more articles like this
updated: Jan 28, 2012, 10:00 AM
Rügen, pronounced ROO-gin, was not a place we'd ever thought of, but it turned
out to be one of our all-time favorites. It's a large Baltic Sea island about
100 miles due north of Berlin, almost connected to Germany proper. We had just
enjoyed a lengthy visit to Prague, in then-Czechoslovakia, and were able to take
advantage of the fact that the Berlin Wall had come down in November of 1989,
and Germany was free and open, after 28 years of sullen communist silence.
We'd heard from friends in West Germany that Rügen had retained its Germanic
charm and it sounded like a good place to camp. Indeed it was.
When I signed the guest register at Campingplatz Baabe auf Rügen, the young
woman in charge gasped and put her hand to her mouth in surprise. If she saw our
car drive up to her building she would have thought we were West Germans from
Munich, which the rental car license said. Then she smiled broadly and said,
"You are only the second Americans I have ever seen!" We'd had this kind of
reaction before when stopping for food and lodging in East Germany, and it was
kind of heart-warming. Smiling throughout, she gave us directions to our
The good vibrations were to continue. The campsite, amid high-rising, pine-
covered dunes, was shady and restful. Other campers went out of their way to
stroll by, slowing down and frowning: Who were these strangers who spoke English
and drove a shiny sports car from Munich (It had the big M for München on its
license plates). A couple of kids were laughing and pointing at the car. We
waved. They waved back, but didn't say anything.
Finally, as we sat resting and enjoying some good German beer, an elderly man
stopped by, smiled and said, "So, Sie kommen aus München!"
"Nein," I replied. "Aus Amerika."
"Ach so!" He smiled in surprise and we enjoyed exchanging bits of language for a
while, like: Where had we been? (All around Germany), Where we we going next?
(Denmark), and How did we like East Germany? (Very interesting, very nice place.
Folks trickled by, walking slowly I think to listen to our English. Word that
some Amerikaners were there had spread, evidently. Folks were friendly, in what
we call the Camaraderie of the Trail, and eager to get our opinion of their
place. They were somewhat apologetic about the generally run-down condition of
things (true throughout East Germany, we had noticed). It was one of the few
times in my life when my opinion seemed to matter.
We talked about friendship between the countries now that Stalin was gone. Hands
across the sea, that sort of thing.
Even at mid-summer, it was very hot for this far north, and the next afternoon
we cooled off with a swim in the Baltic. ("Baltic"! I enjoy dropping names like
that.) There were some very well-sculpted, nude Germans going in and out of the
water while we sunbathed, and it was easy to smile back, staring only
discreetly, and wave as they passed. In case beachgoers needed a break from the
sun, camp authorities had placed a number of small shady shelters all along the
long beach. They were like big clam shells, and their shade was most welcome.
Lots of happy campers there at Rügen. The owners even threw in a live music
program. Accompanied by an accordionist, a large older man belted - bellowed,
but nicely bellowed - his bass version of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." He
sang IS over the ocean, but no matter. A group sang other songs from the near
past, and we got to hear Kingston Trio favorites, Germany-style. Really fun, the
audience very appreciative. Great Amerikan music! The Osties (Easties) were
enjoying catching up.
We had camped near a campground owner's house one night, and he loved playing
the piano and singing, with his daughter and us, such very old favorites as "Oh!
Susanna" and "Oh My Darling, Clementine." Turned out he had one nearly worn-out
book of American folk songs. That was all, and it was very important to him and
his family. Once again we marveled at how the Communists had slammed the door
shut all the way around their empire, and kept it shut for years.
It was about time to move on (to Denmark) and we said so to a trio of young
German men we had joined in drinking beer at a picnic table after dinner. A few
good Deutscher biers to celebrate a good trip. Hans, the tall, smart youth who
headed this drinking team, philosophized in very good English about Germany's
future without war mongering, and time has proved him right.
Then about 9 p.m. he saw that the drunkest of the three was out cold, although
it was still bright enough to read in the long northern twilight. Hans noticed
the guy's forehead was flat on the table and he was completely gonzo. "Time to
go," he sighed, and he and his pal stood the third one up like a wobbly, poorly
made store dummy.
Hans was pretty far gone himself, but he shook hands vigorously and said that
"We're all in this thing together, and we'll get along now." So far he was right
about that too, it appears.
Then after all the un-Nazi talk and Hooray for the West, Land of the Free, etc.,
he led the others in singing a literally misty-eyed stand-up rendition, a
cappella, of "Deutschland, Deutschland, Über Alles."
German pride. There was no shortage of it, even in the downtrodden East.
# # #
These are the northern cliffs of Germany's Rügen Island, where it takes a
hammering from the Baltic Sea.
Send this picture as a postcard
# # # #
6 comments on this article. Read/Add
# # # #