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Usedom laid bare

I had been going out with my future wife, Uta, for a little over a year when she suggested we take our summer holiday on the Baltic coast. She had fond memories of the area, which she had visited as a child. Of course, Uta had grown up in East Germany; so holidays in warmer climes were pretty much off the agenda.

I was not keen. The idea of an East German holiday resort conjured up all manner of nightmarish images. When I was a child, my parents usually took us to Spain, where the beaches were sandy, the water blue and the sun reliably hot (we ignored the Fascism and the not infrequent aroma of drains). Getting away from the disappointments of the English summer was the main point, the sine qua non. Surely the Baltic offered more of the same, I protested, with freezing Nordic winds into the bargain. No, Uta said. The beaches were white there, and the sun shone a lot. I was bound to love it.

As it happened that summer it was very hot everywhere in Europe; so I agreed to give the Baltic a go. We settled on Heringsdorf which lies on the coastal side of Usedom, a large, unspoiled island nestling off the German mainland. There we rented a small but recently renovated apartment in what had once been a huge private mansion.

Mansions turned out to be a feature of Heringsdorf. They were everywhere, many already restored to their Imperial glory, others waiting their turn. The downmarket traces of East German tourism had mostly disappeared. Much of the seafront, apart from the rather functional pier, looked like the backdrop for a Merchant Ivory film. We sat in elegant cafés, behind white picket fences, sipping coffee and guzzling enormous ice creams while we stared out across the sand dunes. I was pleasantly surprised.

The weather, by contrast, was frequently poor. We managed to chose the one week in the entire summer when it was too wet and windy to bathe. One day, when the sun finally did appear, we set off on rented bicycles into the lovely interior of the island. We had only gone a mile or so when the clouds returned and the rain came down in torrents. We took shelter in a nearby campsite, which we saw signposted by the road. The proprietor was most welcoming and showed us to a table in the makeshift beer garden. As we sipped our drinks and waited for the rain to cease, it gradually became apparent that we were in the middle of a naturist camp. As is the way with these things, most of the clientele were not in the first flush of youth. I was suddenly quite glad of the cold weather. It meant I could keep my clothes on without  causing offence – and the clientele could keep on theirs. This they mostly did. Mostly.

Philip Sington is the bestselling author of The Einstein Girl (‘Das Einstein-Mädchen’).

Read also our Beautiful Baltic Beaches feature for further information.

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