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A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary

Land Between the Seas

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Schleswig Holstein is Germany's most northerly province. With Denmark at its tip, this broad finger of land divides the placid Baltic from the wild North Sea. Along the North Sea shore, dikes protect the sky-wide landscape from being claimed by the sea's crashing waves. Safe behind dikes, sheep and cattle graze while crops grow in serene pastures. Offshore, dune-fringed islands brave the sea. Any visit to Schleswig Holstein would not be complete without a trip to one of the islands, so this itinerary takes you and your car on top of a train for a rocking ride across the Hindenburgdamm to Sylt. This island boasts an impressive landscape of sand dunes and exposed, steep cliffs sheltering quaint little thatched villages from bracing sea breezes. In sharp contrast, the Baltic coast is hilly, with long, graceful fjords extending far inland from the gently lapping ocean. Here kilometer after kilometer of white-sand beaches provide a holiday haven for northern Europeans who brave the chilly waters and relax in gaily colored, canopied beach chairs while their children decorate sand castles with sea shells. Between these two seas lies Holsteinische Schweiz (Swiss District), a confusing name as there are no mountain peaks, just a lovely area of wooded, rolling hills sprinkled with sparkling lakes.

Recommended Pacing: Spend two nights in Hamburg to appreciate the flavor of this large city, then an early-morning start will enable you to be on Sylt by nightfall. The expense of the train to Sylt discourages you from spending only one night here. Try to include a visit to the Nolde Museum in Seebüll on your way to or from the island.

Northern weather tends to be cool and rainy, so pack your warm sweaters and rain gear. But be prepared to be surprised-the weather is unpredictable, so with a bit of luck you will have balmy, cloudless days as you explore this lovely region far from the beaten tourist paths.

Hamburg is a mighty trading and industrial center on the banks of the Elbe River. Understandably, Hamburg was a target for World War II bombings-by the end of the war the town was little more than a heap of rubble. But with great determination, much of the city has been rebuilt in the old style, so that today it has the mellow feel of an older age. Hamburg's sights are spread around a large area, so the most efficient way to get from place to place is on the U-Bahn, or subway system, whose stations are marked on the city's tourist map. Hamburg has some excellent hotels-see the Hotel Descriptions section.

The Aussenalster is a beautiful body of water stretching from the city into the suburbs. Promenade the Jungferstieg-the most popular spot is the terrace of the Alsterpavilion-along its tributary, the Binnenalster. Take a ferry from the Alterrundfahrt around the Aussenalster. (10 am-6 pm, every half hour, April to end of October.)

In the city center, include the following on your sightseeing agenda: St. Mickaelis-Kirche (Hamburg's symbol), which offers a great view of the port and city from atop its 449 stairs, and the palatial Rathaus(town hall), built at the end of the 19th century, at the center of the popular shopping district. Its square, Rathhausmarkt, is the site of summer beer and wine festivals.

A boat trip around the port gives you an idea of the enormous size of the port complex. Boat trips leave from landing stage number 2, St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken. (8 am-6 pm, April to September.) If you are in Hamburg on a Sunday morning, plan on visiting the Altona Fischmarkt, an open-air market at the water's edge offering everything-fruit, flowers, rabbits, socks, antiques, and, of course, fish. The show starts at six, but plan on arriving before nine. No need to eat before you arrive: there are plenty of food stands selling everything from delicious hot grilled sausages to crunchy rolls filled with smoked eel or pickled herring. Just a short walk for sailors from their ships, Hamburg's notorious red-light district has grown up along the Reeperbahn and surrounding streets, where erotic entertainment knows no bounds. This raunchy area, just west of the city center, is an anomaly in what is otherwise a very straight-laced city. (Reeperbahn 136 is where the Beatles launched their career.)

After a few days of city adventures, you will be ready for a change-something quiet and relaxed, a complete change of pace from the bustling city. Drive into the downtown area and follow signs for the autobahn 1 to Lübeck.  Lübeck was the leading city of the Hanseatic League, a group of towns who banded together for trade advantages during the 13th to 16th centuries. About an hour's drive finds you beside the canal skirting the town's medieval fortifications. Follow the walls to the north and enter the town through the Burgtor, a gate built in 1444, into Grosse Burgstrasse, whose tall, red-brick buildings have impressive façades. On the left the Heiligen-Geist-Hospital, three red-brick gables each separated by slim, pointed turrets, now serves as a home for the elderly. Turn right opposite the hospital, and on Breite Strasse you find the seamen's tavern, now a restaurant, Haus der Scheffergesellcraft with its long wooden tables set beneath brass lanterns hanging from ancient beams. Farther down Breite Strasse you see the tall, slender, twin steeples of the Marienkirche, St. Mary's church, rise above the town. In the nearby Marktplatz you find tourist information and the Rathaus, Lübeck's impressive town hall, covering two sides of the square. Holenstrasse leads from the market square to the imposing Holstentor Gate, a squat fortress crowned by twin towers shaped like enormous witches' hats. The gate houses the town history museum, which displays a model of the city in the 17th century, weapons, model ships, and instruments of torture. (10 am-4 pm, closed Mondays.)

Leaving the old town of Lübeck, drive to the north for 15 minutes to the popular Baltic resort of Travemünde. It is fun to drive along its river-front road seeing the boats and ferries on one side and the crowded little seaside shops on the other, and then to drive along its wide, sandy beach fringed by modern hotels.

As you leave Travemünde, follow road 76, which parallels the coastline going north. If the weather is sunny and warm, you may want to get into the German holiday spirit and join the crowds on the beaches at the coastal resorts of Timmendorfer Strand or Scharbeutz-Haffkrug. In pleasant weather, sun worshipers soak up the sun from the shelter of their canopied beach chairs, while offshore the Baltic waters come alive with the sails of gaily colored sailing boats and wind surfers.

Follow the 76 as it turns inland at Scharbeutz-Haffkrug. Leaving the flat coastal landscape behind, you enter a region of gently undulating farmland sprinkled with lakes both large and small. Narrow threads of land often separate one lake from another. The region is known as Holsteinische Schweiz (Swiss District) not because of its Alpine peaks, of which there are none, but because it shares a similar rock formation with Switzerland. About a half-hour's drive brings you to the lakeside town of Eutin. This is a colorful medieval town with a quaint, central pedestrian square. Park by the old moated castle and meander down to the lakefront through a gorgeous forested park, following the promenade that leads you along the shores of the lake, the Eutiner See.

Farther on, lovely lake vistas are provided by the drive around the Keller See to Malente-Gremsmühlen. Take the road along the northern shore through Sielbeck for the prettiest views. Malente-Gremsmühlen is the departure point for motor-boat tours of the beautiful five lakes to the west of town. The frustration of catching only glimpses of the lakes through the trees is removed when you glide along them on a boat.

Just a short distance to the west is Plon, positioned atop a small hill overlooking the region's largest lake, the Grosser Plonnersee. Drive through the town to the quaint, cobbled marketplace near the church. Park your car and walk up the narrow, cobblestoned alley to the castle terrace, where you have a lovely view of the lake below.

Leaving Plon, you follow road 76 for the half-hour's drive to the outskirts of Kiel. Unless you are interested in busy freight and yacht harbors, do not go into the city but take road 404 to the 4 and on to the suburban town of Molfsee. Here you will find the Freilichtmuseum, Schleswig-Holstein's Open-Air Museum, a collection of rustic farms and country homes dating from the 16th through the 19th centuries that have been brought here and reassembled. It is great fun to watch the local craftsmen operating the old smithy, potter's shop, mill, and bakehouse. You can explore the old houses and barns and retire to the timbered inn for welcome refreshments. (9 am-6 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, April to October; and daily July to mid-September.)

Make your way to the autobahn A7 going north (Schleswig and Flensburg) and exit at the ancient Viking stronghold of Schleswig. Soon after you leave the autobahn (before you reach the main town), watch for signs to the road going to the left to the Baroque Schloss Gottorf. The Archäologisches Landes-Museum (archaeological museum) displays Viking artifacts, such as dishes and fishing nets. Their prize exhibit is the 4th-century Viking ship, the Nydam-Schiff, a long and slender 36-oarsman boat that was preserved in the marshes. (9 am-5 pm, daily March to October; 9:30 am-4 pm, November to February, closed Mondays.)

Schleswig's old town (Altstadt) hugs the northern bank of the Schlei inlet. Its Gothic brick Dom (cathedral) dates from the 12th century and is noted for its handsome carved altar (1521) in the chancel. Admire the 14th-century cloisters with the floral motif on their vaults. Also in Schleswig (around Friedhofplatz) is the picturesque fishermen's quarter called Holm. Don't miss this tiny, but ever-so-special hamlet-it is truly picture-perfect. Explore its quaint lanes, follow the circular road that wraps around the park and toy-like church, and stroll down to see the fishing boats at the water's edge.

Continue north on the A7 taking to the exit for Niebüll. Do not go into the town, but follow the well-posted signs of a car atop a railway car for the train to Sylt. On your way to or from the island make a little side trip from the car station to the north to visit the Nolde Museum, the home of Emiler Nolde the painter, in Seebüll. His house is a 12-kilometer drive north via Neukirchen. Over 200 paintings, watercolors, and drawings are displayed and his studio shows his religious paintings. The Nazis condemned him as a painter (ironically he was a die-hard racist and a member of the Nazi party) and it's touching to see the vast collection of miniature watercolors (Ungemalte Bilder) that he painted between 1941 and 1945 when the Nazis forbade him to paint. (10 am-6 pm Monday to Friday, March to October; 10 am-5 pm, November to April.)

You cannot drive your car to the island of Sylt, but can take it on top of a railway carriage along the causeway that connects the island to the mainland. There is no need to make advance reservations-purchase your round-trip ticket as you drive into the railway yard. Do not worry about catching a particular train for there are between 11 and 16 departures each day. The car-train trip seems excessively expensive for such a short journey, so plan to stay awhile on the island.

Leaving the ticket office, you drive your car onto the train and sit in it for the 50-minute bumping ride past fields of sheep and Holstein cows towards the shoals that lead to the Hindenburg Levee, which connects the island to the mainland. From your lofty perch atop the train you can appreciate the centuries-long battle to keep the sea from flooding this flat, low-lying land. A series of dikes protects the land from the water and the farms are built on earthen banks, which become islands if the dikes fail. Crossing the sea dike, the train arrives in the island capital, Westerland, a town of elegant boutiques, sophisticated nightspots, and a casino.

The island is lovely-a long, narrow strip, much of it sand dunes-facing the North Sea. Dikes, sand dunes, and cliffs protect the island from North Sea storms. Forty kilometers of white sand attract summer sun worshipers (bathing suits are as welcome as none) and canopied beach chairs provide snug shelter from the wind. Hardy Germans enjoy swimming in the chill North Sea waves, but you will probably find the wave pool in Westerland (or your hotel pool) more to your liking.

Keitum is the island's prettiest village, an old Friesian settlement of squat, thatched cottages, lilac bushes, and tree-lined streets. Keitum's low-slung houses are topped by thick roofs of reeds gathered from the tidal marshes, just the kind of house from which you would expect Hansel and Gretel to emerge. High garden walls protect against storm, flood, tides, and winds. On Museumweg, you can visit the Old Friesian House. Built in 1739 by a sailing captain, the red-brick old Friesian farmhouse passed into the hands of a 19th-century historian who assembled a history of the island. The house and the furnishings are such that a Friesian of two centuries ago would feel immediately at home. Next door the Sylter Heimatmuseum (folklore museum) contains collections of island seafaring memorabilia and coins, porcelain, and costumes dating back hundreds of years. Inspired perhaps by their forefathers, modern artisans have set up their shops in nearby houses. (10 am-noon and 2-5 pm, April to October, closed Tuesdays.)

As you explore farther afield, you pass Keitum's St. Severin Church, a landmark for seafarers since it was built seven centuries ago. The island's days as an important maritime center are long past, yet once a year, on the eve of February 22, the islanders pile straw, reeds, and wood into a huge bonfire as a symbolic send-off for the island's sailors.

Devote a day to exploring the island and its villages huddled behind the sand dunes, then use the remainder of your stay for relaxation-hike to the Rotes Kliff and see the water turning red as it erodes the cliff. Behind the cliffs climb the 53-meter Uwe Dune, a vantage point for seeing the North Sea to the west and the mud flats to the east. Bird watchers head for Vogelkoje bird sanctuary.

When your island holiday is over, if your destination is Denmark, you can take a ferry to Havenby, or retrace your steps to Niebüll for the short drive to the Danish border. For those who are returning to Hamburg, follow the road south across the flat polder lands that have been reclaimed from the sea. The waters offshore are shallow: sea dikes keep them at bay, protecting the lush, green pasture and farmlands behind.

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A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Hotel Abtei
Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
€ 190-270

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[ icon ] Hamburg
Hamburg, Germany
[ icon ] Plon
Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
[ icon ] Eutin
Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
[ icon ] Schleswig
Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
[ icon ] Travemünde
Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

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