Sunshine island of the Baltic coast with some dark history
Sunseekers may not think about spending their holidays on the Baltic coast. However, the island Usedom, divided between Poland and Germany, may surprise every beach enthusiast.
Its shores get more than twice as much sunshine hours per year as the German average, and its wide sandy beaches provide enough opportunities for building a big sandcastle.
Kaiserbäder (Imperial Spas)
The history of tourism on the island dates back to the early 19th century when Ahlbeck officially became a Seebad (a seaside resort). Back then, beautiful wooden seaside villas sprung up to accommodate the island’s noble guests’ special needs.
Throughout the years, European royalty, including the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph relaxed on the island. The name Kaiserbäder (Imperial Spas) refers to several vacation stays of the German emperor Wilhelm II.
Today, the municipality Kaiserbäder consists of three seaside retreats, Heringsdorf, Ahlbeck, and Bansin, with their distinguished 19th-century resort architecture.
The historical wooden buildings sometimes mix with unappealing concrete structures inspired by Soviet architecture because the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with its island Usedom, had belonged to East Germany before the Iron Curtain fell. Together, they create a strange balance between beauty and ugliness.
An about 10 kilometers (6,2 miles) long freely accessible sandy beach connects the three resort towns. Stalls with local food & drinks take care of the beachgoers.
The beach life’s ultimate representation in the Baltic and the North Sea Region is the famous Strandkorb (beach basket). The optimized chair for chillier beach conditions protects its occupants from wind, sun, and sand dust. It can also adjust to the needs of your spine. During beach holidaying on the Baltic coast, renting a Strandkorb is a must.
Tip: You can rent a Strandkorb in one of the beach stalls, located on the beach about every 200 meters (600 feet). As of 2020, the fee varies depending on the size from 12-16 € per day. Renting on a weekly basis is also possible. The Starndkorb comes with a lock to keep your beach staff securely stowed during the night.
The Baltic Sea is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean with minimal water exchange. Its coast is shallow, and there’s almost no tide. The water temperature reaches 20°C (68°F) in the summer months. We found late June to be an excellent time of the year for a visit. The sun sets around 9:45 pm, and the dusk lasts until 11 pm, so you can enjoy endless summer evenings at the beach. Don’t forget to wear a windbreaker jacket for a long sunset watch, though.
Tip: Avoid school holidays in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and the neighboring states to dodge crowds on the beach. You can find a calendar with upcoming school holidays in German federal states here: https://www.schulferien.org.
If you don’t want to spend the whole day just lying in the Strankorb, you can take a long beach walk. With open European borders, you can cross to the Polish side of the island. From Heringsdorf, it takes about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) to reach the edge of the port town Świnoujście in Poland.
The whole interregional borderless promenade is 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long. There’s also a bicycle track that connects the two countries. While enjoying the beach walk, be sure to pass by the Ahlbeck Pier – the oldest pier in Germany.
Good to know: If you like good food on your travels, we recommend booking a table for dinner. Especially during the school holidays, restaurants fill up. Our culinary highlight on Usedom was the Lutter & Wagner restaurant in Heringsdorf. The restaurant offers seasonal specialties with a great selection of wines in an Italian trattoria-style atmosphere.
With the picturesque scenery and the peaceful atmosphere of the nowadays two-state island, it’s hard to believe that Usedom played a curtail part in Europe’s darkest moments.
During the Nazi regime, the municipality Peenemünde on the island’s western edge was home to the biggest rocket science research center in Europe. The leading engineer Wernher von Braun and his team developed the world’s first cruise missile and the first large-scale rockets there. During WW2, these rockets known as Vergeltungswaffen, V-weapons, terrorized and killed thousands of civilians in Europe. Forced laborers in miserable conditions had no choice but to work on the development site.
Today, the place of the former science center houses the Peenemünde Historical Technical Museum. Its detailed exhibition explains the technical development of the rockets. It also documents the lives of people involved in the weaponry projects from the leading engineers in the service of the Nazi regime, many of whom began a new life in the United States after WW2, to the forced laborers, many of whom remained nameless to this day.
Traveling during the ‘new normal era’: Due to COVID-19 pandemic, research opening times and ticket availabilities before visiting. Each federal state of Germany has its own pandemics restrictions. Look them up in advance to avoid unnecessary surprises. You can find detailed information on the website of the health authority of the State of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania here. A mouth and nose cover is necessary inside shops, museums, and restaurants (except when seated at a table). If unsure, contact your booked restaurant or accommodation.