When I told friends and family that we planned to relax for a spell on some of Germany’s beaches, the responses ranged from “Why?” to “Germany has a coast?” It seemed that the part of Germany just below Denmark, with coasts along both the North and Baltic seas, was terra incognita.
This region was once Viking territory, as evidenced by the extensive ruins of the large Nordic port of Hedeby, near Schleswig, and in medieval times, it was the heart of the Hanseatic League. Emperor Charles IV named the Baltic port of Lübeck one of the five glories of the Holy Roman Empire, along with Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome. In the 19th century, northern European nobility relaxed by the sea at resort towns such as Heiligendamm and Travemünde, building grand villas, hotels and casinos. In recent years, the coast has become something of a gourmet destination as well, earning quite a few Michelin stars. Germans flock there in the summer. But for an American traveler, could a Baltic resort possibly be worthwhile? I can’t deny that I felt skeptical.
It did not take long, however, for me to fall in love with this relatively unknown stretch of Germany. Lübeck emerged from World War II far more intact than Hamburg, and it remains one of Europe’s most impressive and extensive medieval cities. Old farms form a softly beautiful patchwork in the unspoiled countryside, and the beaches look transplanted from the 19th century. The most easily accessible stretches of sand are dotted with that charming German invention, the Strandkorb (“beach basket”), a hooded chair for two originally made from wicker, with cushions, pullout ottomans and folding shelves to hold drinks, among other features. Few beaches anywhere in the world look more civilized. And the fresh seafood, notably the turbot and the tiny sweet shrimp, is an unfailing delight.