Thursday, 1 September 2011

Birthday in Ruegen rain

My birthday in Germany seems a long way off now. The island of Ruegen wasn't kind to me on my birthday - it tipped it down! What a difference from glorious sunshine at Mount Saint Helens last year - but it was definitely an interesting place...
I found out that a couple of people have won The Telegraph just back competition twice. (One competitor twice this year). Thought I'd have another go. My story didn't win - but here it is.

We arrived on the island of Rügen on my birthday:  For me the sky should have been pure sapphire-blue, not this stippled grey-black, the sea turquoise rather than drab mercury; the chalk cliffs bone-white instead of this ghostly ash under the mist. No child-painted yellow sun splashed onto the sky, just pearl-grey raindrops.
No lilting happy-go-lucky island voices either. Instead - the machine gun-fire of Teutonic precision. At the campsite, the owner took my details: Name, Adresse, Alter? Solemnly he rattled the details into an ancient computer.
‘Ah, it’s your birthday,’ and his face broke into a smile. ‘Wait a minute’ and he reached for a large bottle of blackberry wine. ‘Willkommen auf Rügen. Have a look and pitch your tent wherever you want’.
We viewed the fields on the edge of the woods. They lay under water. We peered through black beech trees. Everything underfoot was sodden. We returned to the field at the top, and elbowed our way in between two Dutch, pushing aside a table to secure the only dry pitch on the site. I prayed they wouldn’t hold it against me.
The rain was relentless. We escaped into the campsite restaurant, ’Zur Spechthöhle’.  The Woodpecker Cave was a strange metal contraption built in segments, each segment smaller than the one before. It felt like we had entered a warm, damp womb.
The larger-than-life proprietor stepped out from behind the bar: unruly beard, ruddy-red cheeks, and an overall that stretched over a large belly. He looked as if he had come in straight from the fields.
I guessed he would have been born around the time the wall went up; grown up in the old GDR. He would have seen the wall tumble. I wondered if he liked his new world, including the foreign campers.
His voice boomed out, ‘Morgen scheint die Sonne’ and the campers broke into spontaneous applause. ‘My wife, the cook, has promised it’. His black eyes twinkled mischievously, ‘And if it doesn’t, I will cook all evening’.
Next morning, we peeped out of our tent with dewy eyes to see a watery sun. We headed for Prora. I gazed at the stark concrete buildings, covered in graffiti, windows smashed; weeds taking possession. So this was the Nazi’s dream holiday camp – in ruins but tenacious. A poignant symbol.
We wandered onto wet mustard sand and viewed the buildings that stretched out of sight. It takes an hour to walk end to end at 3 miles long. The camp was built to accommodate 20,000, but the war began and Prora never saw a single holiday-maker. 
The sky darkened and the heavens opened. Then from the grey concrete a freshly-painted section appeared.
‘Welcome to the longest Youth Hostel in the world’, a sign greeted us.
We entered a gleaming building, bustling with hostellers. I asked the smiling receptionist if we could have a coffee. As I warmed my hands on a steaming mug of coffee, the rain ceased and a small strip of powder-blue appeared. It wasn’t pure sapphire but it held hope.

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