Friday, 2 May 2014

A question of Schleswig-Holstein

Strandkorb at Travemünde, soft pastel on A4
For a long time, the plan for a spring escape had involved a jaunt to Stratford for a dose of The Bard. But with nothing booked and tempus fugiting, realisation dawned that the Warwickshire town, no matter how delightful, is always absolutely rammed with coach loads of camera-toting tourists.

And crowds are not what the doctor would order, were the doctor peering over the top of spectacles and penning a prescription.

With the question being one of where one could get away from, if not all, but a fair bit of it, the solution arrived with the sort of inspirational flash worthy of a cartoon lightbulb overhead: why not head to Travemünde?

Planning has been minimal, and bookings were only completed last weekend, but the hours are ticking down to departure. 

And so we head to Schleswig-Holstein. The Other Half has been getting excited about this on the grounds that he knows of its place in history.

I’m not going to get into the matter of whether he is only the fourth person to understand it after a Prince Consort who’d died, a German professor who’d gone mad and twice-prime minister of Britain, Lord Palmerston, who famously claimed to have understood it but then forgotten.

Having reached a point of climbing up metaphorical walls, the central requirements have become peace and quiet – and clean air. And the promise is good.

Schleswig-Holstein is the most northern of Germany’s 16 Länder or states, with a population (including the city of Kiel)  of 2,806,531, giving a density of 460 per square mile.
The old port town of Travemünde is included in the borough of Lübeck, thus being part of an overall population figure of 211,713 – or 2,600 per square mile.

Compare that with London’s 13,690 per square mile, and it’s entirely reasonable to expect that it will be a great deal quieter – even to the point of being able to hear oneself think!

I visited just over a year ago during my brief sojourn to Lübeck itself. On what was, in effect, the first truly good day of the year after that dismally long winter, I stepped out of sandals and onto gloriously soft and clean sand.

It was quiet that day – just a few people around – and since it’s not much later in the season, I hope it will be very little busier. Certainly, we had no trouble booking, even at such a late stage.

So, with a few hours remaining before we board the train for Paris and then the sleeper to Hamburg, it’s worth mulling the area a little.

Travemünde itself sits at the mouth of the Trave, overlooking Lübeck Bay.

Originally built as a fortress by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, in the 12th century, it was later strengthened by the Danes, became a town in 1317 and passed into possession of the free city of Lübeck itself in 1329.

None of the old fortifications remain, having been demolished in 1807, juts a few years after it started to become known as a seaside resort.

Sand model of the Holstentor, one of the gates of old Lübeck
It remains a resort, but not to quite the fashionable extent of the beginning of the 20th century, when even the likes of the Kaiser visited. It is, however, Germany’s largest Baltic ferry port, boasts the oldest lighthouse on the German Baltic coast, dating from 1539, and hosts the annual Travemünder Woche of sailing races plus Sand World, with displays of sand sculpture.

Oh yes, there will be history involved in this little jaunt.

On a possibly historical but certainly amusing note, the Schleswig-Holstein coat of arms features two lions looking at a thistle.

The story goes that it was originally designed to have the lions facing the other way, but Otto von Bismarck suggested it be changed because the thistles would make those leonine bums rather uncomfortable.

It’s the sort of story that you deeply wish is true.

But setting that aside, walks along the Baltic sea shore are calling, while there is a fairly sizable-looking park not far from the hotel too.

And then there’s the food: if it’s anything like the simple but squeakily fresh sole, topped with the shrimp garnish so beloved of the region, that I enjoyed on that fleeting visit to Travemünde last year – the first al fresco dining experience of the year – it will be very welcome indeed.

Mind, since we booked, I’ve been thinking of German breakfasts and, most particularly, nearly dreaming of the herring.

The books are backed – a Thames Hudson volume on Matisse, Joanne Harriss Blackberry Wine and The Rat, by Günter Grass, which I have already started.

And for the first time on such a trip, theres also a a box of soft pastels, an A4 pad, an A5 sketch book, a pack of pens and another pencils, sharpener and rubbers.

So, Schleswig-Holstein wir kommen!

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