In whitewashed Strandkorbs, households huddle collectively, having fun with the final of the heat from the faltering autumnal solar on their upturned faces. These striped seaside baskets, some owned, others rented, are dotted alongside massive expanses of windswept sands that seep into the inky Baltic sea.
The island of Usedom in Pomerania, surrounded by forests of beech timber, is understood by some because the “bathtub of Berlin” and by others, barely extra poetically, as “solar island”. Dietrich Gildenhaar, a neighborhood writer and information, tells me that the island, north of the Szczecin lagoon within the enormous Oder estuary, has been a luxurious vacationer vacation spot for the reason that Gründerzeit (Germany’s mid-Nineteenth-century financial growth), having been topped one of many nation’s sunniest locations, with an annual common of greater than 1,900 hours of sunshine. It’s in two halves, the west aspect belonging to Germany and the jap half to Poland, and has a number of the area’s greatest seashores, with designated strips of sand for canine and different sections reserved for nudists partaking in Freikörperkultur or “free physique tradition”.
Nonetheless, regardless of being fashionable with Germans who flock to its spa resorts or discover inland on bike rides and lengthy hikes, the island stays largely undiscovered by worldwide guests. Searching for another winter break, I’ve arrived to pattern one in all its many spas for some much-needed well being and wellbeing upkeep.
On a Saturday afternoon in mid-October, with temperatures struggling to creep over 12C, the sky is dotted with vibrant kites, many reaching dizzying heights above us. The general public on the seafront are German households in thick wool sweaters, who stroll alongside the piers and bustle into espresso outlets to flee the Baltic breeze.
We’re in Bansin, one in all three resort cities on the German aspect. Gildenhaar, standing outdoors a powder-blue home constructed within the Russian type, explains that lots of the island’s buildings had been financed by the rich German Delbrück household. Guests included Russian poets, Berlin’s elite, and the king of Prussia, Wilhelm I; an annual parade in his honour continues to be held in the present day.
“It was a spot the place you’ll usually see the Aristocracy and aristocrats mixing with artists, and they might all come right here for the wellness. A few of them had been very in poor health and had been ordered by their physicians to take the great air of Usedom,” he says.
Till the early Nineteenth century, passengers arriving on the station had been picked up in wood carriages and transported to villas set again from the ocean in personal, landscaped gardens. All three of those coastal cities – Ahlbeck, Heringsdorf and Bansin – stay linked by rail.
The legacy of this aristocratic wealth has seeped into each nook of the structure, and the island has an air of understated magnificence, with lots of the buildings now in personal possession and rented out as vacation properties. There are additionally many tastefully embellished inns overlooking lawns behind the seaside: ours is the Steigenberger Grandhotel and Spa in Heringsdorf, with its heated outside pool and saunas.
One other massive draw of this area is the seafood. There are wood-fired huts for smoking fish dotted alongside the shoreline, and nautical themes aplenty within the eating places and inns.
Near the Polish border is the Fischräucherei Kamminke smokehouse, jutting out to sea. Giant image home windows on its semi-enclosed veranda provide glowing views over the Szczecin lagoon and create solar traps, defending us from the bitter breeze. As we drink within the view, the waiters ship enormous plates of smoked butterfish fillet and stremel salmon, with steaming sizzling potatoes and dollops of braised cabbage. Our chunky wood tables groan with the heavy plates, and the fish has a candy pungency from the smoking course of.
Additional north there may be Koserower Salzhütte, an previous fishing hut transformed right into a restaurant, the place solely beechwood is used to smoke the fish. Its recipes have been handed down from a grandfather who, as a fisherman, owned two of those work huts and fished in close by Koserow.
The restaurant’s homeowners have created a small museum telling the story of the island and its dependency on fishing. Herrings had been notably plentiful off this coast within the a long time after 1815, and the Prussian state took measures to assist the fishermen and provide the broader inhabitants. Underneath state supervision, the herrings had been salted and saved in massive wood barrels, giving the fish an extended shelf life. The salt huts on the positioning, also referred to as herring huts, date from that point and have been listed as historic monuments.
A small, darkish eating room in one in all these herring huts tempts us inside with smells of sea and wooden and a promise of fish smoked in massive wood barrels. There’s gravlax, entombed to perfection in coarse sea salt, served with a candy cucumber dill salad that cleanses the palate with each mouthful; uncooked smoked herring, a delicacy that melts on the tongue; and huge chunks of flippantly fried halibut with the requisite cabbage and potato. All washed down with candy German Scheurebe wine, it’s a feast, an ode to the ocean.
The island has a haunting magnificence. In his new movie Usedom: A Clear View of the Sea, Heinz Brinkmann says: “Once I was a toddler, the story of the invention of my dwelling city of Heringsdorf appeared like a fairytale. In spring 1863, the brothers Hugo and Adelbert Delbruük, bankers from Berlin, strolling via a dense forest, proclaimed on the web site of the Baltic sea: Right here we are going to keep!” And it’s certainly a fairytale.
The journey was offered by the German Nationwide Vacationer board. Rooms at Steigenberger Grandhotel and Spa in Heringsdorf value from €159.75.