Tuesday, August 28, 2007

1.5 Hours at the Ostsee, and Wismar

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We headed out from Hamburg early the next morning for our big dramatic crossover into the former East.

Well, it actually wasn't that dramatic, but still there was a lot of discussion about it. When the road suddenly got worse, were we in the East yet? (Answer: no.) It looks abandoned! How about now? Are we in it? (Answer: yes.) The guide picked up the microphone around the former border and explained that people in the East weren't allowed to live within 50km of the border to the West (except some old people), at least in this area. Since it was abandoned, the area became home to a lot of wildlife. They have tried to mostly preserve this, so there was a lot of controversy about building the new Autobahn through it after reunification - the one we were riding on. They ended up building this Autobahn with lots of very long bridges on it to keep the areas on the two sides somewhat stitched together. I'd be interested to see the biogeographical analysis on that to see how well it's supposed to actually work.

Back to the 50km zone, though, I found that very interesting. I don't suppose anyone actually believed they had a good government if the government had to keep them from approaching their own borders? Also, looking at a map, there are towns existing within the 50km zone. Were those towns abandoned altogether? If so, what do they look like now? Has anyone moved back to them?

We emerged from the vast abandoned area and drove off through some cute seaside towns, ending up in Boltenhagen, where we had an hour and a half to get some ocean exposure before continuing on to Wismar. Wismar is also situated on the Ostsee (Literal translation: East Sea, English name for it: Baltic Sea) but is on a harbor that is sheltered from the sea by an island. So, this was our only chance to hit a beach.

Boltenhagen Aug 2007


The weather was chilly but we all welcomed the chance to walk around in the sand and look at the jellyfish, of which there were hundreds floating around a long boat pier. We even had a little extra time to wander into the town, which was another one of these little tourist destinations that draw Germans only, much like Lam, Lindenfels, and Ottenhoefen. It was tiny but we did find some soft-serve ice cream and cheap postcards, so we went back to the bus happy :)

On to Wismar. Wow, this entry is already getting really long and I haven't even gotten to Wismar. I hope you can stick with me as I try to blog this whole trip before I leave on my next one!

Wismar Aug 2007

We were all pretty psyched to be staying at a four-star hotel in Wismar. However, when we got there, no one could believe it had that many. It wasn't as nice as the three-star place we stayed in Hamburg. The rooms were okay, but what was really appalling was the service! As soon as we arrived, the front desk complained loudly to our guide that check-in isn't supposed to be until 3pm and we were early. Then, they gave us and the Jordanian couple complicated and incorrect directions to our rooms. When we got lost, we asked an employee for help. He had been watching us fumble around and didn't offer to help until we asked. We spoke to him only in German, and not bad German I might add. Never a word of English slipped out. He seemed to not understand a word, which is a problem we have never had before. Finally he sassed, in German, "I don't understand you. I only speak German." Must...control...fist...of...death... Somehow, despite our horrible German, he managed to indicate to us where our rooms were and we found them. Later that evening we had a buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant. When we arrived, at the right time and all, we witnessed a staff member turn away from a conversation with our guide (who is super nice, I promise) and swear, "Ach, du SCHEISSE!" Later, it was discovered that they accidentally (?) put meat in the vegetarian dish. After everyone was done eating they brought out the correct food.

This wasn't our only horrible service example in Wismar, unfortunately. During our tour (with a really great, friendly, and knowledgeable guide, I might add!), a huge storm blew in and we all took cover in Wismar's only brewhouse, which was right nearby. After 15-20 minutes we had not been served at all, and someone only came to our table after the guide went looking for a server. She took our orders. Everyone thought she was rude at this but to be honest I didn't actually notice. After she took the orders she ducked into a closet right next to the table, for something or other. Immediately the tour guide started complaining quite loudly that she was sorry about the horrible service, and that the waitress was probably just some student or unemployed person who knows they're going to be out of work again at the end of summer! I couldn't believe it! She went on and on about it. I think she was quite embarrassed for us to see this side of Wismar on her tour. I'm sure the waitress could understand the complaints. She looked mighty pissed when she emerged from the closet and went off to the bar to get our drinks. We were probably all drinking spit or pee in our beers after that.

Despite the service horror stories, I loved Wismar. See the photos for yourself - and most of the information about the places is there. (To keep this post shorter - ha ha...) I loved its brick gothic architecture and its gabled houses. I loved its harbor. I loved the boats. I loved the restored buildings and I loved the unrestored buildings. I loved its little swatch of Swedish history. I loved the Grube and the churches. I loved the mix of the prettied-up and the run-down. I would recommend it to anyone who's not overly sensitive about service. It's too bad about the service, but perhaps as tourism picks up (they are a UNESCO World Heritage site, on the sea, etc) they will learn how to be pleasant to people and get it together.

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