Watching the rather well written and well-acted film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World with Keira Knightly I started thinking what I would do, if an asteroid raced this way and threatened to destroy Earth.
Unlike the protagonist of the above film, I would not stand a chance of finding romance prior to Earth colliding with its fate. Firstly, because I don’t look anything like Ms Knightley and secondly, I’m far too pessimistic to hope for anything good ever happening to me.
So what would I do during my final month on Earth?
The thought-provoking film broadly categorised people meeting with such a calamity as being
a) romantic individuals hoping to find love before the Big Bang,
b) people who’ll hump anything, take drugs and generally behave like a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum,
c) people who have so much pent-up aggression, they start rioting, and finally
d) people who become assassins and carry out the last wishes of people who are too afraid of death by asteroid.
Considering my choices, I realise, as a middle aged woman I’m invisible to society, which makes me the perfect candidate for option d). Provided I can wipe out as many bankers, estate agents, utility company magnates and Grunters as possible before the asteroid strikes, I shall die happy, knowing I’ve rid the universe off a far greater evil than missiles from outer space.
Where should I go for my final moments, if nobody wants to avail themselves of my assassin services?
In the film air, bus and rail travel became unavailable some 3 weeks prior to the Big Day, just when everyone wanted to get home to their families…including the employees of said services. TV stopped transmitting, there was no water or electricity…so wherever I choose will have to be close by or I won’t be able to get there. As I don’t have a family, there’s nobody to rush back to, which is fine as I can please myself with regard to my final destination and how to get there.
Hitching a ride to the Gower by Swansea seems a possibility, provided I can reach my busy friend Kieron on the phone. If I really had a choice and left early enough, I’d probably be able to travel to the island of Rügen.
In the film people knew one month before the Big Day that the world was about to end, enough time to get me to the Baltic. In the absence of flights to Hamburg or Lübeck I might still be able to get across the Channel via ferries or by taking the Eurostar train. Maybe I could get a lift from a yachtswoman or a fisherman preferring to die out at sea. From Hamburg there are direct train services to Binz, the main resort on the island.
Rügen is incredibly beautiful and unbelievably irritating in equal measures. It’s a good place to go and contemplate about the follies of mankind. Floating in the Baltic Sea just off the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania coast, the island has wonderful, vast beaches with the finest white sand your toes have ever touched (not a pebble or seashell in sight!) and boasts charming 19th century Bäder (spa) architecture, the type last seen in Western German seaside resorts, when aristocratic Russian families would come to Travemünde’s casino and lose a mint – see Thomas Mann’s book The Buddenbrooks.
For any wind and kite surfers out there, the winds blow nicely in more than fifteen different locations. Seafood is fantastic, particulary the locally smoked halibut. The narrow gauge trainline runs between the main resorts Binz, Sellin and Göhren and with a steam engine affectionately called Rasender Roland (Rushing Roland), tourists can enjoy the short journey between the resorts at early 20th century speed.
With a length of 51.4 km from north to south and a width of just 42.8 km, the island is not exactly large, but has a wealth of lagoons, locally known as Bodden and wide open bays known as Wieken, perfect for hobby photograhers and wildlife enthusiasts – and anyone enjoying canoeing, kayaking, surfing and sailing.
The Jasmund National Park is home to lots of domestic water fowl and rare feathered visitors to the Baltic. The park has UNESCO World Heritage status. Its diverse landscape, several interesting lighthouses at Cape Arkona, not to mention the Rushing Roland and a chalk cliff coastline that inspired Caspar David Friedrich to paint the Königsstuhl, a 117 meter high cliff on the Jasmund peninsula, make Rügen a popular place to visit in spring and summer.
During the summer months visitors staying on the island inevitably take a trip to Ralswiek Castle, which perches on its own mount overlooking some of the most stunning scenery on Rügen. It serves as a luxury hotel now, but was once the home of a rich factory owner, who took a fancy to the beauty of the island and asked his architect to build a romantic, neo-Renaissance castle in the French style on the spot. The ancient manor house that once dominated the site is still there, too. Below the castle sits a permanent structure that serves as the stage for the annual Klaus Störtebeker Festival.
Yep, the Baltic Sea’s very own famous pirate and his mates perform some of their exploits between June and September every year. From 2002 to 2012 the lead role of Störtebeker has gone to the rather dishy actor Sascha Gluth, well worth seeing, even if you don’t understand a word of German!
There are three other great tourist attractions worth mentioning, namely the Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park in the western part of the island and the nature reserve Southeast Rügen Biosphere, both of which are great places for twitchers and natural history fans. Finally, the “resort” of Prora…which brings me to the irritation one feels when visiting Rügen.
Not only did the horrible GDR government allow many of the gorgeous spa architecture to deteriorate, when they couldn’t afford to do up the Palace at Putbus, Rügen’s oldest resort, they simply demolished it – after all, using tax payers money to pay half a million Stasi spies was far more important than to preserve world heritage.
Prora has to be seen to be believed. Built by 9,000 workers and all the available major construction companies Hitler could spare just prior to starting WWII (his greatest de-construction project), the eight gigantic housing blocks now lining the coast were envisaged as Germany’s foremost seaside resort and playground for the families of 20,000 SS officers. The site stretches over 2.5 kilometers along the forested coast.
Today only one building has been fully restored, as it would cost approximately 100 million Euros to rescue just two blocks of the massive site, which Hitler & Co never completed because they were too busy laying waste to Europe. When the GDR government finally fled at the end of the 1980s, it was discovered there was a secret U-Boot harbour located by the Prora resort, presumably to drop off Hitler & Co for a jolly good knees-up by the Baltic.
Until 2005 one of the buildings was used for exhibitions and as a museum and there is still a Documentation Centre at the site, which discusses the history and construction of the buildings as well as what they were used for, namely Nazi propaganda on a megalomaniacal scale. Some of the buildings were sold when the wall came down and have since then changed hands several times. Just to restore the vast kitchens would take a king’s ransom and successive buyers soon became sellers again, when they realised their dream hotel would be a nightmare to finance. Block 5 has been opened as a youth hostel, created with government money.
To me Rügen is a symbol of outstanding natural beauty as well as an emblem for humanity’s arrogance and destructive folly, which makes the island the perfect place to contemplate the end of the world.
We spent billions on bailing out (w)bankers, but what have we got when an asteroid comes our way? Zilch to divert it from its path, nothing to destroy it with, gar nichts to blow it up with, niet to save Earth.
All we can do is head to the places and the people we love the most and stick our heads into the sand, until the Big Bang happens.
Still seeking a friend for the end of the world?
Meet me on Rügen, I’ll be waiting outside Castle Ralswiek! I’ll be the one munching smoked halibut and drinking Störtebeker beer from Stralsund.
Fans of pirates: I will devote the next blog to Störtebeker; meanwhile, the festival takes place from 23rd June to 8th September this year, Mondays to Saturdays at 8.00 pm at the Naturbühne Ralswiek (the name of the theatre), for more details go to http://stoertebeker.de, which is a German language site. The show includes 150 actors plus the gorgeous Sascha, 4 ships that sail into the Jasmunder Bodden, 30 horses, fireworks and Ralswiek Castle provides the romantic backdrop to it all (firstname.lastname@example.org). Trust me, it’s one of the best outdoor theatre shows you’re ever likely to see.
Fans of Merlin: I’ll post the next instalment at the weekend.
(photographs Wikipedia, source of animation: heathersanimations.com)