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Binz – the seaside resort with flair!

January 19, 2017 Leave a comment

A fishing village which has turned into one of the most exclusive resorts for well-heeled Germans – and where Hitler had dreams of building the world’s largest beach resort – Binz might be famous in the German-speaking world, but this Baltic Sea gem is often overlooked by foreigners.

pier

View of Binz’s promenade from the 370-meter-long pier. Photo: Kurverwaltung Binz

If, like me, you land in Binz – on the island of Rügen – with absolutely no expectations (especially about the weather), you’re going to get a surprise – a very pleasant one. First of all, when you enter the town, you’ll fall in love with the delicate villas with their decorative gables, balconies and verandas, giving them a colonial-style flair. It makes you feel like you are somewhere more exotic than the Baltic Sea coast. Binz is a perfect example of German resort architecture (Bäderarchitektur) which is a mix of Art Nouveau and historicism styles. But, don’t be fooled, even though the buildings might look dainty, there is often a core of stone behind the wooden exterior.

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Exquisite villas and manicured gardens. Photo: Kurverwaltung Binz, Björn Hänssler

Then, there is the weather. For some strange reason, Binz actually has one of the lowest volumes of rainfall in Germany. Some say that it even gets the most hours of sunshine. I don’t know if this is true but my last two visits to Binz – in autumn and spring – were completely rain-free while it bucketed rain everywhere else in Germany.

The Prora – like it or loathe it
And, the third surprise is for history fanatics. Binz is home to the 4.5-kilometer Prora resort, set just 150 meters from the seafront. This massive building is a masterpiece of Third Reich architecture. Hitler had plans to make it into the largest beach resort in the world with over 20,000 beds, swimming pools, cinema, theater and a dock for passenger ships; in the event of a war, he planned to use it as a military hospital. However, his dreams never materialized and the building lay derelict for many years after the reunification of Germany.

Today, it’s slowly being redeveloped –it already houses a youth hostel and Documentation Center with plans to convert other parts of the building into apartments and hotels in the near future. But, for every person who is intrigued by this historic cement block, there’s another who hates it for its Nazi-past and some locals fear the development plans risk overcrowding the area with tourists.

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The 4.5-kilometer long Prora just 150 meters from the shore. Photo: Grabowski (www.luftbildruegen.de) 

Over 700 years of history
Binz has been through many ups and downs during the course of history. The fishing village was originally known as Byntze but, by the end of the 19th century, it had become an official bathing resort for the rich and famous. What made it distinctive was the absence of large hotels; instead visitors stayed in cozy family-run guesthouses. As road and rail connections improved – and word about the beauty of its white sandy beaches spread – Binz became more and more popular.

Sadly, the town suffered a setback when Eastern Germany – and the island of Rügen – fell under Communist rule. After 1953, all the privately owned guesthouses were taken over by the state and used for cheap holidays for trade union members. The Prora became a barracks for the Volkspolizei (People’s Police) and later the Nationale Volksarmee (National People’s Army). Fortunately, after the reunification of Germany, many of these villas were returned to their rightful owners and the town was restored to its former glory.

Strolling along the long promenade, admiring the quaint villas on one side and the white sandy beach on the other, or standing 370 meters out at sea on the pier watching the waves rolling in the moonlight, you cannot help but fall in love with Binz. It’s like a little bubble tucked away in its own world; a place of calm (except in July and August which is peak tourist season) where you can leave the rest of the world behind you.

Don’t miss …
If you manage to drag yourself away from the seafront, there are two other attractions well worth a visit. The first is the Jasmund National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site which is home to Germany’s white chalk cliffs, (Kreidefelsen in German) and frequently named one of the top sights in Germany. It’s best to see them sooner rather than later because experts warn that the cliffs are starting to erode due to heavy rainfall and strong storms during recent winters. These cliffs often feature in the works of German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, who spent a lot of time in the area in the early 19th century. The second is the Granite Hunting Lodge (Jagdschloss Granitz), built in the heyday of classicism with cast iron spiral staircase and a marble hall. There’s a great panoramic view of Rügen from its 144-meter high observation tower.

rugards

Rugard’s Gourmet restaurant: Fresh, local produce at its best.

Restaurant tip
It might not look like the most appealing restaurant in Binz from the outside (competition amongst the restaurants in Binz is tough), but the food at Rugard’s restaurants in the Rugard Strandhotel – and the view – is amazing. Not to mention the cake/dessert trolley, their fresh fish and impeccable service. Rugard’s Gourmet, Restaurant Bernstein and Rugard’s Terrace are three different restaurants but with equally delicious food, depending on your budget.

Read more about Binz

Categories: Germany

Berlin: the European chameleon

January 21, 2014 Leave a comment
The Berlin skyline from the InterContinental Hotel. Photo: Thomas Volz

The Berlin skyline from the InterContinental Hotel.

Berlin has something for everyone. From its sophisticated cocktail bars for the urban elite and edgy bohemian hangouts for artists to attractions for the young and old and everything in between, you’ll never get bored. Even if you’ve been there ten times, there’s always a new exhibition in town, a new museum or monument just opened, or scores of new trendy restaurants and bars to discover. The beauty of Berlin is that it’s still affordable compared to other European capitals like Paris or London.

I worked in Berlin in 2000 when the Potsdamer Platz was still a pile of rubble dotted with construction cranes and I have returned six times since then. Even though the general cityscape remains the same, I never tire of rediscovering the city. I’ve stayed in several hotels in different parts of the city, but my favorite is my ‘old home’ the InterContinental at the Tiergarten where I spent two months overlooking the zoo’s elephant house. It’s perfectly located in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from the Kurfürstendamm (aka Ku’damm) shopping street in a green belt (the Tiergarten) close to the embassy quarter and German Parliament (Reichstag). If your room is on one of the upper floors, you can see as far as the TV Tower at Alexander Platz and the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz. But, while the hotel still is as familiar as ever to me when I walk through the door, it’s good to see that time has not stood completely still – the rooms have been completely renovated as has the pool and top floor restaurant.

The "Party Mile" with the Brandenburg Gate in the background. Photo: Thomas Volz

The “Party Mile” with the Brandenburg Gate in the background.

Traces of Berlin’s military history still loom; this piece of equipment is filled with Gluhwein (hot mulled wine). /caption]

This time, I decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Berlin, under the Brandenburg Gate, along with over a million other visitors and locals. Berlin’s Street Party – held along a two-kilometer stretch from the Brandenburg Gate along the Strasse des 17. Juni to the Victory Column – is considered one of the largest New Year’s Eve Open Air events in the world. But Berlin being Berlin and embracing its love for everything that’s different, don’t expect a stiff organized German affair, it’s an international and relaxed affair. The “Party Mile” as it is called is lined with kiosks selling everything from local Berliner Currywursts (sausage with ketchup and curry powder) and beer to Glühwein. For every German sausage stand, there’s one selling Hungarian lángos, baked potatoes, vegetarian, crepes, Asian and even garlic (Knoblauch) specialities.

Once the bells have struck midnight, the skies over Berlin light up. Forget an organized to perfection firework display, it’s time for all the locals to let their crackers off too. For every perfect firework formation, there’ll be a splattering of adhoc crackers going off next to it. (This is the one time in the year when it’s possible to buy fireworks in the supermarkets and let them off in public places.) Tip: From the 12th or 14th floor of the InterContinental Hotel, you get a magnificent view of all the action.

[caption id="attachment_942" align="alignleft" width="297"] Multicultural Berlin is full of foreigners; it’s said to be home to the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey. caption]

This trip, I also decided to explore the Kreuzberg area, home to many of Berlin’s immigrants (the majority of which are Turkish). Formerly in West Berlin, Kreuzberg was once enclosed on three sides by the Berlin Wall. It’s always been a magnet for hippies, artists. Today it’s got more of an upmarket feel to it, but it still retains its hippy-ish roots with trendy restaurants and quirky cafes and boutiques. It’s also home to the former Templehof Airport which has now been converted into a park called the Templehofer Freiheit Park.

Wandering through the grounds of the former Templehof Airport, my mind drifts back to my first time I landed in Templehof, on a Brussels Airlines flight back in 2000, shortly before it closed. Not only did it feel like we were landing on the rooftops of the houses by the airport, the arrivals hall was more like a giant train station than an airport terminal. Then there was the single lane (not carousel) luggage belt and I can remember the struggle to lug my 30-kilo suitcase up a flight of concrete steps as there was no lift. Today, the former airport has been converted into a massive park for skateboarding, jogging, cycling and other outdoor activities. Aviation enthusiasts can still take a tour of the former airport which is steeped in history when the city was divided between East and West; the main building is considered one of the largest listed monuments in Europe. Like many of Berlin’s attractions, the airport park is achingly simple and completely unique.

Regardless of whatever’s new in Berlin, there are a few haunts that never change and are always worth going back to. I always make time for a browse around the KaDeWe, one of the largest and oldest department stores in the city, located on the retail paradise of the Ku’damm finishing off with a glass of Prosecco or coffee on its exclusive top-floor ‘food hall’.  And I never miss a lunch of grilled tiger prawns soaked in garlic at Sylt on the Ku’damm. And, nobody can leave Berlin without a Currywurst and glass of champagne from one of the street kiosks.

Sausage served street-style with a glass of champagne on the side. That pretty much sums up Berlin and the Berliners attitude to life: full of surprises and a laid-back coolness and individuality that you won’t find in many other European cities.

[caption id="attachment_943" align="aligncenter" width="595"] Berlin’s New Year’s Eve (Silvester) party is one of the world’s largest open air new year celebrations.

Soaking up the atmosphere and beer at Oktoberfest

October 31, 2011 1 comment

Tourists and locals alike are united by a love of beer!

Munich’s Oktoberfest is one of the biggest parties in the world and has spawned copycat events across the globe. Alannah Eames finds out why.

Every year, for three weeks, the German city of Munich casts off its conservative and polished image for the annual Oktoberfest.

The largest – and one of the oldest – beer festivals in the world turns the city into a chaotic multicultural melting pot of tourists and Germans alike, all united by a love of beer. Love it or loathe it, this world-famous beer festival is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Click here to read the article in The Sunday Times.

Heaven and Earth: Gliding and hiking in the Rhön – The Local

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The art of gliding.

The picturesque Rhön Mountain region is Germany’s mecca for gliders, but as Alannah Eames discovers, the surrounding UNESCO Biosphere Reserve offers plenty of great hiking and other activities.

Click on link to read the full article: Heaven and Earth: Gliding and hiking in the Rhön – The Local.

 

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