Escape: Usedom

The walkway leading from Strandhotel Ahlbeck to the beach.

Sponsored in parts by Strandhotel Ahlbeck

Spending time by a big body of water is the ideal restoration for me – a lake is fine, but the sea is even better. The closest option to Berlin is the Baltic Sea and its many islands and peninsulas. Over the holidays I got the chance to visit one of the prettiest, Usedom, with its many classic Bäderarchitektur mansions. I stayed in Ahlbeck over the holidays, invited by the recently opened Strandhotel, which has one very important feat when it comes to staying by the sea: it’s in the front-row to the beach. Just a sidewalk and the dune is separating you from the breaking waves.

Housed in a classic sea-side mansion and a new building, the Strandhotel makes it possible to get from your bed to the water in a mere five minutes. My dog, who loves big masses of sand, was especially appreciative of the multiple beach walks every day. Which is another big pro of the hotel: dogs are not only accepted, they’re welcomed with their own blanket, dog bowls, and treats!

A bust of Wilhelm I. in front of the Villa Staudt in Heringsdorf marking his first visit in 1820.

What to do in Usedom

Ahlbeck provides a lot of opportunities to take really long walks. Especially in the winter, when the beaches aren’t crowded with sunbathers (and dogs are allowed). Exiting the hotel you can either head to your right and walk about 45 mins until you meet the Polish border town Świnoujście and its busy harbour, or you head to the left and pass the impressive Ahlbeck pier. From there on, keep on walking until you arrive in Heringsdorf, or even Bansin. There’s a ton of classic resort architecture from the turn of the century, like the Villa Achterkerke from 1845, or the distinctively yellow Villa Oechsler from around the same time. Unfortunately, Heringsdorf underwent some unfortunate 1990s reconstructions, so today Ahlbeck is the prettier (read: more original) of the two. It’s easier to imagine 1890s aristocrats stroll along the boardwalk here, in their heavy garments, maybe carrying a lace umbrella.

Many plates on restaurants and hotel remember the celebrities who visited the area, like Kurt Tucholsky in 1920, crown princess Victoria in 1866, or the artist Lyonel Feininger in 1908. The latter even has a 56km bike tour named after him, that tracks his motifs on the island.

The hinterland offers more to discover: for example the Schloss Stolpe and the castle of Mellenthin. However, I fell sick on the very first day I arrived so I limited my activities to long walks. The rest of the time I enjoyed the cosiness of my hotel room at Strandhotel Ahlbeck, snuggling in the bed and watching old-timey holiday movies on TV.

The cosiness and solitude is a big reason why I like to travel to the Baltic Sea in the off-season. You’ll have the beach and paths almost to yourself, and the evenings with the rushing sea sounds are the most romantic. The grey sea fusing with the grey sky somehow supports and reliefs winter melancholia, and is one of the best and easy to access remedies against the Berlin blues.

Mushrooms in cream with fried Knödel at Prime.

After my long walks, I had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, Prime, located in a glass pavilion on the top of the new building. Their focus on local ingredients makes it easy to find something on the menu, the service is friendly and attentive, and the atmosphere calm. Only the next morning during breakfast I discovered the stunning views over the water that will make you want to extend your breakfast endlessly. It helps that the buffet is just as extensive, including pickled herring and there’s even a Bloody Mary bar and champagne.

If you’re looking for more local fish, head to Uwes Fischerhütte where fresh, smoked, and grilled fish from the local seas are sold as Fischbrötchen, plates or to take away. It’s alway busy, rather rustic and one of the rare places still doing their own fishing and selling local fish, especially herring. Try the raw, lightly pickled herring called Matjes, or the pickled and sour Bismarckhering for the real local experience.

Uwes Fischerhütte by the beach

Some more info on the Strandhotel Ahlbeck I was invited by:
Besides recently refurbished, cosy rooms, a restaurant and bar with a view, and a location right by the beach, they also have a spa with a pool, a finish sauna, as well as massages. There’s a beach side café, and no car traffic between you and the beach, just the walkway, a mini-golf course and the dunes. You can reach Ahlbeck via car in about 3 hours from Berlin or by train in about 4 hours. Rooms start at 119 Euro per night.