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In many cases of abandonment, the government sells property for pocket change in return for guarantees that the new owner will renovate. Such is the case with numerous castles throughout the Mecklenburg Lake District. For example, investors bought the Schloss Teschow to transform it into the Schloss-Hotel Teschow, a world-class golf and sports resort.

In some ways, whether it's a derelict district or a rundown room, the experience of seeing sights not manicured for tourists lends a feeling of authenticity. In an odd way, one feels privileged to see the "unfinished" product and the magic of transformation. It's like an artist allowing you to see a painting before its complete a private showing, a peek behind the wizards curtain.

The absence of tourism is even more striking in the many hamlets spread across the countryside. Many buildings, whether they're 100 years old or 500, haven't been altered since the 1930s. The rampant commercialism prevalent in large cities and the West hasn't arrived yet. For the most part, its just townspeople going about their daily lives. There are tractors (or horse-drawn wagons), not tour buses, and most people like it that way. Still, the rare tourist is greeted cordially.

Parts of some cities and towns, however, show more of the last five decades than of the last five centuries. Soviet practicality, functionality and frugality left their mark, often interspersed with architectural gems. As a guide in Rostock showing the impressive baroque façade of the Rathaus said, "Please don't look at the ugly buildings to its right and left." Near the Rathaus, a group of statues shows happy workers playing. Some residents say it should go; it's a bad reminder of East German times. Others say its art and makes people feel happy. More obtrusive and troublesome are the building-block rows of apartment complexes. Yes, they're ugly, but where would the residents live?

No one would ever suggest demolishing the five-star Neptune Hotel. It is neither ugly nor rundown. However, the 200-foot structure, built in 1971, looms over the beach in Warnemünde, an out-of-scale behemoth clashing against the backdrop of pastel villas and blue sea. The East Germans wanted to show off a bit, and the hotel can indeed be seen from dozens of miles off shore. (Interestingly, most of the hotels current staff has been working there since well before reunification.)

And it's unlikely that Rostock will make any changes to the Langstrasse, which, after war damage to the area, now stretches the width of three former streets and city blocks. The street was modeled after the Lenin Prospect in Moscow serving as a monument to Rostocks purported prosperity and, perhaps more important, the perfect place for frequent military parades.

"The troops used to go the length of the street and double back out of sight and form back into the parade," one local resident said. "That way it looked like there were thousands and thousands more soldiers. They didn't fool anyone."