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."
Beach Resort Towns
Just west of Warnemünde, lie the beach resort towns of Heiligendamm and Kühlungsborn. With the charming town of Bad Doberan, they are worth a day-trip or more.
Kühlungsborn became a major seaside resort more than 100 years ago and today only a strip of trees separates a mile-long stretch of elegant hotels from its beach.
From early morning, when the promenade is empty except for a few early-risers, the seaside is a magnet for hotel guests. Some reserve large wicker Standkörber; semi-enclosed chairs that shield wind and sun.
If these beaches are too crowded (unlikely), consider a 20-minute ride east on the narrow-gauge railway "Molli" ($6 RT) to Heiligendamm, Germany's first seaside resort.
If Kühlungsborn is a resort reborn, Heiligendamm, part of a $425 million restoration project, is early in its gestation period. Building exteriors remain much as they were 100 years ago and visitors come not to swim but to explore what has become a massive open-air museum.
In 1793, Duke Friedrich Franz I chose the site for its "healing powers" and spa facilities. Swimming pools, ballrooms and a casino were built, and by the early 1900s, Heiligendamm was well established as the elegant summer retreat.
But during WW II the buildings became hospitals and clinics and later, under communist rule, apartments. Today, restoration is in full swing and Heiligendamm will soon be a 21st-century resort with grand hotels, shops, condos and golf courses.
About an hour northeast of Rostock, the Fischland-Darss-Zingst peninsula is home to busy farming communities and fishing villages as well as a rich variety of salt marshes, lagoons, chalk cliffs, and forests.
Much of the area falls under the protection of the Nationalpark Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft, which contains a 50-kilometer/33-mile network of cycle and footpaths, one of whose primary destinations is the 107-foot-high Darsser Ort Lighthouse. (The lighthouse can also be reached via horse-drawn carriages from several nearby villages.)
The region's endless beaches have long attracted tourists, but unlike Warnemünde, there are few hotels and little commercialism.
Most villages have changed little since 1900. Ahrenshoop, for example, has inspired countless painters, sculptors and writers for nearly a century. Today, they live in well-tended homes, often opening their studios to passersby.
Though weekend tourism is comparatively light, weekdays offer an even greater sense of "getting away from it all." Avoid leaving on Sundays, when traffic backs up for hours.
Guests here are likely to hear English spoken with an accent - a Boston accent. Owner Albrecht Kurbjuhn spent five years outside Boston, where his father served as a German diplomat. When the East opened, Kurbjuhn and wife Dagmar began to explore their expanded country. In Kühlungsborn, they were "flabbergasted" at how much the Baltic beaches and waters resemble the Mediterranean, especially Cyprus.
Amid the many empty structures, they saw one "crying to be restored" and in 1993 opened their 24-room hotel.
While Polar-Stern's three-story exterior is stark white with blue trim, inside all is light, airy and painted in pastel colors. Antiques and decorative woodwork evoke the early 1900s.
Rooms are small but not cramped and offer basic necessities: shower, phone, satellite TV, desk and comfortable bed. On drizzly days, guests can choose the clubroom to read or play board games.
A wooded "buffer zone" blocks the hotel's beach view, so there's no need to spend extra on a "seaside" room. Do, however, ask for one with a balcony—a private sunning spot with sea breeze.
There are two restaurants: the Steak-Bistro-Blow opens to a sidewalk terrace and the Grillarium, an open-air pavilion, overlooks a small beer garden. While the Bistro offers more high-end fare, the Grillarium, with its crackling fire to stave off the evening chill, specializes in ribs, chicken, pork hocks and other grilled specialities (probably reminiscent of backyard barbecues in Boston).
Guests feel part of the Kurbjuhn's extended family and service staff is especially cordial and attentive.
Daily Rates: Singles €50-65; doubles €65-95. Free parking, difficult access for disabled guests
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value: 16/20
This upscale property, which opened last June, is at the eastern end of the promenade, only steps from the beach.
Though the Jugendstil exterior blends nicely with the area's traditional architecture, some find the five-story, 100-room hotel out-of-scale and too near the beach. But guests whose rooms and balconies have dune, beach, and pier views, are unlikely to agree.
The Ostseehotel is elegant and sprawling. Its expansive, glass-domed lobby has a wall of windows that overlooks the sea. Guestrooms are spacious and, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, feel even larger. Though furnishings and layout are different for each room, all follow a maritime theme.
There are indoor-outdoor pools, a variety of saunas, steam baths, rain forest showers, and relaxation grottoes, and a full range of treatments including massage, Shiatsu, Reiki and baths in mud (choice of Dead Sea or moor) or goat's milk.
Visitors seeking charm and a family atmosphere should try smaller properties like the Hotel Polar-Stern.
Daily Rates: Singles €90-193; doubles €125-218. Handicapped accessible; special rooms for guests with allergies.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value: 14/20
The 117-room Strandhotel Fischland stands alone between dunes and nature preserve. No village, no main road, just a quiet retreat on the Baltic. Park your car and forget it: meals, saunas, massage, beauty treatments, fitness classes, tennis, windsurfing, sailing all are available on the property. One nice touch is a sauna in the dunes; get thoroughly heated and then run 100 feet for a Baltic plunge. With its many activities and a beach that runs unobstructed for miles, the hotel never seems crowded.
Built in 1968 as a "guesthouse" for political leaders, it was renovated in 1995 as a hotel. To stay in the suite favored by East Germany's last president, ask for Number 300. It offers stunning sea views from the sitting room and all three bedrooms. Guests unwilling to part with $400-plus per night (or unwilling to split the cost among two or three compatible couples) can have a well-outfitted double with sea view and balcony for a third the price. Guestrooms are spacious and feel even larger due to full-wall picture windows. About half are in adjacent townhouse apartments.
In addition to the main restaurant (including a terrace with retractable roof), guests can dine beachside. Five tables with starched linens sit atop a wooden platform behind Plexiglas walls that offer protection from the almost constant wind. This is no snack bar; it's gourmet dining with postcard views. There's also a tropically-themed (think Gilligan) grill area, where roasted whole pig is a speciality.
Daily Rates: Doubles €100-205; suites €245-470 townhouses €170-310. Breakfast an extra €13 for townhouse guests. Free parking. Rates about 20 % lower through the end of June and after mid-September.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value: 13/20
This Warnemünde hotel presents captivating views of the beach, the breakwater and the old lighthouse and is adjacent to both the promenade and the old town.
The Hübner's 95 guestrooms are spacious, modern and cheery, many with balconies. For the best sea views, choose an outside room facing west or north. For example, Number 311, a standard double, offers Baltic views that follow the beach to both horizons. Number 407, a junior suite, is a step up in comfort and size - including a balcony that rivals the dimensions of many hotel rooms.
The hotel's rooftop wellness area sits in a glass grotto under an expansive glass cupola. A deck surrounds the area, its panoramic views and lounge chairs giving the sense of being on an ocean liner. Even the sauna provides a view to the sea.
Daily Rates: Doubles €160-205, suites from €320. Handicapped accessible.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value: 14/20
A small, budget hotel whose relatively low prices attract a mix of business travelers and "older" backpackers requiring secure, clean surroundings. The rooms are generally "cozy" but offer modern comforts such as color TV, minibar, direct-dial phone, Internet connection, writing desk and shower instead of tub.
The Verdi is next to the Petrikirche, convenient to harbor and city center but winding stairs make access difficult, especially with heavy luggage. Ask for a room off the street.
Contact: Hotel Verdi Wollenweberstrasse 28, D-18005 Rostock, telephone +49/0381/252 24 0, fax 252 24 29
Daily Rates: Singles from €52, doubles from €74. No credit cards.
Rating: Quality 10/20, Value: 14/20
On Rostock's Neuer Markt, Hotel Sonne is smack in the middle of the action and has been for more than 200 years. As early as 1824, newspapers raved about "this impressive inn" with its "elegance," "durability" and "spacious cowshed." The cowsheds are gone but the Sonne remains as impressive and elegant as ever.
The 124 rooms, which range in size from large to huge, offer specially-designed, modern furnishings and the most modern of conveniences, from high-speed Internet access to cordless phones. Some are nonsmoking and several are equipped for guests with disabilities. The wellness area features sauna, solarium and steam bath, as well as massage and beauty treatments.
The Reuter's Restaurant is recognized as one of the best in the region, with typical Mecklenburg cuisine and a 28-year-old wunderkind chef. The hotel's Havana Bar is for cigar aficionados and the Alte Apotheke is a quaint wine bar and pub.
Daily Rates: Singles about €100-140, doubles about €115-161
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value: 15/20
The Neptun has few challengers as one of the most luxurious, cosmopolitan hotels in Germany. Built in 1971 as a communist showpiece, it was once a reward and refuge for politicians, military leaders and other bigwigs. (How many hotels feature photos of Fidel Castro as a prominent guest?) Today, after a nearly $3 million renovation, the Neptun carries on its tradition of luxury - open to anyone with cash, rather than connections.
The hotel was built at an angle to the shore, so that each room has a sea view. Some corner "panorama" rooms offer nearly 180-degree views, and some luxury suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows. Guests can choose from a variety of motifs, such as "gull rooms" with a slightly masculine feel, or "rose rooms" that appeal mostly to women.
A pair of restaurants—Kranich Fish and Seafood Restaurant and Restaurant Koralle—are exquisite in both cuisine and service. The 19th floor Café Panorama is Germany's highest café and its Sky-Bar the loftiest bar. On summer nights, the hotel roof is opened for starlit dancing.
Extensive spa and fitness facilities offer a wide array of services.
Daily Rates: Singles €100-132, doubles €136-268, panorama doubles from about €246, suites from €276. Many packages are available that reduce daily rates
Rating:Quality 18/20, Value: 17/20
Though open only since July, the Blue Marlin's extensive seafood menu (except for kangaroo steak), upscale feel, and superb cuisine, have already built a solid clientèle.
The second-floor location is modern, airy and decorated with watercolor scenes of beaches, lighthouses and sailboats. Even a party of two gets a solid-wood table for six; a good thing, as plates and servings are very large.
The menu is a lesson in ichthyology. There's an illustration for each fish species with description, habitat information and a listing of related species. All are prepared creatively. Delicious, pan-fried flounder, for example, is served whole (minus head) with a light sweet and sour sauce flavored with onions and bacon. Trout comes with horseradish cream sauce, and Zander filet is baked with a topping of crab meat, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. A party of two can eat well for €50-60, not including beverages.
Contact: Blue Marlin, Lange Str. 9, D-18055, Rostock, telephone +49/0381/4443231.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value: 13/20
For more than a century, hungry sailors have been mooring their boats in front of what is now the Kettenkasten. Built in 1888 as a shop, it wasn't until a century later that it became a restaurant. A maritime theme features intricate model ships, antique maps, and oil paintings of ocean-going sailing vessels.
Among the better dishes are roasted Baltic herring wrapped in bacon, grilled salmon steak with caviar sauce, smoked salmon with peppercorns and horseradish, and a hearty fish soup. Another house speciality is Mecklenburger Rippenbraten, beef roulade filled with raisins, plums and apples, and served with red cabbage and boiled potatoes.
Dinner for two costs from €42 to 70, without beverages.
Contact: Restaurant Kettenkasten, Am Strom 71, D-18119 Rostock-Warnemünde, telephone +49/0381/512 48.
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value: 15/20
From 1866 to 1920, the windmill sails at Meyers Mühle whirled in the Baltic breezes, forcing power through drive shafts and gears to the stones that ground the grain. When first built, the windmill, which was one of hundreds that lined the Baltic (most were dismantled for firewood during World War II), was in a field. Today, shielded from the wind by villas, homes and hotels, the sails are quiet, but the beams and millworks, along with paintings and old photographs, remind guests of a former time.
Service is casual and cordial at the eight tables. Large candles cast a soft light on a peaceful, rustic setting. Food is plentiful and good with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. The Greek salad (a non-regional exception) was enormous, served with a variety of lettuces plus watercress, tomato and radishes, topped with turkey, feta cheese, sliced green olives, and drizzled with a cucumber-garlic yogurt sauce. Bread came straight from the oven with green, yellow and red pepper slices baked in - perfect for absorbing the last of a stew of fresh fish chunks and sliced vegetables in a light tomato broth. The Schweinshaxe (roasted pork hock) nearly filled the plate, slow-roasted to perfect tenderness and served with potatoes and a horseradish wine sauce.
A couple could work hard to spend €60, without beverages, but a slow walk the length of the entire promenade would be required as digestif.
Contact: Meyers Mühle, Mühlenstr. 44, D-18119 Rostock-Warnemünde, telephone +49/ 381 5 42 50.
Rating: Quality 16/20, Value: 17/20
Prices current 2006