Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is perhaps Germany's least changed province. The few towns and villages that break up the countryside seem like snapshots from the 1930s.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern attracts more tourists than any German province except Bavaria. Barely one percent of these visitors is American, however. Indeed, few Americans have even heard of this province on the Baltic in the new Germany's northeast corner.
Despite its high tourism ranking, the region is by no means overrun by tourists. In fact, much of the province is pristine, protected wilderness. Most visitors congregate in a few coastal "resorts" and sleepy fishing villages. And, since towns are spread sparsely along the coastline, most of the beaches beyond the outskirts offer total refuge and privacy.
Inland, the moors, heaths and woodlands of the coastal plain build gradually toward a distinctly rural landscape of rolling hills, meadows, farmland and dense forest. Farther south, the fields and forests are broken up by the 1,750 lakes of the Mecklenburg Lake Plateau, Germany's most sparsely populated region.
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is perhaps Germany's least changed province, a backwater mostly untouched by war, the DDR times or commercialism. Cities are small, and the few towns and villages that break up the countryside seem like snapshots from the 1930s. Many are destinations unto themselves with architectural, cultural and culinary delights and with centuries of history and decades under Soviet control behind them.
Especially for those just arriving from overseas flights, Schwerin, an hour's train ride from Hamburg, is an ideal Mecklenburg-Vorpommern starting point. (Be sure to take a direct InterCity or InterRegio train—from $16-$19) it will cut your rail time in half.) The province's capital and second-largest city, Schwerin is surrounded by seven lakes and an endless forest and its old city retains the culture, architecture and vibrancy of its 19th-century glory days.
For an initial perspective of what the city offers, climb the 220 steps and 130 meters of the Gothic red-brick Schweriner Dom (about $1). The view reveals as much lakescape as landscape. The town is surrounded by lakes including Lake Schwerin, one of Germany's largest.
The city's centerpiece is its Schloss (about $3), an island castle (connected to land by two bridges) that is a fairyland mishmash of baroque and Gothic architecture overwhelmed by a neo-Renaissance make-over from the 19th century. Inside, however, it's all business, a lavish ducal showpiece with intricate wood floors and paneling, a gilded throne room, lush tapestries and ornate stucco.
An artificial pond - the rectangular Pfaffenteich—comprises much of the city center. Once used to store water that powered the town's mills, today it's purely recreational and a walk around it is just plain fun. Fanciful sculptures bring smiles, as does the massive and wonderfully out-of-scale Tudor Gothic Arsenal. In summer, the Petermännchen, a tiny ferry named for a mythical gnome, delivers passengers to various points along the pond's perimeter. On warm evenings, crowds share gossip and sip espresso in the nearby Altstadt, while others make their way to a widening variety of restaurants and cultural events.
Two days barely do justice to Schwerin, especially if you plan a visit to the outskirts. An excellent daytrip is a scenic excursion by ferry (about $3 round-trip) across Lake Schwerin to the white-sand beach at Zippendorf. From there, it's a 15-minute walk to the Mecklenburgisches Volkskundemuseum (about $1) an open-air museum that shows life in 18th-century rural Mecklenburg. If you have the energy, just take the ferry for the return trip and walk or bike to Zippendorf. The route winds through the 18th-century baroque Schlossgarten and leads past the Schleifmühle ($1.05), a water-driven grinding mill still in working order but once used to cut and polish precious stones that decorate the Schloss. The trail then cuts through the forest to the beach.
Schwerin is about an hour by car or 90 minutes by direct train (every two hours for $15) to Teterow, a medieval town in the heart of a region known as Mecklenburgische Schweiz (Mecklenburg Switzerland). This Switzerland has no Alps, indeed no mountains at all. Its highest point is barely 500 feet.
Still, the undulating landscape makes for one scenic view after another. Hikers can follow signed trails past springs and streams and through valleys and old growth forests (some oaks are more than 1,000 years old). Other visitors ride horses or bicycles along the hilly ridges of the "Balcony Route." The area is so thick with lakes, rivers and canals, that guests can spend days exploring it by canoe.
Auto travelers will find a network of peaceful back roads linking sleepy villages. Many of these byways are tree-lined, with century-old lime trees forming a leafy canopy overhead.
The area is also famed for its manor houses and castles. Unlike the medieval fortresses of the Rhine and Danube, these were built as palatial residences, primarily during the prosperous 18th and 19th centuries. In 1945, due to housing shortages, many were divided into apartments. Others remained empty and neglected.
Schloss Basedow is perhaps the most haunting example, once an elegant palace, and now an empty warren of apartments. Overhead, wooden ceilings and intricate carvings remain intact, but vaulted halls and chambers are broken up by rotting drywall—complete with faded 90s rock posters. Work is underway, however, to transform Basedow into a hotel and conference center.
Over the past decade, millions of euros have been invested to renovate similar structures. Some remain private residences or businesses while others, like Burg Schlitz or the Sporthotel Teschow, have become fine hotels.
With so much land and water under permanent protection, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is likely to remain a paradise for generations. It also has the infrastructure to support consistent double-digit tourism growth. Over time, more buildings will be restored—or torn down. Rural villages will try to enter the 21st century (or at least the 20th). Prices will move upward. For those who want to see the region in its pure, current and affordable form, now's the time to be a pioneer.
Hotels in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern offers accommodations that range from private rooms to castle suites. The least expensive are in private homes, especially in the countryside, starting at about $12 per person, with breakfast. Boathouses in the Lake District cost as little as $24 per night. Contact any of the tourism agencies for more information.
Hotel Speicher am Ziegelsee Schwerin
Sorat Hotels has transformed a run-down, 60-year-old grain silo at an old port into a modern, comfortable, peaceful hotel.
Located directly on the Ziegelsee, the Speicher is about a 15-minute walk or five-minute drive from downtown, giving a sense of distance, but not isolation. Inside, it has retained much of the wood and brick features of the original structure. Off the lobby, an open fireplace adds a cozy touch. The hotel opened in 1998 and the entire facility is spotless.
In guestrooms, angled walls lend themselves to large windows and lots of sunlight. Decor is in warm tones using such natural elements as leather, rattan and cotton. For a $10 difference per night, it's worth it to get a lake view.
From the waterfront, guests can board one of the boats of the Weisse Flotte for a lake excursion.
The Speicher offers a "Wellness" area with steam bath and Finnish sauna, as well as its Restaurant Aurum, specializing in regional cuisine.
Though the immediate area is somewhat run-down, it's safe and on the way up.
Daily Rates: Singles €64 to 90, doubles €80 to 100. Approx. 10% off for AAA and AARP. Free parking, reasonable disabled access.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 15/20
Hospiz am Pfaffenteich
Renovated in 1992, this family-run hotel is typical of the region's many inexpensive alternatives. What these accommodations lack in luxury, they make up for in personal attention.
Guestrooms look out over the Pfaffenteich, and the hotel is across the street from the ferry landing, making it a short boat-ride and five-minute walk to the train station. The Altstadt is 15 minutes away on foot.
The Hospiz may not have the latest in furnishings, but it is comfortable and has the usual amenities. Ask for one of the balcony rooms when you reserve; they seem larger and offer delightful water views.
Daily Rates: Singles €36 - 40, doubles €65 to 66.50.
Contact: Gausstr. 19, D-19055 Schwerin, tel. +49/0385/56 56 06, fax 56 96 13, Web: www.hospiz-am-pfaffenteich.m-vp.de. On-street parking, difficult disabled access.
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 15/20
Golf and Wellnesshotel Schloss Teschow
Here's a hotel that almost guarantees you'll leave rested and stress-free even when you see the bill.
Nestled in the rolling hills, meadows and woodlands of Mecklenburg Switzerland, Schloss Teschow is a delightful retreat, a renovated classical-style castle completed in 1824. Opened as a hotel in 2001, it has a friendly staff that loves to pamper. Guests seeking a stress reprieve can hike or bike in the countryside, sweat it out in the sauna, or simply read a book by the indoor-outdoor saltwater pool. Physiotherapists stand by to provide sport massage and there are a wide variety of spa treatments for both men and women.
More interested in golf than wellness? No problem. The hotel's 18- and nine-hole courses are rated among the top 50 in the country.
Most visitors, of course, come simply to relax or explore. A 20-acre park and some of the region's most beautiful countryside surrounds the castle.
Others come to eat, and the hotel has four restaurants, including Thai, French and regional. Each offers the opportunity to dine on the terrace that overlooks pastures, woods and—in the distance—Teterow Lake. At night, the terrace provides a perfect vantage point for the sunset, as candles flicker on the walls.
Guests arrive along a tree-lined boulevard and up a crescent, cobblestone drive to the entrance. Inside, marble floors, rich red and teal carpets, and pedestals with rose-filled vases in full bloom seem to say, "Relax."
Guestrooms are alike only in their use of colors and motifs designed to soothe and calm. The castle itself has 17 rooms, while the new wing has 77. Note that castle rooms do not have elevator service.
Room Number 197 in the castle is typical. The original wood beams are exposed, and furnishings include a king-size bed, love seat and two matching chairs. The view is to the lake, past stands of trees and grazing horses. In the evening, the only sound comes from the birds and, as sun sets, from crickets.
The best value perhaps is Number 491 in the new wing overlooking the courtyard. At 335 square feet, it's the smallest room but not confining. And the price is a bargain at about $90 for two, including breakfast.
Many repeat guests request Number 233, with its bright skylight and view of the park and lake. It can also connect to the next room as a suite. For those traveling with children, Number 421 has a kitchenette and small side room for children to play and sleep.
Daily Rates: Singles €80 to 175, doubles €98 - 200. Free parking, easy disabled access.
In the heart of Mecklenburg Switzerland, the classically-styled Burg Schlitz lies hidden in a deeply wooded landscaped park. It's just a short ride up a gravel road to the castle's entrance, where one might expect the Count von Schlitz to emerge to greet guests but the good count died more than 100 years ago and the estate's restoration wasn't quite that extensive.
Unlike many castle hotels, Burg Schlitz strives to give its guests a sense of castle life. Rooms and suites are in the east and west wings, where the count and his family once lived. The Knight's Hall - with its Gothic dome, stained glass, stucco ceilings and parquet floor—is today an award-winning restaurant. The rest of the castle does nothing to alert guests that the 21st century has arrived.
The idyllic Schlosspark has been tended well over the past 150 years and is a wonderful refuge for guests. It's a restful walk from the Karolinenkapelle (chapel) adjacent to the hotel to the Luisenteig (pond). The hotel will even provide picnic lunches and a blanket.
Each guestroom is different and filled with antiques and custom-made furniture. Floors are oiled hardwood, and colored silk and other fabrics enhance the color scheme. For those with royal budgets (about $435 a night), the Grafensuite has its own work room, salon, bedroom, walk-in closet, bath with separate tub and shower, and gilded ceiling. More economical ($180) double rooms include Number 28, with a view of the park; and Number 31 on the top floor, with a view to the Karolinenkapelle. Doubles have a dressing room or walk-in closet. All rooms have VCRs, CD players.
Considering its setting and the overall experience, Burg Schlitz - though expensive for this region - is a bargain. Daily Rates: Singles €160 to 180, doubles €210 to 250. Free parking, difficult disabled access.
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 16/20
Restaurants in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Wöhler Historische Wein und Bierstuben
Perhaps the hottest new restaurant in Schwerin is also one of its oldest. Built in 1750, Wöhler was a tradition among townspeople as early as 1895. Even after it was taken over by the East German government, after five generations in the Wöhler family, the business retained a solid and loyal following - and a reputation for great wine and beer and excellent food. The tradition came to a temporary halt in 1983, when authorities closed the building because it was near collapse.
Thus, when investors started rebuilding Wöhler in 1998, crowds formed to share their excitement - and their opinions on how to restore it. Finally, it reopened in 2001 after "an 18-year sleep," as its current manager says, and it has regained its position as a "cult favorite."
"Although it's not owned by a Wöhler, tradition and loyalty are more important," he said.
But tradition, loyalty and a beautifully restored building wouldn't bring townspeople back. The finest wines and beers wouldn't hold their loyalty. The food had to be as good as ever and most say it's better.
The menu reflects regional tastes. In general, Mecklenburg dishes draw from local streams, lakes and forests, and from the Baltic. Many have a sweet element; perhaps sugar, honey or local fruit. Recently featured, for example, was a choice of soups: a strong beef broth with carrots, onions, apples and plums; beer soup boiled to a froth with sugar, lemon, cinnamon and ginger, and Mecklenburger Buttermilchsuppe, buttermilk boiled with sugar and vanilla and served with a swirl of blackberry sauce.
Main dishes also reflect the regional sweet tooth: breast of duck with almond-honey sauce; Schwinsrippenbraden (in local dialect), a pork roast stuffed with apples and plums; and Swartsuer, goose stuffed with pork and simmered in a broth sweetened with sugar and pears.
Of course, more familiar dishes are available plus such lighter entrées as trout stuffed with salmon mousse. Most entrées are served with local vegetables.
The cost for two persons, with a glass of wine each, ranges from about $30-$50. For those who just want to soak up the atmosphere, a sampling of wine and cheeses might cost $15-$30 or more.
Contact: Wöhler Historische Wein und Bierstuben, Puschkinstrasse 26, D-19055 Schwerin, tel. +49/0385/55583 0, fax 5558315.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 17/20
For lighter budgets and more straightforward food, Zum Stadtkrug is an excellent option. It's a combination restaurant, hotel, brewery and beer garden in the center of the Altstadt. In addition to its charm, Stadtkrug also offers a glimpse of the beer-making process, starting with the copper kettles at the entrance. If the weather is the least bit cooperative, head to the cozy beer garden.
Those with small appetites can choose a variety of sausages or salads, for $3-$6. Options expand as appetites expand. The Brauhausteller is hefty portions of pork roulade, smoked sausage and roast beef, served with sauerkraut and string beans. The Schweinhaxe (pork hock), unlike the more common broiled version, is simmered, and served over sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. A variety of trout, Schnitzel and poultry dishes rounds out the menu, with no entrée topping $7.
And you'll insult the brewmaster if you don't order at least a quarter-liter of beer for about $1.50.
Contact: Zum Stadtkrug, Wismarsche Str. 126, D-19053 Schwerin, tel. 49+/ 0385 5936693
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 15/20
You'll feel like royalty dining in the Knight's Hall at Burg Schlitz. It's not just the setting (see above); service is polite and indulgent and a typical seven-course dinner might include medallions of lobster, cannelloni stuffed with veal, risotto with mussels, grapefruit sorbet, rabbit with truffles, a platter of French and Italian cheeses, and a fig tart with red-wine ice cream. The cost: About $90. Drop two courses - the cannelloni and either the cheeses or dessert - and the price is closer to $70.
The a la carte menu offers veal filet for $25 and halibut encrusted with horseradish and served in a red beet sauce for $27. Even with lobster broth for $10 and passionfruit parfait in a chocolate shell with mango-ginger compote for $10, the price is reasonable compared with similar feasts elsewhere in Germany. (For contact information see story above)
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 14/20
Prices current 2006