The Big Five

My friend Emily once said, if I go on a trip, I should plan activities only every other day. Not so much to avoid overexertion, but because I’d need a day to blog in between. She is right! And when we came back from our most recent trip, I did not have that day in between which is why I am now a week late with my report on the most beautiful Bundesland in the world. (My aunts in the named Bundesland call it that, and I agree.)

A and I had planned to go away in April. I remember us first discussing this late in 2020. Should we go to Mallorca? A beach holiday as the last vacation without a child? Today it seems hilarious we even considered flying to a foreign country. We then planned going to Rügen, a large German island in the East. I really wanted to go to this popular seaside resort that became famous for its chalk coast that that painter Caspar David Friedrich eternalized. A week before our planned departure, we cancelled our booking. Our babymoon, we figured, would be spent in the Tiny House at home.

But then! Then Schleswig-Holstein announced they would open two regions for tourists on April 19. I was off work until April 22 and so we took the chance and, once tested, drove 90 minutes north to the outskirts of Schleswig. If you think that sounds unspectacular and too close to feel like a holiday, maybe you haven’t spent more than a year in isolation now. We were thrilled. We got to eat in a restaurant! We got to see different landscape! We got to sleep in a holiday home! Geez, we even went to a museum! My grandpa used to say, “Everything is relative” and once you’ve gone without these things, even small reintroductions of normalcy, even if they are around the corner and not in Mallorca, are relatively amazingly exciting.

Also, I have to say that Schleswig-Holstein simply is a nice place! A said it reminded him a bit of England, and I agree: it was very green and the small winding roads on which you can’t see who’s coming toward you, so you’re constantly a little scared for life, reminded me a lot of England.

So what did we do? First, we visited Eckernförde where the pedastrian area had the ideal amount of people. It was populated which was nice but not at all crammed. We strolled through town, saw their picturesque old houses, enjoyed the port atmosphere and ate fish at a restaurant.

Maritime walking in Eckernförde
What’s not to love?
You could apparently rent a crew on this boat and sail around
There is an old church in Eckernförde, one of its sights, and I found it interesting that they had put up a poster, imitating the “How to protect yourself against CoVid”-posters everywhere, that said, “How to protect your soul in CoVid-times”. Because, yeah, mental health matters.

After that we drove to our little vacation home. Not that little if you are used to the Tiny House though, it was roughly the same size but without all the Pax closets we have, ha. The place was exceptionally lovely. A came in and exclaimed, “This is the nicest holiday rental I’ve ever seen!” The loft-like apartment, which cannot be older than two years or so, looked out on trees and meadows and was built and furnished by architects. And it showed. Man, even the pans matched the color scheme! I am a sucker for interior design so of course I was delighted. (Also delighted that they had good beds. I often find sleeping in hotels or holiday homes hard when the mattresses are too soft. Not that I sleep great currently with the baby thinking 1 am is a good time for an intrautertine workout.)

There was a terrace and a bbq place, some play structures and a lot of calm in that small village. You could also say, there was little to do and it’s impossible to get to without a car. But we had a car and liked two days of calm. We watched “Made in Dagenham” and “Thunderforce” and ate hot dogs and pizza. These evenings were a particular treat because I had chosen the apartment also because of its sofa. At home, our sofa is too small for two people to put up their feet. As you see in the photo above, this was possible here. Very vacation-y! (I also made headway in “Livläkarens besök”, The Visit of the Royal Physician, a classic by P.O. Enquist, which I mention here to show I did not only watch movies and eat junk food, but am super intellectual.)

We took a walk to the nearby lake (EXCELLENT step counts those days on vacation) and learned that Schleswig-Holstein’s motto is “Forever undivided”.

On Day 2, we ventured out to Geltinger Birk, a nature reserve. My bonus co-worker had mentioned it earlier this spring and given that this was a great way to see something without risking too much human CoVid contact, we went there. And see something we did! We saw the Big Five: Galloway, bumble bee, wild horse, beetle and goose. Were you thinking elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros? Ah, come on who needs a safari far away when you can let your gaze and thoughts wander afar over eelgrass meadows and reed marshes, shallow wetlands and sparse areas of woodland, rare plants like sundew and adder´s tongue, flocks of twittering birds and shimmering dragonflies? (Okay, yes, I am quoting this from the tourist board’s website. But it doesn’t make it less true.) We took a 7 kilometre walk (A suggested taking the longer trail and the voice of reason (me) objected. Was he glad for that? Very much so when we arrived at the car again!) Something that I found particularily cool was that there are some small cabins and houses in the reserve and you can actually rent them. You can even rent the mill and spend your holiday in there!

Here, you could pay for berries in the berry season. This check out was close to a larger house where five children played kubb (a Swedish lawn game) in Astrid-Lindgreneqsue harmony

Galloways move in a very funny, cute way (full disclosure: these galloways were in Haithabu, not in the Birk. But we saw some in the Birk!)

After we’d walked until the evening in lovely weather, we paid Kappeln, one of the main towns in the region, a short visit. It appeared very charming but was starting to close for the night and we had a hot dog dinner planned at home so I just bought some postcards and decided we’d have to come back another time to fully experience the town. I do think it could probably compete with Eckernförde! (Eckernförde has a squirrel in their town logo though. It’s hard to compete against that.)

When your eel smokehouse has three chimneys and you can put the letters “A A L”, German for eel on them. Goals.

Within, what like 24 hours, we had now seen two towns, a nature reserve with the Big Five, the lake and the local supermarket (grocery stores are always a highlight for me on any trip). This was more new input than I’ve had in months, making the time spent on this vacation seem much more than it actually was. And we yet had to see another highlight: Haithabu! On Wednesday, after wistfully leaving our adorable abode, we went to what is one of Schleswig’s main attractions: Hedeby, in German called Haithabu, an important Danish Viking Age tradtion settlement and the most important archaeological site in Schleswig-Holstein. When I was in highschool, in AP History, I remember my teacher talking about Lindisfarne and Haithabu and always thought I should probably visit. And now I got the chance! Lucky for me, A is also very interested in these things and happily came along. We had booked a time slot and got to go around the pleasantly empty museum (there were people but not many). We learned about the settlement that was trading with the entire known world back then. And that world stretched as far as Damascus – not bad! First mentioned in 804, it was a principal marketplace because of its geographical location on the major trade routes, became the seat of a bishop and minted its own coins. It was basically the place the be until 1066! Then, a Slavic army destroyed it. Sad.

We read runes and inspected excavated jewellery and tools and tried to imagine life back then. What struck us in the museum was that while it was interesting for us, it seemed to have no educational concept for children at all. All the text was too high (and too much) and it really catered to adults. I noticed this because a child, around age 8, was there with his parents and I felt a little sorry for him.

Suggestion for a Who wants to be a millionaire question:
What is the Danework?
A) Danish Social Federation
B) system of Danish fortifications
C) Production Plant for small Danish cars
D) National Epic by H.C. Andersen

There was, however, a second part of the exhibit that was more child-friendly: the village. After a short walk, you reached an archaeological reconstruction on the original site. Exact copies of some of the original Viking houses have been rebuilt and we went inside the assembly hall, the fisher’s house, comb-maker’s house – and the hostel. Yes, they had a hostel. How cool is that? Generally, however, the beds didn’t look very comfortable and we mused on whether it was better to live now, with all our modern-day problems, or then. Today won easily, despite cell phone addiction and burn out.

Me hanging out in the assembly hall, pretending to chair a community meeting
Good (?) night

After Haithabu, we briefly picknicked (we might have bought too much at the supermarket for only two days…) and went into the town of Schleswig to tick off yet another town on our trip. Unfortunately, the sun was much less strong than the days before and Schleswig did not make an impression quite as charming as the other towns on us. But they had an opened ice cream parlor! Bliss! We ended our little, lovely holiday sitting in a café, just like before Corona. And then we only had to drive 90 minutes home. Or as Goethe put it, “See, the good lies so near.”