THE ONCE AND FUTURE ISLAND
RUEGEN—THE ONCE AND FUTURE ISLAND
"If you go down the beach promenade, it’s perfect in a lot of ways. What’s a little regrettable is that the rough spots are nearly gone. We have to be careful that we don’t become a doll house."
With its endless white-sand beaches, pristine forests, precipitous chalk cliffs, national parks and villa-lined villages, it’s no wonder that Rügen—home to the wonderful CERÊS resort—is Germany’s most visited island, an honor only recently reclaimed from the North Sea island of Sylt. It’s the country’s largest, too.
But its history is as checkered as its landscape is varied. Ruegen’s first tourism dates back to the late 1700s, when luxurious seaside resorts in coastal towns like Sassnitz, Sellin, and Binz popped up, offering wedding-cake white architecture and long beach promenades along pristine white sand (and, of course, the stunning white cliffs, immortalized in 1818 by German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich in his Chalk Cliffs on Rügen). Around the 1880s, Rügen was no longer a secret insider tip but a full-blown destination attracting royals and the well-heeled, who kept coming until twentieth-century German history got in the way.
In 1936, the Third Reich erected a 4km-long “colossus” in neighboring Prora—a 20,000 room, starkly unadorned “resort” for the regime’s “Kraft durch Freude” (Strength through Joy) campaign. The bombastic buildings were never used for this purpose, but rather became a center for the Communist party’s Folk Police early on the GDR era. At the same time, the state confiscated Ruegen’s idyllic seaside hotels from their owners and tourism essentially came to a standstill. The hotels fell into disrepair. The island’s primary use until 1990 was as a camping destination for youngsters and as a curative venue for older visitors.
Although it might seem strange, this long break might be the best thing that could have happened to Rügen. The island has been completely spared the overdevelopment and mass tourism found, say, on Germany’s western coasts. The historical villas and hotels have been lovingly restored, and the island’s natural wonders and 550km coastline still seem almost magically unspoiled, even though new infrastructure, such as improved roads, railroads and a new bridge, now allow easier access to them. CERÊS respects both the beauty and history of its very special location, while its modern, sophisticated spirit is there to welcome a new generation to Ruegen and writes a new chapter in its long history.