It was a moment last summer, when the calendar clicked over to 20 months since our last trip to the sea, that we finally snapped. We had stood on the Baltic shore in the December before the pandemic struck, and for more than fifteen years before that we had managed to make it north at least once every twelve months. Katrin spent the first eleven years of her life living close to the water. Paul had spent more than a year travelling back and forth to write a book about the coastline. We needed to go back. We had been away too long.
Which is how we found ourselves at 7am on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee above the platforms at Berlin’s Gesundbrunnen station, sharing the city streets with the keenest of joggers and the last of the stragglers from the night before. There was no time in our schedule for a longer trip, and at the height of the school holidays, accommodation up on the coast was unpayable. A day trip was the only option, and the chance to try for the first time the Deutsche Bahn’s new double-decker IC trains that run between Dresden and Warnemünde, the resort town just north of Rostock.
Our seats on the upper deck offered a fine view of the Berlin suburbs and the landscape of forests and lakes that separates the German capital from the Baltic Sea, and in just over two hours we saw the cranes of Rostock harbour and the first gulls flying alongside the train as we approached Warnemünde.
As a resort town, Warnemünde is centred on the area around the Alte Strom canal, with its line-up of restaurants, shops, bars and, of course, the stalls where you can get your classic Fischbrötchen – a bread roll stuffed with smoked or pickled fish, shrimps, eel or whatever else takes your fancy. From the station we followed the canal towards the sea wall, the famous old lighthouse, and the start of the beach, which stretches out for about three kilometres and is accessed from the promenade by a series of wooden walkways through the dunes.
We hadn’t been to Warnemünde in the height of the summer for a long time, and the resort was pretty busy, although the beach was big enough to absorb everyone and with a bit of a stroll away from the town centre we soon found a spot away from the crowds. And so, within a couple of hours of leaving from Berlin, we were braving the cold of the Baltic waters as the ferry from Sweden approached in the distance, and the morning class of the windsurfing school attempted to both stay upright and avoid any collisions with each other.
It would be great to report that we spent our day filled with activity, but sometimes the best thing about being outdoors is simply… being outdoors. After a stroll through the town and along the promenade we set up camp on the sands, reading our books between dips in the sea, attempting to find shade in behind one of those iconic wicker beach chairs you’ll find strewn across any German beach, and enjoyed the sensation of feeling a millions miles away from the city and the everyday life that we’d been a part of only that morning.
As the blue skies gave way to some ominous looking clouds in the late afternoon we made our way back to town, stopping for the obligatory Fischbrötchen along the way, and caught the train that would take us home to Berlin. We were drowsy in our seats after a day in the sunshine, and yet despite the early start and the travelling, it was the kind of tiredness you get when you feel like you’ve done something good for yourself, for your body and your soul. It is the tiredness that comes after a day outdoors, after a day of breathing in the Baltic air. The tiredness that comes from a fine day out at the seaside.
Photographs: Katrin Schönig
Words: Paul Scraton