It’s mid-June and it feels like a perfect summer day in Warnemünde. The beautiful canal side walkers are filled with people who eat fish and chips from paper cones and often eat soft Danish ice cream (specifically here). Gaudy’s tourist boat floats casually along the canal every few minutes, and shops that sell everything from surfing clothes and jewelry to locally made clothing are displayed on cobbled streets. The terraces in the city center, many cafes and fish restaurants also look full, with people basking in the sun. The only clear sign that Coronavirus is still with us is a mask worn by shopkeepers and service staff.
This small German town, officially part of Rostock, with its ancient fishing hut, attacks 19th– the lighthouse and the two-mile beach are swept away by beautiful clear water, is one of the many pearls hanging along the Baltic coast in the country, or Ostsee (East Sea) as it is known here. Part of Mecklenberg Vorpommern – one of the most popular states in Germany for domestic travel, thanks to the widespread spread of forests, lakes and beaches – cities and broader regions now see the return of tourism after several months described to me more than once as a “disaster”.
Despite having one of the lowest infection rates in Germany (with almost a quarter million population, Rostock, only having around 100 cases) and no home stay orders for locals, the area has been hit hard in terms of both domestic and international tourism. The season usually starts here around Easter, but on March 17 it was announced that all tourists must leave within 48 hours. Since then, businesses have sought loans, liquidity assistance, tax breaks, protection and stabilization funds, and Germany Kurzarbeit scheme where employees can work limited hours and claim top-ups on their wages to avoid unemployment, to survive.
“In Germany, every fifth job depends on tourism,” said Tobias Woitendorf, CEO of the regional tourism board (TMV). “Here, the closure of accommodation and catering companies, as well as recreational and cultural facilities, can only be described as dramatic. And that is still difficult, not only for businesses but also for local employees – especially those who have children because this is not a full return to school until August. “
“At the moment we are trying to look forward,” Tobias added. “May 25 marked the resumption of tourism in our region, and 15 June for international guests. Summer vacation in Germany starts on June 20 and interest to take a vacation here is finally very high again. In some areas, such as camping, parking has become scarce, but there is still room for improvement in the international arena. “
At the Dock-industry industrial chic hostel, Inn Inn, one of the few accommodations in the city that has been opened with all new safety measures installed – Plexiglass dividers, socially placed (no buffet) breakfast time slots, worn masks by all staff, even though they remain very friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere feels very light.
“We think it might be difficult to create a holiday feeling for our guests with all restrictions,” said owner Christoph Krause, who co-founded the hostel in 2012. “There is no buffet, no concerts, no pub quizzes; all the fun things we usually do are still impossible. But surprisingly, people don’t complain or are sad about it. They appreciate that we somehow manage to keep the basics going. People come here for the beach, for biking along the beach, for walking, eating fresh fish. As long as all that is possible, I don’t think we will have a problem with customer satisfaction. “
Around the city, opinions seem to vary about how good or bad it is, depending on the type of business. A woman in one of the typical strawberry shops that has sprung up all over Germany from late April onwards said she did not see any difference for trading this year. A tour captain who is equally cheerful in the pedestrian area also said that everything was busy, despite acknowledging that his guests were mostly German. A waiter at an Italian restaurant considers him far calmer than usual, but thinks more international guests will arrive soon. Frank Martens, director of the Hotel Warnemünder Hof, speculates that many small businesses, especially restaurants, clubs and bars, might not arrive in the fall, let alone the end of the year.
The main attraction of this city, its beaches, certainly look busy. In fact, on closer inspection, a lot Strandkörbe – blue and white striped wicker chairs that characterize the entire Baltic coastline – empty. There is also a lot of space between sunbathers, according to the current social distance rules, and no group of more than five people I can see. Looking at the seagulls circling above the clear, clear blue sky, I also reminded that there were still planes in the sky; at least not yet.
Christoph at the Dock Inn told me that in the summer, this hostel gets backpackers from everywhere, many of whom go on a beach trip two or three days after being in Berlin, and expect them this year too. “There is also an increase in the number of families from Scandinavia, Austria and Switzerland, “he added. But international visitors look thin on the ground now; the Swiss couple I spoke to at a local bar said many of their friends and family were not ready to travel for fear of contracting the virus and might have to quarantine.
At the hostel, the Australian Nicholas Hine, who had come to take a break from Berlin, was quite happy to be here. “I always wanted to come to see the historic side of Rostock and then we found out about Warnemünde. This hostel is the only one that is open in the whole area, so we came here. Not many waves, but the beach is amazing. In Australia you are in the water after a few meters but here you have to climb across the sand. “