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Sunday, June 21, 2009, in Stralsund, Germany

Hi all. We’re at the eastern end of Germany’s coast, awaiting the arrival of our crew Dave and Patti on Monday. Last week, we had left Wismar for Warnemünde.

We left early in the day so that we weren’t forced to motor if the winds were low, and the winds were indeed low. We managed to sail for most of the day, and arrived at Warnemünde in mid-afternoon. Our choices were the town dock, with great city access and few services, or a new, 750-boat marina which was less convenient to town but would let us do laundry. Laundry won.

The Yachthafen Hohe Düne is a resort complex that is simply huge all around: huge marina, huge five-star hotel, conference center on the grounds.

Art called the harbormaster and was instructed to tie up on dock H, which we did. Most docks only had a few boats on them. I didn’t know how long this complex had been open, but it was clear that the completion of this large investment had probably coincided with the collapse of global wealth.

Our walk to the harbormaster took us by a spa and through the main, wood-paneled lobby of the hotel. Half a dozen shops flanking the reception area sold high-end clothes, spa products, and various luxuries. It wasn’t very different from the Boca Hotel Resort complex. And not that long ago, this was East Germany.

The harbormaster suggested that we move to a different dock, which we appreciated – the transient dock where we were, at the end of the marina, was nearly as far away as we could be from the harbor office. The staff took care of us in a five-star sort of way, showing us how to use the electronic access card, showing us the amenities that would be available to us, piling brochures for the resort and information about the town into our hands.

Sometimes you just have to devote a day to managing your life, and this was one of those days. We took the laundry up to the harbor office, a five-minute walk even from our closer dockage. We asked at our harbor concierge if someone could help us replace our shattered fenderboard that had given its life in the Wismar harbor. Laundry kept us from leaving the premises. An appointment to meet the man who could make a new fender board became a wait for that man to deliver the new board. It just became impossible to leave the grounds for most of the day.

So we set about to find a place to have lunch on the site. There were six restaurants advertised, and we looked at most of them. Luxury resorts are wonderful, but they never include luncheonettes. There’s no point having daily specials for meals when you’re serving a captive audience who’s willing to pay up to $1000 a night for the room. Who cares about saving $5 on lunch? Well, we do, and we ended up having sandwiches at the café on the grounds.

With an endless supply of money, a person could stay within the grounds of the complex for an entire holiday. But that would be a shame, because the actual town of Warnemünde, just across the river, is a holiday within a holiday. But first we had to get there.

Our membership in the elite resort of Hohe Düne entitled us to passage back and forth on the hourly ferry operated by the complex. We walked to the dock for the earliest ferry to town, at 10:30 in the morning. The ferry was a recycled steel vessel from, Art guessed, the 1930s, with gleaming varnish and a permeating aroma of diesel. We found seats for ourselves inside the cabin and gazed at the river for the ten-minute ride to town.

Warnemünde is a typical seaside town in many ways – a lovely beach and picturesque lighthouse, pastel-colored buildings and murals on the buildings, kiosks selling colorful junk and souvenirs, restaurants with most of their seating outdoors, and a large, very futuristic building of unspecified purpose called the Teapot. Except that it’s a trip back to the 1950’s. The futuristic Teapot might have been built to house the new prototype Buick at the 1956 World’s Fair. The pastel murals and signs look like the drawings on tins of Turkish taffy. But all of this nostalgia adds to its charm, and there’s nothing backwards about a walk down the pedestrian shopping street. In fact, we bought a PC keyboard we needed.

We visited the Evangelic-Lutheran church, originally from the 13th century, with a 1475 carved alter and 16th century carved pulpit and wood blocks marking family pews. These blocks, called “house marks” or “house brands” represented families that belonged to the church, and were set on the ends of pews to hold the family’s spot --- the Reformation equivalent of marking your peanut butter with a Sharpie to keep your roommates from eating it. Musicians – a violinist, a bass, and someone playing a small horizontal organ – were practicing for a concert that we wouldn’t be around to see.

Warnemünde is a popular port for Baltic cruises, and there was a ship in town while we were visiting. The streets were crowded and we noticed much more English in use than we’ve heard so far this season. We spent our time in town just wandering about, until it was time to take our courtesy ferry back to the marina.

Alas, the engine was, as the captain described it to us, kaput. I don’t know what the life expectancy should be for a ferry, but ours was an octogenarian. Luckily, a public car ferry that also took passengers across the river was a short walk away. We boarded just in time and walked over to the small enclosed seating area that reminded me of the viewing hall in a car wash. Except we and the cars were all sitting still, and the rest of the world was moving around us.

The place we were, Warnemünde, has become a suburb of the larger city nearby, Rostock. On a sunny and almost warm day that didn’t have enough wind to sail away, we decided to take the train in to Rostock.

From the Central Station, we walked along a boulevard towards the old center of town. It was a lovely day to be outdoors. The Steintor city gate was our entrance into town. Half a mile from the main square Neuer Markt, we heard angry voices from a microphone and crowds cheering. Inside the square, there were handmade signs, banners made from sheets, and some television coverage, with a high proportion of young people doing the protesting. We asked some passers-by what we were seeing, and we learned that the rally was a strike by high school students unhappy with class sizes and the quality of their education. How staying out of school improves education evaded me, but I remember my own college protests in springtime, complete with self-righteousness and a large dollop of suntan lotion.

This is another Hanseatic town, filled with 14th and 15th-century buildings and churches. To be accurate, it’s no longer filled with old buildings. In the twentieth century, Rostock’s economy was based on airplane manufacturing. The pioneering jet plane Heinkel He 178 made its test run in Rostock in 1939. This was enough reason for the Allies to bomb the city in 1942 and 1945, and large parts of it were destroyed. These were rebuilt when the city became an industrial center within the framework of the German Democratic Republic, an entity not well-known for its investment in appealing architecture.

For all that, there’s a good deal of charm in Rostock, where we had lunch overlooking a square filled with sun-worshiping picnickers. The square was anchored on one side by rebuilt, somewhat derivative Hanseatic merchant buildings, and on the other by the lovely main building of the University of Rostock, the oldest university in Northern Europe, founded in 1419. Five hundred years later this university gave an honorary doctorate, his first, to Albert Einstein, along with one to Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory,

We saw stately buildings that looked like adult versions of those we’d seen in Warnemünde, including the 1270 town hall, dominating the main square and painted boldly in the color of milk of magnesia. Much of the city appeared to be in redevelopment, with streets torn and scaffolding climbing up the sides of steeples. Our walk took us to the waterfront, which was billed by the town’s brochure as a cluster of restaurants, clubs, and shops, but was certainly still only a work in progress.

When we have crew arriving, we try to get to the harbor several days before the crew does. This gives us a chance to scope out the town, fill the pantry, and generally get ready for company. Though it would probably be fine to arrive one day before the crew, it isn’t uncommon for us to have two or three days in a port in advance of our visitors. So we left Warnemünde in preparation for Stralsund.

It was raining a bit when we left the dock and the skies opened up occasionally during the morning, while we stayed obliviously dry and warm under Karen’s cover. Strong winds came from behind us, twenty to twenty-five knots. This would have made for a terrible sail had they been anywhere but following us. Instead, we sailed by jib alone, and I’d look out once in a while to see one- to two-meter swells chasing our stern.

We stopped short of Stralsund, following a channel through very shallow waters, and anchored off the leeward side of land. The winds would have made docking more difficult than it needed to be, and I was looking forward to a quiet night at anchor. It would be our first for the season.

The place we dropped the anchor wasn’t designated as a proper anchorage on the charts. The shallow water meant that we couldn’t stop very close to land, which would have decreased the wind considerably. But Art assured me that the winds would die down in the evening, and they did. Across the way, hundreds of swans congregated in the shallows. This is the first season I’ve seen swans in such large numbers.

As it was our first anchoring in the season, we used the deck pump to wash off the muddy anchor when we left in the morning for the one-hour motor to Stralsund. Art was perplexed when the emergency bilge pump activated; that’s not really a sound you want to hear. He followed the leaks and determined that the problem was in the deck wash plumbing and that it was easy to fix.

We docked at the marina right in town and spent the remainder of the morning ironing out logistics: payment, getting power to the boat, setting up Internet service. We were able to walk into town by lunchtime.

Stralsund is a UNESCO-listed Hanseatic town, with lots of genuine medieval Gothic-brick buildings and replicas where time and war have taken their toll on the original structures. But the glued-together medieval town isn’t the only reason that Stralsund deserves more respect than it gets. It’s the birthplace of Carl Wilhelm Scheele, who discovered oxygen before Joseph Priestly published his own findings, and discovered molybdenum before it was isolated by Peter Jacob Hjelm and discovered chlorine before the queue-jumping Englishman Humphry Davy. Isaac Asimov calls Scheele “hard-luck Scheele” for his lack of fame. It’s the home district of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, topping the Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women in 2006, 2007, and 2008. When Merkel was a Cabinet minister, Helmut Kohl called her “das Mädchen” (the girl.) He’s probably over that now, though.

The large city wall was constructed after Stralsund’s jealous sibling Lübeck burnt down the town in 1249. Stralsund has been Swedish, Danish, German, and Prussian. There are several historic churches, including the large St. Mary’s Basilica, and St. Nicholai on Alter Markt, the old market square. On the other side of town is the Neuer Markt, or new market square.

We weren’t in any hurry to sightsee. Our arrival on Friday gave us several days before Dave and Patti would arrive, and the weather forecast wasn’t optimistic for a Tuesday departure. This meant that we’d be sightseeing in town until the winds worked in our favor.

Instead, we busied ourselves getting the boat ready for company.

And that’s how it stands today. Our plan to leave on Tuesday for Latvia will probably be thwarted by the wrong kind of weather. So we don’t really know what’s next. Hope you all are having a lovely first day of summer. Summer – I forget what that feels like.

Love,

Karen (and Art)