As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m going to give you the highlights of some of the other cities I visit in Germany, as the official unplanned Glühwein portion of the trip is over (although much of the next few weeks remains unplanned and there’s a very good chance there will some more Glühwein drunk. . . drank? Drunken? Um, consumed). A note that one friend and one relative have brought up their concern due to my commentary about the various Glühwein’s I’ve tasted. I assure you (and them) that I have only tasted one or two glasses at a time and continue to believe in moderation, even when it comes to Glühwein.
So here’s how things are going down in the lovely town of Rostock:
Today I move to my new hotel, the Hotel GreifenNest. It’s not quite in the market square, as the previous one was, but it has many benefits. First, I only need to walk across a park, past the old city wall and turn right and I’m in downtown (about 6 minutes). Second, it’s closer to the main train station. Third, it’s less expensive. Fourth, the room is much nicer. And finally, when I sent them E-mails with questions prior to my arrival, they answered them quickly and really nicely.
When I arrive, I’m welcomed as if I’ve come home. They give me the lowdown on how the place works, when breakfast is (at €7.00 it truly is a bargain with hot and cold items). The owners Heike and Dirk are here and they’re just about as fascinating as this town. They love to travel, particularly in South America, and the place is decorated uniquely to celebrate their travels and their personalities. There are also interesting, quirky decorations like a giant backpack hanging off the side of the building that could either hide a human body or double as an extra room should the hotel fill up. (I like Heike and Dirk even more when I later find out that, in the 90’s, they, like me, sold everything and chose to travel and learn more about the world for a while. They’ve given me valuable tips of visiting Myanmar).
Kai, the man working at the front desk has asked, “you’re going to Warnemünde tonight?”
“Um, what?” I answer impressively.
“The concert, are you going?” he asks.
“Uh, I don’t know. What is this Warnemünde?” He must not know about my lack of planning.
Kai proceeds to tell me about the big concert tonight in the seaside area of Rostock called Warnemünde. Hhmmm, this is also the benefit of not planning as, well, I’m available to check out the concert as I have no other plans. Kai tells me how to get to the train station and which train to take.
I check into my room, unpack (I unpack for any stay more than two days as I hate the disorganization of living out of a suitcase) and run out to catch a bite. When I return, I freshen up and change my clothes. What to wear? I have no idea if this concert is Mozart or Mick Jagger. I put on a nice pair of jeans and opt for hiking boots hidden underneath as I’m not sure how much walking or standing there will be and the high-heeled boots, while very cute, are too much of a risk.
I head over to the train station which, I’m told is about a ten-minute walk away yet, due to my fabulous sense of direction, I succeed in making it a thirty-minute walk. As I’ve been told, there seem to be trains to Warnemünde every ten-minutes. A nice man standing near the machine helps me to buy a roundtrip train ticket, I head down to platform 2 and, before long, am heading to the mystery concert.
Twenty-minutes later, I get off the train, along with hundreds of others. No need to ask where to go as I simply follow the thousands of people walking along the canal which is lined with restaurants, shops, boats selling food, and bars. After ten minutes, my feet hit sand (so glad I didn’t wear the cute, high-heeled boots. I notice there are many children walking in the crowd or held high on their parents’ shoulders. I’m guessing Mick Jagger isn’t playing (though it’s never too early to introduce the kids to The Stones).
After a minute the crowd stops walking simply because we can fit no more. There seems to be a stage up front (people are facing in the direction and lights are coming from there, not to mention TV cameras on a roof pointing there from a roof across), but I can’t see what’s happening on it. Suddenly, the music from 2001 A Space Odyssey begins to play and tracking lights point at the lighthouse to my left. Fireworks begin to erupt. For thirty minutes there’s music and fireworks. It’s a great atmosphere with lots of families and friends celebrating the new year together. During the concert I decide that I can see the fireworks from pretty much anywhere in the town, so I head out of the main crowd to take a look around.
The square is beautiful with people lit-up, both by fireworks and Glühwein. I duck into a tent, grab a cup of my own and strategically take a seat next to an outdoor heater and a good-looking man. I ask him what this “concert” is all about. He tells me it’s called the “Leuchtturm in Flammen” (Lighthouse Ablaze) and it’s held every year on January 1st. He says that, yes indeed, there was a stage and the musical performances were live. I find this interesting as John Lennon performed Imagine and, last time I checked, he was not so much alive. I flirt with cute guy who seems more interested in texting on his phone. There’s more heat coming from the outdoor heater than from him.
When I go to board the train to return to downtown Rostock, police have blocked the street. Apparently 85,000 people are more than the trains could handle and they’ve broken down. As the announcements have been made in German, I’m grateful for the two English-speaking girls near me who translate them. After another ten-minutes, the trains begin running again and, while the platforms are incredibly crowded (it’s like Disney World after the fireworks) the crowd is well-behaved (this is Germany after all). They eventually bring in an extra-large train and after another half-hour, we’re on our way.
I decide to head back to Warnemünde another day, have a nice lunch (fish, of course), do some shopping (not buying, no room in the luggage or the bank account) and enjoy the sea air. It’s pissing down rain. . . well, not actually down; sideways is more like it. I see a tour boat about to leave and decide this is a nice, indoor way to learn more about this Hanseatic town. While the tour is conducted in German, the man at the bar (relax, I’m just having a hot chocolate) gives me an English guide of all the various sites along the way. For €10 this is well worth it to appreciate the current and former shipbuilding and marine related activity here. Oh, and it’s warm and they have hot cocoa, so there’s that.
When the tour ends, I step off and walk down towards the beach. It’s time for one of my travel rituals. Whenever I reach an ocean, sea or gulf, I make it a point to dip my feet in. I look out onto the crashing waves of the Baltic Sea and think, am I crazy? The air temperature is around two degrees Celsius and the sea temperature is, well, brrrr. I find a closed-for-winter beach bar and hide behind it while removing my shoes and socks. I bravely roll-up my pants, stand up and march towards the sea. My eyes are watering and my face is stinging from the freezing water pelting it. This feels to me like a test. If I can make it to the water and put my feet in, I can do anything, including completing this project and writing a book.
Mission complete, I brush the sand off my feet, happily put on my thermal socks, and head in to a warm pub for a cold beer.
When I return to downtown Rostock I have a quick cup of Glühwein (the Christmas market is still open for another few days) and a wonderful Italian meal at Vapiano, where I have a deep discussion with a young couple about living your dreams and doing what you’re passionate about. I seem to relate better to the younger German generation than the older one. In general, they’re much more open to new ideas and think of me as, dare I say, cool? The older ones tend to think of me as a silly American (keep in mind that Rostock was formerly East German).
If you go, be sure to walk through the historic streets of downtown Rostock, visit the Kröpelin Gate at the city gate as well as the Convent of the Holy Cross, do some shopping, stop by Neuer Markt Square, head over to Warnemünde, speak with the great people here and breathe it in. And if you happen to be here at the end of November through the beginning of January, you’ll find two Christmas markets – a traditional one and a medieval one – filling up the town center.