The former East Germany, with its vastly improved tourist infrastructure and low prices, offers an ever-growing list of prime tourist destinations
Though they're virtually the same city, Rostock and Warnemünde couldn't be more different. As it was in the Hanseatic days, Rostock is all business. Traffic fills its streets and bombed-out areas have been replaced with the functional, postwar buildings of the times.
The fishing village of Warnemünde, on the other hand, is just plain fun and despite its rise to resort status has lost little of its charm.
But lively Rostock is still worth a few days exploration. Examples of medieval and renaissance architecture are plentiful throughout its Altstadt. There's the 1490 Hausbaumhaus, one of the few remaining wooden structures; the Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) continues to cast a dramatic shadow, and the 355-foot steeple of the Petrikirche tops the skyline. And nearby is the 13th-century Rathaus, with its 18th-century baroque make-over. Traditional gabled patrician houses line Wokrenterstrasse and some of the original city wall still remains.
The pedestrian Kröpelinerstrasse bustles with window-shoppers and sidewalk cafés. The Universitätsplatz, with its Fountain of Happiness, is a magnet for young people and fine restaurants abound.
The town also remains a vibrant seaport. From its Warnow River piers, boats leave every half-hour (10:30am-4:30pm, $3.75 RT) for the 45-minute trip to Warnemünde (the 20-minute train ride is about $5 RT).
The boat follows the river to its wide mouth at the Baltic where Scandline ferries bound for Copenhagen and Helsinki dwarf yachts and fishing boats. At the pier, the liner Crown Princess looms over the town, having discharged its 1,600 passengers, most of whom will simply board buses for a day-trip to Berlin.
All along the short walk from the pier over the Alter Strom to the town center, fishermen sell a variety of seafood from large metal smokers.
Past the footbridge, most tourists turn right to the shops and the beach. To the left are narrow alleys lined with centuries-old gabled fishermen's houses. These quiet inner streets seem little changed from earlier times. No glitz here, just genuine charm.
On the bridge's right are boutiques, cafés and galleries facing a channel lined with boats converted to takeout restaurants that sell everything fish: herring, salmon, squid, pickled fish, smoked fish, fish sandwiches, fish-kabobs, and fish cakes.
Nearby, the 92-foot-high Warnemünde Lighthouse has spread its protective beacon since 1897. For about $1.50 it offers excellent views of the sea, harbor and town. Past the lighthouse, the Westmole, a walkable 1600-foot breakwater, provides the best vantage point for watching ships heading to sea.
For many, the wide beaches are the prime attraction. Some sections are marked "FKK," literally Freie Körperkultur or "free body culture" (nude). Others are Textil. Some are o.k. for pets or wheelchairs and some are set aside for sports like windsurfing, parasailing and sea-kayaking. General rule: if there's no sign, the default designation is "nude."