had seen and experienced all that the museum had to offer we went to a little café that Andreas read about online. We were following google maps on his phone and got turned around in the wrong direction trying to follow the blue dots. We walked for a couple of blocks only to reverse directions a couple of times. My feet weren’t happy and wanted to stop walking. We noticed between two buildings a little alley with a café, a bar and few shops. I asked to walk there because it looked much more interesting than the street we were on. The area turned out to be the Schnoor Quarter, one of the oldest areas of the Altstadt or old town. There were winding cobblestone streets, little shops in medieval buildings full of “typical German” things that you might find at the Christmas market and a TON of tourists. Tiny streets with piles of tourists, the worst kind with strollers, small children and dogs. If it wasn’t for the tourists it would have looked very Diagon Alley. Andreas’ graduate student, Cassandra and I are introducing Andreas to Harry Potter movies this month.
Andreas did not enjoy this path and asked that we leave those streets as soon as possible. As we were weaving our way through we accidentally happened upon our café destination. The café was also quite crowded and ancient, we found ourselves sitting in a cubby hole in a back room with seven ladies we had never met before. Our waitress was an attentive elven goth who brought us wonderful pastries and coffee. Andreas and I had a good time recounting the paintings we had seen at the museum and what made them special to us. Since we were conversing in English we didn’t bother the ladies too much.
Re-caffeinated we proceeded to our next destination on the list; a fancy restaurant for dinner. Again, Google maps twisted our sense of direction but we had hours until dinner to get lost and explore. This would have been fun if my feet had been in better shape. On our wanderings we found the Marktplatz and main square that you see in the photos of what to do in Bremen. St. Peter’s Cathedral, the statue of Roland and the statue, Town Musicians (A bronze statue with a rooster standing on a cat that’s standing on a dog that’s standing on a donkey from a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale) were all there. The tourists were gathered around to rub the donkey’s hooves. We took some photos and continued our quest.
At one point, walking through a residential neighborhood, my feet had had enough and we sat in a clothing designer’s red doorway. After we sat a dirty, friendly cat greeted and walked on us, then we noticed a wedding walking toward us down the opposite street making their way to a restaurant on the corner for their reception. Again, we would have missed this if we weren’t having a sit down.
Blocks later we found the little restaurant and then still needing to fill an hour or two we walked to a busy street nearby in a neighborhood full of graffiti and murals to look for a place to hang out and grab a beer. We found a little table in the window of an empty bar with mid-century furniture and foosball tables. As we were drinking our beer Andreas said, “I think I just watched a drug deal.” Ok I said, not too unusual in a city. Then I noticed a very nervous looking man walking slowly down the sidewalk and three men following him in the street. I said, “I’ll bet that’s going to be another one.” It was…then another. What to do? Andreas took some photos. I asked him not to do anything while we were sitting there. It was a nice neighborhood, lots of families and kids walking by.
We walked back to the restaurant a little nervous because Andreas made it known to one of the guys dealing the drugs that he was watching him. Dinner was an event. The restaurant was very small with just a couple of tables on the lower level, a little below the street, of a corner house. As soon as the tables were filled a red velvet curtain was drawn in front of the door letting those passing by know that the restaurant was full for the evening. We had a choice between two fixed menus and between three to seven courses. The food was tiny, artsy and tasty. I didn’t take photos because cell phones were discouraged in the establishment. On their page is a good example of a tiny, artsy dish. A fancy place with a comical touch in the bathroom. The toilet was the old style with the tank near the ceiling and a chain. The handle of the chain was a wooden banana. Real towels at the sink, fancy, smelly soaps and a wooden banana. Same in the gents too.
After our sweet, tiny dinner we ran for the late train and returned to Bremerhaven.