Friday 27th April 2012, Plön, Schleswig Holstein
After exploring so many large cities – Brussels, Antwerp, Hannover and Lübeck, it has been a delight today to wake up with no fixed plans and to simply go with the flow. We are now well and truly up in the northwest corner of Germany surrounded by sky and water. So far we’ve not seen the sea but inland there are dozens of large and beautiful lakes fringed with sandy beaches and woodland, mainly silver birches and pines. Skies here are lovely with high, billowing clouds, or, more frequently, wisps and ripples scudding along with the breeze. When the rain is on the way we can see it coming, dark and menacing as it races towards us.
Today though has been so lovely we can believe summer is finally on its way. We ate breakfast outside Modestine, overlooking the lake and the tiny jetty, and browsed our maps and guide books deciding where to move on to. Later we took a deserted lakeside walk along to the nearby village of Buchholz. We encountered nobody either going or returning, nor around the picturesque hamlet of a couple of farms and a few brick-nogged cottages set in gardens of daffodils and vegetable plots. Beside the lake coots honked noisily amongst the reeds while pairs of crested grebes danced together on the water. We startled a heron which flapped off noisily and slowly while several ducks skidded in to land on the water. Beside the jetty a pair of geese gave their young chicks a lesson in how to swim. After the recent rain the sunshine had washed the countryside with colour. The green of the grass and the young leaves on the trees were luminously bright and the dandelions and marsh marigolds in the waterlogged birchwoods were a dazzling yellow.
We took the motorway around Lübeck, turning off shortly after onto the quiet country roads that wound their way across the peaceful landscape, passing through well kempt brick villages, timber farmsteads, fields of asparagus and meadows where cattle and sleek horses grazed. In the village of Pronstorf we stopped to investigate the church and find somewhere peaceful for our picnic lunch. It proved to be the perfect spot. In a quiet grassy corner beside the churchyard wall we set up our picnic table overlooking a distant lake. Around us the grass was mauve with violets and we lingered over our coffee gazing out across the idyllic scene before exploring the lovely 12th century church set in its manicured churchyard with carefully trimmed hedges surrounding each grave and pathways carefully raked. Two gardeners were working there as we visited.
It is thought that the village of Pronstorf is named after Pron, a god of the Wend peoples. A massive round holy stone can be seen in the churchyard, perhaps the object of pagan worship before the church was constructed. First mentioned in 1198 it was almost certainly constructed at the instigation of Vicelin, a missionary in the Wagrien area of eastern Holstein who founded many churches and became bishop of Oldenburg in 1149. The round tower built of rough stones is said to be typical of his style. Inside there are a number of charming features. The ceiling is painted with 28 Biblical scenes and is dated 1680, making it the oldest surviving painted wooden ceiling from the Baroque period in a Schleswig-Holstein village church – one of the most contorted superlatives we have come across in all our travels. The interior had a Rococo reworking in the mid-18th century including a pulpit by a woodworker from the neighbouring town of Eutin, J.G.Moser. There are also enclosed pews which, like the pulpit, are painted to imitate marble, and a hovering baptismal angel. Children recently baptised had their photographs pinned up beside the angel.
We continued to the small town of Eutin famed as the birthplace of the composer Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). Having spent so many hours listening as our daughter Kate repeatedly practiced one of his clarinet sonatas for her A level music exams we could not pass by without paying homage. We found his birth house easily enough. It’s now a coffee shop but was unfortunately closed. Many of his original scores are housed in the local museum but surprisingly we found no statue to him or anything more than a plaque marking his home. Nor did we find anything concerning Eutin’s links with the painter Johan Heinrich Willhelm Tischbein, a friend of Goethe who painted a famous portrait of him. He is certainly mentioned in our guidebook, some of his paintings are held in the town and there is a garden dedicated to him, but apart from a book in the local history library containing reproductions of many of his paintings, we found out nothing more.
Not that it mattered. Thanks to Weber and Tischbein we discovered a very pleasant little town, though it was rather an exaggeration for our guidebook to refer to it as a mini-Weimar! Like everywhere in this part of the world, the large church, the castle, the public buildings and the houses were all built in red brick. Timbering, shutters and elaborately carved and painted entrance doors ensured both interest and harmony of style.
We walked beside the lake along a splendid avenue of trees to the castle. Brick on the outside the courtyard had been rendered and colour-washed a pretty shade of peach. An exhibition in what was once the stable block displayed photos from the 1960s based on the work of Linda Macartney and included photos of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
A cafe in the lakeside gardens served us with coffee while Ian’s treat for today was a large wedge of delicious cheesecake – I can vouch for this because I helped him by removing a bit from the corner, though he ungraciously insists he could manage perfectly well without assistance! Germany is probably the only country where I really enjoy going for a coffee. They still serve it filtered rather than expresso, and the quantity and price are both realistic. The cakes really are delicious and again very reasonably priced so that it’s a shame as a visitor not to indulge.
It was time to find a campsite for the night. We found one just outside Plön which we will explore tomorrow. We are again camped on a lake, surrounded by pine forests. After supper we walked down to the water’s edge to watch the sunset reflected in the water. The castle at Plön looks most attractive across the lake.
This is the bank holiday weekend and there are more camper vans than usual on the roads. It’s really quite amusing to watch the fuss many drivers go to in order to get everything exactly right. Being German of course they always have to move their vehicles several times, fiddle for ages with their satellite dishes and complain to us that we’ve plugged our electricity into the wrong socket – even though we’d arrived ages before them, the sockets are not numbered and there are plenty of others available anyway. Because most of the German people we meet are really friendly, helpful and lovely we forget that from time to time there can be very pernickety ones as well who get incensed if things are not exactly as they should be. They are so very different from the French who rarely bother at all about conforming or obeying regulations.
Saturday 28th April 2012, Schleswig
Tonight we are camped on the shores of the Baltic with the wind howling in from the east. We are frrrrreeeeeezing! What a difference a day can make! All night it rained. This morning the campsite was full of squelchy puddles as we sploshed our way across to the shower block.
By 10am we were fighting a losing battle to keep our umbrellas up as we explored the back streets of Plön. We climbed up to the castle and looked back across the slate grey lake to the campsite on the further shore where last night we’d basked in the rosy glow of sunset. Out on the water were several tiny islets each covered in trees. They looked most odd, as if the clumps of trees were growing straight from the lake.
The late renaissance castle, built in the 1630s, was once the summer residence of the Danish Royal family. It was however closed, as was a lovely half timbered chapel built for a new town set up in that quarter by the local duke in the 1680s.
Along beside the lake we discovered a planets walk, starting with the Sun at the main jetty and following around the shore for a couple of kilometres with each planet represented in its correct position from the sun and from its neighbouring planets. The scale was 1 to 2000,000,000, each metre of the walk equalling 2 million kilometres! Quite a stroll we made today! Actually it’s the second such walk we’ve discovered on our travels, the first, on a larger scale of 1 to 1000,000,000 being at Marburg-an-der-Lahn, where, coincidentally, we also discovered the family home of the painter Tischbein whom we mentioned yesterday as having links with Eutin.
We left Plön, almost completely surrounded by lakes, and drove north towards Kiel. In the rain we chickened out of trying to find our way into the city and park. It may well be an interesting place but it is larger than Lübeck and I was daunted. It’s a major port with the biggest passenger harbour of Germany with ships sailing to ports all around the Baltic from Scandinavia to Russia and it sits on the ship canal that links the Baltic to the North Sea. We took the motorway around the city and continued northwards to Schleswig, crossing the Kiel canal on the way. This is wide and deep enough to carry shipping across the country, thus avoiding the necessity to sail right up around the tip of Jutland to reach the North Sea.
On the edge of Schleswig is the Viking museum of Haithabu (Hedeby), one of the most important archaeological sites in Germany. It was one of northern Europe’s most important trading centres during the Viking age – ninth to eleventh centuries. Its wealth came from its unique position right at the centre of two major long distance trade routes. It lay at the head of the Schlei, a deep fjord from the Baltic, and only a few kilometres from Hollingstedt from where the Treene, a navigable river, flows into the North Sea. Ships would transfer their cargoes at the quayside of Haithabu, bringing enormous wealth and power to the Viking settlement here. Huge earthworks were built up between the two navigable trade routes to protect the town and these are still being excavated. A reconstruction of houses from the settlement has been built near the original site of the quay. It gives an excellent impression of how the Viking traders would have lived, their timber houses covered with reeds from the shore and the walls built with mud and straw. Such a building might only last ten years before needing to be rebuilt. Utensils were frequently made from wood, cooking was done in a clay oven, beds were heaps of straw and animal skins on the ground. It was not a comfortable existence and today, out on the exposed shore in the wet, it presented a miserable way of life. Which makes it all the more surprising that the Vikings were such skilled craftsmen producing jewellery inlaid with fine filigree, while gold was worked into delicate ornaments and glass was used to produce beads.
In the museum there was much on burial customs, rune stones and how to decipher them, weapons and their ornamentation and of course, Viking trading and their major trading routes and partners. They were incredible voyagers reaching not only the Baltic countries but Greenland, down to Sicily, Bagdad, Novgorod, Britain, Ireland and of course Normandy. Not all their activities were peaceful trading. They carried out many raiding parties, sometimes bringing back treasures from the Irish monasteries or villagers as slaves from the coastal towns of Northern England.
Perhaps the pride of the collection was what they call the Royal Barge. It’s only a few planks preserved in the mud of the fjord but it is sufficient for archaeologists to reconstruct a replica of the ship as it would have looked, with some fifty oarsmen, each with their round shields, in a wide bottomed boat. Certainly it is amazing where they managed to travel with such a basic, cumbersome looking craft. Incidentally, I was disappointed to discover the Vikings only used horns for drinking. There is no evidence at all that they fixed them to their helmets. Sigh! Another illusion shattered.
The museum had many artefacts found in the excavations, from clothing, tools, jewellery, combs, utensils, all offering an insight into the way of life of these early traders. Surprisingly, apart from the runic stones, which seem to have religious significance, there do not appear to have been any written documents discovered.
It was a full and interesting afternoon. When we left we got chatting to a Dane in the car park who was intrigued with Modestine. He was guarding some fifty camping cars while their owners were in the museum. He told us they went off all over Europe and Russia as a group with sometimes as many as 1200 people travelling together! So the Danes are still travelling to foreign parts in great numbers, descending on unsuspecting towns and villages, just as they’ve always done. He was very friendly and gave us a current copy of the Scandinavian campsite guide for this year, assuring us it will be very useful when we arrive in Denmark. He may be right but he has the advantage of speaking Danish and having a GPS system. I think we could have trouble using the guide. It was a generous thought though.
We drove down into Schleswig. The rain had stopped but it was bitter cold along beside the Fjord. The town was not as pleasant as we’d fondly imagined it would be. Saturday afternoons are as exciting in Northern Germany as we remember them to have been just across the border in Denmark. The streets were empty and cold. Even the cafes had closed for the weekend. The town centre seemed to straggle for miles and when we eventually found the older part of the town we lost Modestine, spending ages wandering similar streets trying to remember where we’d left her. Even the Cathedral was locked and barred without a soul around. Then leaving the town we got caught in one way systems without any idea which direction we needed to take, spending ages discovering the back streets, residential areas, hospitals, fire stations and even the sewage works of Schleswig before we found our way out.
Four times today we’ve been stopped and asked about Modestine. People want to know how we live in her and can they peep inside. It’s usually very pleasant chatting with people but tonight we really had to smile fixedly when stopped as we entered the campsite. All we wanted to do was hook up to the electricity, turn on the fire, make a hot drink and dry out. Then we were told it would cost us exactly double what we paid last night and extra if we wanted hot showers in the morning. It’s the only campsite around here or we’d have moved on. Once they had our money we were told the facilities closed at 10pm. If you need the loo or water after that there is an open toilet shielded by a panel with gaps top and bottom and a coldwater washbasin exposed to the gales coming in from the sea! Hospitable or what? Wifi was available – at a price – but it would be switched off at 10pm! We are usually still writing up the blog at that time and still have all our internet work to do, usually until gone midnight! This is definitely the worst and most expensive campsite we’ve used on this trip, but there is no choice.
Sunday 29th April 2012, Husum, North Friesland
Having misread the time on my watch this morning we found ourselves ready to leave our icy cold, inhospitable campsite an hour earlier than expected. Ian persuaded me to return to Schleswig, convinced there must be more to the place than we’d discovered yesterday evening. He was right. In this morning’s sunshine everywhere seemed more hospitable as we headed straight for the little harbour at Holm, a quaint fishing village on the edge of Schleswig. It really is charming with an 18th century fishermen’s chapel set in the centre of a small cemetery surrounded by delightful, low-level cottages from the 17th and 18th centuries. Each is different but they all have a chocolate box beauty with steep roofs, high gables, climbing roses along the walls, tubs of flowers on the doorstep, pretty windows filled with plants and knickknacks. While each front door is different they are all decorated in the local style, painted in soft greys, greens or blues and made in two halves so the top can be open for chatting and sunlight while the bottom is closed against draughts and dogs.
Down at the harbour the wind was whistling in from the fjord, tossing the fishing nets hung to dry. Each little house had its own grassy jetty where ducks snoozed, careless of the breeze.
We returned to Modestine via the Lutheran cathedral. Families, all looking very smart, were pouring in for the 10 o’clock service where a number of children were about to take their first communion. Meanwhile, a hard core of Lutherans were gathered just outside the door for a few final puffs of their cigarettes while waiting for the bells to start. Seconds later they stubbed them out and scurried inside to watch with pride as their children and grandchildren were duly welcomed into the Protestant faith. Meanwhile we took a quick peep inside before the service began and found it to be a very pleasantly proportioned brick building with painted and decorated vaulted roof and a number of attractive monuments.
We stopped to look at Schloss Gottorf. It was originally constructed as a mediaeval castle and developed by Frederick I, Duke of Schleswig and later King of Denmark, into a renaissance fortress. It became the main residence of the Dukes of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf and later part of the Danish crown. It only became German in 1864. Currently it houses the Schleswig Holstein state museum. It is the largest secular building in Schleswig Holstein.
Related links from our earlier blogs
Marburg-an-der-Lahn 2010 For planets walk and Tischbein.