Gotland, gryphons and granite

It’s low season here in Warnemünde but it’s still bustling with open shops and restaurants, a far cry from bleak and boarded up English resorts. I’m curious about who the bustlers are and what brings them here; I shall ask my contact in the tourist office or perhaps at the Neptune Hotel on the seafront when I get that far.

I’d planned to spend time on the seashore today but a raw chill kept me in the town, It seems very much to be a resort for Germans. Some information in English at museums but I have only found one book in English about Warnemünde, which makes me cringe because of its relentlessly chummy tone (this may be a matter of taste). It had some information about the Bailiff’s house, which I went to look at today. It’s just over the swing bridge, a remarkable old building, one of the oldest in the town with 1605 written on the wall, this being a replacement for an earlier mediaeval building, of which traces remain. Apart from the chortling of my guide, I was also irked by my having strode past the building a number of times without noticing it. I like to think that I have sharpened my architectural eye but my gaze is as inward as ever. The bailiff referred to was an official from Rostock, which has been in charge of Warnemünde from mediaeval times. I wanted to see the granite blocks in the wall that my guidebook assures me came from the island of Gotland and were used by the masons of the Danish king Menved to build a “palace” on the site, The Danes were powerful in the thirteenth century around the Baltic and ruled Gotland after the battle of Visby in 1361 though the king was Valdemar IV. I’m not sure where Menved fits in but the Danish connection seems not unreasonable. However, I am curious about the granite from Gotland as I’ve always understood Gotland to be mainly cretaceous in contrast to the Swedish mainland. The older rocks are there but very deep down below sea level and overlaid. Perhaps there are outcrops of older rocks. It’s a good question for me as I’ve wanted for a long time to know more about geology. I see from the net that they do sell slabs of something called Swedish granite from Gotland but these seem to be thin and mainly decorative.

I’m planning to visit Rostock tomorrow and will spend a few hours in the library to see what I can find out about the sources of the granite story. It need not be incorrect even if the granite was from elsewhere as it could well have been taken to/traded in  Gotland en route to Germany.

The old house also has the coat of arms of Rostock on its wall, two lions rampant and a gryphon (griffin) superimposed on the colours of Mecklenburg. According to sources on the net, a gryphon has the body, tail and back legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. A wyvern, on the other hand is a two-legged creature resembling a dragon with deadly breath that roamed the French countryside (and appears to have a special relationship with the English city of Leicester). I’ve yet to have any practical use for this information.

Edvard Munch and Warnemünde

I was amused to find that Edvard Munch had been in Warnemünde between 1906 and 1908; Munch whose paintings I have often referred to to explain my distaste for the dark and dismal Nordic winter. And now he pops up in Warnemünde, my winter refuge. The house where he lived beside the Alten Ström is not a museum but a cultural centre tended by the Norwegians and the Germans with a library, artist exchanges and a small exhibition of Munch’s photographs. There is a fine restored gallery where the artist used to sit and peer out, seeing but not being seen, on the seaward side of what was once the cottage of fisher folk.

Initially, Warnemünde suited him well, calming his nervous disposition leading him to compare it with his youthful days in Norway, although that must have been his very youthful days before a series of misfortunes led to the deaths of his mother and some siblings, Munch talked of his healthy diet and being reborn. I agree with him, it is a relaxing and beneficial place although I shall go easy on the fish diet.

Munch was very productive here but after a couple of years, the picture darkened. Warnemünde was developing as a tourist location and the crowds of seaseekers displeased him. But there also seemed to have been a clash between Munch and the locals as he describes Warnemünde as a terribly bourgeois place. I’m not sure whether it was his lifestyle, his work or a mixture of both but I noticed that one of his most famous nude photographs of Rosa Meissner was taken at a hotel and not his atelier, which was presumably more easily penetrated by the watchful prude. His travails, however, were not just the work of the world; he suffered from feelings of persecution both by the living and (if I have understood the German correctly) the dead.

He did, however, live to the age of 80, although his last years must have been darkened by the applause of Europe being silenced by the Nazis who confiscated 82 of his works as degenerate art. By then he was back in Norway although the Nazis came soon after and he did not live to celebrate their departure.

For the time being, I am glad to think of him on my daily circular walk around Alten Ström. I shall continue to develop warm feelings for Warnemünde, hopefully without a whiff of scandal.

The excitement of the new

The GDR border officials at Warnemünde were not enthusiastic about my plans to travel along the East German coast to the ferry to Sweden at Sassnitz. And I made it worse by ignoring the call to visit the on-board visa office when a transit visa to Rugen might have slipped through as they tackled the flow to Berlin. Realising that I’m in danger of getting a formal record of refusal of entry, I beat a retreat and agree docilely to the administratively convenient solution of returning to the ferry for the “normal passage” to Sweden via Copenhagen.

It then gets hairy. No walk along a lighted bridge to a hole in the wall entrance to the ferry; instead steps down to the open-air forecourt and a vague wave in the direction of the ship. The story of the Italian communist Benito Corghi at the Bavarian-GDR border was fresh in my mind. Returning to his lorry on the western side to collect a forgotten passport, he was shot to death by a border guard. I walk, all alone, very slowly, to the ship, trying to look like a man out for a stroll enjoying the ambience of the border area. My guardian angel is awake; there is no sudden crack and sharp pain but I get to the ferry intact.

It was just as well. I had too little money and the detour was pointless, able to produce only a jumble of odd associations to add to my youthful foreign frenzy travel where beautiful cities became memories of salami sandwiches in motorway service stations.

Decades later, another trip to Rostock or rather Graal Müritz just down the coast where I stayed a week on a study visit. By then my tourist skills had improved along with the slow late maturing of DK.

But my associations were not all good – being taken by car back to the hotel by the local mayor to collect presents, coffee to be distributed to the folk we’d spent the evening playing skittles with. I didn’t begrudge them the coffee but the break in not unpleasant conversation for the act of charity felt shabby and unpleasant.

There was no Warnemünde that trip but now I’m here for a month to escape to a softer, lighter winter. So far better than I dared hope, a spacious and tasteful flat far from the leftover bits and pieces of furniture of my stoic imagination. It’s central too, five minutes from bed to bookshop. And the town is not boarded up and bleak like the winter seaside in dear old Albion but bustling with open restaurants, museums and galleries but no seasonal hordes.

Today, I’ll plan how to get to know the area (2024 is fast approaching so I need to work on my grand plan for next year too). And to think about what I want to get out of this month. Better understanding of spoken German is high on my list. I made a start yesterday grappling with cryptic zappers. The TV eventually came on, grudgingly accepting my refusal to be contented with sport and fashion. But I have no idea what was effective among my increasingly manic button pressing. So for the time being, it´s 24-7 TV time, although thankfully I have mastered the mute button.

I’m close to the centre but also to the “kurpark” which is unexpectedly appropriate. At home, I’ve glided into bad habits with too little exercise and an increasingly disturbed relationship to time. So now I have two months to work on improving my act so I earn a refreshing pat on the head at my heart check-up in February and not a furrowed brow pondering yet another exercise in damage limitation.

It feels good too to be in a spacious dust-free flat with sofa, bath and kitchen table rather than living in a soft existential corner of  a library. I love my hundred shelves of books but there are definitely some arguments in favour of a less eccentric life space.


I’ve learnt the word ”doxxing”, which is defined on Wikipedia as  the act of publicly providing personally identifiable information about an individual or organization, usually via the internet.  The usage of the term, originally from documentation, has broadened at Columbia University in New York where students  who had signed a statement that said, in part, “The weight of responsibility for the war and casualties undeniably lies with the Israeli extremist government.”, had their names and photographs displayed on the side of a truck driven near campus with a message “Columbia’s Leading Antisemites.”

Students protested against this doxxing by walking out of a lecture by Hillary Clinton, who is now lecturing at Columbia.