Where to Go in Germany
A Short Hike in the Island of Poel near Wismar
The island of Poel is idyllic in a lonesome and slightly forlorn way, all flat land, empty beaches and unobstructed views all the way to the blurred line where the grey seas and the grey skies merge.
And if, after all this melancholy, you need cheering up a little, you can combine today’s hike with a trip to one of the prettiest, largest and best preserved Old Towns on the south coast of the Baltic Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage Site no less.
Altogether, it’s a great day out, and not that hard to get to: a 40-minute train journey away from Schwerin on the Mecklenburger Seenplatte (which is where we came from), but also easily accessible for a day trip from Hamburg (with a journey time of roughly two hours).
Start your hike at Wismar train station. Arrive early and go straight to the old harbour, leaving the historic town centre for later.
The first ship to the island of Poel (do not call it a “boat” within earshot of the Captain: he very nearly made me walk the plank for it) leaves at 11 and arrives at 12, so you have roughly three hours to explore the island before returning at 3:30 p.m. with the last bo… ship back to Wismar.
In summer, they run another service at 5:30, but if you stay on the island that long, you will have very little time left to see the town.
There is also a bus service, made possible because Poel is connected to the mainland via a causeway on its eastern coast. The schedule for this service is, however, very erratic, with buses running on averageonce an hour from Monday to Friday and once every two hours on weekends.
Besides, taking the bus to an island doesn’t feel quite right – even though it has got to be cheaper than the ship which cost us EUR 17 per head roundtrip.)
You get a good impression of Poel on the way in because Kirchdorf, the island’s main village and the ship’s terminus, lies at the end of a fjord-like approach route.
There is more to see on the left hand side of the small harbor, the Church side, where you can find the village cemetery and the place where the old citadel once stood.
This citadel was one of the most heavily fortified garrisons anywhere in the Baltic Sea, owned in turn by Danes, various German warlords and – for much of the island’s history – the Swedes who, after 1648 (when Wismar became Swedish), fortified Wismar itself and lost interest in Poel.
The fortress was then abandoned, got destroyed by a storm in 1703 and disappeared stone by stone after locals were allowed (in the 19th century) to use it as a quarry.
All that is left today of these once powerful fortifications is a hole in the ground, itself already so old that it has long since been overgrown with grass and reeds, and if you did not know the story, you would never guess that this had once been a place of great military interest (“Look at my works, you mighty, and despair!)”. Sit down and ponder for a while the transience of all human works, the sheer ephemerality of it all, which will put you in the right mood for a visit to Poel.
The island lies just a few kilometres off the north German coast, but if feels more than half way to Scandinavia (Strindberg, Ingmar Bergman and all that).
To explore Poel in some greater depth, you can either just walk along the fjord to the tip of the island or cut inside to Timmendorf beach (not to be confused with the larger and posher beach of the same name on the German mainland at Travemünde), but you would have to return the same way, because the alternative route – around the southern tip of the island – is probably too long for the three hours you have at your disposal.
After your return to Wismar, look for the timber-framed Fährhausjust outside the Old Port that marks the place where the Frische Grube town canal, meticulously laid out German engineering from the 13th century (Vorsprung durch Technik, even then), joins the harbour.
Continue alongside the canal until you see the huge nave of St Nicolas Church on your left and turn right across the Schweinsbruecke (“Pigs’ Bridge”) past the 16th century Schabbelhaus into the heart of the Old Town.
Turn right again after a few hundred metres into the central market square for a unique collection of late medieval residential homes and, a little further beyond the square, some of the most outstanding examples of “Brick Gothic“ church architecture which is so typical for this region: St Mary’s, partly dynamited by East Germany’s Communist government in the 1960s, St George’s, once the city’s most luxuriously decorated building (constructed as the tradesmen’s church in the 16th century by Wismar’s wealthy merchants with no expenses spared, presumably to peeve the Duke who happened to live just around the corner), and, after a turn to the right, the Church of the Holy Spirit.
You are now on Lübsche Straße in the heart of the city’s shopping mile. Have a look around or rest for a while in one of the many street cafes or restaurants before heading back to the train station which you will find just behind St Nicolas Church on your left hand side.