From the moment you step through the Duke of Mecklenburg’s old royal gate, you’re transported back almost 800 years, to a time when Rostock, Germany was the shipping capital of the world. Yes, WWII took a toll on the Baroque-style buildings of the city’s New Market Square, but they were restored in 1952. The history here, plus a cool breeze blowing off the Baltic Sea, revived our senses after the 3-hour DB train ride from Erfurt through Berlin.
Traveling companion Highroad Cam and I slept in the seaside resort town of Warnemünde, a 20-minute train ride from Rostock station where the shuttle for the Hotel Neptun was waiting for us.
The Hotel Neptun is an imposing presence along the salt-like sandy beaches of the Baltic. The interior of our balconied corner room gave views on two sides and the balcony was completely private in early October. The hotel is known for its spa. Cam particularly loved his Thalasso massage, a seaweed treatment alleged to have rejuvenating qualities and dispensed by a lovely young Mecklenburg maiden. I was suffering from a cold but enjoyed a long soak in the oversized tub filled with a seaweed concoction that literally left my skin soft for days.
One custom we found pronounced right away was the locals’ uninhibited comfort with nudity. Highroad Cam and I discovered we were the only ones with bathing suits on in the large co-ed windowed sauna that faced the Baltic Sea from our hotel in Warnemünde. It was weird to have nude people cooling off on the open-air balcony while no one even cared to notice them from the parking lot below. Apparently, in the summer, there is a large naked section and most people like to sunbathe in the raw.
The restaurants at the Hotel Neptun range from crispy chicken and fries at Grillstube Broiler, a 42-year-old tradition, to white tablecloths and tuxedoed waiters at the hotel’s main restaurant.
We had breakfast on the top-floor restaurant—Café Panorama—which overlooked the barren October beach and the mouth of the Warnow River. You could watch the ferry boats going to Sweden and Denmark navigate the passage. Actually, Denmark itself was just barely visible across the Baltic. The café’s fare was reminiscent of high tea, with tiered trays of confections, croissants, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, meats, and cheeses. I loved my organic soft-boiled ochre yellow egg drawn with a happy face by a Belgravian waitress!
After breakfast, Cam and I walked the long beachfront promenade to the lighthouse built in 1897, the same year my grandparents were born, and strolled beside Alten Strom (the old stream) where I picked up some Baltic Sea amber earrings before we boarded a tourist ferry to Rostock. The ferry captain Olaf Schuütt mans the Rostocker 7, which leaves every hour on the hour from the new stream.
Cap’n Olaf gave us an animated history lesson in German and English. On the Warnow River, we cruised past large commercial ships, ferries to Scandinavia, and a Viking Cruise ship as we made our way to the historic port of Rostock.
From here we walked along the main shopping street, Kropeliner Strasse, and poked into modern shops and luscious bakeries housed in old gabled buildings—fortunately, spared by WWII bombs. The bricks from the 13th-century Gothic bookstore—Stadtbibliothek—are black and brown, because, as we were told, the medieval way of dying the bricks black was to have them burnt in the blood of cows!
Cam and I went into Hotel Steigenberger-Sonne, which has an interesting facade from the 1800s. We had lunch in their lively Bistro Weinwirtschaft amidst the young professionals enjoying the fine fare. I had Baltic butterfish and small potatoes with a glass of Riesling. Cam enjoyed his Rostocker beer along with his beef stew with noodles.
At the nearby ancient Town Hall, we met our young knowledgeable, and comical guide—Tim Perschke from Historic Germany—who educated us in the incredible history of this once very important city, just two hours across the Baltic from one of my ancestors’ countries: Denmark.
A must-see in Rostock is St. Marien Church, built in 1230 and open every day. The 13th-century baptismal fountain is surrounded by sculpted stone lions, which symbolize strength. Its big draw is the oldest (15th century) astrological clock still in its original working condition. The temperature of the gargantuan church is always the same (cool) due to the winds blowing off the Baltic Sea.
Between 1200 and 1500 University Square was called Hops Market Square because there were 250 breweries! There were 21 gates surrounding the walled city—one for the Duke, which still lies intact, one for the cows, one for the merchants, and luckily for us, some of them remain.
The Germans really have public transportation down, and we took a local tram filled with mothers with babies, school children and workers to the train station for the short ride back to our seaside Hotel Neptun in Warnemünde to enjoy more time at the beach and the hotel’s extensive spa.
Thanks to Historic Germany, which made planning our trip a cinch. Rostock and Warnemünde are top on our list for their fascinating history and lovely seaside charm, and next time, we want to go back and sit naked on the beach (in the summer!).